November 27, 2010
Alice and her family were often visited by Mr. and Mrs. Pletcher, well-off farmers who came into town regularly for supplies. The moment Mr. Pletcher headed off to make his purchases, Mrs. Pletcher removed her large pink corset, draped it over the back of my grandmother’s sofa, lay on her back with her knees raised up underneath her long skirt and, each time, asked the same question: “Can you see anything, Martha?”
November 20, 2010
One day Alice pointed up at the sky and asked, “What’s up there? Just air?”
I asked if she meant the sky that we see or beyond it, and she answered, “Beyond it.”
We talked about the universe for a few minutes, but it didn’t seem to make sense to her in the way I expected it to, so I decided to pick up some children’s books at the library—children’s books because the concepts she had lost or that had gone missing for one reason or another would be explained simply and in print large enough for her failing eyesight.
Yesterday, while the wind tore at the remaining leaves on the trees outside The Place and the rain came in bitter spits, Brio and I made ourselves comfortable in Alice’s small apartment. Brio curled up on the sofa; Alice and I sat in chairs pushed close together under her special bright lamp. Read the rest of this entry »
November 14, 2010
One winter day when my grandmother, Martha, was twenty-six years old she needed to go outside and get some water from the well. The well wasn’t far from the house, but fetching water on a Dakota farm on such a cold day meant she either had to bundle up her two children–Marie, age four, and LaRue, a baby–and take them with her, or leave them inside. My grandfather was away.
The fireplace warmed only one room of the two-room sod house, so she spread a quilt on the floor, put the children on the quilt, gave them some bread, and placed two dolls she’d made of wooden spools on the edge of the quilt for them to find when they’d finished the bread. She grabbed a woolen shawl and a pail and set out. In a few minutes she’d be back. They’d hardly notice her absence.
She started down the frozen path to the well. Blades of sunlight gleaming off a mower struck her eyes. She raised her right arm to block the glare and hurried on, worried that the children might crawl in the opposite direction from the dolls, toward the fireplace. In her rush she didn’t see the thick wedge of ice around the well’s wooden skirt. When the toe of her boot hit the wedge, she slipped and tumbled headlong into the icy water.
Read the rest of this entry »
November 11, 2010
There have been a few. Some examples:
During our phone call last night, Alice told me that Mr. Whipple had taken her hand and patted it when she passed his table in the dining room.
“You mean Mr. Fickle,” I said.
“What did I say?”
“You said Mr. Whipple.”
“Who is Mr. Whipple?”
I reminded her that he’s the guy who can’t stop himself from squeezing the Charmin.
“Oh, right,” she said. “No wonder I thought of him.”
The other day as we drove home from an appointment, a dreary and relentless rain fell. Alice, lost in thought, stared straight ahead. “Poor Mary out in the rain,” she said finally. “Fall, winter, and spring.”
I nodded, thinking about our friend Mary who takes the bus to work every day and spends hours waiting at bus stops throughout soggy Portland winters. “It’s too bad she never learned to drive,” I said.
I glanced over at my mother, who was looking at me as if she’d never met me, let alone given birth to me. Read the rest of this entry »
November 6, 2010
“I went out one door and blew in another,” Alice told me after she tried going out for a walk on an especially gusty day last week. She’s been feeling upbeat about her sister Pearl’s return from the hospital to her apartment at the assisted living facility in Wisconsin. They’ve been talking on the phone again every evening, and each time they talk Pearl’s voice sounds stronger.
So, in a celebratory mood, out she went, the wind attacked her hair, and in she came. She decided to walk around inside the building, and it proved so satisfying that she did it again today because it was raining. She walked through the Rosary room door and spotted Mr. Fickle. He sat by himself, slumped in a chair, his back to her. His body seemed too still. “That,” she said, “took the wind out of my sails.” Alarmed, she took a few steps closer. Suddenly he raised an arm and waved at an aide who walked briskly through the room on her way to prep the dining room for dinner.
“He was waving, so I knew he wasn’t dying,” she told me cheerfully. Then she reprimanded herself. “Alice, that’s not funny!”
She stopped to ask him if he was greeting all the girls going by. He answered with a vigorous “You bet!”
“He had his cap on,” she said. “Not backwards.” She had not approved of the backward cap, which was the way he wore it on Irene’s birthday. It made no sense to her that a man in his eighties would indulge in such behavior.
He looked off to the hallway on the right and announced that he could see someone coming. “Well good for you,” Alice told him and went on her way.
In the dining room an hour later she saw Mr. Fickle in his cap, which was still correctly positioned, bill over his brow. He approached a woman in a wheelchair, hugged her, then headed toward his table. But the woman called him back. He returned, listened to a few words she spoke into his ear, nodded, and pushed her chair toward the elevator. “Next thing you know,” Alice said, “up he goes in the elevator with her. She lives on the second floor.”
Alice’s table is near the elevator. She kept an eye on it while dinner was served.
“Some time later,” she told me, “here comes Mr. Fickle with that woman. They got off the elevator and guess what?” She paused. “His cap was on backwards!”
He returned the woman to her table and made the rounds, greeting various friends. “He was just all over the place,” Alice said, “running around with his cap on backwards, as if no one knew it was on the right way when he took her upstairs.”
I asked if she thought anyone would have noticed. “Anyone but you, I mean.”
“Maybe not.” She started to laugh. “They’d have to be interested.”
When she walked through the Rosary room on the way back to her apartment, as she does every night after dinner, she noted that Mr. Fickle, who had just finished setting up chairs for the Rosary group, did not wear his cap at all. “Not backward. Not forward,” she said. “Cap off.”
“Cap on chair?” I asked.
“Cap on chair. That’s right.”
He sat down on another chair to wait for the group to join him.
“I told him that he’d better wave at me,” Alice said.
He bypassed the wave and went for a hug, then added a kiss on the cheek, to which she responded, “Thank you.”
“Now that I’m telling you this silly story,” she said, “I’m wondering why I bothered to say thank you after getting a kiss and hug. Why on earth would I do that?”
I thought that my mother, who had been anxious and upset about Pearl for the past couple of weeks, felt relieved at her sister’s improvement and was enjoying herself, and that she felt grateful to Mr. Fickle for not being ill, or worse, in his chair that afternoon and for continuing to be the source of her fun. But before I could say any of that, she moved on, lowering her voice for dramatic effect. “Now what do you suppose could have happened up in that woman’s room,” she asked, “so that he came downstairs with his cap on backwards?”
If you need inspiration, click here for a 30-second video.
And/or just think about this:
November 5, 2010
Today Words of Wisdom, a web site connecting people who read and write blogs, is highlighting Go Ask Alice…When She’s 94. I want to thank Sandy and Pam, who run the Words of Wisdom site, and I’d like to welcome fellow blog writers who are stopping by because of their recommendation.
Some background: My mother, Alice, moved from Iowa to Oregon, where I live, two years ago and now has an apartment in an assisted living center. She calls her new home The Place. I’m using the blog to keep track of some moments with Alice that I don’t ever want to forget. I also write about other family members from time to time. This week’s post, for example, is about Alice’s sister, Pearl (age 90).
Sandy and Pam suggest offering three previous posts to give an idea of the subject. To get to know Alice better, I recommend:
Mr. Fickle is my mother’s name for a man in his eighties who lives at The Place. He kissed Alice’s cheek on New Year’s Day and occasionally he holds her hand in a passing Hello a bit longer than, as she puts it, is necessary. Read more…
About six months ago Alice was sitting on the edge of the bed folding laundry, one of her favorite activities, and suddenly she found herself on the floor. Read more…
Thanks for visiting.
And, as always, many thanks to this blog’s regular readers.