All. The. Time. A fond remembrance of Katie, 1921-2018.
David Weiss, January 24, 2018
Of course, I like all my clients. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have favorites. And Katie was a favorite. We’d only just met a few eye blinks ago by her standards: she was already 94 years old when I started delivering her groceries.
But for nearly the past two years I was at her doorstep like clockwork every other week. If the weather was good she’d have the inside door propped open so she could watch for me. As I unloaded her groceries to the near counter and the stovetop she shuttled them over to the far counter and into the freezer, remarking with a chuckle, “I don’t know if I’m helping or hindering.” She said that every single time. She was helping, but her meaning, carried more by the chuckle than the words themselves was simply, “I’m happy to see you.”
She was also happy to feed me: there were always homemade cookies or bars waiting on a plate on the counter underneath a paper napkin. “Take several,” she’d insist. “I don’t know if they’re edible or not. I haven’t quite figured out this new oven!” They were always edible. And delicious. Occasionally I brought her treats as well—things I’d written. She took particular delight in a set of family stories and thanked me several times for sharing them.
Once the groceries were all unloaded, she’d survey the bounty and announce, “I just hope I live long enough to eat all this!” Bright-eyed, quick-witted, and upbeat, at age 96 those words reflected a cheerful recognition of her own mortality. And they finally caught up with her. She died January 9, exactly in between deliveries, leaving about half her last set of groceries uneaten.
As soon as the office notified me of her death, I knew I wanted to get to the funeral if possible. It was scheduled for January 16, which would have been her next delivery day. So long as everything on my route went smoothly, I’d have just enough time to complete my deliveries, park my van back at the Cub Foods on Lyndale, hop into my car and drive over to the church for the 1p.m. funeral. I’d still be in my delivery clothes—a bit under-dressed for most funerals, but exactly right for Katie’s.
That morning I drove by her home one last time on my way to my first stop. I offered a silent wave and blinked away an unexpected tear. Even at 96, death still stings.
Far from going smoothly, my route held a mess of wrinkles that day. No major problems, just a bunch of little delays—most of them related to providing cheerful patient service to my still-living clients. And Katie wouldn’t have wanted me to rush any of them just because she’d died. Still, as the day went on, I began to worry that I’d miss the funeral. As I neared the end of my deliveries it became clear the only way I’d make it by 1p.m. was if I drove directly there in my van. So I did.
At 1:05 I slipped into the church as the congregation was singing the first hymn. I handed my sympathy card to the funeral home attendant who promised to put it with the others while doing his best not to stare at my delivery outfit. I slid into a pew behind a row of Katie’s church mates. It was an almost merry funeral, if that’s possible. Plenty of stories shared and more than a few peals of laughter rang out. Katie was well-known and well-loved by family and friends both. When we reached the final hymn the pastor remarked that Katie’s notes were clear: this was to be a “cheerful and happy” rendition of “Soon and Very Soon.” We did our best, with moist eyes and smiles on our faces.
Afterwards I made my way to each of Katie’s three children—all in their mid-60’s or older themselves—to introduce myself and tell them what a joy it had been to bring Katie’s groceries. Each of them beamed with recognition and told me how much Katie appreciated me, too. When I sat down next to the third one and introduced myself she instinctively leaned forward to put a hand on my leg and tell me how much her mother had enjoyed my deliveries—that they were the highlight of her week. When I replied that the delight was mutual, I was surprised to hear my voice break—and just as surprised to feel myself wrapped in a hug.
But it was a pair of young adult granddaughters who really drove that home. I caught them out of the corner of my eye, smiling and whispering to each other as I spoke with Katie’s son. I imagined them noticing my wild wind-blown hair and dark green delivery jacket. I’m sure I stuck out like a sore thumb in a crowd of people clearly dressed for a church event.
I turned to them and asked, “Are you some of Katie’s grandchildren.” “Yes!” they glowed with joy. “And just so you know,” one of them volunteered, smiling widely, “she talked about you all the time.” And, in case I hadn’t caught that, the other chimed in and punctuated it for me. “All. The. Time.”
As I left to collect my van and head back to Cub Foods I reflected on what a privilege it is to do what I do. Sure, not all of my clients are as spirited or cheery as Katie was; heck, some of them have barely battled life to a draw—and it shows. But I meet each of them at the intersection of the simple human need for food and the deeper human hope for dignity. And I aim to deliver both. Sometimes, at the end of my deliveries, as I stacked my bins and folded my paperwork, Katie would declare earnestly, “I hope you know how much I appreciate everything you do for me.”
I climbed into the van and turned the key, blinking away another tear while her granddaughters’ words echoed in my mind. Why, yes, I do, Katie. Yes, I do.
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David R. Weiss is the author of When God Was a Little Girl, a playfully profound and slyly subversive children’s picture book (2013, www.WhenGodWasaLittleGirl.com) as well as To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, http://www.tothetune.com). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist—in addition to his part-time job delivering groceries—David is committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. He and his wife, Margaret, make their home in St. Paul, Minnesota. Their blended family includes six children and nine grandchildren. They like keeping close company with creation and their household has included dogs, cats, birds, fish, guinea pigs, hamsters, and even worms. Their home, like their life, is fairly cluttered with joy. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more at www.ToTheTune.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.”