For Noni’s 90th birthday I asked her what she would like to do. “Nothing too crazy … like skydiving,” she immediately responded. I countered, “how about a Harley ride. Since you’re blind, you can try the sidecar.” I got the quick and hard head turn, albeit somewhat sightlessly. “If I am not up and touching on the man it’s not worth it.”
Noni has always lived life on her terms and been incredibly active. Before she completely lost her sight, she travelled the world on her own while staying in hostels, and trekked in the desert accompanied only by a mule, sleeping beneath the stars. All of this well into her 70’s.
In her interactions with me, her granddaughter, Noni laments my limited color palate when it comes to my wardrobe (black), and is quick to provide advice, particularly when it comes to dating. She believes me to be staid.
A few years ago, while talking over bellinis, I agonized about jumping back into the internet dating scene after experiencing an international dating scam. After scanning the room, I joked, “there’s an older man reading and eating by himself at the bar who appears to be single. What would you do?”
With no hesitation, Noni leapt up and trotted over to talk him up using the table as a guide out of the corner of her eye. When she returned to the table, she threw down a napkin with his e-mail address. “There, Noni showed you how to do it.” Turns out he invited her to a book club, but Noni didn’t let that stop her. After I coordinated with him on e-mail, she ordered the books on tape.
During a drive with Noni she suddenly asked, “do you know why I broke up with my boyfriend?” Then, in her mid-80’s, she laid it all out. During their last trip to her boyfriend’s homeland, Ireland, he decided he was going to reengage with the tenants of the Catholic faith. And, since they were not married, he proclaimed he could no longer be intimate with her. Noni paused, “I don’t think it was that; he just wasn’t performing very well.” Rather speechless I hoped we had reached the end of the conversation, but she soldiered on. “You know, they make things for that now.” And if that wasn’t enough, staring intently at me, she concluded, “it’s not as if he couldn’t have done something else to me.”
In the few years preceding Covid I travelled frequently for work and was able to visit with Noni regularly. I tried to explain to her how I was using a dating app that allowed me to find men anywhere. Noni, of course, wanted all the juicy details and demanded I read the profiles to her so she could help with the selections. “That’s the way to do it,” she chortled, “have one in every port,” as I swiped right and left.
Noni decided that a field trip was warranted, particularly if she was going to be my wing woman in the event I landed a date, and off we went to Victoria’s Secret. As she rummaged through the underwear, holding the selections close to her face and toward the side to at least try to see the color, she shimmied excitedly. “No one at the senior center will know what I’m wearing. I’ll be so silky!”
Travelling with Noni is an adventure. When I first learned that she had chosen a cruise for the two of us, I couldn’t imagine anything worse. Trapped on a boat and bored. It turned out to be the most exhausting vacation I have ever had. Which is saying a lot given the trekking trips I have completed.
I was Noni’s default dance partner every night. And she danced for hours! It didn’t matter what the music was so long as she could move. I tried my best to keep up, but occasionally I begged someone to step in for me. I finally had to put my foot down at 1 a.m. “No, Noni, we are not going to the club.”
Noni and I chose a snorkeling trip in Belize. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to her without sight and waves splashing in her face, but she didn’t let fear stop her. With the assistance of a guide and multiple floatation devices she swam away from the boat and put her face in the water. But upon her return she had the audacity to complain that she couldn’t see the fish. On the boat ride back, she turned it into a dance party as the punch flowed.
What ultimately did me in was when Noni signed up us for a bar tour in Mexico. A seven-bar tour! It’s true, I have the t-shirt to prove it. The last bar had a shared margarita in a glass bigger than my head. After passing out in the bus I collapsed in bed. But was awoken violently by Noni shaking me. Elegantly coiffed she demanded, “get up, we can’t miss the lobster dinner.”
In May 2020 Noni and I had a trip planned to Egypt. But of course, life was interrupted by Covid. The isolation and loss of activities took a real toll on Noni and just recently, over the holidays, she was moved into 24-hour memory care. While I am incredibly sad, I write this in honor and celebration …
We all need to be a little more like Noni. Embracing the present with a sense of excitement and adventure. And a good start is to simply ask yourself, What Would Noni Do (WWND)?