99 Years Young


by Barbara Dooley

I knew Mary less than 18 months. I met her in the winter of 2013 when I prepared her taxes. I was struck by her vibrancy, intelligence, and forthrightness. Her documents were perfectly organized and calculated to the penny. Her handwriting was model cursive. She was 98 and still young at heart.

Mary was unhappy because she could no longer drive, and driving allowed her to visit friends and her acquaintances in the stores she shopped. She hadn’t been shopping for months and believed everyone thought she had died. “My family doesn’t want me to drive anymore,” she told me. I commiserated with her and asked her how her vision was. “My vision’s fine,” she answered. “Well, you know, Mary, sometimes with seniors the problem becomes reflexes,” I cautiously added. “My reflexes are great, kid!” she answered promptly. Then her niece-­in-­law Nancy came in to bring her the Kansas City Star. Mary put her finger to her lips. Shhh. I sat silently, wondering if Mary was planning a little drive when the weather got better.

Mary was planning some drives and I was the lucky one to become her driver. It began with an every-­other­-week trip to grocery stores and the bank, where she could chat with her friend Debby. Soon our excursions became weekly. Cooking was important to her, and she loved to make special treats for her family from recipes from her mother. Mary was a very careful shopper and we shopped the specials at each of her favorite stores. We got everything except beer. Mary’s beloved grand­nephew Dave was responsible for the weekly beer delivery. Mary did not hesitate, when asked, to let people know that daily beer drinking was the secret to her good health and longevity. She was not fussy about the beer she drank, but happily showed me the different kinds of beer she received from another friend, Kathy Peters, whose husband sent beer for Mary to try.

Mary needed better glasses and new hearing aids. Sharing her love for a bargain, I was on the lookout for a deal. I snagged a VisionWorks coupon with a discount corresponding to age. Mary devoted a lot of time to finding a great ­looking frame and the staff loved helping her. The best was when she got the bill for the eye exam and glasses for $96 rather than $550. She did a deal with a friend of mine for a new hearing aid: his cost plus a six­pack of beer. She delivered the beer when we went to pick up the new hearing aid and we thought about having a beer, except it was 9 o’clock in the morning.

Mary’s special time during the day was the time her favorite “story” came on in the morning. She didn’t like to miss it, but was pragmatic of she had to. “You catch up fast,” she said. She also liked to read and I began bringing her stacks of books from the sorting room of Friends of the Library, where my mother chose mysteries and novels she thought Mary might enjoy. Mary discovered the great Western writer, Louis L’Amour and asked for more. “He writes just like a John Wayne movie,” she told me. L’Amour wrote the screenplays or the novels that became John Wayne movies, and she had spotted that right away.

Mary loved a party. She threw one for her hospice family which featured outstanding cabbage rolls. I began to invite Mary to our family parties and celebrations. We went to the theatre, to restaurants, to the National World War I museum (where she got free admission for being born the year of the beginning of the war and the docents introduced her to other museum guests), to the monastery of Mt. St. Scholastica in Atchison, KS, where she enjoyed a tour and lunch with the nuns.

Our last adventure began in the spring. I explained to her that, in China, she would already be considered 100, so we decided to celebrate her 100 birthday celebration at the great German restaurant, Affare. The staff at the Westport Flea Market bought her a beer, the pool players offered to buy her a shot, and the entire restaurant sang “Happy Birthday” as the waitress brought her a slice of strawberry pound cake with a candle in it.

Without question, however, the highlight of our restaurant adventures was our afternoon at Lidia’s.

Mary was a fan of Lidia’s cable cooking program, Lidia’s Kitchen. Lidia was from a region not far from where Mary’s family came from, and where Mary spent the first six years of her life. Mary recognized many of Lidia’s recipes and one of her dreams was to meet her, so I tried to arrange that.

The general manager of Lidia’s, Matt Green, didn’t know when Lidia would be in Kansas City this year, but he called and invited Mary to be his guest at the restaurant. One Saturday in early June, we arrived at Lidia’s for brunch. Mary enjoyed every moment of the most glorious meal of her life.

It began with Italian champagne, prosecco, and ended with a special dessert plate created by Chef Cody just for her. The staff came to take pictures with her, and presented her with a signed cookbook from Lidia. At the end of our visit, our lovely waitress came to tell us that the staff wanted her to know that she was welcomed to return any time to eat for free. Mary’s special charm and appreciation of other people shined.

I will remember the time I spent with Mary during her last days. I am sure she was happy that she was swabbed with her favorite beer while at Kansas City Hospice House™.

I miss Mary. She became a friend. I will always remember her great ability to spend time with her own company, her enjoyment of simple things, and her interest in other people. I will remember the way she answered the phone, “What’s a cookin’, baby?” and how she always said, “I love you,” when I left her apartment.

To a great and wonderful spirit, in memory,

Your friend,



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