Driving Miss Doris
by Betsy Rouleau.
As my year of volunteer mission starts coming to a close, memories of joyful times in Jamaica become more poignant, more treasured. And, some memories that I feel should be shared are those in which I drove Miss Doris.
Miss Doris is 79 years old and Mount Friendship’s resident church boss. She keeps tabs on the sick and shut-ins of the community, ‘hip-checks’ me out of the way when it’s time to distribute food bags, and manages to keep the altar linens snowy fresh and immaculately folded. She has a high-pitched voice that she’s not afraid to use, either to praise her Jesus or to scold a naughty child.
My first interaction with Miss Doris came when she told me to ‘collect’ her at her home so that we could hand out the food bags together. As we drove along in the van she criticized my driving, warning me to “mind de gully.” When it was time to abandon the van and walk, I found myself following her like a meek puppy as she forged ahead on arthritic knees to feed Mount Friendship’s neediest. It was on that day of driving (and walking!) that I first learned Mount Friendship the Miss Doris way.
I quickly found that Miss Doris was never afraid to demand a ride, either to visit a shut-in or to pick up her mail from the village post office. And so I gradually became accustomed to driving Miss Doris because, frankly, she’s not the type of person who takes ‘no’ for an answer.
But as the weeks passed, I stopped seeing Miss Doris as simply ‘a lady I drove’ and began seeing her for what she is—a really good time! She’s crazy. She pouts if I don’t come see her in my free time, but hugs and kisses me with joy when I show up unexpectedly. She regales me with stories of her girlhood and spanks me if she thinks I’m misbehaving.
Not only does she have a remarkable joi de vivre, but Miss Doris has helped me to find my own inner crazy. When I visit her, I stand and dance in her doorway until she notices me and starts giggling. I made a paper crown for her on her 79th birthday and the two of us laughed hysterically together when she wore it for an entire day and attracted stares galore.
But it’s in the quiet times that we share that I find myself realizing just how extraordinary she is. At first glance, she’s a lonely widow with arthritic knees and lots of money troubles. But I’ve grown to see her as a deeply devout woman who keeps a faltering church community together. She’s a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who thinks constantly of her family—and her adopted family. She has a sharp intellect and a soft heart.
Something is driving this woman that keeps her trekking the mountain paths, saying the rosary on her knees, putting down her washing to dance with me around her yard, to be everything for everyone.
Most likely, it’s her faith that keeps her eyes clear, her smile bright, her heart buoyant, and keeps her going in the face of her adversities..
I adore Miss Doris! She’s my Jamaican grandmother, my inspiration, and my partner in crime (no one else will make absurd faces with me at solemn moments). She is the force that drives me, everyday, to be a better missionary, a better volunteer, (a better driver), and a better friend.
And there I was thinking that I was the one driving her.
Betsy Rouleau has served as a member of Passionist Volunteers International for the past year in rural districts outside Kingston in Jamaica. For information see www.passionistvolunteers.org