Thursday, May 13, 2021

Life & Style

Wendy’s and Wine

It’s a summer sunset. Cola and I are saddled up at an outside bar. She turns to a gorgeous man next to her and says, “Hey! Hey! What’s your name?” She flashes a megawatt smile and within two minutes she and the guy are close friends. I get to meet good-looking men because she’s not too shy to approach them.

New Year’s Eve and clouds are bulging with snow. Cola and I make a pact that as soon as the first flakes fall we’ll head toward home. We’ve ventured to a favorite but out-of-the-way spot despite the forecast that calls for near-blizzard conditions. It’s twelve degrees out. Inside, the swing band is playing raucous tunes and we’ve fallen in with a group of fun people who love to dance. Cola is in a raucous mood herself as she lifts men’s jackets without them knowing to take a peek at their backsides. I giggle and try to look innocent in case they turn around. She never gets caught.

The snow starts to fall and we break our pact to leave because we’re having too much fun. Going out to the car we slip and slide and nearly break our necks. We can’t stop laughing.

There are quieter times, too. Sometimes we order Thai food and watch movies. Her DVD player suddenly stops running in the middle of a comedy we’ve both seen a million times but still love.

She gets up off the couch and cries out, “Here we go! Here it is! You piece of crap machine!” She cocks her head, leans forward and says, “Helleeeeeew! HellEEEEEEEW!”

The movie is Arthur and I’m laughing even harder at her than I was just laughing moments ago at Dudley Moore. That’s really saying something.

Cola gets away with things I’d never think to try. To a tall person she’ll fire out, “How’s the weather up there?” and instead of being annoyed the person will say, “Great! How about down there?” To our Jamaican friends who come up every year to work at the local orchard she says, “Jamaican me crazy!” To our friend from Liverpool who speaks with a heavy accent, particularly after a Guinness or three, “Speak English!”

She pinches bottoms, yells for drinks, tells people exactly where they can go. She doesn’t apologize, just says she has no filter and then tosses that big smile so no one can stay angry.

The last time I see her she asks if I mind bringing dinner. Of course I don’t mind. She doesn’t know what she wants and I tell her I’ll bring anything. If she wants pheasant under glass I’ll bring it. She decides she wants Wendy’s of all things. And wine.

“Let’s have a glass of wine,” she says.

So, in a hospice room that is peaceful in an almost disconcerting way we have Wendy’s and wine. We clink plastic cups and she says, “You got us the big fries.”

“Better to have too many fries than not enough,” I tell her. We don’t talk about what’s really happening and that’s okay. She leads the conversation where she wants it to go. A thunderstorm rolls in, one of those ones with craggy lightening like something out of a Universal monster movie. We watch the storm from the big windows that line one side of her room. The storm rages outside while we chat quietly and sip chardonnay.

When she says she’s tired I get up to leave and tell her that I’ll be back like it’s no big deal. She says, “Okay,” but I can tell by her eyes she knows this is goodbye. I tuck my bag that has the wine concealed in it under my shoulder. Guests to a patient’s room aren’t supposed to bring alcohol.

I say, “I’m taking my contraband with me!” and she flashes that megawatt smile. I want to leave her smiling.

Cola fights cancer for 30 years. You read that right. Thirty years. She battles it for more than half of her life.

It never defines her.

In the Tao Te Ching Lao Tzu says, “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”

Cola, you burned so very brightly.

Juliana Gribbins is a writer who believes that absurdity is the spice of life. Her book Date Expectations is winner of the 2017 Independent Press Awards, Humor Category and winner of the 2016 IPPY silver medal for humor. Write to her at Read more of her columns at

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