Her legs were matchstick thin, and I often had to remind myself not to stare at their skeletal quality. Her hair was still done as I remembered from the early 1980's when she was my political science professor, in a lacquered bob that reached upwards and outwards on her small head. Her glasses were also the same frames I recalled from then, rounded and owlish, perched on a delicate nose.
Now, on the second floor of the university gym, I realized this was the first time I'd seen her outside of the classroom without her trademark long winter coat, buttoned to the neck, even in the sizzling South Texas heat. The bulk of the coat, long slacks, long sleeved blouse and the scarf around her neck that were de rigueur for her couldn't cloak her diminutive body, though, and I'd see her from time to time in the grocery store dressed for a blizzard in the middle of July. She always pushed a scantily loaded basket, and I wondered if she ate much of anything.
Belying her eccentric appearance, her brilliant mind still cracked forth with whip- like precision and she eloquently and elegantly shredded anyone who dared to argue against one of her political theories.
My heart ached for her several months before when I'd heard that her only child, a son in his fifties, had taken his own life. She had no grandchildren, her husband had died young, and I recalled her telling us in class she had no brothers or sisters. Her large, Jewish, extended family in Europe had not survived World War II. Thinking of the grief and devastation in her life made me wonder how anyone could dig deep enough to find the stuff of continuing on.
Now, though, in the gym, she was clad in new blue walking shoes and sleek black workout capris that outlined her bony structure. She passed us in the middle of our kickboxing routine, walking at a good clip in the wrong direction around the track.
"Ok, let's get some water, Shelly, " my trainer said as he dropped his gloves. "I need to let her know to turn around and head the other direction before it gets confused there on the track." He smiled and waved as he called out to her. "Mrs. Mary, Mrs. Mary... "
By the time I returned from the water fountain, the two were engaged in conversation. My trainer turned to me and said, "Mrs. Mary is learning about fitness and has just joined the gym."
I smiled and nodded appreciatively. " Good for you, Dr.! I know you probably don't remember me, but I had you for political science a few decades ago. It's good to see you again."
She scrutinized my sweaty, disheveled condition from behind the saucer like glasses. "Yes, I remember you, " she replied, calling me Miss and attaching my maiden name to it. "I do hope you've learned to substantiate your assertions with sound research!" She chuckled.
I cringed and yet marveled at her memory as I recalled a research paper I had turned in for her class that was done at the last minute and based mostly upon my imagination. The D she gave me was a result of her good heart and largesse, she had assured me then, in front of the class.
Our conversation turned towards fitness. "It's good to see you out here, Dr. We have to show these younger ones how it's done," I praised her.
"Yes," she replied and then thought for a moment. "We can fold up and die, or we can keep moving. I choose to keep moving," she said as she stepped off this time in the opposite direction around the track.