When Carol Guzy first lugged her cameras to the humble house in Northwest Washington, she thought, This is going to be a quick hit.
The assignment seemed straightforward: Follow home health aide Marilyn Daniel as she made the rounds of her elderly clients. It certainly didn't seem to have the heft of assignments such as covering refugees in Kosovo, famine in Ethiopia, civil unrest in Haiti or the fall of the Berlin Wall, the kind of work that has earned Carol three Pulitzer Prizes and a description as "one of the most renowned American photojournalists of all time" on Answers.com.
But as soon as Carol walked in the door, she was floored by what she saw between the two sisters who lived there: Rozzie Laney, who was 91, and Clarice Morant, known as "Classie," who is 104.
Rozzie had end-stage Alzheimer's disease and a host of other problems. "She couldn't really move herself," Carol recalls. "She could moan; that's really all she could do. But there was a clear change in her whenever Classie was near. The bond between them was immediately apparent."
At more than a century old, Classie was a "tough cookie," Carol says. "If she didn't like you, you were out the door." Classie still baked peach cobbler, managed the household and, above all, cared for her sister. "She'd also cared for her brother, but he died in the hospital, and I think that broke her heart. She'd made a promise to the Lord that Rozzie would die in her own bed, surrounded by her love. No one believed this 104-year-old woman could do it. But that's exactly what happened."
Carol first met Classie last fall, but the "quick hit" turned into passionate devotion, and Carol has been going back ever since. When Rozzie died, as you'll read in Paula Span's moving piece that begins on Page 12, Classie was right beside her, holding her, stroking her hair, whispering to her.
Carol was there, too. "This is one of the precious intimate stories," Carol says. "You don't see them often. It's about care for an aging relative, unconditional love."
Now that Rozzie is gone, Carol has continued to visit Classie. Sometimes, Carol says, "she doesn't even remember my name." But she's still aware, still on top of things. "I usually say 'Sweet dreams' to her when I leave, and the other night she said this back to me: 'Good night, honey. Good night. Sweet dreams.' "
When Carol returned the next morning, she says, she "almost burst into tears." Classie was sleeping in Rozzie's bed, and that's where she's stayed. She's ailing now, with congestive heart failure.
"It's hard," Carol says. "But I know that Classie has accomplished her goal, and it's time for her to rest."
Tom Shroder can be reached at email@example.com.