Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Woman of Substance

Delores Smith was my landlord's mother and she lived above me in the Victorian house I rented in Montclair, NJ, while working in Manhattan. I was to be her and her son's Thornell's first non-family tenant in the house. Built right after the turn of the 20th century, the home was like many in Montclair and had a wrap around porch, where we all sat many a sunny day chatting about our lives. We became very close over a two-year period and it was a tear-filled day of goodbyes when I left in October of last year. I will forever remember their kindness and generosity.

Delores, her brother Bobby and her brother Carl grew up in the house with their two hard-working parents. They had moved to Montclair from Virginia when her father wanted out of the coal mining industry. He later died of black lung disease. Bobby and Delores lived there for many years after both parents died. Thornell bought the property and remodeled and updated the interior to become a multi-family dwelling right before I moved in in 2007.

This 72-year-old black woman was to become a mother to me and a unwavering friend. She would often have dinner waiting for me and always have a listening ear for me to bend about my day. And I thoroughly enjoyed hearing her stories too for she had so much wisdom and spiritual depth. She had become a Jehovah Witness in her later years, meeting and mingling with people from all walks of life and she loved it. We didn't share the same spiritual philosophies on many issues, but we always agreed to disagree and at times found some common ground.

She had more energy than any woman I know at 72. She was out the door before I left the house at 7 am for my hour and half commute into the city. "We have to catch people going to work," she would say," as she rushed out the door dressed to the nines.

She had a larger wardrobe than I did, of course she had many years to accumulate such an ensemble of clothing. She had a flare for the dramatic, wearing matching hats, gloves and shoes, had several fur coats and haute couture dresses. She was quite striking as she left on her daily rounds to save souls for Jehovah and I always got a daily track or two. The day I drove off she handed me the last one.

The split between her teeth always bothered her, but her smile could light up an entire room and her laughter was always a welcome sound. It made you laugh and if you didn't feel like laughing it always made you feel a little bit better.

Delores had so many friends I lost track of them all. They would call from all over the country, because once you knew Delores she would always be there no matter how long it had been since you spoke. She told the truth whether they wanted to hear it or not.

She loved to entertain throwing dinner parties, brunches, breakfasts and barbecues. She made pies, breakfast rolls and untold dishes of delight for all her friends and followers. I had the privilege of tasting her wonderful Southern cooking, although it packed on the pounds. My favorite being her fried pork chops.

One of the many parties Delores (wearing green in back) threw

She had lost her mother several years before I moved in and spoke of her with great respect as she did all her family. She loved her son, who to me was a bit of a ladies man, but she overlooked it saying "he just hasn't found the right one." And I'm afraid if he was trying to find a woman that lived up to his mother, it was to be a long, long search.

But Delores always looked on the brighter side of life. Even though she longed for a grandchild, she enjoyed that her son was still single so she could still love on him. He lived on the third floor in the converted attic. According to a city ordinance, no cooking was allowed in the attic of a multi-housing converted dwelling, so she gladly obliged with sharing her kitchen, but she did all the cooking.

Mother and son had a very close relationship, as he was her only child. Even though they lived in the same house, they would talk on the phone nightly. He worked the night shift at a very prominent international investment bank. He oversaw the HVAC systems for the firm's offsite computer facility.

Bobby, her only remaining sibling, would give her the sadness news while I was living there. His stomach cancer came back the fall of 2008. Bobby was told he had to have more of his stomach removed. We later found out that all of his stomach was removed and they made a stomach out of part of his large intestine. It was a long, long recovery. But Delores stepped up her sisterly care taking and was at the hospital everyday. She even took care of Francis, Bobby's wife who was suffering early stages of Alzheimer's.

Delores took care of everybody. That was her way. That winter she tried to keep up witnessing, caring for Bobby, Francis, her son, me and all her friends. She soon became exhausted, but she never lost her zest for life. I took her out to dinner and listened to how Bobby was trying to care for Francis when he couldn't care for himself yet.

Bobby and Delores shared a special bond. They lost their younger brother Carl in car a accident on one Christmas Eve when they all were in their late 20s, which drew them even closer over the years.

Carl unfortunately met his bitter end while stepping out on his wife and two kids. Delores would only say "Carl was just so full of life. He knew what he was doing was wrong." And apparently the Lord did too. His wife and the entire family were waiting for Carl that night. But he, a friend and two ladies were hit by a train when their car got stuck on the track. They were apparently going to get some more liquid libation to celebrate the holiday. They never came back.

Delores often wondered what Carl's life would have been like had he lived and been faithful to his wife, but she would merely say that wasn't Carl. "Carl was always the life of the party."

And that was Delores. She never had a bad word to say about anybody. Quite the contrary. She was always full of compliments. She was always saying how creative I was, how beautiful I looked and how I deserved a good man to truly love me. She made me feel special.

I came to the Smith's home broken hearted over a relationship that ended very badly. He had cheated on me and that's a hard pill to swallow. But Delores' home cooking, motherly love, companionship and laughter helped me more than than any therapy I could have had. It was hard to leave the house and the Smiths to venture out on my own in the West. But in ways they will always be with me.

Which reminds me, I have to call Delores and let her know what's new for she doesn't surf the net. She doesn't have time. She's always out there spreading the news of how God or Jehovah, as she calls him, loves you. She made a believer out of me!

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