“Mary” was a vivacious young woman who lived in the family homestead in “The Port” in Elizabeth, east of the Turnpike. She was raised by her mother in the house they shared with several of Mary’s unmarried aunts and uncles. They all retired when the SInger Sewing machine factory closed down. Mary had worked there as well after she graduated high school. She had no first cousins — no other family.
In her late 20’s, Mary developed multiple sclerosis and by her mid 30’s she couldn’t walk any more. Her mother took care of her in their top-floor apartment, and Mary rarely got out of the house. This was in the 1980’s. Mary became a shut-in, experiencing the world through TV and books from the library.
When her mother died, Mary started writing to local nursing homes, begging them to take her in. She wanted to have more people around her, she wanted to make friends, and she wanted better nursing care. Finally one day she was contacted by the Administrator of a nursing home in eastern union county. They came to the house to meet Mary and were just bowled over by her sunny optimistic outlook. They arranged to move her to the nursing home right away.
I got to meet Mary when she was about 50. By then, all her aunts and uncles were gone. She could not move her body in and out of bed, or sit herself up without help. Despite her dependence on others, she was wonderfully chatty and cheerful in her plant-filled room. The walls of her room at the nursing home were decorated with posters of male movie stars (some shirtless) with their rock-star smiles. Mary was a voracious reader and there were many books & magazines in her room that had been brought to her by the staff, who told me that they adored her.
Despite being confined to a small world, Mary expanded the horizons of the staff and volunteers who were lucky to know her. She had acquired a new family, who took care of her for the rest of her life.