John Abbot, caregiver coordinator
for Food & Friends, was Melvin Pippen's first AIDS caregiver. "Melvin
is a character," he said. "I love Melvin. He was one of D.C.'s premier
Diana Ross impersonators until he became ill."
I'd gone with John and Jennifer
Anderson, who's Melvin's caregiver now, to meet him at the home of his
grandmother, Mary Mider. As we waited outside, Jen talked about "people
who have shaped me," referring not to grade school teachers or champions
she wanted to imitate, but to those for whom she's cared since joining
Food & Friends four years ago.
Mary Mider came and
joined us. She was gracious and had a quiet elegance about her. She told
me that Melvin used to sing in the choir at her church. "He used to make
everybody happy by his songs. He has a gift." She shook her head. "But
he won't go with me anymore. It makes me sad."
Melvin finally came
home. AIDS was having its way with him. It had reduced his physical stamina
but had not diminished his character. He was energetic and animated...
Later, when we were
alone, Melvin said to me, "You know, she's the one who gave me my morals.
She's the one who always loved me, and I've always loved her, and it's
just sometimes I take it out on her." He was crying softly. "Really, I
just love her."
We walked upstairs
together and Mary Mider was there, waiting. Melvin walked up and gave her
a kiss. She smiled, patted him, and walked away. Later she told me, "I
love him, you know. He doesn't think I do. I care for him, but he just
doesn't think I do."
"He knows," I said
to her. I reached out to give her a hug and she leaned in to return it.
"Let me give you a blessing," she said, whispering a prayer I couldn't
quite hear. But I could feel it in my soul.