Alice Rises

August 9, 2015


A phoenix depicted in a book of legendary creatures by FJ Bertuch (1747–1822).

A phoenix depicted in a book of legendary creatures by FJ Bertuch (1747–1822).

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First Roses

May 26, 2015

I brought Alice her first stolen roses of the season over the weekend.

First stolen roses of 2015

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Hard Times

May 20, 2015

Alice and I took a trip to ER on Friday and almost went again on Sunday. The details are similar to the health event last spring but with the added scare of her mind shutting off for a while. She didn’t recognize me, for example, and later she had no recollection of a series of dramatic late night events: aides coming on the run, paramedics surrounding her, my arrival, and her fight (pushing the paramedics and me aside) to get off the gurney and back to her bedroom, a battle I quickly let her win by speaking the magic words: Power of Attorney. The head paramedic nodded, reassured me this was the best decision in his opinion, and together we helped Alice into her bed.

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Visualize Whirled Peas

May 12, 2015

Late on Mother’s Day Eve, Alice called to say she’d just eaten a can of peas that has been sitting in her cupboard for the past six years.

“Well, if I die, I die” she said. “I’ve lived long enough. I’m going to bed, and I’m taking my little red wastebasket with me in case I have to throw up.”

She’d been hungry, she explained. “And that’s all I could find to eat. Good night.”

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Sunday Evening Update

April 26, 2015

Alice is soaking her feet in vinegar and munching on dried okra supplied by our friend Nancy from Paris (originally from okra-loving Kentucky), who stopped in for a visit. We’ve had a busy week shopping with Meg, which included venturing out in a wheelchair for the first time, and wearing slippers instead of shoes because of aching feet.

Alice purchased three new items of clothing. Spring is here. Wardrobes must be replenished, she says. Life goes on.

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March 4, 2015

First came the argument about bacon.

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So all hell broke loose over the exchange of a larger table for a smaller table, or at least as much hell as one 95 year-old woman can conjure in an assisted living facility.

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Be Mine

February 19, 2015

We had ourselves a merry little Valentine’s Day.

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Sister Love

February 13, 2015

Not long after graduating from high school in 1932, Alice took a job at the candy counter in the Berg Store in downtown Bismarck.


Here she is in her $2.98 graduation dress.

Alice on Graduation Day

Alice on Graduation Day

“Everything cost five cents to a dollar at that store,” she told me. “Of course we sold motto hearts.”

We were talking about motto hearts because we always talk about motto hearts on Valentine’s Day.

motto hearts

Every year until she died, her sister Pearl sent Alice a fresh supply.

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“I didn’t get any love letters and neither will you,” Violet told Alice as she exited the alcove that serves as a post office for The Place.

“How do you know?” Alice already had her key out and was ready to jab it at the small keyhole on the box, which she can barely see any more.

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“You can’t die in January, you know,” I told Alice after three days of sky-high blood pressure readings.  Read the rest of this entry »

Last year shortly before Christmas, my friend Kathy and I risked our lives in fog thick as lutefisk soup to fetch a new wig for Alice from the outskirts of the outskirts of the last flounce of Portland. What could we do? It was her heart’s desire to have a new wig for Christmas.

I kept it a secret until Christmas day. And then:

Alice and new wig_6

This year, thanks to Debbie at the wig shop, the new wig arrived by mail a few days before Christmas, and it was not a surprise.

wig number three

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What Wonder Is This?

December 20, 2014

Sex Ed with Alice started with a photo posted on Facebook by one of my dearest friends, Claudia, a Princeton Seminary graduate who keeps track of all things pertaining to the Mysteries for her pals.

Just to give you an idea as to who Claudia is, this is her emailed response when I sent her an invitation to a party featuring pies:


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Strange Light

December 3, 2014

Something unusual happened for both Alice and me the night of my birthday on Sunday. Read the rest of this entry »

“My wig is dead,” Alice said.

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Pretty is Everything

November 1, 2014

Last night Alice and I had an argument about Vanna White.Vanna White_2

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Things Fall Apart

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.

Gold? Silver?

Gold? Silver?

Not made of the same materials, but useful.

No fancy materials, but useful.

“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.”

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Party Like You’re 99

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.

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Fun in the Sun with Alice

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 »

I decided to name her Riley, as in The Life of…

Riley's window for watching beavers, bees, ducks, trees, otters, and the comings and goings of neighbors.

Riley’s window for watching beavers, bees, ducks, blackbirds, otters, geese, swallows, hummingbirds, trees, and the comings and goings of neighbors.

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May 18, 2014

When she heard Mr. Fickle’s daughter was in the building packing up his things, Alice took some candy from her stash in a kitchen drawer and set out to find him. Ever since last Monday, she’d known this day was coming.

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Alice’s Arms

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 »

Behold, the Pink Man!

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.

The Pink Man

The Pink Man

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The Daughter Wars

April 15, 2014

It all started with Alice’s curiosity about the rare sightings of Nadine’s daughter, Priscilla, who shows up only at lunchtime when Nadine is in the dining room. Read the rest of this entry »

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.”


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Last night Alice called to say she’s discovered the answer to dusty mirrors and oh, so much more.
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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.

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The Man in the Hat

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.

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On Christmas morning I packed up Alice’s Christmas loot and took it to The Place.

Alice's Christmas Loot
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And Then There Were Two

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.

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Zombie Soup

October 31, 2013

Alice called early this afternoon to report on the Hallowe’en lunch menu at The Place.

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Comcast is the devil. The amount of time I’ve spent on hold with them in the past two weeks and then deep in conversation about technical glitches in Alice’s new phone/wi-fi/cable “bundle” (so she can finally have e-mail again) only to be disconnected (on purpose, I think) and then embark again on the twisted, halting path into their evil world in order to find a wizard in a faraway land who might be generous enough to part with some vital kilobyte of information that I need in order to make the whole damn bundle work, and stay working, equals, or maybe surpasses, the time it took me to get a college degree, and that was a very long time (7.5 years) because I had to keep stopping classes to get jobs to save up for more classes, not to mention the fact that I had to pay my parents rent to live in their basement while attending college, payments I resent to this very day, all because my father didn’t think girls needed to be educated, but I showed him!

Amazing, the things one meets while traveling a single neural trail. Read the rest of this entry »

Verse and Chapters

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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The Chewers

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.

Alice at the wig store

Alice at the wig store – love at first sight.

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The Wig Mistresses

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 »

The White House Checks In

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.

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Wig Woes

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.”

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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.)

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The Long Way Home

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.

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The Tao of Waiting

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.”

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Wigging it

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.

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March 25, 2013

“Nadine is not a bone eater,” Alice said.

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One Good Thing

March 11, 2013

Sometimes nothing helps the I’m-97-Years-Old-Dammit blues.

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Alice’s Book Report

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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k.d. lang entered the apartment waving a bouquet of red roses. “Hi, Alice!”

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It started with a tweet:k.d. lang_cara clark tweet

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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 »

Alice misses Celia, and I miss her too. I decided to reread last year’s Thanksgiving blog post to remind myself of the fun they had together. Here’s the post again, updated to include the recipe for our friend Julia’s amazing apple cake. Read the rest of this entry »

Goodbye to All That

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 »

Alice Baba and Her Loyal Thief

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.

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Crafty Alice

September 4, 2012

As you may have read in Speaking of Slippers, Alice decided that the black slippers I purchased for her 97th birthday look too sporty because of a white stripe up the back.

She requested a black magic marker.

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Speaking of Slippers…

September 1, 2012

Source: Historical Society of Princeton

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And the Winner Is…

August 25, 2012

The winning slippers:

Alice’s new 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…

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Happy Birthday to Alice!

August 24, 2012

Today Alice turns 97.

She sent me an e-mail yesterday telling me about waking up in the middle of the night feeling sad because she does not own a “decent pair of bedroom slippers.”

She often has to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, she wrote, and so she must wear stockings to bed so that she can slip into a pair of shoes for this journey. (By “stockings” she means nylon footies.) “I cannot put my poor old aching feet in bare shoes. I know you do, but I just cannot.”

How uncomfortable. I had no idea she was wearing those things to bed. So off I went last night to search for slippers at the mall.
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Alice Digs in Her Heels

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.

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When we went thrift store shopping last week, Alice purchased a pair of black flats. During our evening phone call two nights ago, she said she liked them so much that she’d been trying to write a poem about them.
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Happy Days

February 7, 2012

Why is this woman dancing? Read the rest of this entry »


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 »

Since the report on big changes in the well-being of both Celia and Mr. Fickle in the Winter Stars post, several readers have written me to ask for an update. Read the rest of this entry »

What Mother is This?

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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Baby, It’s Cold Outside

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 »

The Four Tummies

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 »

Alice Makes Repairs

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 »

Order Up!

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 »


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