Friendship, Family, and Fun
This month, Catholic Social Services hosted our second meet and greet for the Friendly Visiting program! The Friendly Visiting program matches volunteer visitors from the community with a senior friend. Friendly Visiting pairs meet each week to get together for lunch, go out for coffee, take walks, or do other fun activities. The meet and greets are a new way for Friendly Visiting pairs to spend time with one another, and these events also provide Friendly Visitors with the opportunity to talk with other pairs. The May meet and greet was held in the community room at the Panera on Lane Avenue, right across from The Ohio State University. It was the perfect location for our Friendly Visitors – plenty of space, food, friends, and parking!
When I arrived at the meet and greet, there were about ten people in the room, clustered in small groups around tables. An electric keyboard had been set up in one corner, and a gentleman was playing music for the group. The center table was piled high with bagels and cookies. I noticed a family sitting at a table off to one side. There were two women, who could have been grandmother and granddaughter, and three blonde children – two boys who looked to be about six-years-old and four-years-old, and one baby girl with a pink flowered bow in her hair.
I approached the family and asked if they would be willing to talk to me about themselves and their experiences in the program, and they agreed. I placed my note pad on the table, and the baby crawled over to me. “Can I hold her?” I asked. Her mother, Jillian, gave me permission and told me that the baby’s name was Maria, and she was ten months old. I knelt down, picked up Maria, and waited for her reaction. She flashed me a delighted, mostly toothless grin and then took a determined chomp of her bagel.
“Isn’t she sweet?” Denise, the older woman, asked. I agreed. She was definitely one of the happiest babies I had ever met. Denise leaned closer.
“Do you know, I’m 101-years-old?” I thought I had heard her wrong – there were a lot of people at the event, and it was a bit hard to hear Denises’s soft voice.
“I’m sorry; did you say you’re 101?” Denise nodded solemnly, but her eyes twinkled because she could tell she had surprised me.
“I’m 101. And I grew up in Pittsburgh.” I told her my grandparents used to live in North Hills, and I asked her what it was like growing up in Pittsburgh. “I had wonderful parents. My father was in the jewelry business.” Denise tapped my hand. “There was nothing too good for us – nothing.” I could tell by the way Denise spoke that her father was a very special person and had loved his children more than anything.
I asked how Denise ended up in Columbus, and she told me that she moved to live with her son. “Is that how you got involved with the Friendly Visiting program?” I asked. “When you moved to Columbus?”
Denise gestured to the baby in my arms. “Her mother came to my door and asked if I wanted to be friends with her. They are wonderful people…and I’ve been friends with her ever since!” In movies, when the main characters meet, it’s called a “meet cute.” I can’t think of anything cuter than the start of this real-life friendship.
While Denise and I talked, Jillian was across the room, helping her two little boys get cookies and play with some of the other Friendly Visitors. Once they were settled, she sat down with us at the table. “You don’t have to hold her,” she said, pointing to Maria. Truthfully, I didn’t want to put the baby down, but she started to squirm, so I let her go to explore. She made a bee-line for the patio door, and Denise leaned forward with an alarmed, “Oh!”
“It’s okay, Denise,” Jillian said. “The door is closed. She’s not going anywhere.” Maria, who had just reached the door, seemed to realize this as well, but she wasn’t perturbed. She sat down, her expression still joyful despite her foiled escape plan.
Jillian, who spoke with a slight accent, told me she was from Germany and got involved in the Friendly Visiting program when she and her husband moved to Columbus because “I wanted to do something good.” Soon after meeting Denise, she told Denise that she was pregnant. Jillian smiled, her eyes sliding to Denise’s as she joked, “And she said, ‘Perfect! You can stay!’”
I asked Jillian what she likes to do in her free time. “I have three kids,” she said, laughing. “But I do have a greenhouse, and I’ve been growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries. I also love flowers, and I’ve been teaching my kids about seeds and how everything grows from them. But now I can’t throw out any seeds or I hear, ‘Mom! We have to save it to grow!’”
I glanced over at the boys, and I could tell they were starting to get tired. Nap-time was fast-approaching. I asked Jillian if I could take a few pictures before they left. The boys declined the photo op, preferring to play, but everyone else politely posed for me. After the picture was taken, Maria reached out a chubby hand and gently patted Denise’s curls. She grinned when Denise leaned back and then forward again so Maria could touch her hair. I watched the two of them giggle and snapped a few more pictures. “Maria thinks Denise is her grandmother,” Jillian said, as she gathered her family together to leave. “She’s known Denise her entire life.”
I waved goodbye to them as they left, and I hope that they return for another meet and greet in the future. Friendship, for these Friendly Visitors, has truly blurred into family. And that might be the best thing about the Friendly Visiting program.