Flesh is weak, spirit isn't far behind

Column by Craig Marshall Smith


Ninety-year old Constance Rolon cried when Denver police officers welcomed her back into her home. Constance had been taken to a motel by the officers two weeks earlier because they determined that her house was uninhabitable.

I have seen this before. My good friend Ruth Todd lost her husband and most of her five senses, and housework didn't get done.

Constance's daughter died, and her son Paul vanished 13 years ago. A 2001 Westword article, “Home Alone,” details Paul's mysterious disappearance when he was vacationing in Crete. Constance's caregiver was gone.

Little by little, her home went undone. Ruth's home went that way too.

Ruth was 96 when she died in a hospice, and thinking we were married. Relatives were anxious for her money, but not to help out with her estate.

Ruth's brilliant paintings went to the Kirkland Museum. Her furniture was sold or donated. The rest, including an empty bowling ball bag, went into one of the two dumpsters that I filled.

Ruth spent a lot of time in ambulances near the end of her life. She always took her resume with her.

She was a beautiful New York model in the 1920s and 30s, and by the time she turned 87, when I met her, she was an invisible woman.

When police officers made a welfare check on Constance they couldn't get in the front door. “Trash and tangled possessions” blocked them. There were cats. Aren't there always cats?

Ruth had a cat named Sweet Pea. Sweet Pea was attached to Ruth and to no one else. Ruth had one cat after another. In succession, they showed up at her back door. Ruth let one in, and it stayed with her for the rest of its life. Then another one showed up.

“How terribly strange to be 70.” Simon and Garfunkel wrote that. I am a handful of years away from being strange. The truth is that I have been strange all along.

No one wants to get older. We lose things and forget things. The crisp young woman who walked the high school halls is long gone. We can no longer talk like we once did. Words become wickets. No one pays attention to us. No one flirts.

Ruth and I went grocery shopping. It took two hours. She held up the grapes. She looked at vegetables like she might be seeing them for the last time.

“At roll call, I told the guys what I needed and they all volunteered and took a chore,” said Sgt. Kim Lovato of the District 1 station.” The officers replaced carpet and painted Constance's walls. They took care of the cats.

Ruth bent over to pick up a piece of paper on her front porch. She broke her hip, and didn't come home for 40 days.

She didn't think she would ever come home. So I went to her house and took pictures. Sweet Pea showed up, out of nowhere, and she let me take a picture of her.

I took the pictures to the nursing home and Ruth couldn't stop crying. Then she held me.

If 70 is strange, what is 90? I'm not sure I want to find out. Beautiful lives sometimes fade without grace. I looked at my father in a Michigan hospital and wanted him to come back and play catch with me. But he couldn't do anything on his own. He couldn't even talk with me.

We see each other with quiet familiarity. But some of us are floating away while we're still here, and go unnoticed.

Ruth used to say, “Take me to Dr. Kevorkian.” There were days, when nothing on her worked, that I wish I could have.

“Bless your hearts, thank you, thank you,” Constance said to the officers.

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” — The Tempest, Act 4, scene 1.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net


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