I realized today that this month marks 5 years since Thumper and I started driving for Meals on Wheels. Much has changed in those 5 years. He almost never comes with me now that he's in school. We're on our third Director and our second route, and we don't get to see our old friends any more, the clients who made a big deal over him, who let him play with their collectible model tractors, and their grandkids, and their dogs.
Most of our new route now consists of an "independent living facility," a giant apartment complex for seniors where resident volunteers take the meals from me and deliver them to the individual clients. The volunteers are incredibly nice, and friendly, and they're always happy to see the boy when he comes, but we don't get to interact with the clients any longer. When we were looking for a volunteer opportunity, and we were failing to find something that felt just right for us, I doubted that I would do well talking to strangers. We were still dealing with nap times, and we were at the very beginning of our playground adventures where he made me talk to people, and as always, my expectations were nothing like reality. Thumper helped to drag me out of my shell, and I quickly learned how to stand on the front porch of an 83-year-old woman and have the same 45-minute conversation with her this week as I'd had with her last week, and to cheerfully change her light bulbs and talk to the cable company for her. I learned to accept that she would drop off the list, as most of the clients do eventually, without explanation, her story never finished, at least for me.
It's still a satisfying part of my week, Meals on Wheels, but things are different now. The women at the Senior Center where we pick up the meals, those women he still calls "the dominoes ladies" because they play every day while they wait for lunch, are still so kind. They always ask me about him, and always make a big deal when he does come with me. When he was a year-and-a-half, they clapped and cheered for him when he banged on the old piano (the one that disappeared after the renovations from the kitchen fire a few years ago), and they gave him candy every week (he still asks me if Ms. Celia sent me home with anything for him if I mention that I drove Meals on Wheels today), and they gave him stuffed animals at Christmas and Valentine's Day. But the people have changed, again and again, and with Thumper at the ripe old age of 6 1/2, there's almost no one left who remembers when he first toddled through the door and helped me reach out and connect in a meaningful way.