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Wanda: A Most Admired Friend

Story ID:3408
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Manhattan KS USA
Person:Wanda Bates
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Wanda:  A Most Admired Friend

I am posting this story on January 11, 2008 which is Wanda Bates' 93rd birthday. The story was written several weeks ago while she was still a kid of 92.

Wanda: A Most Admired Friend

Last August, an e-mail from Wanda Bates startled me. “I have a surprise for you” She went on to describe her sudden move to a local nursing home. “I know this is what is best for me now,” she wrote.

My first reaction was shock, then sorrow, for I’d admired her independence and knew she was comfortable in her own home, but I was thankful she adjusted to the change so well. I resolved to go visit my friend soon.

Wanda ranks high on my list of greatly admired people. I am a better person for having known her, have benefited from observing her positive attitude, and I appreciate her wit and humor.

She is small and frail, but her mind is clear and sharp at age ninety-two. Wanda’s move to the nursing home happened jackrabbit fast, or so it seemed to her, when family members and a hospital social worker put the plan into action after a flare-up of a chronic condition. Wanda knew she couldn’t manage on her own at home at the time, so she agreed.

We met through a common interest—writing, and, despite a difference of twenty-four years in our ages, our friendship grew over the years as we e-mailed one another often. Even in her senior years, Wanda continued to write and post some of her work on at OurEcho.com, a website that specializes in family memories. She sold a few of her essays to another website, and continues to be amazed that someone would pay for her work. Wanda has written an enlightening nine part series that details her life living in a “teacherage” in Iowa for three years in the 1930’s and also a three part series called “Wars and Rumors of Wars.” The two of us were featured in a newspaper article about writing family memories. Her essay titled “On Being Ninety,” filled with insight and subtle humor, remains one of my favorites.

On my first visit to the nursing home, Wanda looked pale and weak, and my concern was great as I drove home after our short visit. It’s not easy to drive while wiping away tears.

But the next week when I returned to visit Wanda again, her room was empty, the bed neatly made. My heart did a little flip-flop. Where was she? I looked into the dayroom and didn’t see her, then moved on to a sunroom and there was Wanda, sitting in her wheelchair typing away at a computer. She looked so much better that I breathed an inward sigh of relief.

She told me the physical therapists were working hard to help her gain enough strength to walk again, and I could see that she had the same goal as they did. “They gave me a test today,” she said. “I had to tell them things like who was president of the United States.” She pulled a long face and said, “I guess I passed.” We both laughed since she could probably answer more of the questions than the person administering the test.

We e-mail in-between my visits. She says she thinks she must still be around to be a guinea pig for the student nurses who come in to take vital signs. And she thinks living at the nursing home is best for her now, that they fill all her needs. Visits from family and friends break up some of her days. She continues to send e-mail messages and to read stories at several websites. ”I’m thinking about getting a laptop to have in my room,” she told me. “Then I won’t tie up the computer in the sunroom.” My first thought was that she could then continue to write essays and poetry, and that pleased me.

The other day we’d had a nice visit, and as I prepared to leave, Wanda thanked me for coming to see her. “You’re a good friend,” she said with a tiny sparkle in her eye and a sweet smile. It’s easy to be a friend to someone like Wanda.

If the day comes that I must enter a nursing home, I hope I will remember Wanda’s attitude and face a new living arrangement with the same acceptance and gratefulness. She’s been a beacon of light for me and, I suspect, for many others. But for now, I will continue to be thankful for this special friend.

Note: If you would like to read and/or listen to Wanda’s essay written when she turned 90, it can be found at:

Picture: Wanda Bates