My eyes weren’t bright, nor was my tail bushy early Tuesday morning. But I was up and about and did my good deed for the day ere the sun came up. A few minutes after five, as I worked an online crossword puzzle, there was a noise at the door. It sounded like the knocker, but it couldn’t be, not at that hour. I figured the guy who delivers the Ledger-Enquirer must be early. He often startles me when he puts the plastic bag with the paper in it on the door handle.
But a moment later, I heard the noise again. It was the knocker. I went to the door, opened it and beheld Frances in her nightgown and robe. I didn’t realize it was Frances until she introduced herself. My two previous encounters with her were occasioned by her calls for help. Both times she had fallen face-down in her apartment and was unable to get up. This morning, however, she was on her feet.
“I locked myself out,” she said. “Can you call the desk and ask them to send someone with a key?”
I made the call, and we waited in the hall. She said her legs were bothering her.
“Look at this,” she said, lifting her robe to her knee and showing me the large sores on her right calf. The left leg didn’t look quite so bad.
“I’ve got a folding chair in the room, do you want me to get it so you can sit down?”
“No. Someone will be here in a few minutes,” she said. “I was restless and decided to walk around a little, but I forgot my keys. I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“I’ve been up since four,” I said.
“I get up between four and five every morning.”
“What time do you go to bed?”
“Seven hours, that’s pretty good,” she said. “My legs are so sore. I don’t know why the Lord does this to me.” She was quiet for a minute and then said, “He must have his reasons. The Lord has been good to me, and he’ll get me through this.”
As if sent by the Lord, an aide bearing a passkey came down the hall at that very moment. She looked at Frances’ leg and said, “Where are your bandages?”
Frances said she didn’t know. But she was in good hands now, and I went back to my crossword puzzle. Later that day, someone told me Frances has lupus.
About six weeks ago, I asked Penelope, the activities director, if there were any jobs around the place that I might be able to do. She said she’d think about it. As she thought, she thought up an idea for an Antiques Roadshow, Covenant Woods style. The residents with items they were curious about would give them to me, and I would comb the Internet to find out what I could about them. The residents held up their end of the bargain, and I did what I could to hold up mine. I was no good at all as an assessor, but I did find out some interesting stuff.
For instance, in looking for information on a pewter coffee pot, I discovered that coffee once made monarchs nervous, and not because they drank too much of it. They were afraid of what was going on in the coffee houses. One way to stifle dissent, they thought, would be to outlaw coffee. And the United States turned from tea to coffee during the War of 1812, when tea was in short supply and very expensive. After I shared this information, however, I was told the coffee pot was a wine dispenser.
Penelope had a hairpin holder, which I would have mistaken for a salt shaker, had she not told me. Stumbling around the Internet, I learned that in the early years of the Twentieth Century, hairpins were seen in some quarters as dangerous and subversive weapons. An effort was made around 1918 to regulate their length. The fear was if hairpins got too long they would be used by suffragettes to attack their enemies.
This week, I spent a couple afternoons behind the computer in Penelope’s office. She was on vacation, and Annie, who works with her, said there were a couple things I could do if I wanted. Penelope and Annie share the office with Irene, the director of housekeeping, and as I typed the daily schedules for October, several women came by see Irene. They asked what I was doing, and when they found out, they’d say, “Oh, that’s so sweet.” After all that sweetness, it’s a wonder I didn’t leave the office with a face covered with zits and a head too big to get out the door. But nothing beats the feeling of being useful, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be of use.
Al has been down to see me twice this week. He is determined to get rid of every nonessential item in his apartment.
“I don’t need this shit,” he said. “The doctors say I could go any day.”
I don’t think the doctors mean that Al’s demise is imminent, only that a man of eighty-eight is closer to the end than the beginning. His niece, who lives in New England somewhere, wants to come down with tape recorder and get Al to tell his stories.
“She wants to publish them,” Al said. “But no one would be interested.”
As Colonel Potter would say, “Horse pucky!” I encouraged Al to go ahead with the project, and if there is anything I can do to help him and his niece with it to let me know. But, unless his niece uncommonly persuasive, I don’t think Al will do it. And that’s too bad.
Another chance to be of use came my way this morning. Joe has heart problems and has been looking for an activity he can handle. The son of one of the Covenant Woods residents teaches Tai Chi, and he gave Joe a DVD to introduce him to it. Joe popped the disc into his laptop and nothing happened.
Because I waste more time in front of the computer than in front of the television, there is a widely held misconception here that I know something about how a computer works. So Joe called and asked if I could help him. It turned out I was able to. A click-click of the mouse here, and a click-click there and the video was rolling. The myth of my competence lives on.