A Close Call

January 27, 2014

On Sunday night Alice washed her sleeping cap and put it in the microwave to dry.

sleeping cap

Maybe you can guess what happened next.

She reached into the microwave, grabbed the flaming cap, and ran water over it. Then she opened the door under the sink and dropped the cap into the wastebasket (still smoldering, but she didn’t know it because she cannot see her own hand any more).

She shut the cupboard door.

Then the smell of smoke.

She removed the cap from the wastebasket, made out the glow of embers, and ran more water over the poor, beloved, stinky thing. (She’s quite attached to this cap; Thalia gave it to her.)

After she put it into the wastebasket again, she rang the bell she uses to call for help. She thought someone official ought to come and review her fire extinguishing abilities.

She had not heard the thundering of hooves already headed in her direction because of the smoke alarm, which she also could not hear because she had taken her hearing aids out for the night.

Two medical aides burst through the door, yanked the damp, charred cap from the wastebasket, tossed it into the sink under running water, threw open all the windows onto a freezing night, bundled Alice into a cocoon of blankets and put her in the solarium while the apartment aired out, then hurried off to check to see that nothing else in the wastebasket had caught fire.

A few people from her end of the building came to look at her curiously and speak to her, but of course she still wasn’t wearing her hearing aids, so she had no idea what they were saying and she had no desire to fill them in on what had just happened.

“Then that pook came by and looked at me,” she said, referring to the unsociable man who lives at the end of the hall.

By “pook” she does not mean “a heap of something, such as hay” or a “fairy creature” or “a mysterious lover,” or any of the other meanings I could find just now when I quickly looked it up online. She has used that term all my life, and I know what she means. She said hello to this man about twenty times before she finally gave up and realized he would never respond to her greetings. Therefore, he is a pook.

She turned her head away from the pook and tried to ignore him.

When the aides closed the windows and brought Alice back into her apartment, she called me.

“I started a fire!” she announced, right smack in the middle of Downton Abbey during which Lady Mary was droning on in her upper class monotone and absolutely nothing dramatic was happening. I turned off the television set.

Alice told me everything that had happened. She said she was surprised that you could not dry things in the microwave. “Somebody told me you could,” she insisted, and there was the slightest hint in her voice that it might have been me.

I’ve never heard of such a thing and assured her I was not the one. “Well then,” she said, “I must have read it somewhere.”

How could her sleeping cap, which she used to keep her hair from being mussed in the night, possibly be dirty, I wondered. She has very little hair left and either she washes it or the woman in the salon washes it regularly.

“Oh of course that cap was dirty,” she said laughing. “I’ve been wearing it for a whole week without washing it.”

She doesn’t always dry it in the microwave, she said, but she thought she’d give it a try because she had shampooed her hair earlier in the evening and she was tired and wanted to put on her cap and go to bed.

“I won’t do that again,” she said, suddenly sober. She quietly considered what she was now calling her foolishness. “I hope nobody says anything to me about it tomorrow. Maybe I won’t go down to the dining room.”

I encouraged her to face the music, if there was any. She had to eat, sooner or later.

I went to bed and woke up in the middle of the night, eyes flying wide open, thinking about what could have happened. The river slept, the herons slept, the cormorants, the Mergansers, the fish, even the beavers all slept outside my window, but sleep stayed very far away from me.

When Alice appeared in the dining room, there was no music to face, other than Mirabel’s piano playing. Nobody seemed to even know about the incident, she called to say, or maybe the gossip machine had not yet started rolling.

After she described her peaceful lunch of meatloaf, salad, a small piece of tasteless pastry and no accusing looks, she told me she would like a turban. “I think I better have one,” she said. “The wig is starting to hurt my scalp. I think black is best, don’t you? See if you can find one for me.”

As my friend Kathy pointed out today, as long as Alice is here on this earth, she will find things for me to go do.

And so I am now in search of a black turban, and I perform this search gladly, thankful that my mother did not become the Mrs. O’Leary of The Place.mrsoleary

33 Responses to “A Close Call”

  1. Thalia Says:

    Oh dear! sorry to hear that, and so glad Alice made it through! What a fright for you both– but hopefully it was reassuring to see that safety systems worked as they should at The Place…. ie alarms went off, staff responded, Alice was kept warm, etc.

    By the way the previous sleeping cap came from the Vermont Country Store, where they sell all manner of things you might not realize are still being manufactured.

    And here’s a great source of sleeping caps and turbans:
    which are designed for people with hair loss. Let us know if you find something that Alice will enjoy!


  2. Oh my, what a night Alice had! As you say, it could have been much worse. My great aunt Doris wore a turban for much of her life due to Alopecia. She always looked extremely regal in it as I recall. :-)


  3. alancahn Says:

    alice lives, or abides!!!


  4. kvwordsmith Says:

    A close call indeed! Glad you and Alice are OK! I think Alice will look quite fetching in a turban – I have a friend with a turban for every ocassion – Alice, like Barb, will be quite glamorous in hers!


  5. Kim Patton Says:

    One of the Kardashian sisters wears a turban from time to time. I hope that knowledge doesn’t deter her from obtaining one.
    Ms. Alice will make that Kardashian sister look like a wannabee trend setter.


  6. I think a turban is a very stylish solution…although I have no idea where you will find one, although as I write this it seems that there should be plenty of beauty shops and other places in the NE where turbans are sold. Bright colored ones, and I bet black ones too…


    • There are the wig salons, too, I’ve discovered. It’s an option offered at the very store I got both of Alice’s wigs. However, that place is a million miles from here, so I think I’ll rely on a catalog order instead. Thanks, Cheryl.


  7. Vanessa Says:

    Oh my, I am so glad that Alice is okay and that she didn’t burn The Place down. She is such a trooper and such a classy broad. Please give her my love.


  8. Ketzel Levine Says:

    Wow. Quite a story and brilliantly told. And for every errand she concocts, more great writing. I immediately wonder what this means for the hearing aids and whether they’ll fit under the turban. But if she was my mother, I’d want to kill her after all the aggravation over wanting a second (Xmas) wig…!

    Sent while awkwardly mobile.


    • Oh, she’ll wear that second wig, I think. She just wants to be comfortable when she’s not wearing one. The wig moves around on her head and she won’t wear the cap that goes underneath because it goes over the hearing aids and thus hurts her ears and makes the sounds she hears even more muffled. Yesterday she said it’s just a “big bunch of trouble getting old, going deaf, losing hair, wearing wigs, all of it!”


  9. Mary Moon Says:

    One would hardly imagine that such a scary situation could arise with nothing more than a night cap and a microwave.
    I’m so glad all is well.
    And yes, I think Alice spends her waking hours trying to figure out what she needs for you to do for her next. Might want to put a rhinestone or two on that turban to emphasize her queenly nature.


  10. rivermile14 Says:

    Yikes! Can’t hear a smoke alarm without hearing aids? Double Yikes! By the way, I bet you can buy a black turban on Amazon. They sell everything – ha! I just got my 96-year-old Dad some inexpensive open-toed adjustable width slippers there and he won’t take them off – even to go to the doctor!


  11. Heide Hendrick Says:

    So happy to hear that Alice is unharmed and that the smoldering cap did not evolve into a blazing fire. <3
    I love the transition that seems to take place between mother and child and Child-mother to mother-child. It is truly an interesting transition when this occurs. I thoroughly enjoy hearing about the tales of the amazing Alice and her very awesome daughter!


  12. John Says:

    I am happy to hear this story has a happy ending … all things considered.

    Let’s just hope Alice doesn’t decide the wig needs some quick drying. :-)


    • Last night she was getting ready to wash it when we spoke on the phone. I should have teased her with what you said, John. I think (hope) she has more or less forgotten about the near disaster (but of course I also hope she remembers the lesson learned).


  13. Elizabeth told me about you and so I came and I can’t believe I had not found you before this. I love your mother! She reminds me of my own mother and six elder aunts, well, five now. Such wry and formidable women. Even slowed by age. Thank god for your mother’s quick thinking and the responsiveness of her attendants. Your own writing is wry and lovely too.


  14. Denise Emanuel Clemen Says:

    Frightening, indeed. So glad Alice is all right. The smoke alarm went off here the other morning (toast) and my mom didn’t hear a thing. Hearing loss is so much more than hearing loss.


    • Exactly, Denise. So well said. When asked if she’d rather have her sight or her hearing back, Alice said her hearing definitely. Our hearing allows us to be included in the world, all of its pleasures and connections, as well as its warning signs.


  15. Elizabeth Says:

    Oh, good lord. That is scary! I am glad that all is well, though, and that this has prompted The Search for a Black Turban. I can’t wait to hear about it! Also, your description of Lady MAAAAARY was so perfect — I believe her monotone has grown ever stronger and it’s getting really, really tiresome.


    • Unfortunately, we have made no progress whatsoever with the turban search. Alice is having second thoughts. We shall see. I bet Lady Mary is going to be talking a lot as the plot wheel creaks and she continues to banter and then (oh surprise!) mess around with yet another house guest. Let’s hope this one lives a while.


  16. Beth Says:

    Would you like me to research whether any local shops stock turbans? It would be a good shopping challenge.


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