It’s hard to imagine that I’ve been doing anything for 25 years but in a little less than a month I’ll hit that wonderful milestone with the greatest woman God has put on this earth. About the same time, I’ll have another anniversary pass that brings back fond memories and is just one more reason why I love my job so much.
In my early route running days I had the area that surrounded Memorial stadium where the then ‘contending’ Baltimore Orioles played. It was as if the stadium was the center of the universe and on each side was a whole different planet. The main street ran circular, directly around the structure and then others fractioned off into their own little galaxies. There was the upscale homes and those of privilege that lived just past 2nd base and the out field- rounding third base were the hard working middle class. This area came complete with its own version of a ‘Cheers’ type bar and many thriving but small businesses. As you got to home plate you found those who were struggling and by the time you came to first base you couldn’t believe that such a diverse population lived oh so close. Mrs. Adams lived near 1st base.
I remember getting my work for the day and Mrs. Adams was set as a new ‘start’. Pulling up to her row home in this once proud neighborhood I figured I was in for a rough roach job or maybe rats. I was startled by the lady who answered the door in her thick and shabby wool coat and a hat fit for a Russian house wife in a Siberian winter. She stood all of 5 feet tall and her grizzled face and hairy mole took me by surprise. She couldn’t walk very well and her poodle was very excited and his leash tangled around her feet and I noticed she wore two different kinds of shoes and both were at least 30 years old. As she made her way to the kitchen table to sit she explained to me about her problems with some bugs she just couldn’t get rid of. She had bugs alright and by the looks of things I was going to need every bit of the year long contract my company had signed her up for.
As I worked she just talked and I know she was glad to have somewhat of a captive audience. I admit I didn’t hear much on that first time out but instead I couldn’t believe the amount of ‘stuff’ she had collected all throughout the home. Stacks of news papers just about filled the front family room and the kitchen was filled with old boxes and bags of out dated foods. Piles of clothing, boxes, files and just about anything you could imagine filled this home leaving only a network of pathways to get from one area to the next. I was at a loss of just how to treat this place and no book or video I watched during my training could have prepared me for this. I decided to use dusts where I could and resorted to Baygon bait in spots I was sure the dog couldn’t get to, liquids were out for now because there was absolutely no place to spray where the liquid wouldn’t get soaked up by a box, paper or article of clothing. This was going to be a long year but something about this lady made me want to try and really help her in a way that wasn’t in any training manual.
The next month came and Mrs. Adams was very happy to see me. “You killed a lot of bugs” she said in her gruff marbled voice and she again made her way to the kitchen table and began to talk as I performed my work. For this service I decided to ask her if I could remove old food boxes and the like from the kitchen so I could treat more effectively. She hesitated and wondered out loud, “what if I need these things?” I explained that the bugs have already ruined her supplies but I’d save what I could and she finally agreed. With the back door open I began carting box after box and endless bags of unopened foods out to the alley. The roaches tried to make their escape and the weevils and beetles scurried for cover as I dislodged their cozy harborages all the while listening to Mrs. Adams tell me about her life story. She was a very interesting woman who had worked most of her life in factories downtown. She asked me of my life and where I had been and was genuinely interested when I relayed a few humdinger stories of my own. “Aint safe for a boy your age to be hitch hiking all over the country” she exclaimed when I told her how it was I ended up in Baltimore. “You came here to teach the Bible? They don’t need the good word in Oregon?” She smiled when I exclaimed “that maybe God sent me here just for you” and I continued to work and she just went right on talking and filling me in on everything that had ever happened in her life.
With each month the infestation level went way down but Mrs. Adams drew the line on things I couldn’t take out of the house. By this time I actually had places I could treat and the dog was happier than ever because he could roam free in a way rather than just back and forth in the narrow pathways she had before. I had all but ridden her of the german roaches and we hadn’t seen a stored product pest in months. I came to enjoy my time with this wonderful woman. Her heart was so big and she saw mostly good in everything even though she looked like she had been living on the streets for years. She had a great wisdom about her and she taught me so much about life and people just by her thought filled remarks and although I’m sure life had kicked her down quite a bit you would never know it by speaking with her. Even though she rarely changed clothes and I’m sure even rarer took a shower, this lady was an eloquent queen and someone that I came to adore.
The end of her contract came all to soon and Mrs. Adams explained to me something I already knew. She would have to cancel because she couldn’t afford the $22.00 a month but she wished I would come back and visit. I was all to happy to say yes but we both knew that my busy route wouldn’t give me much time so I agreed to come once a month on a Saturday. It was about this time that I told her that my lovely girlfriend had finally said yes and I would be getting married in June. Mrs. Adams was the one who gave me the greatest words of wisdom 6 months ago which was the first time I asked my steady to marry me and she said no. “Good for her” she cackled in her famous raspy voice “now there’s a gal who has her head on straight, you stick with this gal and it’ll work out fine.” She never minced words and in her gruff way she put life in such a wonderful light that I have seldom seen since.
I continued to stop by but it was getting harder to make the time. Several months later I found her crying because her dog had died and I buried him in a non de-script grave the tiny back yard and I believe a big part of her went right along with her tiny best friend. In June of 1985 I visited and found Mrs. Adams quiet and more intent than I had ever seen her before. She had slowly gone down hill with the death of her dog and it was sad to watch a woman who had taken all of life’s heart aches and bounce back now broken and tired. She was however excited for me and my upcoming wedding and although I pleaded with her many times to come and even brought her an invitation she refused each time. She made excuses of not having anything to wear and for the first time got a bit angry with me when I pressed her on the issue. She finally broke down and cried and admitted that she had not been out of her home for many years due to a -well- let’s just say embarrassing problem that she couldn’t control. As I told her I understood she grabbed my hand and gently sobbed and told me what our time had meant together. Her hand was ice cold and leathery but her grip was tight. I assured her I’d be back and was looking forward to seeing her once back from my honeymoon. She made a weak attempt at a smile and released her grip, stuffed something in my hand and then retightened her grip so I could not pull away. I could tell it was money and I immediately bawked and told her she should keep it. With her other hand she touched my face and with tears in her eyes told me how much this meant to her and how she wanted to bless my life the way I had hers. When she loosened her hand I sheepishly put the wad in my pocket and gave her a big hug and headed for home.
That month was a busy one to say the least and I had family in from Oregon and all the hectic things to deal with that a wedding brings along. It wasn’t until a few days later when my fiance and I were doing laundry that we found the money in my pocket and we were completely blown away. It was a wad alright, as big as your fist and all one dollar bills. I figure Mrs. Adams had been saving for months and probably went without which is something she always talked about almost as if it were a source of pride. When we were done counting the bills it added up to $150.00 which might as well been a million dollars considering where it came from. I tried to call Mrs. Adams before the wedding to thank her but got no answer but she didn’t always answer the phone.
Our wedding day was a glorious event and our lives together had just started with the promise of great things. Once home and back to work I made it a point to stop back by Mrs. Adams home on an unscheduled day. I knew she’d want to hear of the great day and all about the wedding. Sadly, her home was locked up and there were no lights or signs of Mrs. Adams. A neighbor poked out and told me that Mrs. Adams had died and I felt like I had just been punched in the stomach. I was mad at the neighbor who suddenly knew what was going on but never lifted a finger to help in all these years. I felt helpless because Mrs. Adams had no family and there was no one I could contact and nothing I could do. Making my way to my tiny little bug truck, I cried as I pulled away and left her home for the very last time.
It’s been 25 years since I knew this fine lady and I still think of her often. Her way of life and how she was may have turned off most anybody else but for me she was a beautiful woman who understood life in a way very few people do. It’s getting to be that time of year again when I celebrate the wonderful life I’ve made with my wife who is the greatest woman God put on this earth. It is also a time when I think back about another wonderful lady who made such a great impression on on me and one whom I’ll never forget. I’m sure one day I’ll see Mrs. Adams again and this time, I can’t wait to see her brand new coat and her matching shoes and to once again hear all of her great stories as we sit at the kitchen table. God Bless you Mrs. Adams.