Happy Birthday to Alice!
August 24, 2012
Today Alice turns 97.
She sent me an e-mail yesterday telling me about waking up in the middle of the night feeling sad because she does not own a “decent pair of bedroom slippers.”
She often has to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, she wrote, and so she must wear stockings to bed so that she can slip into a pair of shoes for this journey. (By “stockings” she means nylon footies.) “I cannot put my poor old aching feet in bare shoes. I know you do, but I just cannot.”
How uncomfortable. I had no idea she was wearing those things to bed. So off I went last night to search for slippers at the mall.
My old friend Kathy kindly agreed to join me. We’ve known each other since 1969. In all those years, we’ve probably gone to the mall maybe three times. One of those excursions was with Alice when she turned ninety-five.
Kathy and I ended up with three boxes of slippers for Alice to try on because, although her description above sounds like she’s never had the money to purchase a “decent pair of bedroom slippers,” the fact is that she has spurned one pair after another.
Since she moved here from Iowa I’ve bought maybe seven or eight different kinds of slippers for her – some quilted and satiny with bows, some fuzzy, some like little on-the-go flats with wrinkly heels that you have to stretch out first in order to slip into, some moccasin-like with faux leather fringe and plastic beads across the toes (an insult to the tribes we grew up around), some with fake fur lining, etc. She had a little honeymoon with each pair and then gave up on them.
Alice is outraged by every price tag she’s ever seen on a pair of slippers and insists that I buy inexpensive ones, even though I’ve pointed out that we’ve probably spent maybe $200+ by now on slippers.
“I don’t know what’s happened to my feet,” she said the other day. “They don’t even look like my feet any more. They’ve gotten so…thin, I guess you’d say.”
This is true and might explain the problem. Her feet no longer look as plump and shapely as they used to, and slippers don’t bring the comfort they once did, but we had to try.
Kathy and I also searched for a plain-colored, 3/4-sleeved, cotton blouse for Alice, her favorite item of clothing, but we quickly became discouraged. The number of hideously ugly blouses hanging on racks and biding their time until they meet up with a landfill is staggering.
We got a bit lost in Macy’s and asked for blouse help from a fey character in a distant corner of the store, a fawn-eyed clerk wearing black, rhinestone-studded glasses. She spoke so softly and queerly and with such odd tilts of the head that it wouldn’t have surprised us if the dressing room door behind her would have blown open onto a sunlit meadow aflutter with fairies.
“Go down to the third floor,” she said in her whispery voice, “and turn left.” She paused and smiled knowingly. “Or turn right. You’ll find what you need there.”
Off we went down the escalator, hardly knowing what to expect. I had an unsettling feeling that she knew our needs better than we did.
But there on the third floor, which was empty of other customers, we turned left and landed on exactly the right sort of tops for Alice, not blouses (just forget blouses) but other sorts of things she likes.
A tiny woman in our age range appeared out of the vast silence to ring us up. She told us that her mother died last year, age 92. Even at that advanced age, she was still driving her car, still (a Mennonite) kneeling to pray each night with a cloth around her head, her long hair falling down her back, still encouraging her daughter, now a grandmother herself, to live life fully and to always know she was loved, no matter what. Her grieving daughter started to cry and so did we. We all hugged after she rang up our purchases. (And I thought of Kathy’s mother, gone many years now, and was reminded, How precious, how precious… So maybe meeting this woman was my need when directed by The Woman Upstairs, after all).
And so it is now a new day, Alice’s birthday, and soon I’m going to deliver slippers and chocolates and honey almond cookies and a soft purple top and a soft rose-colored top and some stolen roses to Alice. I’ll add them to the nibbles and conserves my good friend Justin sent Alice (delicious treats from Harry and David – thank you, Justin!), and the jam sent by Lucille (quite generously, considering that Alice won’t tell Lucille who her father is), and whatever else she’s accrued from various people over there at The Place where she is now one of the most senior of senior citizens.
Wish us luck with the slippers.
(Thank you, dear Kath, for all the odysseys we’ve been on together. Many more to come.)
P.S. I just called Alice. All week she’s been saying she doesn’t want to go anywhere for her birthday, but now she wants an outing. A free copy of Roses Are Red, Shoes Are Black to the first person who can correctly guess where it is she wants to go today. Put your guess (one per customer) in the Comments section below.