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.
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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.
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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.
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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 »
October 2, 2011
Alice called me at around 10 at night and told me her blood pressure was high but she didn’t “want to go anywhere.”
“Anywhere” meant the Emergency Room. Read the rest of this entry »
September 26, 2011
Alice once had a teacher who disliked her so much that, when she couldn’t answer a question in Civics class, he threw a book at her.
September 15, 2011
They happen. (See the first Mix-Up post.)
Some new examples:
The staff at The Place will do laundry for a fee. Alice doesn’t trust them with the clothes she wears to the dining room (those fall under my laundry duties), but she does let the staff wash her nightgowns and towels.
The other day, I came for a visit and she showed me a nightgown that had been returned from the laundry room with a strange mark, a few holes, and some brown spots on it. This is not a very good photograph, but it’s all I have. Read the rest of this entry »
August 28, 2011
On Alice’s 96th birthday she received a ring from a stranger. Read the rest of this entry »
August 13, 2011
Not long ago, Alice asked me if it was okay for her to wear her “white jeans” to the dining room. She’d unearthed a pair from one of the Iowa clothing boxes she keeps in the back of her closet.
Read the rest of this entry »
August 9, 2011
“My feet are getting smaller and my stomach is getting bigger,” Alice announced when I came for a visit. Read the rest of this entry »
August 3, 2011
Alice called a few days ago after lunch and said, “Come quick. It’s here. I need help.”
July 21, 2011
At her request, I took Alice shopping at Goodwill on “Senior Citizens’ Day.” She was once in the clothing business herself and knows about retail mark-up, so a five-dollar blouse slashed to four dollars makes her feel like she’s getting away with something just by being old. Read the rest of this entry »
July 6, 2011
When Alice’s dentures broke in two last week she wanted me to bring her some Krazy Glue®.
Read the rest of this entry »
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.
June 4, 2011
Sometimes Alice was bad. Very bad. She likes to remember those times. Read the rest of this entry »
May 30, 2011
“Our romance,” Alice said recently of Mr. Fickle, “is a thing of the past.”
The man who once took her hand and squeezed it on an irregular basis rarely notices her any more. His gait has slowed and his flirtations with all the many widows who surround him have markedly decreased.
He still sometimes glances (maddeningly) away from Alice and into the post office across from her table when he walks down the hallway, and she still stares straight ahead, pretending not to notice, wanting to call out to him, “I’m over here!”
Back when things were more lively between them–even when it included hanky-panky with other women, such as kissing their cheeks or hugging them–these things only added juice to the story Alice was writing in her head so that she’d have something to tell me during our nightly phone calls.
One time she saw him pushing a woman in a wheelchair toward the elevator that leads to the upstairs apartments. When he went up the elevator, the bill on his cap was pointed in one direction, but when he came down the elevator and entered the dining room a while later, it pointed in the other direction. (See As the Cap Turns for details.)
But now the thrill is gone.
Last night I called her for advice on removing a blob of something dark, gummy and stubborn burned on to my black ceramic stove top (the single appliance in my houseboat’s galley that I am continually at war with).
I thought this would give us something, a least, to discuss, but she ignored my plea for one of her famous home-made mixtures. Instead, with some excitement, she launched into a new Mr. Fickle mystery. I got out my “magic” (not) Cooktop Stove Cleaner, which I knew would be all but useless, yanked on my rubber gloves, and started in on a session of pointless scrubbing while I listened.
Alice told me that Mr. Fickle rose from his table in the middle of both lunch and dinner to go to the bathroom that day. He has to pass her table to enter the hall where the bathroom is located.
Time goes by. She’s on the lookout. No sign of him. He does not emerge from the hallway and return to his table.
And yet! When she gets up from her table to return to her apartment after eating, she turns around (her back is to his table) and sees that voila! There he sits, calmly finishing his meal.
This had happened twice that day, and neither time did she spot him in the act of returning to his table. How did he get there?
Mr. Fickle’s logistical options are so limited for going to the bathroom and getting back to his table that Alice can’t help but be puzzled.
“I can’t figure it out,” she said. “How does the old codger do it?”
I was obsessed with my stove top. “I’d like to get my hands on the person who invented these damn things.”
She knew immediately what I meant and sighed heavily because I was interrupting her Miss Marple investigation with such a mundane issue.
“Have you tried toothpaste?” she asked in a tone that implied any fool would surely have tried toothpaste by this point. “You know you can use toothpaste to get things off that are stuck to your iron.”
“I’m not even sure where my iron is.”
“You know where your toothpaste is, don’t you?”
I rinsed off the no-good-not-so-magic cleaner, then carried the phone with me while I went to get the Crest and rummaged in a junk drawer for an old toothbrush, all the while taking in Alice’s description of the layout of dining room, hallway, and bathroom, reminding me of things I’d seen many times but hadn’t ever considered to be what she was now calling “escape routes.”
By the time I had returned to the kitchen stove and started brushing on the toothpaste, I had a clear picture of the mystery (click image to enlarge):
Mr. Fickle exits the bathroom (A) and then…what? He does not go past Alice’s table (B) to return to his table (C), so how does the old codger, as she calls him, get back there?
I suggested that maybe he goes up the stairs beyond the restroom (D) and then crosses the second floor to get to the other stairs (F), descends, and returns to his table (C).
“He’s not Superman,” she said. “He’s Mr. Fickle. He’s old. No way does he have the energy to do all that.”
“Maybe he goes outside,” I said (E), “and walks around the building and then comes in the back door by the garden (G) and goes to his table.”
She was incredulous. “Outside? In the rain?”
She had a point.
“Let’s get back to this in a minute,” she said. “How’s the toothpaste working?”
I looked down at the gooey mess on my stove top and wiped away a corner of it. The blob was still there. “Not working.”
“Put baking soda on top of the toothpaste and then mix it in.”
I obeyed. The baking soda combined with toothpaste turned into little clumps. I scrubbed the mess back and forth with my toothbrush. The blob remained stuck.
“Pour on some ammonia. Don’t breathe it!” Alice commanded.
I pictured my mother in her Lazy Boy rocker/recliner, rocking faster and faster as more and more household cleaning products came rushing in to her mind.
“Don’t breathe it, did you say, or do breathe it?” I asked.
“What? Don’t! What are you thinking?”
“I was thinking,” I said as I dribbled on some ammonia, “that maybe I should lean down and take a big sniff and then turn the burner on and see what happens.”
“Now you’re just being silly.”
The drops of ammonia did not so much as make the baking soda/toothpaste concoction fizz.
“All right,” I said. “I’ll play around with this. Let’s get back to what really matters.”
I remembered the elevator (H). “Maybe he goes up the back stairs,” I said, “and comes down the elevator.”
“I can see the elevator,” she said. “Why would he do such a thing if he’s trying to avoid me?”
“Who says he’s trying to avoid you?”
“He is,” she said, confidently. “Yes, he is.”
“I just cannot figure it out,” she said. “I watch him go to the restroom. I don’t see him come back. I get up when I’m done eating dinner, and there he is, sitting at his table. Imagine! I swear I do not know how he does it.”
My stove top now looked and smelled like a pigeon had been flying around the kitchen.
“Leave it overnight,” Alice advised. “You never know.”
I felt relieved she’d run out of ideas. One more product, natural or otherwise, and my house would blow up.
Time to say good night. We were no help to each other.
Then in a quiet voice she said, “Earlier tonight I remembered how passionately he grabbed me and kissed me on the cheek that first time. And then that other time too…and always smiling at me. And now it has dwindled down to nothing but wondering how he gets back to his table from the bathroom.”
“But at least he’s still there,” I offered, “for you to wonder about.”
“I’m afraid poor old Mr. Fickle is failing,” she said. Failing is a word, she explained, that her mother, Martha, used about elderly people who were not in any obvious way ill but were running out of steam.
“In any case, you’re failing to figure him out,” I said, trying to cheer her a little.
“See what you’ve got tomorrow morning,” she said, skipping back to the stove top. “If that doesn’t work, try vinegar.” Vinegar is her cure-all for nearly everything. She was amazed she didn’t think of it first.
The next morning the blob was weakened enough by the assault of Alice’s concoction that all it took was some careful scraping with an Exacto knife to get rid of it.
I told Alice this news and she was happy for me. Still, the intrigue regarding Mr. Fickle’s comings and goings remains unsolved.
if you have any ideas about how Mr. Fickle gets back to his table, please share them.
May 2, 2011
Alice is baffled by the Bible. She can’t get past Genesis.
Read the rest of this entry »
April 24, 2011
Sometimes I am only a bubble on the surface of Alice’s stream of consciousness.
For example, the other day the phone rang while I was paying some bills. I saw on caller ID that it was Alice. I always answer her calls in case something is wrong and she needs me. Thankfully, most of the time nothing is wrong and a call will go along the same lines as this one:
Elton john is patting that baby too hard. Read the rest of this entry »
April 19, 2011
- Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.
- -Victor Hugo
- It must be spring. Alice’s fancy has turned to love.
First, there was something in the news about Bob Dole.
She didn’t hear what it was, but she took an interest in finding out because, back in her eighties, she had a sexy dream about him and hasn’t ever forgotten it. We’ve talked about this dream maybe two or three times this past week. The gist is that she went to a motel with him. Just as he “turned” to her, the phone rang and she was, as she puts it, “saved.”
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