I was on my way into the track and stopped to chat a few times. This is the best part of the day seeing old friends and catching up. Then there is a different kind of’ person you see on your way in the doors, and you scamper to the men’s room, or just keep your head down and pick up the pace. But not on this day, as Mildred was back in full effect and she had plenty on her mind. I just happened to the target on this bright sunny day.
“Hey, Ed. Don’t try to pretend like you don’t see me.” Hello, how are you doing? I was just going up stairs to get to work. “Oh, bull s#*!, you were trying to duck me.” Mildred is a sprite 85-years-old, and she looks every part of it. I think she was a bare knuckle boxer in her day. There are some days when she’ll just wave and read her form, and other times when she’ll point at you and say get over here, I need to talk to you. Today was one of those special moments.
Now before I go any farther, allow me to tell you how long I have known Mildred. I was a parking collector at 18-yrs-old, and she used to try and run past the gate without paying. She would take the best spot in the house reservered for our “tipping customers” and she would get out of the car, flip us off, and walk to the gates. She was a bright ray of sunshine, and over the years we got a kick out of Mildred.
Every time she pulls me aside, I get to hear how “so-and-so just cheated, and she was beat at the wire.” All in good fun, and just another colorful character at the track. – Mildred came up the hard way. I found this out some 25 years ago when she had too many beers in the track and grabbed my arm to sit down. Upon sitting, she asked if I was going to buy us a beer… I made my way up and brought back two, and it was at this moment that my opinion of Mildred began to soften.
“Ed, I’ve had one helluva’ life. Some good, some bad, and most I want to forget. But I’m glad you decided to sit down. I wanted to chew the fat and let you know a little about the old lady who flips you boys off when I pull into the track.” – Mildred’s mother died in childbirth with her younger brother, and she was raised by her father who was a railroad worker. A large man with a handlebar mustache, and smoked all the day long. He was on his way to Louisville, and slipped off the edge of the train. He was taken under, and he had no chance to survive. “We were parceled off to relatives, and I haven’t seen two of my three siblings in over 30 years. I lived with my aunt who was a nurse, and she helped me along with my schooling. I eventually became a nurse and worked in the trauma recovery unit when soldiers were coming home from Vietnam.” Now these were some brave men, and most could never be put back together again. I spent my time working with patients, and even came in my off days as I got attached to many. I loved my job, and I hate to hear when many people bitch about what is ailing them. I saw plenty of pain, and I know the difference. – She sat back and lifted the bottle, and sucked down about half in one drink. ” I never married, and didn’t have any time for that. I loved my job, and my auntie and I would go the races a few times a month. That is where I picked up my love of gambling. When auntie passed away, I have kept up my track visits ever since. “You gonna buy us another round?” “Sure, I’ll be back in a minute.”
After hearing her story that day, I had a better insight into who she was. I still laugh as I can see her cream color car with the window at half mast, and a middle finger sticking out for the world to see. Mildred was a tough old lady, and she would be the first to tell you. But, after a few beers and the story of her life. I had a little different picture of her. But, I digress. It was on this day she called me over and wanted a piece of my ear, if not the whole thing. “Ed, I have been following you for years. I have asked about you from the many people along the way and kept up on your work progress.” “Not too bad for a silly punk from the parking lot!” As I thanked her, she told me she wasn’t through, and don’t be in such a hurry. – When I heard you announce your first race, I thought I was going deaf. I told a few complainers to shut their traps your first few days. But, things have quieted down, and you are getting much better. I like when you toss in the names of the jockeys and how they are “going to the right handed stick.” People are starting to like you, and they have pretty much forgotten who was here last in that job. It is the hardest thing in the world to be new and fill-in for a person who was better. But, you stuck with it, and I just wanted to tell you how I felt.
I didn’t know what to say, and reached over to this hardened old lady and gave her a hug. She hugged back with the love and care that I know many of wounded souls received along the way in the hospital. Mildred acted rough, and this was her wall to block out the pain she had seen in her years of life. ” Now, get your ass to work. That’s enough goofing around for today.” Stop back if you get some time. I heeded the advice, and stopped over to the bartender, and bought her the next beer to be served. As I walked up stairs, I can still hear her words and they made me smile. Through a life of tough times and pain, she did what she loved, and to this very day she continues. “Mildred, this one’s for you. Keep telling it like it is, or at least how you see it.”