Maria can be crotchety. And with her acid tongue and sense of humor, the more crotchety she gets, the more fun she is to be around. She spices her complaints with well-placed hells and damns, which she delivers with added emphasis, as if to make sure no one mistakes them for hecks and darns. The complainers at Covenant Woods, for the most part, are a humorless group. When things aren’t to their liking, they blame it on the staff and management’s astounding stupidity. Maria complains about stupidity too, but she does so with the realization that stupidity is the human condition, and all of us are heir to it. And as she complains, she smiles.
Saturday, as I was on my way to dinner, I met Maria headed the other way.
“Going to breakfast?” she asked.
Not a sound came from my mouth, but, “Oh my God, Maria, you’ve gone senile,” was written all over my face.
“They’re serving breakfast for dinner tonight,” she said.
That cleared up things. Every now and then on a Saturday, scrambled eggs are the only dinner entree. Sandwiches and salads are available, but for those looking for a meal, the choice is scrambled eggs or scramble eggs.
“There’s going to be a change of management here on Tuesday,” she said, after making it clear she that scrambled eggs wasn’t her choice. “I’m telling you this because I know I can trust you not to say anything. But there’s going to be new management here. And remember, don’t say a word.”
“What new management?” Sally asked, appearing in the doorway of the activity room.
Until that moment, I was sure Maria was engaged in nothing more than a little heads-are-going-to-roll joking. But the look on her face when she saw Sally and realized she’d heard some of our conversation said, “Me and my big mouth.” Maria quickly concocted a story about a new manager at a local store, and we all went our separate ways.
The Town Hall meeting was Tuesday, and the announced change was in procedure not management. At some unspecified date, the residents will stop marking their own menu cards. To make the dining experience more restaurant-like, menus will be placed on the tables, and the servers will ask the residents for their order. Pity the poor servers. Often, as soon as the server picks up the menu card the resident remembers ordering that which he did not. In those cases, the menu card is the server’s only defense when the resident berates her for incompetence and not paying attention.
Early in the New Year, Richie returned from Rhode Island, where he’d spent the holidays visiting his son. A shoulder bag he’d carried on the plane during the return flight stayed for a while in Atlanta. Richie remembered having it with him as he waited at the airport for the Groome van to pick him up and cart him back to Columbus. But the bag was nowhere to be found when the van pulled up to Covenant Woods.
Richie got the number for the airport lost-and-found from the van driver. The number is for a recording, which tells callers the airport lost-and-found does not process claims over the phone and refers them to a website. Surprisingly, for a man a year or two younger than I and who used to work on submarines, Richie is computer illiterate.
So, he came over, we got on the website, and I typed in the information. There wasn’t much: a black shoulder bag with no ID tags, and a pair of boots, some toiletries and a couple prescriptions inside it. His chances of ever seeing it again were slim, I thought, and none after a week went by and he hadn’t heard anything. But last week, six weeks after the bag was lost, Richie got a call from the lost-and-found. His bag had been located and would be shipped to him. The package arrived yesterday. The easiest good deed I’ve ever performed.
Al dropped in the other day. He looked at all the candy that has accumulated on the TV tray. Except for the two boxes of Girl Scout cookies that I bought the other day, all the goodies were given to me, most of them by Al. His prescription for good health: Three cups of black coffee a day, two glasses of red wine and all the chocolate you can.
“Tom,” he said, looking at cache of chocolate, “is something wrong? You’re not eating.”
“I’m fine,” I told him. “But I’m not the chocoholic I once was.”
He looked at the table, then at me. He looked at the table again. Then, turning back toward me, he glanced at my midsection.
“You ought to do something about this,” he said, patting his stomach with his hands. “You’re getting big around here. You better stop eating so much.”
“You just said I should eat more chocolate.”
“You should. They’re finding that chocolate is good for you.”
Isabelle, who celebrated her eighty-seventh birthday over the weekend, has a wonderful sense of humor. She, her husband Ralph, Al and I were sitting around a table in the dining room one evening. Al was talking about the woman from the hospital who comes out a couple days a week to put him through an exercise regimen.
“Now that I’ve done the exercises for a while, I’m feeling a little better. I’m not getting dizzy like I was,” he said. “Of course, I’m not drinking as much as I used to, and I’m not smoking as much.”
“You’re not smoking as much because you can’t find any good grass,” Isabelle said.
“Well, that’s true,” Al said.