In a rickety shopping cart. Through a crowded shopping mall. Wheeee!
It was a welcome act of inspiration for a pair of fun-loving 71-year-olds. Late for a hair appointment, the cancer-exhausted Jean couldn’t walk through Northwoods Mall. So her best pal since the third grade, the aptly named Patty Rush, dashed her through the mall – the twosome laughing all the way like schoolkids, as shoppers gawked and smiled at the crazy sight. And later, just for fun, they made a repeat run on the way out.
The adventure puts an exclamation point on the treasured friendship, buoying Jean’s spirits in her final days. But she has just one final favor, if anyone can help.
“We can’t seem to find that picture, eh?” she asked me Wednesday.
I’ve been trying to locate the photo-taker since Tuesday, when I first heard about the story. The tale actually began 62 years ago, in the third grade in St. Mark’s Grade School. There, a Peoria native named Patty befriended a newcomer named Jean, whose family had arrived from Baltimore so her dad could take a job at Block & Kuhl. They became and stayed fast friends, through graduation at Academy of Our Lady.
“Then Jean went to college, and I went to work,” Patty Rush says.
In the mid-’60s, Jean Jachman and husband Paul Jachman bopped around the country during his tour with the U.S. Air Force. In 1969, they settled in Minneapolis so he could take a job there as a pilot with Northwest Airlines. That same year brought the birth of daughter Andrea Jachman, whom over time the couple would bring to Peoria to visit relatives, along with Patty Rush.
Fast-forward more than four decades. Jean and Patty remained tight friends. But not long ago, Jean called with harsh news: She had been diagnosed with myelodysplasia, a type of blood cancer.
Jean underwent chemotherapy, but recently stopped. The treatment hadn’t stopped the disease from progressing relentlessly. So, to lessen the physical toll, she and her family decided to skip chemo in favor of more energy during her remaining time.
As her daughter says, “She is quite physically weak, though pretty much still as stubborn and feisty as ever.”
Recently, Jean decided to make one last road trip to Peoria, to see her pal Patty get married to John Rush last Saturday. Though Jean and Paul Jachman are divorced, he agreed to accompany her to Peoria to help her get around.
The small wedding went fine, but left Jean a little weak. Still, the next day, she wanted to get her hair washed and styled before the trip home. Patty called around and found an opening at a salon in Northwoods Mall. So they drove over and headed inside.
Suddenly, Jean felt too weak to walk. As she sat on a bench, Patty looked around for a wheelchair, but found none. She thought of asking for help, but saw her friend looking weaker.
“I didn’t want to leave her for any amount of time,” Patty says.
Then she spotted a shopping cart. She hurried over, grabbed the cart and rolled it in front of Jean.
“We can do this,” Patty told her best friend.
Without comment, Jean pushed aside her exhaustion and rose to her feet. Then she gingerly stepped onto the front bottom frame of the cart, facing Patty. Then Jean grabbed onto the sides, like kids sometimes do in grocery stores.
The two buddies locked eyes, then smiled. Patty began to push, and began to laugh, more so as the cart picked up speed.
“We were going pretty lickety-split,” Patty says.
Shoppers began to point and chuckle. At one point, a security guard took a long look, but stayed put. Were they afraid their geriatric “Thelma and Louise” act might get them arrested? Perhaps for speeding?
With a laugh, Jean says, “I don’t think she was going that fast. We’re a bit hobbled by age.”
They skidded to stop – well, kind of – at the salon. After Jean got her hair done, the pair went outside: the cart was still there. They looked at each other for a second, then jumped back into place for another mall run. Cowabunga! They felt like little kids, like the old days.
“She was having a good time. I was having a good time,” Jean says. “She has been a good friend since the third grade. You don’t get many like that.”
During that repeat jaunt, a laughing young man rushed up. Impressed by their joyful spirit, he asked to take their photo. They smiled, he thanked them, and he vanished.
And all too soon, Jean was headed back to Minneapolis. There, she shared the story with her daughter, who immediately and desperately wanted to find that photo.
She says, “In a time of life devoted to good-byes and soul-searching and many, many tears, this image of two of the oldest and most devoted friends, one pushing the other and both pushing the limits of decorum, is one that has brought my family great joy and laughter over the last few days. It would be a real treasure for us to have it.”
I have done some legwork here. I posted a call-out for the photo on Facebook; though scads of people loved the story, none has a clue as to the photo-taker. I contacted the hair salon, Regis; no men work there. And the mall does not have security cameras in commons areas, where most of the cart ride occurred.
So, right here, right now, we put out a call for that photo. Share the story, by whatever means you wish. It’s a needle-in-a-haystack hope. But maybe this story can find the photo-taker. He could be in Switzerland; he could be in Bartonville. Yet maybe he – or maybe someone else who took a photo – will see this simple plea from a dying woman and her family. You can reach me with the info at the end of this column.
On Tuesday, Jean’s health took a dive for the worse. She has very little time. She would love to see that photo. So would the rest of us, as a precious testimony to friendship and perseverance.
PHIL LUCIANO is a columnist with the Journal Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/philluciano, 686-3155 or (800)225- 5757, Ext. 3155. Follow him on Twitter @LucianoPhil.
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