June 20, 2011
Because of their poor hearing, Alice and her new dining room partner, Celia, have started passing notes back and forth to learn about what’s going on in one another’s lives. They worry about how other people at The Place might react to what they’re writing because these very people are often the subjects of their exchanges. So they tend to treat the notes like CIA operatives would treat missives about undercover operations. In other words, they all but eat them once they’ve been read.
December 5, 2010
Sometimes when we’re together or talking on the phone, Alice and I zip around in time at our whim, untroubled by either sequiturs or non sequiturs. (How did they get to be so important anyway?) Last night our phone conversation started with her telling me that Mrs. Obama wore a pretty pale blue sweater with a beaded collar to lunch. She was not talking about Michele Obama at a White House luncheon, but about a woman named Susie who had often worn an Obama sweatshirt to the dining room throughout the last Presidential campaign, as had her husband.
In 2008 Alice was new to The Place. She didn’t know their names, so she called them the Obama People, as in: “The Obama People came down the elevator separately tonight. First Mr. Obama came down and then a few minutes later Mrs. Obama came down and she was mad at him because he hadn’t waited for her. Mrs. Obama stopped at my table and said, ‘I’ve never thought about divorcing him but plenty of times I’ve thought about killing him.’” 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.
October 14, 2010
To celebrate turning 110, Irene wore a tiara with Happy Birthday spelled out in rhinestones. Someone tied balloons to her walker. People poured through the gates as if dispatched by the king to discover the secret of longevity. People she’d never met. They probed for the answer, even though few among them would probably care to live a day over eighty-five. She told one stranger that she used to drink bourbon but now it’s red wine. When another asked what she and her friends liked to talk about, she answered crisply, “None of your business.”
She mentioned to the gathering crowd that she’d gone to Reno when she’d turned 100. She joked that she could still do all the things she was able to do at 109. She remembered a husband she had loved. She ate cake.
All the usual suspects drifted in and out of the scene. Mr. Fickle lingered in the little post office after others had come to wait for the mail delivery and gone back to their apartments when it arrived. “I wasn’t sure it was him,” Alice said in her nightly report. “I was sitting at my table in the dining room and he had his cap on backwards.” At The Place a backward cap is a rarity. “But I knew it was him when I saw him kiss the mail girl. I want to call her the mail maid.” She stopped and thought about this. “Maybe the mail maid was sad about something. Or maybe he knows her from somewhere else.”
“Maybe he’s just being Mr. Fickle,” I suggested.
“That could be.”
Irene was too exhausted to eat her dinner. Also, she said she’d eaten a lot of cake at her party, which Alice did not attend. “Too much noise. Too many people.” As they sat together at dinner, the person Alice calls the Dancing Man approached–he who moves jauntily from side to side as he goes along in his walker to the tune of (in Alice’s mind anyway) Some Sunday Morning. He wanted to take Irene’s photograph. Irene, subject of picture-taking all day, agreed. “Then off he went ‘Some Sunday Morning’ back to his table,” Alice said.
Shortly after that, the Dapper Man dropped by with his camera. Irene smiled for the picture.
Alice wearied of reporting on Irene’s big day to me and changed the subject. She told me that when the aide came to her apartment with her medications, she took them and started to throw away the little white paper cup they came in. But the aide stopped her. “There’s a lady here who collects those,” she said.
For a moment Alice was speechless. The day had held such a huge event, and now this: someone who collects the little white paper cups that pills are delivered in. Then she said to the aide, “Whoever that is must be really hard up for something to collect.”
“I probably shouldn’t have said that,” she told me. “But why…?”
We were as unable to find a satisfactory answer to this question as were those who came to seek the secret of longevity. On the one hand, here was Irene, starting out in 1900, collecting years one by one, outliving everyone she knew from a life that contained love and marriage and friends, but still enjoying an occasional glass of Merlot and an annual birthday bash. On the other, a woman somewhere in the building collecting tiny white paper cups.
We hung up on the mystery of it all.
Oh, Irene. 110!
Some Sunday morning is going to be
Some Sunday morning for someone and me.
Bells will be chiming an old melody,
Spec’lly for someone and me.
There’ll be an organ playing,
Friends and relations will stare,
Say, can’t you hear them saying,
Gee, what a peach of a pair?
Some Sunday morning we’ll walk down the aisle,
She’ll be so nervous and I’ll try to smile,
Things sure look rosy for someone and me,
Some Sunday morning, you’ll see.
Actors: Clint Walker, Joan Weldon, and…???
An interesting British television documentary on scientist Aubrey De Grey’s exploration of living forever located here.
(The names of residents and others in this blog have been changed to protect privacy.)
October 2, 2010
Yesterday I went to visit Alice and found her wearing a soft turquoise jacket and some eye-catching blue glass beads (yes, Goodwill). She said she’d stayed inside her apartment all day because she hadn’t felt well, and I mentioned that it was a shame no one had seen her, especially You-Know-Who.
This morning she called to report what she’d done after I left. She said she’d thought about my comment, that it was too bad Mr. Fickle hadn’t seen her. She has been liking him again these days because she saw him comforting a woman who was crying. “He tries to help people.”
So when she heard the evening Rosary prayers winding down, she peeked out the door. Sure enough, Mr. Fickle, the unofficial Rosary host, was saying his good-byes to the group. “I wanted to walk through that room,” Alice said, “so I ducked back inside and got my walker and grabbed an empty envelope that was lying on the desk. I carried the envelope out the door, pretending that I was going up to the little post office by the dining room to mail a letter.”
He was busy when she passed through the first time, but when she returned from the post office, he was completely alone. As he pulled a chair from the prayer circle and slid it back against the wall, he glanced up and smiled.
“But that was it,” she said. “He’s definitely not as friendly as he used to be. He didn’t take my hand or do anything else to let me know he thought I looked nice.” She paused. I could almost hear her shrug. “Well,” she said, “I tried.”
She moved on to what she was watching on television, as she sometimes does when we talk on the phone. “Oh there’s Nancy Grace. She looks like she’s had a face lift. I think all these TV celebrities who get face lifts go to the same doctor. They all look alike. Just like all of us women here at The Place who go to the one and only beauty operator at our beauty shop. We all come out looking exactly the same.”
“You don’t look like anybody else,” I assured her, then steered her away from her worries lately about thinning hair and back to the fake letter. “Tell me, when you walked through the Rosary room the second time and saw Mr. Fickle, where was the envelope?”
“Oh, I wasn’t carrying that any more. I scrunched it up and put it in the wastebasket at the post office.” She thought destroying the evidence was funny, and that the whole ruse had been a clever turn in the ongoing Push-Pull game with Mr. Fickle. If they gave an Oscar to the one who holds without sway to the Ideal of Romance (never mind what life has dealt them), Alice would rise, step forward, and most happily accept.
September 4, 2010
Alice has a new admirer. Unlike Mr. Fickle, he wears clothes that fit. “Sometimes he turns his collar up,” she told me. He is not tall, but his posture is admirable, shoulders back, arms like drumsticks at his sides. His “good head of hair,” precisely combed, is a pleasing shade of gray. His shoes are polished. He’s new at The Place and she doesn’t know his name. She calls him The Dapper Man.
The Dapper Man, one of the very few men in residence, took immediately to gazing at Alice from across the dining room. Last week he stopped by her table and greeted her and Irene. He said something to Alice that she couldn’t quite hear, but instead of saying her hearing failed her, she smiled and appeared to agree with him. She almost regretted this when he nodded and walked away slowly and more confidently than she felt the occasion deserved. Since then she’s been watching him to see if he continues to watch her and to observe what he’s up to.
The other night when she got to her table in the dining room, she found a brightly wrapped cube of chocolate atop her napkin. Read the rest of this entry »
August 22, 2010
“Well, it’s Saturday night,” Alice told me on the phone last night, “so to celebrate I drank a bottle of Gatorade I found in the back of the refrigerator. It didn’t do much for me.”
She remembered that on one wintry Saturday evening she had jokingly asked Mr. Fickle, The Place’s resident Lothario, what he was going to do to for excitement. He thought for a minute and then said, “Wait for Sunday.”
This dull response deeply disappointed Alice. She’d considered Mr. Fickle to be her main chance at a romance ever since his kiss on her cheek on New Year’s Day. Despite his waiting-for-Sunday comment, she’d continued to keep the door open.
But now she was having doubts, she said, because she’d gotten a good look at his teeth.
“They’re old and large and yellow.” She paused. “Of course they’re old. That goes without saying. But the rest…I think I could abide them large, but not yellow. Now ask me how I found this out.”
Without waiting for me to ask, she continued, “I came back from a walk and had to go through the Rosary room to get to my apartment. Mr. Fickle was putting chairs in a circle getting ready for that bunch to come in and say the rosary after dinner. He came over and put his hand on my shoulder, and like a damn fool I said, ‘Did you miss me?’”
She was laughing, but I understood her to mean she was asking if he missed her while she had been in the hospital and then ill in her apartment for a while, therefore absent from the dining room where they often saw one another. But Mr. Fickle didn’t get it.
“No,” he said. “Have you been gone?” Read the rest of this entry »
June 20, 2010
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. His real name is Howard. “He’s not as handsome as your father was,” she’s told me more than once. “Not by a long shot.” Read the rest of this entry »