Meada Woolfe. I know nearly nothing about her, aside from where she grew up, the little of her life she shared with me, and that she was an extraordinary woman. You see I didn’t meet Meada until she was in her nineties, not even sure exactly how old she was at all. What I did know about this woman was her family abandoned her and missed out on some precious moments they will never be able to get back. It was in the seventies, I was eighteen years old and working in a nursing home as a cook/orderly. Meada was one of the patients there, one who at first I assumed had no family because no one ever came to visit her. That’s not entirely true, she did have a family, just not blood relative family. She has us, the staff. Meada was a favorite for two reason, first of course we all felt horrible she never had a visitor, but secondly it was her sarcastic wit. Meada would tell it like it is, not hold back anything. But she did it in such an endearing and cynical way, like the time she warned me if I let my hair grow too long I’ll start to grow boobs. I heard about that from the nurses for months afterwards, but that was Meada, funny, direct, and the type of woman anyone would be proud to have as a grandmother. In fact, she reminded me a lot of my own grandma, who meant the world to me.
Every time I vacuumed Meada’s room I stopped to chat with her because she was such an incredibly interesting person. She was born in Williamsburg Brooklyn during the migration of Irish, German, and Austrians and her Dad worked in a sugar refinery somewhere near the East River. They were family of moderate means, scrimping and saving to make ends meet and as a kid she dreamed of being an actress on Broadway, in a musical. When she was in her early twenties she got a job at The Bowery Theater and there was convinced by a director to take lead roll in a new form of theater, erotic theater. She sang nude and was cool with that but when her parents found out the family disowned her. She moved into lower Manhattan. After the erotic theater show failed she began working in taverns singing an doing what she referred to as “Whatever it took” to survive. There was a hint of sadness in her eyes when she spoke of those early days which she didn’t do very often.
She often spoke of her days as a “Flapper” during the roaring twenties and that’s when her face lit up. She met the man of her dreams and together they had three children, two daughters and one son, her “baby of the Family.” She showed me pictures of him in a uniform, apparently he was killed during the Korean war at the tender age of nineteen. She never spoke much of her daughters, loved her husband who also died young, and seemed to live happy life up until she was placed in the nursing home. She was a kick to talk with, veering off into nonsense on occasion, but lucid an endearing most of the time. We all cared for Meada Woolfe, she just had a special way about her and I like to believe I was one of if not the favorite of staff members. It was like having my grandmother back for me, I only wish I learned more about the two daughters.
On one very special day she was acting very secretive, asked me to come into her room and closed the door behind me. You really never knew what to expect from Meada so I was ever so slightly apprehensive. My concerns were totally unfounded because in typical Meada Woolfe fashion she came up close to my face to whisper, “JT, there’s something I want worse than anything in the world right now.” I braced myself, “What is it you need Meada my love?” Meada smiled an impish grim, “I want a taste of some good quality scotch, not that Seagram crap, something special. Just one little taste of Glenlivet, that’s what I want more than anything. It was my favorite drink back when I was free.” First the humor of the request hit me but quickly behind that concern, I wondered what she meant. “What do you mean when you were free?” She looked downward, that sadness back in her eyes, “My daughters locked me up in here over ten year’s ago and left me here to rot and die. They couldn’t be bothered caring for me and I have no one left to fight for me. That’s why I’m here in this prison, because I guess I wasn’t a good mother.” I was stunned. My heart sank and her sadness infected me as my eyes welled up with tears. This poor woman, a lovely, funny, interesting woman believes she is locked away because she wasn’t a good enough mother, when the truth is she is locked away because she has two ungrateful daughters. I knew what I had to do, to Hell with rules, if I get caught and fired it will be for a noble cause, to give Meada some love, which she richly deserves. “Of course, Meada, I’ll bring you some Glenlivet, but it has to be our secret forever, okay? I can get in big time trouble for this.” she smiled, shook her head, “thank you, I promise I will take it to my grave.” The sly look on her face told me she obviously already knew I would do it.
The next day I went out to find this Glenlivet scotch. About all I knew of scotch in those days was the crappy Seagrams she talked about. I was surprise to find out how expensive it was but what the hell, its for Meada so I went for it. The next day I snuck the bottle into the nursing home and hid it down the hall from her room. After lunch I took the scotch and headed into Meada’s room. Se knew the second I got there that I had the scotch because she smiled a huge smile. I had taken two glasses with me and poured us each a half glassful. “Here’s looking at ya kid.” I smiled at how clever I thought that was but Meada paid me no mind, merely clinked her glass to mine, “Cheers” and down it went. It was amazingly tasty, and not anywhere near as harsh as the crap I would drink. We did another shot an I told her I would hide the bottle and maybe every once a while give her a taste. “No, not necessary JT, you take the bottle home with you and toast to me every once in a while. I don’t want to make a habbit of this, all I wanted was to have a bit of scotch for the old times, just one more for the road.”
When I left work later that day I kept playing the incident over in my mind. Was I crazy? Did I do something really stupid? I attempted to justify my action saying that it was just a little scotch for a friend, not like I got her drugs or anything. Still, what if she ended up drunk an fell, or had a reaction because of a medication she was on? I decided she was right, I shouldn’t do it again, I’ll take the bottle home like he said and just forget the whole thing. After all, she seemed so very happy, much happier than I ha seen her before, so I gave an old woman one last taste of booze, one more for the road. I made peace with it.
The next day as I pulled up to the nursing home and saw the coroners wagon. Never a good sign, whenever a patient dies the coroner comes in and they sneak the body out the back so as to not scare the other patients. But one of them was likely gone. I walked in the back door an the staff were all in tears, and my best friend and nurses aide Liz looked at me. “Its Meada, she lost her battle with cancer lat night.” Liz was in crying, I was in shock. I walked over to Liz wondering if it Meada died because of the scotch I gave her. I placed my arm over Liz’s shoulder to comfort her, “Meada was a special lady huh Liz?” She couldn’t answer, merely shook her head and turned to hug me. “Liz, I did something yesterday that I probably shouldn’t. I gave Meada some scotch an maybe that’s what did her in.” Liz pulled away from my hug and looked at me incredulously, “You what?… You gave her scotch? No you didn’t, tell me you didn’t.” She looked at my face and my eyes told her that I in fact did. He stared at me for ten seconds before she broke out laughing, I mean really broke out. Nothing else to do, I began to laugh as well, and within seconds the two of us were hysterically laughing and shaking. I pulled my shit together and got serious, “Really Liz, I mean do you think I could have put her over the edge?” Liz stopped laughing and gave me a serious look before responding. “No, Meada had…..YOU GAVE HER SCOTCH??” To which the two of renewed our uncontrollable laughter, me saying yes in between laughs and Liz just saying “A HA HA HA HA” We laughed for over five minutes before we were able to have a serious conversation where she assured me Meada was going to die from the cancer last night anyway, maybe she knew and that’s why she said one more for the road.
That’s when it hit me. I had fulfilled a dying woman’s last request, I had risked losing my job, maybe even getting arrested I’m sure there was some crime there somewhere, to give a lonely woman her last request, One More For The Road. A final request she made of me, perhaps the one person in the world she trusted would do it for her. She has two daughters who will no doubt visit now to see if Meada Woolfe had any money, or hidden accounts or properties they may be entitled to. Funny choice of words, entitled to. Meada was entitle to their love, and at the very least a yearly visit, but instead had to settle for some short visits from the staff at her “prison” But you know what? I was the true beneficiary here, I got to know and love one of the most powerful characters I have ever had the pleasure to meet, and I know in my heart that I was the one who gave Meada Woolfe what she needed before she left this sometimes uncaring world. I hope that when my time comes I have someone to do what I did for me.
We each took a turn going up to the wagon to say good by. When my turn came I walked up to the half ambulance half hearse coroners wagon saying out loud, “Cheers Meada, when I get home tonight I’m gonna have a tall glass of Glenlivet just for you, one for the road, wherever that may take you. Here‘s looking at ya kid“……..PEACE