Annabelle died today. She was a volunteer, well, she used to be a volunteer about 10 years ago. She hasn’t volunteered lately and very little in the past 8 years because of declining health. She went quietly,in her home, surrounded by neighbors and friends. I wasn’t there. I was working. She had no children and her husband had died over 20 years before so she was a long time widow. No one around me really remembers her because she volunteered so long ago. I remember her.
Annabelle and I spent many an afternoon together. It was during a time when I managed a volunteer run thrift store. Anabelle did not get along with everyone. She was what some termed “crusty,” and yes, she had a gruff exterior. I always suspected she wore a wig, but I was brought up to not ask.
Annabelle lived alone and drove a big truck that sported a University of Notre Dame sticker. You see her husband was a professor at Notre Dame so many years before. Her husband taught during the time when Notre Dame was the most feared collegiate football team. She went to the games and grew to love the team.
She was a Midwesterner, a no-nonsense, tell it like it is person, a sensible woman of great character. Right was right and God help you if you did wrong. She didn’t make friends easily and the other volunteers gave her a respectful berth. Sometimes they complained behind her back that she was cranky, rigid and unforgiving. I told them she was a hard worker, dedicated and sincere.
Although she was quick to point out mistakes, mine especially, she did it forthright and so did not hold a grudge. We always had a clean slate because she gave me the opportunity to fix whatever was incorrect. She held me to a higher standard when I wanted to take the easier route. Underneath it all, she would have done anything for the shop. And me.
And boy, did I get her to do things. We would take her truck to pick up donated items from our customers. She wouldn’t lift, but would stand back and then rearrange the boxes in the bed, moving them around like giant puzzle pieces. On the ride back, she would comment on the folks that donated the items, what they might be and how we would best sell them.
Annabelle’s long time companion was her dog, JuJu. JJ as she called him, was a small mixed breed, scruffy looking dog with clear ocean blue eyes. She loved JJ, not like a child, but more like a best friend. They had equal status in her house and she would often make decisions with the help of JJ’s imagined input. They were inseparable and I would go to her home after she stopped volunteering to have tea and her scrumptious lemon squares and pet JJ as we reminisced.
I heard JJ is very old and will be cared for by a neighbor. He is frail and will not last long as I’m sure he will die of a broken heart.
Of all the volunteers I’ve known, why did she and I click so well? She was not the funniest, not the warmest, not the friendliest of the lot. But somehow, our paths crossed at the right juncture. She arranged the chaos and ordered a path into my heart. I shall miss her. I feel the prick of loss amidst peers who never got the chance to know her. Godspeed Annabelle. Your husband awaits, and JJ is not far behind.