Last week, I lost a friend, mother figure–whatever label fits. She braved a five-month battle, but she knew at the beginning of the battle that she was not going to win. So, my job as her neighbor, friend, daughter figure—whatever label fits—was to continue the long standing tradition (12 years worth) we knew as Nona Days.
Nona Days were impromptu breaks from life. We never had them scheduled, but they involved a quick phone call that said, “Get ready, we are going out.” We never had a specific destination in mind. Sometimes it was pizza or the Chinese buffet at the local mall or just a brisk walk in the park, but it was our time to “let go.”
About a month before Nona left for that pizzeria in the sky, she called. When I saw caller ID, I thought she was in trouble because since her illness, I was the one calling each day. I picked up the phone, and I guess she heard panic in my voice because she said, “Hey, I’m still here…relax. It’s Nona Day.”
“Ooo-kay,” I responded not sure if her morphine was playing tricks with her. “It’s Nona Day. What do you want me to bring over?”
“Not bring…we’re going out! And we’re taking my car because it needs to be driven.”
“You got it!” I said with a fair amount of enthusiasm. “Give me five minutes to put on makeup so I don’t scare the outside world, and I’ll be over to drive the Nonamobile.”
I crossed the street and headed toward her door when I heard a voice from the car in the driveway say, “Over here. I’m inside already.” Then, in what I can only describe as Nona with a good amount of Starskey and Hutch attitude, she added, “Get in!”
“You’re in the driver’s seat? You can’t drive! You take morphine. Is this even legal?”
“You worry too much. Get in. We are only going down the road, and I’ll drive slow.”
“If I protest, are you going to let me drive?”
“Nope, I’ll just go without you.”
Reluctantly, I got into the passenger seat with a warning, “Screw up one time, and you pull over. Where are we headed?”
Yes, I was risking life, limb and possible jail time for fast food.
As we made our way down our street, I experienced an epiphany. This was my one and only “Thelma and Louise” Moment. Yep, and I was sharing this moment with Nona on morphine driving her 2006 Honda Civic at 10 MPH on a road with a speed limit of 35MPH. After 15 minutes, we made it to Burger King (2.1 miles from our homes).
We went inside, and I told her to find a seat and I’d get us lunch. Before I had a chance to ask what she wanted, she reached into her pocketbook for cash and coupons.
“Use this,” she said tersely.
“Nona, why can’t I treat?”
“Because I said I’m treating. Get us whopper meals with whatever drink you want with yours–I want Coke.”
“Nona, should you be eating…isn’t this bad for you? You have major stomach issues.”
She gave me a stare that for some reason whisked me back to catholic school and detentions, and then she whispered, “Whopper meals–large.”
“Fine, Whopper meals, but you better not tell anyone I did this with you especially your church friends. I will be in so much trouble, and they will all yell at me.”
Our lunch was wonderful. We talked for an hour. Well, mostly I listened to Nona lecture me on topics like “You need to stop wearing so many dark colors—wear aqua—it goes with your eyes.” Or “You work too hard. I see you in your office at night. Stop that.” And “Promise me you won’t straighten your hair.” And “Dance a Rumba at your daughter’s wedding.”(Nona was a champion ballroom dancer.) It went on like this for the hour, and I realized that this was my formal goodbye. Nona knew that in a few weeks, we would have little time together where we could just talk and joke like the old times. We did get to spend private time together when she went to hospice, but mainly that time was about holding her hand and me telling her that I loved her.
Anyway, as we were driving home—and she did insist on driving back home while I played look out for the cops—I asked,
“How come Burger King? What made that place so special for you today?”
I was looking for some deep sentimental reason, but she just looked at me and simply said,
“I had coupons.”
Worked for me.