When Mrs. Maloney approached me about doing Meals-on-Wheels, I didn’t hesitate to sign up. I was excited because I could get out of school, it would look good on college applications, and it was easy. Plus, I would be helping older people. Little did I know what I was really getting into.
Mrs. Maloney took all the student volunteers on a test run to show us the fine points of the program, so when it came time for my partner Sara and me to deliver meals, we thought we knew everything. It turns out Meals-on-Wheels is a lot more interesting than it might seem.
The first two houses are easy, which is lucky because we dread the third house. It’s occupied by an old lady who sits in her kitchen watching television in her pajamas. Her house is rusty-smelling and there is always a chunk of raw meat on the floor for her poodle, which is slightly disturbing. And to top it all off, she is cranky. On our first delivery, we made the mistake of going to her house last.
“You’re late!” she barked as I set her meal on the table, unaware we were supposed to be at her house at a specific time.
“Uh, I’m sorry,” I stammered, shocked at the scolding. Sara quickly put down her milk and dessert, and we bolted.
Our next visit was equally unpleasant. We set her meal on her table with a flyer from the Senior Center.
“Here’s a reminder about the menu change,” I told her.
“I have one,” she replied rudely.
When I left the notice on the table, she snapped, “You can take it. I already have one.” I grabbed the paper and rushed out.
After her house we go to the nursing home, where the old ladies are much nicer. A group of five sit at a table in the main room, happily waiting for us. They make our volunteer work worthwhile. They are always smiling and chatty, and it humbles me to see the gratitude radiating from their smiles.
Although going to the nursing home is the happiest stop on our circuit, it can also be the saddest. Besides delivering to the five women, we deliver to two rooms. Or at least, we used to. One day we knocked on the door of Room Nine. The occupant didn’t answer, so we walked in assuming she was napping, which wasn’t uncommon. We didn’t find her, just a note that said, “Greta went to the doctor.” Wondering if she were all right, we continued on our route.
The next month when we delivered to the nursing home, Greta wasn’t on our list. When we walked by her room, I looked at the closed door with sadness. Back in the car, Sara and I were quiet. The possibility of someone dying had never registered with us but Meals-on-Wheels has opened my eyes to the fact that people do die, every day.
After the nursing home, we go to an apartment building where we always have an adventure. The lady is hardly ever in when we drop off her meal, which might be good because then we can gawk at all her stuff. It’s a miracle she can fit all her possessions in the small apartment. One day when we buzzed her apartment we got no answer. The door was locked, so we knocked. And then we knocked some more. Luckily, a woman saw us as we were about to give up. We motioned to her to open the door.
“What do you want?” she yelled through the still locked door.
“We’re here for Mary,” said Sara.
“Use the buzzer.”
“She’s not answering. We have her meal.”
“Oh,” the lady said, opening the door, “just set it in her room.”
So we dropped off her meal, gawked for a second, and went back out to the car, where we faced another dilemma. An old woman had blocked us in with her big boat of a car.
“There’s no way I can get out without hitting her car,” Sara said. The lady was sitting in her car, but it looked like she wasn’t planning on leaving since she was intently reading a newspaper. There was only one thing to do. I walked over to her car and knocked timidly on her window. She jumped, but then rolled down the window. I politely explained the situation and she moved her car. That was enough drama for me for one day, but we weren’t done quite yet.
The last house on our route was new and we had trouble finding it. When we called out, nobody answered. I was never more scared in my life. When you call out for an old woman and don’t get an answer, you only think one thing: she’s dead. Sara and I yelled in vain a few more times. We were standing in the kitchen and there was no way we were going in any farther. We did not want to find a dead person.
“Well,” said Sara, in a frightened voice, “let’s go back to the senior center and tell them she wasn’t here. They can come check on her.”
“Okay, good idea,” I said. Dashing to the door, we spotted an old man coming toward us. Sara and I looked at each other with fear and confusion.
“I didn’t know you were here. I was out in the shed,” he explained.
A wave of relief rushed over us. He wasn’t dead, he was working. And the “she” we thought the meal was for, was really a “he.”
“I thought he was a murderer when I saw him coming toward us,” Sara said when we were back in the car.
It may seem ridiculous that we would encounter an elderly killer, but when you deliver Meals-on-Wheels, anything can happen.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.