Lois M. Collins: Opening hearts and welcoming strays: What a way to live

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 17 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Maggie Hicken.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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My friend Maggie quit swimming when she was 99 because the man who drove her to the Northwest Multipurpose Center pool reached the point that he was too old and felt he should hang up the car keys. She’d given up her own car a few years before.

She told me it was very strange and kind of sad watching someone else drive off in the car you really love.

She stopped going out much around the time she was 101 or 102, she said, because her knees were cranky. By the time I knew her, she used a walker and she saved trips out for special occasions or doctor visits, although she continued to walk with a physical therapist and she still went up and down the stairs at her house. Most days, she’d get up and go into a sunny nook off her kitchen and eat and do whatever paperwork she had or read the newspaper, then move into her den to watch a little television or accomplish whatever she’d set her sights on for the day.

The rest of the time, she invited the world to come to her, and it did. She had willing friends who shopped for her or just stopped by to visit for a few minutes and see how she was doing. She was fun to talk to on the phone, but a real visit was more joyful, because even well into her 11th decade she was full of life and opinions and laughter.

Maggie was a role model I discovered late in my life and later still in hers — proof that there are new people to love in our futures if we’re receptive to expanding our circles.

I write this not to mourn the passing of my friend, Margarete Wilkin Hicken, who died earlier this month at age 107, although I will certainly miss her.

To me, her story is about the connections we make and the way we nurture them.

A younger Maggie and her husband used to pal around with another couple. They had a boy who grew up and kept track of Maggie as she aged, even after his own parents died. She was his second mom and he took care of her tenderly. There are many people who are not as well cared for or visited as often by their own children as she was by that son, Art Swindle. He was her son, too.

I found Maggie accidentally. A friend and I were writing about very old people for this newspaper and Art and another friend told me about her. We wrote about her fierce determination to stay independent, even to the point that she carried on a cheerful phone conversation while lying on her back on the floor near her kitchen after she’d fallen. She wouldn’t ask for help because she didn’t want anyone to think that she was too old to take care of herself or live alone.

We called her story the Woman Who Crawled to the phone. And I kept her — as had nearly everyone else whose path she crossed, such was her charm and the sheer joy she exuded.

Every year, at her birthday party, I’ve asked a few of the dozens who packed into her house to love her how it was that they met her. A fair number worked with her during her days as a comptometer operator at Zion’s Bank. Some knew her from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or church or old neighborhoods. But there were strays, like me, who met her in places where actual friendships are not usually carved, like the grocery store or the eye doctor’s office or during an interview.

I think perhaps the highest compliment one can earn is this: I kept her.

EMAIL: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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