I first met Mrs. Prindl in 2011; she was turning 100 years old.
That summer, mutual friend and writer Kathleen Stocking asked me to check on Mrs. Prindl at her waterfront cabin in Suttons Bay. Kathleen was in the Peace Corps. She didn't tell me a lot about Mrs. Prindl. In hindsight, I think she wanted me to have the pleasure of discovering her for myself.
The next day, I phoned Mrs. Prindl to arrange our meeting. The strength of her “Good afternoon,” startled me. Considering her age, I thought I'd mis-dialed. “What beer or wine can I offer you and your husband, Tom? I drink a beer a day,” she said.
During our call, I said I used a wheelchair. I thought if her cabin wasn't accessible we could sit outside. Did she use a cane, walker or wheelchair? I had no idea. “Any-who, we'll be fine,” she said.
Seven years later, I can still see her waiting outside the door of her 1950s little red cabin. It was a hot day. She stood about 5 feet 3 inches tall — all 90 pounds of her — and wore a three-quarter-length blue pleated skirt, long sleeve white blouse, beige cotton blazer adorned with floral lapel pins, suntan knee-high nylons and tan, flat Velcro-strapped shoes. Curled, fine white hair thinly covered her head. If she was perspiring, I couldn't tell. Clear-lensed wire framed glasses rested on her face. Later, I'd learn this was how she liked to dress. And blue was her favorite color.
Kathleen had suggested we bring Mrs. Prindl a loaf of bread and some milk. Inside the cabin, Mr. Prindl thanked us, opening the refrigerator door to reveal an oversupply of both.
We stayed a few hours that day, amazed by her ability to rise quickly from her wood chair or soft sofa, completely unassisted. She answered the phone, shared her needle crafts, favorite books and world travel diaries, and served our drinks.
Overall, she was more interested in us than talking about herself. Eventually, we did get her to talk about her childhood during World War I as well as her current work at Kurn Hattin Homes for Children in Vermont. She read from the book she'd written: "Five Generations of Musical Prindls." Her memory, listening skills and tracking abilities were better than ours. Watching her, I wondered if we'd just met the most intelligent, kindest and least stressed person we'd ever know.
At one point, Tom walked out front to the beach. With a twinkle in her eye, Mrs. Prindl asked me, “How do you fly on an airplane with your wheelchair?” I paused at her private question. Had we met so I could help her thrive with forthcoming disability? Was she the one to teach me how to age with gusto?
We became forever friends, seeing one another in the summer and speaking on the phone for over an hour every Saturday.
We talked about everything. Mrs. Prindl was the one I wanted to share my happiest news with, my silly stories and dark times. Eventually, I forced myself to initiate my most dreaded subject. "What will I do when you die?” I asked.
Answering in her most loving and practical way, she said “You can always talk to me, Susan. I'll be listening.”
Learn more about Mrs. Prindl in her obituary at carletonfuneralhome.net and in August 2013 and July 2017 Record-Eagle Adapted in TC columns.
Susan Odgers is a 32-year resident of Traverse City and has been using a wheelchair for 43 years. She is a faculty member of Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University. Reach her at email@example.com.