Each year I mark one lone outstanding tree,
Clad in its robings of the summer past,
Dry, wan, and shivering in the wintry blast.
It will not pay the season’s rightful fee,—
It will not set its frost-burnt leafage free;
But like some palsied miser all aghast,
Who hoards his sordid treasure to the last,
It sighs, it moans, it sings in eldritch glee.
A foolish tree, to dote on summers gone;
A faithless tree, that never feels how spring
Creeps up the world to make a leafy dawn,
And recompense for all despoilment bring!
Oh, let me not, heyday and youth withdrawn,
With failing hands to their vain semblance cling!
~Edith Matilda Thomas “Winter Leafage”
Decades ago, while I worked as a nurses’ aide in a nursing home, I cared for a little slip of a lady almost 100 years of age who would not go down the hall to breakfast without her make up on. Wearing makeup was more important than putting on clothing to her, so our daily morning routine was prolonged considerably as she meticulously penciled over her invisible eyebrows, caked on powder on her forehead, nose and cheeks to cover the wrinkles, and tremulously applied a wavery thick border of red lipstick on her thin lips. I tried to tell her how lovely she was without a mask on, how her weathered skin deserved to be seen and admired, how her eyes shone more brightly without the crumbling mascara on non-existent eyelashes. She would have none of it. She had never appeared in public without her makeup since her teenage years, and she was not about to start now.
She clung to the fading leaves of her youth, holding on with all her might to what she believed kept her beautiful, so we continued to preserve her “frost-burnt leafage”, covering up her thin bones and her wrinkled face.
She died quietly in her sleep one night so my morning duty was to prepare her body for the coming mortician. I washed her lovely face clean for the last time, admiring her without the cover, appreciating each wrinkle’s fold and crevice, knowing she now was made new in a leafy dawn I could only imagine.
The mortician would do what was needed to dress her up to her specifications. But only I had seen the beauty underneath.