Alice’s Thanksgiving Day List
November 23, 2012
For the past ninety years or so, Alice has made lists. I’ve read this is typical Virgo behavior. I don’t know, but she is a Virgo and she always has one prepared for our nightly phone calls and my visits. Thanksgiving Day was no different. She waved it at me as soon as I walked in the door.
“After we eat, we have to go over this,” she said urgently. Each new list is every bit as important as all previous lists and all future lists. When I was a child, I dreaded the sight of these scraps of paper torn from junk mail envelopes, paper towels, paper bags, soup can labels, napkins, gum wrappers, match covers, even the cardboard from the inside of toilet paper rolls. She grabbed whatever she could in the time she had and jotted things down.
They almost always held bits of information and news, but also at least one or two things for me to do that would curtail my freedom. Now I look forward to them. They still often dictate what I’ll be doing with some of my time, but I don’t mind as much.
However, we couldn’t look at this current list right away because we had to hurry off to the dining room for a traditional holiday meal. Alice likes to arrive early — very, very early —and observe. She sits up straight and tries to look like she’s behaving herself, like this:
Actually, she’s quietly assessing everybody and everything that’s happening around her.
At 97, she is now the second oldest person in The Place (the oldest is 98). People are always telling her she doesn’t look her age. She brushes aside this compliment, but secretly she loves it. “Whoever thought I’d be 97?” she asked me after someone came by and told her how good she looks. “What am I supposed to look like?” Then we talked about how lucky she is, an appropriate discussion for the occasion.
After a traditional meal, we returned to her apartment. I gave her a little bag of gifts from friends.
First she opened two presents from my friend Salli. One was a penguin pendant, the other a penguin mug to add to her penguin collection, a little Antarctica diorama on the top of the fridge in her apartment.
Then she got the special home-brewed beer Gordon made for her. (See Threat of Attention – The Beer.) She loved that. She thinks Gordon is one of the funniest people she’s met so far in Portland. (See Cheers for her first encounter with him.)
She wanted me to put that in the fridge for the time being. The penguins would help keep it cold.
Finally out came the list. The Reading of the List goes like this: She holds it, checks it, taps it with a pen a few times, and reads it to me one item at a time. She can start anywhere she wishes. In this case, I could see she was tapping at an item in the middle. “Okay,” she said, “Abraham Lincoln’s hat!”
“All right,” I said, feeling quizzed but confident. “Stovepipe.”
“Yes! And did you know there was another assassination attempt on him and the bullet went right through the hat? If he hadn’t been wearing it, he would have been killed.”
“Was this before or after the assassination attempt in Ford’s theater?”
“Don’t be silly.” She tapped the list again. “And he loved Shakespeare. The man who shot him and killed him, John Wilkes Booth, was a Shakespearean actor. Did you know that?”
I admitted that I had known that, which kind of spoiled some of the fun but we were talking about an honest man, after all.
She shook her head, disappointed, and checked the list again. “Creams!”
“What about them?”
She told me that someone had given her some samples of creams – one of my friends. Joanne? Thalia? Kathy? She couldn’t remember and neither could I. It had been a year ago. She has used up the creams. She showed me how careful she was with them, dabbing them on her face in tiny amounts. For all we knew, this is why she looks younger than 97. If you are the giver of creams and you remember what they were, please let me know. She wants me to buy her some asap.
Once again she consulted the list. “Now this eyebrow,” she said, pointing to her left eyebrow. “It sticks out, doesn’t it? What can I do about that?”
I didn’t know what she meant by this. “Hairs,” she said. “They’re kind of wild, aren’t they?”
I stood up and closely examined both eyebrows. Nothing appeared to be sticking out, I assured her.
She let go of her eyebrow worries and got back to the list, which held news of an e-mail from a cousin and his wife, who were headed south from the Dakotas for the winter. Also, she needed hand lotion, mouthwash, etc. She got around to my birthday, which I noticed was at the top of the list, but here it was, showing up near the end of the Reading. What did I want, she asked. I couldn’t think of anything so she went on to the item that gave her great pleasure, how she’d made a new batch of make-up.
You may have read one of her make-up recipes in the past, but she claims this one is even better. “I took some lipstick that was too pink,” she said, and I cut it up into pieces. I added a half a cup of lotion, the kind with cocoa butter, and I put this into the microwave.”
She got more excited as she went on. “I took it out and stirred it up.” She paused when she noticed me taking notes. “You have to stir it while it’s still hot,” she said and waited for me to write that down. “Next, I added more lotion, some witch hazel and some alcohol. I got out my funnel and poured the make-up into a bottle I had handy.”
She squeezed a dab of it into her hand. “It’s enough to last me the rest of my life!” she said. “This is all I use.”
More Virgo, shining through.
Happy holiday weekend!
(And if you really want to recycle toilet paper rolls beyond using them for lists, go here.)