I imagine that there are some of you reading the title of this blog post and thinking that I am writing about a cantankerous old lady who appears in numerous cartoons. Although I find the cartoon character Maxine to be very entertaining, this post is not about her. It is about a very real and very entertaining old lady whom I knew briefly and found captivating. I hope I am able to do her justice in tonight's post.
My sister Liz invited me over to her home to visit and to meet Maxine, my brother-in-law Richard's mother. Maxine was a tiny little lady with silvery hair and bright, mischievous eyes. She had come from her home in Kansas to spend several days visiting her family in the Denver area and was staying with Liz and Richard. One of my first exposures to Maxine involved playing a card game. I don't remember the rules or even the name of the card game, but old Maxine was a bit of a card sharp. I don't mean that in the old meaning of the phrase - she was not cheating or misdirecting. She was just very skilled at the game, and I was a new player, AKA sucker, I think!
Maxine's eyes weren't as sharp as they had once been, so she had Richard sitting next to her to help her know exactly which cards she was holding. Her face was glowing during the game and she was enjoying it immensely. She sat across from me with a beaming smile on her face because she was just so happy to be having so much fun. She would show her son her cards and say, "Oh, look, these are really pretty, aren't they?" Then she would proceed to win the hand with the calm but happy attitude of a seasoned player.
A couple of evenings later, I was invited over for dinner, a meal which Maxine had cooked. Let me tell you, this little old lady from Kansas made the most delicious stuffed bell peppers I had ever eaten. To this day, I have yet to find anyone who can make them any better than Maxine. They were so good that I was more than happy to have a second serving. Maxine's face was beaming just like it had been when she was beating us at cards. She told me that she liked watching me eat because I was enjoying it so much. I've said it many times, when I like something, I really like it. And Maxine could tell, when I sampled her cooking, that I really liked it!
After a few days, Maxine was eager to return to her retirement community apartment and see friends her own age. Liz and Richard drove her back to Kansas when she was ready to go home. As soon as she walked into her apartment, she knocked loudly on the wall so that her friend next door would know that she was home and would soon be available to go out with her to play Bingo. Liz told me that they decided to take her out to dinner that evening. Even though it delayed her return to her social scene, Maxine was happy to go to a buffet for dinner. Before they left her home, she checked her purse to make sure that she had some zip-top plastic bags. If she was going out to eat, she intended to bring home some leftovers. She knew that she wasn't supposed to bring food home from the buffet, but she and her friends did it every time. The folks at the restaurant knew that they were doing it too - the ladies were pretty up-front about packing up the food. The kindhearted people at the buffet didn't begrudge these sweet little old ladies the little bit of food that they took home with them.
I never saw Maxine again. She died a few years later, and I am sure that she was as missed by her friends as she was by her family. I am happy that I had the brief time I spent with her. I will always treasure my memories of Richard's mother as a smiling card sharp and excellent cook. And if I find myself at a buffet, I look around to see if there are any little old Maxines taking home leftovers in zip-top bags. Even if I never spot one, the thought of it always makes me smile. Good night, Maxine, you are missed and remembered!