September 21, 2014
I’ve got all my accessories on,” Alice told me on the phone this morning, “so I thought I’d give you a call.”
By “accessories” she doesn’t mean jewelry, belts, or scarves. Every morning she puts on her wig cap, her wig, her dentures, her hearing aids, her glasses, and finally, like the Pope donning his cross, she lowers her Life Alert chain into place.
“All my accessories go on or into my head,” she said. “Except for the Life Alert. And that thing always gets tangled up in my necklace, if I’m wearing one.”
August 26, 2014
In the wee hours of her ninety-ninth birthday, Alice woke to great pain. She wondered if she’d rolled over in her sleep and broken a hip. At her age, she thought, it could happen. After all, the last time she broke a hip she’d slipped off the end of the bed mid-day while sitting quietly folding some laundry.
By dawn she felt sick to her stomach. At nine-thirty she called to tell me about all this. “I won’t be coming to your houseboat today,” she began. She’d ruled out a break but still didn’t feel steady. She sounded relieved not to have to go anywhere.
August 11, 2014
“Jolie should not wear formals to work,” Alice told me.
Jolie is the receptionist at The Place, and Alice worries that visitors will get the wrong impression. “It’s not that kind of residence,” she said. Even at (almost) ninety-nine, Alice remains true to her lifelong interest in fashion, especially fashion she doesn’t approve of. Read the rest of this entry »
May 12, 2014
“My arms look so goofy these days,” Alice said after we’d greeted one another on Mother’s Day. I put down the pink roses I was carrying and got out the scissors and a vase. She wheeled her walker over so she could stand close to me at the kitchen counter and watch. I never know what she might be thinking about when I arrive. Today it was arms. Read the rest of this entry »
April 21, 2014
Part cowboy (note the hat), part Fancy Dan (the purple pocket-handkerchief), this is Alice’s first creation made with her new clay.
April 15, 2014
April 6, 2014
When I arrived shortly after the ambulance delivered Alice to ER, a doctor stood at her bedside. She was able to answer several of his questions about her symptoms—rapid heartbeat and palpitations, dizziness, weakness, nausea, sky-high blood pressure, clamminess, rushes of heat throughout her body, disorientation, shakiness and more—but when he asked which part of all that had been happening on this day was the worst, she answered, “The ride over here in that wagon.”
March 19, 2014
Last night Alice called to say she’s discovered the answer to dusty mirrors and oh, so much more.
Read the rest of this entry »
January 23, 2014
A new man recently arrived at The Place and has taken a fancy to Alice. She’s not sure how she feels about him.
December 28, 2013
On Christmas morning I packed up Alice’s Christmas loot and took it to The Place.
December 27, 2013
On our way to the eye doctor last week, a toe-freezing day, I noticed that Alice had squeezed herself into the far corner of the passenger seat and was pressed against the door.
October 9, 2013
Alice so loveth her wig that she is willing to give up her quite expensively begotten hearing aids because she cannot wear them and the wig at the same time.
And so ensues a struggle with her daughter, who succeedeth not in understanding how anyone, and in particular her own mother, could feel this way.
Read the rest of this entry »
September 14, 2013
The other day Alice told me about the Chewers. We were on our way to the eye doctor. Being in motion often brings to her mind characters and events from the distant past, as if we’re moving back toward the little prairie town where she grew up and she’s preparing me for the people we’re about to meet.
But before I introduce you to the Chewers, let me say that it took all I had to get her to go to the eye doctor at all. I thought she was being difficult because of the visit itself. (If you’ve been reading this blog a while, you probably know what I mean; if not, just think about “eye doctor” and the word “injection” and you’ll be all caught up.) But no. This resistance had to do with the wig that has come to dominate our lives.
September 8, 2013
A few days ago Alice urgently declared that the wig must be washed. “I’ve been wearing it every day,” she said. “It’s time. Come over tonight close to my bedtime so that nobody sees me without it.” Read the rest of this entry »
August 14, 2013
Alice called to tell me she’d received something from the White House in the mail. She said it was all blurry and she couldn’t read it, but described it as a card that “looked official.” It was signed by somebody named Michelle.
August 11, 2013
Alice carried her wig in a black Fred Meyer shopping bag so that anyone who passed us in the hall wouldn’t suspect we were on our way to meet Marveen in the beauty salon at The Place.
I was her escort because Marveen has had a tendency to cut Alice’s hair too short and in a style that makes her look like everybody else at The Place. That mustn’t happen with the wig. “Once it’s cut it won’t grow back, you know,” Alice reminded me.
My job was to be the bad cop, the one who says things the other is too nice to say, such as, “Now is a good time to stop cutting.”
August 1, 2013
At seven o’clock one recent morning, Alice called to report that her wig had been stolen, the very wig she’d just told Nadine she was considering buying, but which she actually already had in her possession.
I hardly knew where to find the phone to answer it, let alone how to think about theft in my mother’s apartment. My first thought was the incredibly long drive we would have to take to replace this wig she insisted on purchasing but never wears. (See Wigging It.)
June 12, 2013
As soon as she got herself buckled in for our trip to the eye doctor, Alice said, “I don’t like going so far.”
I backed the car out of the space next to her building. “How far do you like to go?”
“Ten blocks,” she said.
April 25, 2013
Some people in their 90s turn into Bartleby the Scrivener when approached with the idea of going somewhere. “I would prefer not to,” said Melville’s famous character.
Alice’s response to something she has no intention of doing is similar: “I don’t see any sense in that.”
April 7, 2013
In Alice’s world, a perm is a must. She subjects herself to one about every six weeks. As a result of this and probably of old age, her white hair is thinning in back and on top.
Her weekly, sometimes bi-weekly, appointments with Marveen, the hairdresser at The Place, are meant to keep her hair-do looking perky, but despite these efforts, the curls dwindle and flatten. A wig, she decided, was the answer.
January 6, 2013
Alice told me on the phone a couple of days ago that she’s reading a book about mail-order brides in the days of the Old West. The moment I arrived with her groceries yesterday, she wanted to give me a report.
Read the rest of this entry »
December 4, 2012
k.d. lang entered the apartment waving a bouquet of red roses. “Hi, Alice!”
It started with a tweet:
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. Read the rest of this entry »
November 15, 2012
October 28, 2012
Alice will have her last two teeth pulled tomorrow. She has brushed and flossed all along, but the regular dental cleanings are finally too much for her. Despite rigorous home care, there’s usually at least one tiny cavity to fill way down under the gum line.
She puts on a brave face for the dentist. Read the rest of this entry »
September 20, 2012
First, I was to steal some roses.
“Get the pink if any are left,” Alice ordered, handing me a pair of scissors and shoving me out the door before I’d even had a chance to put her groceries away. “And yellow!” she called after me. “And some buds, too.”
She said that when I came back she’d tell me why she wanted them.
September 4, 2012
August 25, 2012
The winning slippers:
If you read Roses Are Red, Shoes Are Black, you probably noticed that Alice likes bows on her toes. So naturally she loved this furry-lined pair of Jellypops much more:
However, a bunion on her left foot protested.
“Oh me oh my,” she said, reluctantly placing the slippers with the velvet trim back into the box.
She shoehorned herself into her regular black shoes, and off we went to…
August 15, 2012
Yesterday, Alice received a message from her 80-something second cousin. We’ll call this woman Lucille. It caused Alice such concern that she forwarded the message to me. Read the rest of this entry »
July 23, 2012
“Everyone is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies.”
– Jane Austen
Celia fell in her apartment several weeks ago and left The Place to recover in the hospital and then a nursing home.
Since then, she and Alice have spoken twice by phone. The conversations proved frustrating for both. Alice couldn’t hear, and Celia talked grimly about an uncertain future. She might come back to The Place, or she might have to move to another nursing home. Her living situation, she said, was no longer in her hands.
They gave up on phone calls. Alice has faced her friend’s long absence armed with nothing more than hope.
Then on Saturday, as lunchtime ended, the woman Alice calls the Bead Lady came to her table in the dining room.
The Bead Lady makes her own jewelry and usually likes to talk about the craft. But this time she touched Alice’s shoulder and told her how sad she felt that Celia had passed away.
She talked for a while in sympathetic tones but Alice couldn’t hear her. Finally, the Bead Lady pushed her walker toward the elevator, leaving Alice speechless and wondering if this news could be true.
In Alice’s mind, the Bead Lady seemed the weakest link in the slender chain of people around Celia. In fact, Alice had never even seen the two of them talking to one another. Was this some awful misunderstanding about Celia’s absence from the dining room or, given the wall of secrecy around health issues, had something happened Alice didn’t know about?
She set off to find out.
March 13, 2012
January 31, 2012
On one of our evening phone calls, I told Alice I was going to bring her a surprise. When I got to her apartment the next day in the company of my old friend, Gordon, she had written out a list of guesses as to what her surprise might be: Read the rest of this entry »
January 29, 2012
December 29, 2011
“I have an inferiority complex,” Alice announced almost happily on Christmas day, as if she’d just found one in her stocking.
Read the rest of this entry »
December 7, 2011
When I celebrated my birthday last week, Alice mentioned that it had snowed that night long ago in Bismarck. She described the weather as “bitterly cold.”
Bitterness must have seeped in through the hospital walls because it also played a role in the birthing. Read the rest of this entry »
November 7, 2011
Alice has been complaining that her “tummy keeps getting larger” and more “poofed out.” My old friend Cheryl, a Pilates instructor, volunteered to help. Read the rest of this entry »
October 24, 2011
Alice likes to fix things. So much so that, back in Iowa, my father bought her a red toolbox for her 70th birthday and filled it with hammers, pliers, screwdriver sets, etc. He tied it up with a red bow. She considered it the best gift he ever gave her.
She passed the toolbox on to my nephew when she moved here to Oregon. I bought her a screwdriver, pliers, a purse-sized sewing kit, and a set of tiny tools for tightening loose screws in eyeglasses. But for a woman who has never met a fix-it task she didn’t like, this is a paltry supply of gizmos. Last night I realized my mother is the mother of invention when it comes to repairs. Read the rest of this entry »
October 18, 2011
If you have an elderly mother from the Midwest, you are probably familiar with the sight of catalogs like these on her coffee table: Read the rest of this entry »