Rasha al Raisi – In his book Under One Roof, Barry Martin — a construction supervisor in his 50s — highlights two years of his life, when he was in charge of building a shopping mall in Seattle. What made this period special was Edith Macefield, an 83-year-old woman, who refused to sell her house to be part of the upcoming project.
To many she was a symbol of fight against change and consumerism that’s been happening in her town.
Local newspapers called her a national heroine and quoted her in many different occasions.
She had refused one million dollars as a price for her house and insisted on staying in.
Barry was one of the many people representing his company whose been kicked out and shouted at by Edith, when trying to convince her to move.
But later, when she shares with him the real reason behind her insistence: wanting to die on the same sofa where her mother died before, Barry makes sure to guarantee her that simple wish.
Having his trailer 29 steps away from her house, he would stop on daily to make sure that the old lady is fine.
Barry was amazed to find out that at her age, Edith was alone and had refused many offers from social services of taking care of her.
Instead, she had a few friends and neighbours who’d do the shopping for her and help her around.
She also owned an ancient dog who was blind and kept bumping into things while running around.
After a few visits, Edith asks Barry to take her to her hairdresser’s appointment as she wasn’t up to driving. From that point on, they’d become friends and he’s allowed to enter her house.
Barry was amazed to discover that when it comes to Edith, there was so much more than meets the eye.
To start with, when she was in her 20s Edith was an American secret agent working in Nazi Germany during the war time.
She had managed to escape from a concentration camp, along with 7 children and had to cross the Alps on foot.
Later on, she got married to an English man and was gifted a castle that she turned into an orphanage.
There, she made money from raising cattle and helped in raising 13 orphaned children.
Edith also rubbed shoulders with famous Hollywood stars of her time, the likes of Clark Gable, Spencer Tracey and Catharine Hepburn.
She was also a writer who’d published a few romantic novels under the pseudonym: Domilini.
Barry enjoyed Edith’s company and considered her the best teacher he’d come across.
But as days pass by, Barry notices Edith’s deteriorating health.
It starts with difficulties in moving around and performing simple tasks like taking care of herself.
But later, she’s diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which requires a full-time caretaker.
Barry willingly steps in to help his old friend, spending time away from his family and staying with her after work till she falls asleep.
This task is carried out till the day Edith dies and Barry finds himself mourning the loss of a good friend.
The lessons that Barry learned from taking care of Edith helped him later when dealing with his dad who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
The book is interesting with funny and frustrating moments.
It shows that friendship is the finest and the most lasting relationship that human beings could forge during a life time.
It also teaches how human compassion and kindness knows no limits.
And that it could be offered to acquaintances and strangers alike, in the times of need.
Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of: The World According to Bahja.