Thursday, May 05, 2005

Julia (1914-2004)

i'm thinking about volunteering again (when my housing situation is settled). it's been a little over a year since i stopped volunteering. Julia died April 1 last year. she was 90 and born the same year as my mormor in Sweden. Julia was like my American grandmother. talk about self-serving volunteer work! i started out as a "friendly visitor" through the excellent Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, and ended up becoming friends (pretty quickly actually) with the crazy, life-loving Julia Acevedo. i was lucky to know her for three years.

the first time i met Julia, she lifted her sweatshirt top to show me her missing breast, as she did many first time visitors (she was a breast cancer survivor and i think she'd had her breast removed around age 70?).

i took Julia grocery shopping at Safeway every other week. being a very social person, Julia really enjoyed our trips, i think because it was the only time she got to leave her house/block. our Safeway trips generally lasted almost one and a half hours (even though if i went on my own, i could get her groceries in ten minutes). she liked to draw out the trip. she loved food, and she loved to look at and talk about food. we walked the aisles slowly and she commented on the food and the passersby, "oh la la!" she'd say with a little hop to her step, when she saw someone who was dressed up, or scantily dressed. once Julia commented on how beautiful and elegant this very tall woman (who was actually a man in drag) looked on the arm of her man.

she carefully examined the food at the store. because Julia was nearly deaf, and her French accent VERY thick, our communication was interesting. most strangers couldn't understand Julia very well, if at all, but after some number of visits, I grew used to her accent and started recognizing the French and Spanish phrases she liberally peppered her English with.

since she couldn't read the tiny price tags on the groceries, i read them to her, or rather i yelled them to her. generally i'm pretty soft spoken, but there we stood by the meat freezers as she passed me the turkey necks. "$3.74!!!" i'd yell. "what?" "$THREE SEVENTY FOUR!!!!" and on and on, comparing various turkey neck prices that differed by 20 cents. then on to the pig feet. i think she particularly enjoyed the meat section since she knew i was a vegetarian. i swear she picked out the grossest meats for me to examine - meats dripping with blood, livers, pig feet, turkey tails and turkey necks. she tried to convince me to eat meat. said i needed to gain weight because she had been happiest in her life when she was a bit fat.

once back in her house with the groceries put away, she wanted us to drink champagne, or "peepee d' virgin maree," as she called it. i really can't drink champagne at 1:00 in the afternoon, so i settled for her grapefruit soda, much to her dismay. then she would tell me stories about her life, the more lewd the better. we laughed. when she noticed how i laughed when she swore, she started swearing more. she knew she was a feisty one. she had a bright blue, veined, penis-shaped ice holder in her freezer. it was there for months before i noticed it. and when i did, oh what joy it brought her. she had been waiting for me to discover it, and she cracked up like a great joke had been played on me when i finally did. but she also blushed and explained me how one could use the penis-shaped ice in drinks at parties.

Julia loved the view from her house of the bay, her garden, people who dressed snappily (a pillbox hat a visitor wore would be remembered and described again and again for months), a good looking endive, quesadillas, lewd jokes, talking to people, music, the Ford Mustang that she had years ago (and kept a picture of in her wallet), turkey necks (needless to say), her second husband who died unexpectedly after they were married 15 years, and especially her dog (named "Ou est tu?" - "where are you?" in French). a couple days before Julia died, Ou est tu started not letting people into Julia's room, barking and barking. she wouldn't leave Julia's side.
here are some pics of my dear, missed friend Julia. talking and laughing. with Ou est tu.


mati rose said...

what a great story, inspiring. i would like to adopt a grandparent... i feel like i only see people my age, y' know?

krissy said...

thanks so much for sharing your memories of such a feisty woman! she sounds like a great friend with a wicked sense of humour! i love the name of her dog funny! i'm sure you must miss her a lot.

Katie said...

I couldn't help wondering what happened to ou est tu...

shash said...

ou est tu was adopted by julia's next door neighbor (of about 50 years). julia knew the neighbor since he was a little boy. he also bought her house, and i think he and his partner now live in julia's house with ou est tu. :-)

Anya said...

Thank you for sharing this story. I am so glad you got to know her, and I'm sure Julia was felt so fortunate to have you in her life too. I sure am... : )