“Is anyone sitting here?” Helga asked.
“I don’t know if Katherine will be here or not,” Corrine said.
“Well, if she shows up, I’ll move,” Helga said. “But there’s no one at the table where I usually sit, and I don’t want to eat by myself.”
And with that, Helga joined us for dinner. She grew up in New York City, but her ego is the size of Texas. She also has a tendency to tell a whopper or two. She had come to dinner directly from happy hour and brought two glasses of wine along. So, the first topic of conversation was wine. Gloria said she prefers red wine, and her favorite is from a South African winery.
“I used to live in South Africa,” Helga said. “And we grew grapes for wine.”
The tales of Helga laboring in the vineyard went on for some time before the conversation turned to the cooler weather we’ve been having. Gloria talked about her childhood in the rural South and all the work involved in gathering wood for the fire, keeping the fire going and getting rid of the ashes.
“Madam,” Helga said. “I used to do that, and I enjoyed it. I’d love to do it again.”
“But I didn’t know what cold was until I spent a couple years in Alaska when my husband was stationed there,” Gloria said.
“I used to live in Alaska,” Helga said. “That’s where I learned to chop wood.”
The conversation then made its way to Boston, where, of course, Helga had lived for several years. From there, and I’m not sure how, the talk turned to Chinese restaurants. The best Chinese restaurants, according to Helga are in New York City.
“We lived in New York for a few years,” she said. “I started a trucking company, and we delivered to all the Chinese restaurants. The restaurants bought all their food straight from China, and my trucks went down to the docks and got the stuff right off the boats.
“And in New York, I also started a mortgage company. I still run the mortgage business.”
The strain of keeping a straight face became too much, and I excused myself. A little later, I saw Corrine.
“Gloria started talking about Clydesdales,” Corrine said. “Helga thought they were dogs. Of course she knew everything there is to know about Clydesdale dogs. Then Gloria told her Clydesdales are horses. Helga knew all about the horses, too.”
On our way back from the River Center, where the Columbus State University Philharmonic performed Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and selections from West Side Story, Catherine and I were strapped in the bus’ wheelchair slots. When we pulled in to Covenant Woods, Catherine started maneuvering her wheelchair. There isn’t much room to maneuver in the back of the bus, and it wasn’t long before she told me, “You’re not going to be able to move.”
“Well, if I can’t move, neither of one of us is going to be able to get out,” I said. “They better bring us coffee and a slop bucket.”
That’s not an exact quote. The sons of Martha and Bud are gentlemen. What I said was, “OK.”
After the ambulatory residents were off the bus and in the building, Penelope came back to unstrap Catherine and me. Things in the back of the bus were a jumbled mess now, and Penelope asked, “Catherine, did you move your wheelchair?”
“No,” the indignant Catherine answered.
“Liar, liar, pants on fire,” I said.
No I didn’t. Sometimes being a gentleman is no fun at all.
Debbie called a couple days ago looking for Russell.
“He won’t answer my calls,” she said.
Russell had recently completed the illustrations for the children’s book Debbie wrote. She was greatly pleased with the artwork, but now she needed his help to e-mail the entire package to Author House.
“If you talk to him, tell him to call me,” Debbie said.
A few minutes later, I called Russ. He rolled his eyes – I swear, I could hear his eyes rolling – as I relayed the message from his mother.
“I’ll call her,” he said without enthusiasm.
Russ was over yesterday, and I asked him if he’d made the phone call.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Did you send the stuff for her?”
“No,” he said. “I told her, she’s been the contact person all along. For me to suddenly step in wouldn’t be very professional.”
He sounded so parental. How many times in his youth did he hear Debbie or me say, “You’ve got to do that yourself. For me to do that for you wouldn’t be [this, that or the other thing.]”
Now I’m wondering: When children start turning into their parents, does that mean the parents are turning old?
And age isn’t my only concern. In the last week, three people have asked me if I’m putting on weight.
“Aren’t your pants getting a little snug?” Al asked a few days ago.
“I can see it in your face,” Annie told me.
I wonder: If my face is getting chubby, how long will it be before I have a fat head?
As usual, James was out pitching garbage into the dumpster when I made my rounds Tuesday. And, as usual, I stopped to get the morning sports report. He’s excited about Carver High School’s chances in the Georgia football playoffs. And he said, “Your Steelers could be in trouble. Roethlisberger hurt his shoulder last night, you know.”
Then James moved on to the adventures of a maintenance man at Covenant Woods.
“We used to have trouble with a man who liked to watch dirty movies,” James said. “Nobody cared that he watched them, but he’s about half deaf, and he turned the TV way up. The neighbors would complain, and we’d have to go up and ask him to turn it down.
“He still lives here, so I can’t tell you his name.”
Ah, a mystery to work on.
Later – after supper – Al stopped by.
“You know what I saw on TV last night?” he asked, and without waiting for my reply, he went on. “Some show called Sex in America.”
Then he talked about sex in Columbus, Georgia, when he was a lad.
“Me and a friend of mine used visit this girl,” Al said. “We’d sit with her on the porch swing – him on one side of her, and me on the other side – and she’d service both of us. Her mother would call out, ‘What’s going on?’ ‘Nothing. We’re just talking,’ the girl would say.”
Then Al returned to the television show. “It was on the Science Channel. It was three hours long, and very interesting. I missed a lot because don’t hear very well. But when I turn up the sound, people complain.”