When a construction supervisor bonds with a stubborn old woman, he learns what matters in life.
I was nervous, that first day on the job, walking up to Edith Macefield’s house. I’d heard so much already. Developers had purchased most of a city block in Seattle, Washington, to build a shopping mall. They’d gotten every inch of the property they wanted except for this one little ramshackle house. They’d even offered her $1 million for it, and she had declined. So they had had to build around it. If people even tried to talk to the woman, she would chase them away.
Edith was tending to her garden when I approached her and introduced myself. “Miss Macefield,” I said respectfully, “I just want to let you know that we’re going to be making a lot of noise and a big mess, so if you need anything or have any problems, here’s my number.”
“That’s very nice of you,” she said, holding my card close to her one good eye. “It’ll be nice to have company.”
Edith’s gate was about 40 feet from my construction trailer, so whenever I saw Edith outside, I wandered over for a chat. One morning, she called my cell phone and asked if I would mind driving her to the hairdresser. I was surprised by the request: She seemed to value her independence above everything else. Whenever I went to check that she was OK, I had to make it look like I just happened to be there; otherwise, she’d get angry.
At the appointed time, I stood next to her blue 1989 Chevy Cavalier. She had a booster seat on the driver’s side so she could see over the steering wheel. I sat down on it and hit my head on the inside of the roof.
“I guess you’re a little bit bigger than me,” she said, and laughed.
“Yeah, and getting wider every year.”
When I dropped her home after her haircut, she thanked me.
“Not a problem,” I said. “And Edith, your hair looks really nice.”
As the weeks went by, I found it easier and easier to talk to her. But then, six weeks later, I went to take her to the hairdresser again, and she was furious with me. “I just want you to know I didn’t appreciate that call this morning. You boys keep on hounding me to move—well, save your breath!” I had no idea what she was talking about. “Your friend over there at the developer’s office tried to sound all polite, but I know what he was up to.”
“Listen,” I replied. “I work by the hour, and it makes no difference to me whether you stay or go, but let me ask you one question: Why don’t you want to move?”
She looked out the window. “Where would I go? I don’t have any family, and this is my home. My mother died here, on this very couch. I came back to America from England to take care of her. She made me promise I would let her die at home and not in some facility, and I kept that promise. And this is where I want to die. Right in my own home. On this couch.”
She was so frail and so strong at the same time, vulnerable yet fiercely independent. I felt strangely protective of her. It was such a simple request.
Read more – http://rd.com/culture/ediths-house/