Whatever Libby Wants – Once Again
February 11, 2013
“I hope you get to see the man over here who seems to think he is Abraham Lincoln’s double,” Alice said not long ago. “He’s really tall and wears a stovepipe hat and a sort of dressy jacket with a stand-up collar.”
We were still a long way from Lincoln’s birthday. The man appeared one day at lunchtime and strode slowly through the dining room.
“He has long sideburns,” she added, “and he walked around a while and then sat down in the Village Cup.”
I did not get to see this apparition in the dining room or in the Village Cup, the coffee shop that Alice won a prize for naming (free coffee for life), or anywhere else. But it turned out that, like the real Lincoln, the impersonator was a harbinger of change, in this case not change for the better. The day after he showed up, a new place mat appeared on Alice’s table across from her own place setting.
Everyone gets a place mat on arrival at The Place. They can request a design for it if they like. Alice’s place mat is decorated with flowers, Mr. Fickle’s has a fisherman, and others have decks of cards or cats or dogs or birds or deer or whatever they like.
These are not photographs from actual lives. There’s probably a cupboard somewhere with stacks of laminated place mats in categories: Wildlife, Outdoor Sports, Indoor Sports, Flowers, Winter Scenes, Autumn Scenes, etc.
As she approached her corner of the dining room, the dread turned to dismay. Up close she could see that the chosen design for the place mat was the Lord’s Prayer entwined in some vines. Her heart sank.
Alice is not a fan of religion. She believes in what she calls “Something,” but she doesn’t call it God very often. She fears large doses of religious fervor can lead to insanity.
“A lot of people who are not all that religious still like the Lord’s Prayer,” I offered in an attempt to make her feel better.
She would have none of it. “But would they put it on their place mats?”
Many days passed with no new resident appearing across from her. Then one day at lunch Alice was surprised to find that instead of a woman sliding down the slippery slope of religious fervor, the new person seated at her table was none other than the incorrigible Libby.
This is the same Libby who, to quote a previous blog post about her, “cleans her fingernails with her fork, stares and points at people with palsy, shouts at passersby, and wipes her plate with her napkin when she’s finished eating and then uses the napkin to wrap up food she then places in a pocket she calls ‘the garbage dump.’”
Most disturbing to Alice is that Libby, who is 95, throws herself at men. She grabs at them as they pass by her table and clutches their captive hands in her own while she blesses them with long prayers. Or she might sing to them if they pause for even a moment to greet her. Or call out their names and shout HELLO if they’re wise to her ways and speed up as they pass by.
When she sat at this table before, she drove Alice so close to the edge that I offered to intervene. Alice said no dice, so a dear friend volunteered to step in and exert the male voice of authority so meaningful to women of a certain age. He would, he said, ask the administration to find someone more suitable for Alice to sit with than Libby.
It turned out he didn’t need to make this happen. Alice finally complained and they moved Libby. But now, because of some behind-the-scenes dining room seating shuffle, she’s back. The Lord’s Prayer, which we might have put to good use in order to avoid this calamity, has disappeared from the table, replaced by Libby’s place mat. It looks like this:
But it should be this:
So now every night, once again, I hear awful Libby stories. When I beg Alice to allow me to step in and speak to the powers that be about this new arrangement, she refuses. “I don’t want to get in any trouble,” she tells me, as if I am going to walk into the administrator’s office chewing gum, making wisecracks, and telling dirty jokes about old ladies who can’t keep their hands off the guys. Or, worse, lose my temper.
“I’ll be nice,” I promise, but she does not trust my father’s Irish blood in me.
“Let’s just wait and see,” she says. And so we wait and we see. And what we see isn’t pretty.
What would Abe do?
Previous posts about Libby: