The family grew a
little Thursday with the birth of MaKenna Lynn Pratt. My lovely granddaughter
checked in at nineteen inches long and weighing six pounds, six ounces.
For me, Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of
frustration, and at times like this the greatest frustration is the inability
to hop on a train, plane or automobile at a moment’s notice and head for Idaho.
And that’s followed by the knowledge that if I got there, I’d be in the way at
a time when Beth and Ken have far more important things to tend to. But this is
an age of technology, and Ken texted a photograph of McKenna not long after her
birth and others have followed on Facebook.
The greatest comfort a grandfather can have
is the knowledge his grandchildren are being raised in a loving and caring
home. I have that comfort.
If Ruth were caught in a torrential downpour
just before she stepped on a scale, she might weigh ninety pounds. If she stood
up straight and had shoes on, Ruth might be five-feet tall. But when she is out
and about, Ruth is bent over pushing her walker. When she meets someone in the
hall, she stops and seems to look up at them through the gap between her eye
brows and her glasses. She spotted me in the laundry room Sunday and came in.
“You inspire me,” she said.
“Sometimes I think I should have someone do
my laundry for me,” she said. “Then I see you in here, and I think: If he can
do it, I can do it.”
Then I told Ruth how much she inspires me.
Every evening she can be found pushing her walker up and down the hallway. Ruth
doesn’t stroll, neither does she lollygag. She moves out smartly and with
determination. And she does it with a smile. She is a wonderfully powerful
inspiration. I told her that.
“I’m not sure that’s true,” she said. “But
“It is absolutely true,” I said. “You go,
Bobbie uses a walker, too. She stands
five-seven or so and walks tall, giving the impression that her walker is more
of a security blanket than a necessity. She is a feisty dame. A few months ago,
the fire alarm went off, and Bobbie assured everyone around her that all would
be well. Then she added:
“I tell my daughter that all the time. And
she says, ‘I know, Mom, everything will be fine.’ And then I tell her, ‘If you
know it, then goddamn it why don’t you act like it?’”
She is the old person I want to grow up to
Thursday afternoon as I wended my way
through the parking lots, I spotted Bobbie. She looked puzzled.
“I’m confused,” she said. “I don’t know
where I’m supposed to go to get in.”
She went on to give me a street address, but
it wasn’t Covenant Woods’ address. I walked with her to the door,
“Oh, now I remember,” she said. “I go in
here, go around to the elevator, take it to the third floor and that’s where my
apartment is. Thank you for your help.”
It was a shock to discover that Bobbie
didn’t quite have it all together. But I was in for a bigger shock when I asked
Penelope if Bobbie was starting to lose it.
“Well, she is ninety-nine,” Penelope said.
“Ninety-nine. Hard to believe, isn’t it.”
Should I live that long, I hope to have
Bobbie’s acid tongue and youthful looks.
A month or two ago, Lucy, the food service
director, told me she was worried that I wasn’t eating enough and whenever she
saw my order, she made sure I got a heaping helping. I suspected Lucy had
something to do with all the food on my plate the other night. My suspicions
were confirmed a little later as I circled Covenant Woods.
“Did you eat all that food I piled on your
plate?” Lucy asked as she drove by.
“Every bite,” I said.
The next morning, Al dropped by with a
couple of Piggly-Wiggly bags in hand.
“Tom, you’re getting fat,” he said. “We’ve
got to do something about that.”
He went on to give a not entirely positive
assessment of my girth, followed by:
“Over at The Pig, I bought a blueberry pie.
I’ll never eat the damn thing. Will you take half of it?”
He also left a gingerbread man.
Friday morning I was at Piggly-Wiggly.
William was there, too, laying in the day’s supply of Coors. He was on his way
to checkout when I saw him. After I got the things I was after, checked out and
left the store, I spotted William standing outside Dollar General sampling his
purchase. It was quarter after eight.
At dinner that evening, Al vented.
“You weren’t at happy hour,” he said. “You
didn’t miss anything. The Marine was drunk and never shut up. There were five
of us at that table, and he did all the talking.”
A little later, about twelve hours after I
saw William outside Dollar General, I passed him in the hall.
“Getting your exercise, eh?” he said as he
Saturday morning, I overheard Richie telling
someone, “He fell in the hallway last night.” I didn’t hear the name of the
person who fell, but I have my suspicions.
Spring arrived at
Covenant Woods the last week of March. The birds were back, singing and
chirping a cheerful soundtrack to the sunrise. The wood bees got busy on the
porch railing, making homes for themselves in the two-by-fours. Blimpian in
comparison to their nectar-collecting cousins, they hovered outside the porch
door as if guarding their territory.
A mockingbird that had been sitting on the
“Handicapped Parking” sign flew over and pecked around on the ground outside the
apartment for a moment, before leaping through the railing’s lattice work and
onto the porch. He seemed stunned, as though he had somehow imprisoned himself.
He nervously examined the railing and the lattice, looking for a way out.
Fascinated, I leaned forward in the wheelchair for a better look. The chair
creaked, and the bird, embarrassed to have been caught in his silly game, fled
as he had arrived, through the lattice.
Trees that had stood naked since November
were now clothed in leaves. The dogwoods and cherry trees had donned blossoms,
nature’s exuberant declaration of renewed life. But one cherry tree seemed
oblivious to the changing seasons. Its bare branches unadorned, like lines on
an aging face, or veins crisscrossing the emaciated hand of an elderly woman.
There were blossoms on a few lower branches,
a stylish accessory the tree clutched to assure herself that time had not
passed her by. Then, on a Saturday morning, beneath a bright sun and a
cloudless sky, the tree appeared in a stunning white gown, a beautiful arboreal
The knock Tuesday
morning wasn’t much of a knock. I wasn’t even sure it was a knock and
considered ignoring it. If I answered the door and no one was there, people
would think I’m nuts. Then again, if I ignored the knock and someone was there,
people would think I’m a snob. Since my sanity is already in doubt, why give
people a snooty nit to pick? I answered the door.
It was Nona, one of Covenant Woods’
marketing people. My first thought was she wanted to know why I hadn’t gone to
the reception for new residents on Monday. An invitation to act as a greeter at
the reception had been slipped under my door Saturday. If she asked, I’d have
to decide whether to tell her the truth – that I had forgotten about it – or
tell a harmless fib and deny having received the invitation.
But my absence wasn’t mentioned, chances are
it wasn’t noticed. Nona said she wanted to take a picture of my apartment.
Well, maybe my absence was noticed, and this was her way of checking up on me,
of making sure I hadn’t become a demented hermit, holed up in my room drinking
booze, watching porn and talking to my pet spider.
“We’re going to put together a brochure,”
she said. “I like the studio apartments because you can get an idea of the whole
layout with one picture.”
“Oh,” I said, doubtfully.
“We’re going to have a professional
photographer come in when we’re ready,” she said. “I just need to get some
stuff together. If we decide to use your apartment, we’ll have housekeeping
straighten things up in here first.”
“I like your apartment,” Nona said. “It
looks roomy. You don’t have much furniture. You don’t need a lot of furniture,
Wondering if Covenant Woods was hoping to
attract less-finicky, less-pretentious residents, I moved to one side while
Nona snapped a picture. Then she left, and I went back to my desk-slash-kitchen
table, determined to channel a river of creativity through my fingers and into
the computer. Instead, I wandered aimlessly around the Internet until sitting
on my butt became a pain in the butt, and I took to my bed, taking a volume of
Billy Collins’ poems with me.
The first poem in the book, “Another Reason
Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House” has nothing to do with the Second Amendment,
assault weapons or a well-regulated militia, and everything to do with the dog
The neighbor’s dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full
but I can still hear him muffled under
barking, barking, barking…
A dog lives in the apartment to the left of
me, another lives in the apartment to the right of me and there are a few
others living in nearby apartments. They are all well behaved and seldom bark.
The same cannot be said, however, for William, a former Marine who lives on the
third floor but spends a great deal of time next door visiting Richie. William
has a seizure disorder. A couple people have told me he has epilepsy, others
say it’s the result of lead poisoning. No matter, even as I try to concentrate
on the words of Billy Collins, I can still hear William’s muffled voice,
yelling, yelling, yelling.
When the record finally ends he is still
sitting there in the oboe section still
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton…
William goes on, never witty, frequently
obnoxious, often profane and always loud. I suppose I should have a little sympathy
for William and his problems, but compassion is hard to come by, especially
when I see him each morning coming back from Piggly-Wiggly lugging a
twenty-four pack of Coors.
Johnny, the maintenance director, was in the
hall when I went to check my mail. He asked if I was going to the Mystery
Dinner that evening. The mystery of the Mystery Dinner is where it is to be
“I’m going,” I said. “Do you know where
“No. But you’ll enjoy it.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
Johnny smiled the smile of a man who had
been caught in a lie. In court, the DA would have asked the judge to direct him
to answer the question. All I could do was wait until Johnny muttered:
“Uh, mystery food is always good.”
Johnny might have been dissembling about
knowing where we were going, but he was on the mark about the food at Smokey
Bones. I enjoyed my dinner while sharing a booth with Ralph and Isabel, two of
Covenant Woods’ most delightful people.
One of the lessons I learned during my first
summer in Columbus is that public places here aren’t so much air conditioned as
refrigerated. Once I finished shoveling the chicken asiago down my gullet, I
realized I’d forgotten that lesson. The waiter asked if we’d like dessert.
“Just some coffee for me,” I said.
“Regular or decaf?”
“Cream or sugar?”
“No thank you.”
“Just black? We can do that,” he said.
Perhaps he could, but he didn’t. He did,
however, bring the check, which I quickly paid before heading outside to bask
in the warmth. The woman who shows diners to their seats saw me and offered to
help me with the door. She asked me about the rest of the group, and did I know
where to meet up with them, and did I know where to wait for the bus.
just going to sit out here and warm up,” I told her.
“Is it cold in there?” a man, headed inside
with his family, asked.
“No,” the woman from the restaurant said.
“It’s really nice inside.”
I couldn’t see her face as she held the door
for the family, but I imagined her eyes rolling in a manner that said, “He’s
just a geezer who isn’t comfortable unless it’s eighty-five and thinks he’s
going to drive home in that wheelchair.”
A few minutes later, Dennis came out and
fetched the bus. After an uneventful ride home, I crawled into bed with my Nook
at nine o’clock. My intention was to read myself asleep, and I did. My bladder
roused me shortly before midnight. The light was still on, the Nook was
snuggled between my left arm and my chest, but my glasses were nowhere to be
found. They weren’t on my face, they weren’t on the nightstand, they weren’t on
what I could see of the floor, and they weren’t on what I could see of the bed.
My search was cut short by my increasing
need to go. And a few more gray hairs sprouted as I maneuvered to get out of
bed, worried with every movement I’d find the specs by breaking them. But I
managed to get out of bed, into the wheelchair, into the bathroom and to do
what had to be done without incident. Then I went back to look for my glasses.
They were resting comfortably under the heap of blankets and sheets I’d created
when I started moving around. I picked them up, put them on and satisfied that
they still worked, I put them on the nightstand. And as Tuesday yielded to Wednesday, I got back into bed.