Lillian H- was ancient, to my kid brain. Her hair was floss white. She sang in the church choir, her old lady vibrato inspiring endless imitation from my brothers.
I was confused about last names at the time. Her brother lived in the neighborhood, and I took the fact that his last name was different from hers as evidence that she had never married. Her brother was married and had a family and held ice cream socials in his back yard, with homemade ice cream. I never knew if she had been divorced or widowed, but there had been a husband at one time. Mr. H-.
She barely existed for me. Old people seemed hardly human, except for those who fell into the Likes Children category.
Lillian H- did not. To me she was just Old Lady, with old lady vibrato and old lady hair and old lady clothes.
Until she wasn't anymore. I might have been walking home from school, when I saw Lillian H- running down the street. It was autumn.
Apple Avenue ran steeply up the side of the mountain. It was a hard slog to walk up, but you could let gravity take you on the way down, and run. Run to keep up with your feet, run for the fun of it.
Lillian H- was running. This was when I realized she was tall and slender. Not stooped, like so many other elderly women. She was tall and straight. She wore jeans, and her long legs carried her down the hill, her dark gray poncho swirling out behind her. As she passed me, she pulled a leaf from a tree, the branch bouncing back.
Lillian H- was smiling. As though there was nothing better she could imagine than this moment, this run down a steep hill, this leaf in her hand.
In that instant, she was no longer Old Lady to me. It was like a whole room in my head opened up, and I thought: Yes. This is a picture of age I'd never considered before, never knew was possible.
But when my hair is white and I don't exist for anyone under thirty, I won't forget how it feels to run down a steep hill. Lillian H- showed the way.