If it’s Sunday, Bobbie must be itching to sue someone. A week ago she was set to bring legal action against Covenant Woods for not serving an evening meal in the dining room. I don’t know how long Bobbi has lived here, but she was here when I arrived fourteen months ago, and Covenant Woods wasn’t serving evening meals in the dining room on Sundays then.
If a resident acts before noon on Sunday, he can order a box lunch to be delivered to his room around four o’clock. This, as it turned out, is what Bobbie had done. When I entered the lobby at two forty-five, however, Bobbie was filling the air with litigious threats.
“In the handbook they gave me, it says they serve three meals a day,” Bobbie said. “But that’s a lie. They serve breakfast and lunch on Sundays, and that’s it. I’m not going to let them get away with that anymore. I’m suing them. I already have five attorneys working on it, and I’m an attorney, too. We’re going to shut this place down.”
An aide came out of the dining room and handed Bobbi a Styrofoam box. Bobbi peeked inside it and wasn’t impressed. But she got up, put the box on her walker and trudged into the empty dining room, where she ate the box lunch.
This Sunday, Bobbie’s problem was the Ledger-Enquirer. In truth, Frances had the problem with the newspaper.
“That’s an outright lie,” Bobbie was telling Frances.
The “lie” was the note Frances and a number of other residents received instead of their Sunday paper. According to the note, an inadequate number of papers had been printed, and the delivery guy would be back in the evening with more.
“He wasn’t shorted,” Bobbie said. “The guy can’t count and didn’t get enough papers. He’s just trying to cover his butt. You ought to call the paper and raise hell. And if the Ledger-Enquirer can’t print enough copies, you can sue them.”
Having received a paper rather than a note Sunday morning, I excused myself and scurried to my room, grabbed the paper and took it to Frances.
“In the spirit of full disclosure,” I told Frances, who was still talking to Bobbie, “I kept the section with the crossword puzzle.”
“That’s OK,” she said. “The woman next door to me doesn’t buy the paper, and I give her mine. But sometimes I keep parts of it, too.”
One evening, as I was about to leave the dining room, I noticed Eleanor sitting at a table by herself, surrounded by menus. So I went to see what was going on.
“They’re really shorthanded,” she said, “and I volunteered to help with the menus.”
She was taking that day’s dinner menu out of the plastic folder and replacing it with the next day’s lunch menu. It looked like a job I could handle, and I asked if she wanted some help. She did. The reason for the shorthandedness is servers finding better jobs elsewhere.
“I wouldn’t want their job,” Eleanor said.
“Me either, too many mean-spirited old people.”
“It’s not just that,” Eleanor said. “I hate to say it, but I think a lot of it is racial.”
That might be. All the servers are black, and, except for perhaps a half-dozen exceptions, all the resident are white. But many of the residents here are equal-opportunity crabs. Brenda, a white woman, worked as a server part time for a few months. Then one evening, she came by the table almost in tears and apologized, saying she was upset because there were some really demanding people at one of her tables. I’ve never heard if that is the reason she quit, but Brenda hasn’t been back since that night.
One evening as we stuffed menus, Eleanor mentioned that she’d graduated from high school in 1949. I told her I was a year old when she got her diploma. Then she explained why I was only a year old at the time.
“I was in the eleventh grade when I graduated,” she said. “At the time, the high schools in Georgia only went to the eleventh grade. It wasn’t until the next year, 1950, that they added another year of high school down here.”
At eighty-one, Eleanor is hardly old by the standards of Covenant Woods, but she would have been in her early thirties when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech and the nation finally got around to dismantling the Jim Crow laws. So, I wonder if Eleanor might be right about the racial attitudes of some of the residents. Many of them lived in segregated communities until they were well into middle age.
I had to put Dennis in his place the other night. Dennis, with his Mayberry accent and penchant for gossip, is the bus driver. Sometime in the fall, he decided he needed to be at the controls of my wheelchair when I got on the bus in order get it properly positioned to be strapped down. This was a little more than slightly demeaning, especially since neither Penelope nor Annie needed to say more than, “Back up a few inches,” to get me in the right spot. I kept my mouth shut, however, and the longer I stayed silent, the more vigorous Dennis got with the controls.
About a month ago, the day after some soiree that Dennis drove us to, the wheelchair started to act up. The problem, Ken from Convalescent Care told me, is in the unit with joy stick. The cause could be any of a zillion things, he said. I don’t have much of problem with the chair if I go outside in the morning or evening. In the late morning and afternoon, however, with the sun high in the sky, the unit quickly overheats and does funny things. It hasn’t left me stranded, but it does worry me.
Ken has a replacement unit in stock, but it costs a thousand dollars. So, he’s gone through the Cleveland Clinic, where I got the prescription for the chair, to get a prescription for a new unit, and is fighting with Humana and Medicare to pay for it.
In the meantime, I’ve been nursing the buggy along, going shorter distances, not making mad dashes across Woodruff Farm Road and heading for the air-conditioned innards of Covenant Woods the minute the joy stick unit starts heating up. And I had managed to avoid Dennis on the bus until last Tuesday, when I threw caution to the wind and went to dinner with a group.
As Dennis was getting ready to strap the chair down for the trip back from the restaurant, he reached for the joy stick.
“I’ve got it,” I said.
He looked at me and smiled a smile that seemed to say, “You poor, demented old fart. I’m the professional here, and I will do it.” Then he grabbed the joy stick, or would have if my hand hadn’t already been on it.
“I said, I’ll do this,” I told him.
“Well, you’re going to have back up a little.”
So, I backed up a little.
“Not there. Over here,” he said, as though the wheelchair had to be spotted with the precision of Air Force One.
“Over where? No one else has a problem strapping me in. You’re the only one.”
And after I told him that, he didn’t have a problem either.
Russ and Karen came over this evening, bringing traditional Memorial Day fare – hamburgers and hot dogs – with them. And I got to play the excessively proud, darn near intolerable grandpa, showing them all the video clips that Beth has sent of Hayden and MaKenna. I loved it.