From Cold War to Coronation, horse and wagon to Rolls Royce. “It was like sitting in an armchair” said Meals on Wheels recipient Maureen Royale as she recalls her experience being chauffeured in a Rolls Royce. Maureen’s last name is uniquely parallel to the life she lived which can be described as nothing short of extraordinary. She describes her life’s adventures full of travel, adventure, and even a royal invitation to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. I might have found it hard to believe that this 90 year old retired nurse from Australia had actually received an invitation to the palace if I hadn’t seen it myself.
I had spoken with Maureen many times on the phone when she called to make requests regarding her Meals on Wheels delivery. I never expected to meet her, until one day she called inquiring about her meal that had not yet been delivered. After speaking with her for a few moments and apologizing for the mix-up, I decided that I would personally deliver her a box of food. She gave me the directions to her home, I loaded the food into my car, and followed the directions to a beautiful neighborhood at the north end of Ukiah. Maureen met me at the door and invited me in. She invited me to sit at her dining room table. I set the box of food on the table and sat down as she began sharing her life journey with me.
Maureen talked about meeting her dear friend Lorraine and how they adventured together through Russian occupied Vienna during the Cold War, travelled by boat through the Suez Canal and shared about their experience riding a camel to the Egyptian Pyramids. Maureen reminisced about the many churches that she had visited in Rome, the art in Florence and hitchhiking in Great Britain and Ireland. Maureen told me about her invitation to the coronation and how she observed the coronation from a seat in Hyde Park. She also spoke about her attendance at a royal garden party at the palace in July. As Maureen recalled the glorious invitation to the palace, she rose from her chair and walked towards the dining hall hutch. She carefully picked up a colorful box. Tucked away neatly inside the box was the framed invitation to the palace. I caught my breath, imagining her as a young woman receiving this invitation.
Maureen spoke about growing up on a farm in a family of 10 children. She understood the value of hard work. At the age of 29, she passed her GED with flying colors even though she had not attended school since 12 years old. Maureen obtained an RN certificate in California, Canada, Australia and England. Although she spent much of her life working as a private care nurse, she ended her career as an auditor for Blue Cross.
I listened intently as Maureen shared her many adventures. I imagined her and her friend Lorraine…vibrant young women with the world at their fingertips. “But it wasn’t always so glamourous” Maureen stated. “Look at me now! The only part of me that still functions is my cerebrum” she said laughing out loud. As she paused to check her 2:30 p.m. blood pressure and take her pills, she invited me to view the photographs and paintings on the hall walls. I walked down the hall towards a small bedroom and noticed a colorful painting hanging on the wall next to a landscape of London. Maureen explained to me that the colorful painting had been painted by her son Jeffrey. She smiled as she retold stories of travelling with Jeffery, her daughter Dianna and her husband. They had visited Australia several times, toured the United Nations building, and even toured the streets of Washington D.C. Maureen laughed as she recalled touring the main streets of Washington while driving a car with a broken muffler. “It was so loud!” she said.
I sat there eagerly listening to this incredible story filled with adventure, royal invitations, the struggles of raising a child with Down syndrome, and the incredible passion of this amazing woman.
My mood quickly sobered though, as if waking from a fairy-tale dream. I noticed the Lifealert band on Maureen’s wrist and the bottles of medication on the table. I asked Maureen about her daily routine and she told me, “I wake up each morning, I put my eye drops in and then I phone my daughter. My daughter who lives in North Carolina, usually cannot answer when I call because she is busy at work, but she knows that I have called and that I am okay. I walk to the dining room and open the curtain so that my neighbor knows that I am awake and okay. I have to have a routine to take care of my body” she said.
As my time with Maureen came to a close, I asked her about the significance of the Meals on Wheels program. “My caregiver comes several times a week, but I do not have any family close and do not cook. I wouldn’t have anything to eat without these meals, and the people who bring them are so nice. This is how I survive” Maureen stated.