God shows up in our “lonely” in the most unexpected relationships. Are we paying attention? Katie Schnack shares her story.
On the Porch with Edna
By Katie Schnack
When we moved to Memphis, I joined a co-working space so I would feel less isolated. I had felt depression weighing on me heavier than it ever had before. I knew that part of the problem was that I was alone in our house every day working by myself while Kyle, my husband, was teaching at school.
The co-working space was only about a ten-minute ride to the office, and I would bike the historic, tree-lined Memphis neighborhood streets with cracked sidewalks and bumpy roads. And that is where I first saw her.
On the porch of an old, white wooden house on the corner of the street just one block from my co-working space sat an old lady. And by sat I mean she sat there all the time. She was there every time I biked past. As everyone did in Memphis, she waved to be each time I passed by. So I waved back, because if an old cute lady waves and you and you don’t wave back, you might be the biggest jerk ever to exist. But day after day, wave after wave, it began to feel weird to not stop and say hello. How many times can you wave and not actually speak without it getting awkward?
One day, I stopped my bike and said hello.
“Sit down,” she said immediately and gestured to the empty rocking chair next to her.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Katie, I’m Edna. I am ninety-five years old. Damn, I’m old,” she said her eyes crinkled with a smirk.
She kept rocking in her chair as she gazed peacefully out to the street in front of us and dove right in to filling me in on all the details of her life, like we were new and old friends all at once.
She told me she was from a tiny mountain town in Eastern Tennessee and was the oldest of eight children, and they all lived in a trailer. Her mom died young and her dad was abusive. When she was fifteen years old, she decided she’d had enough. She went to the local preacher, he gave her ten dollars, and she took a bus to Memphis and never looked back.
She kept rocking and rocking in her wooden chair as she told me all this, her voice steady and showing no signs of regret, but owning her story with every word she spoke.
When she got to Memphis, she found a job working at a dry cleaner and began renting the apartment across the street. She eventually married, but her husband died when they were only twenty-eight years old from a heart issue. I was twenty-eight at the time, so it stung a bit extra to hear this. When she told me about him, her demeanor changed to someone clearly still harboring the pain. After he died, she never remarried – or even dated.
“I began to work double shifts in a factory to support myself,” she said. “I never had much, but I had enough.” She had owned her home for decades and you could tell she had great pride in it. The yard was cut, she had fresh flowers planted – always yellow – and the porch was clean.
I asked Edna if she had family nearby. She told me she had her neighbor Monty. He would come check on her, every single day. She told me how Monty would bring her food, take her to the doctor, even cut her nails and hair when she needed it. He did everything for her beyond what the state services provided. The only relation was that they were neighbors.
She stopped rocking then, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I just take it one day at a time. That is all you can do. Take it one day at a time, and just do the best you can.”
She repeated that same sentence to me the next day when I stopped by, and again the next day, and the next day, and the next. Just take it one day at a time, and do the best you can. Going to see her quickly became my favorite thing to do, as we rocked and talked, and she repeated that mantra I so desperately needed to her. She had no idea how her example of strength and frequent reminders to take it one day at a time and do the best you can were keeping me going during some of the hardest few months of my life.
She told me the most ridiculous stories about being old. She said one day while on the porch alone she got warm and peeled off her sweater to just her pink T-shirt she had on underneath. She didn’t realize she actually took the T-shirt off with the sweater, and she sat topless in her rocking chair for an hour waving at passersby like usual, before she realized she was half naked. She laughed to hard when she told me this story, and just shrugged her shoulders as if saying oh well. Sometimes, you find yourself topless on the porch. That’s life.
And then, on one boring, regular weekday afternoon, she stopped rocking and looked at me and said, “You know what? You are my best friend, and you are my family.”
Edna had no idea that like her, I was essentially all alone in Memphis. Yes, I had my wonderful, amazing husband, but he was working long hours, and me being depressed and going home to a dark, lonely, old house was hard. My family was thousands of miles away, and I had yet to make many friends or any sort of reliable community. I felt very alone, except when I was sitting with Edna, on that porch, rocking as the Memphis sun began to set, evening after evening. In those moments I had somebody, and she had somebody, and I think that meant something to us both.
I told her she was my best friend too. And my family. And I genuinely meant it. I loved that woman, and she had helped me keep my head above water as I pulled out of depression and set down roots in our new city.
Katie Schnack is a writer and book publicist. She is the author of the newly released book, The Gap Decade: When you're technically an adult but really don't feel like it yet. Her articles have appeared in such places as Relevant, Today.com, Hello Giggles, Romper, and Scary Mommy. Katie and her family now live in West Palm Beach, Florida, on an acre of land with five chickens, three goats, and a senior mini pony. Stay connected with Katie on Facebook and Instagram, and at www.katieschnack.com.