Her work-damaged body stoked the embers of her great heart, wreathed in

gummy smiles—for everyone.

We’re talking about Mary R Woodard, with no dot after the R, ironer, buffer of the terrazzo floors in a Jewish home in Ladue, Missouri. Thirty years before, she had worked in wet shoes upon a laundry’s concrete floor, never missed a day.

“both wings flappin,’ still not flyin,” a later comment Mary made of her ulcerated feet became the title of the poetic memory of her relationship with heart-friend Jane Ellen Ibur, in 2014, in whose home she had worked. The bird motif introduces the three sections: “Twigs,” essential backstory of Mary and Jane; “Nest,” Jane’s eleven-year care of the disabled Mary; and “Wings,” Mary’s last days and transition, with Jane’s response. Pen and ink sketches of twigs, nest, and wings encircle the page numbers.

Aside from the artistic presentation of this slim book, the poetic voice of Jane Ellen Ibur sounds the depths of this relationship: the housemaid and the lonely five-year-old, orphaned in a home of elegance. As Mary ironed in the basement, with Jane seated on the floor below, conversations embellished their lives: Mary—someone to mother; and Jane—someone to love. Thirty-three years, they cared, deeply, sharing smells, tastes, sounds.

both wings flappin,’ still not flyin impressed me by its authenticity, as well. My work in home health care also found me welcomed, sitting in the kitchens of “Black Marys with ulcerated feet, impoverished, toothless, and cheerful.”—Even watching out for my car lest it be vandalized. Though such rubbings with a culture not mine, I was taught a lot. I am grateful.