Thursday, November 28, 2013

Notes from the Home - November 29, 2013

   It was still raining in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. The rain had started early Tuesday, stopping only occasionally. It was not a hard rain, more than a mist but not a storm. I could hear the gentle drumming as it fell. But I hardly noticed it. The sound of the rain became like the sound of the refrigerator: I noticed it when it stopped. The sky was the worst part. The heavy gray clouds shortened the already short November day. Looking outside at three in the afternoon, I had the feeling that it was almost bedtime.
   But Tuesday had its bright spots despite the clouds and rain. Judy, one of the cleaning ladies, came by shortly after she got to work and said she would be around a little later to give my apartment its fortnightly cleaning. All the vacuuming, mopping, bed changing, dusting and toilet cleaning in my abode usually takes place on Thursday. But this is Covenant Woods not Wal-Mart, and Judy wasn’t scheduled to work on Thanksgiving.
   “This is your lucky day,” I said.
   “Why is that?”
   “You won’t have to change my bed.”
   “But I will have to make it,” she said, peeking around the corner and seeing that I hadn’t yet.
   You see, Tuesday is the day Covenant Woods will wash a resident’s bed linens and towels if he gathers them up and puts them outside his door before ten o’clock. Judy last changed my bed the week before last. If one or both of my more prominent character flaws – forgetfulness and laziness – hadn’t interfered, I would have put the stuff outside my door last Tuesday and there wouldn’t have been a problem. As it happened, however, I had put the basket of sheets and towels outside my door just shortly before Judy came by to say she’d be back in an hour or two.
   At eleven, Judy did come back and set to work making my bed. As soon as she had finished, as if on cue, Malinda, another member of the housekeeping staff, walked in with my laundry basket full of clean sheets and towels. Judy was kind enough and well-mannered enough not to turn the air blue, she didn’t even swear under her breath while she stripped the bed she’d just made and put the clean sheets on it.
   “They’re still warm from the dryer,” she said.
   Tuesday afternoon also had a bright spot. Two weeks ago to the day, Nick from Convalescent Care had taken my wheelchair away and left a loaner. And I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, “I might have this back to you tomorrow.” He didn’t, and the batteries in the loaner couldn’t hold a charge any better than I can hold my tongue after a few beers. Tuesday morning I decided the time had come to find out what was going on. The truth is, I decided the time had come Monday, but when I called I ended up on hold longer than I could hold it. Nick was closer to the phone Tuesday morning, and he said, “Well, we had to order a part, but we’re not sure, and it could be, and maybe it’s something else, blah, blah, blah, blah … early next week. Maybe.”
   It was time then to bring up another problem: the loaner’s anemic battery. “I’ll send somebody over with a new battery this afternoon,” he said. As it turned out, when the knock on the door came, Nick was the knocker. He put a new battery in the loaner and now I can do more than go to the dining room and back before I have to put the chair on the charger. I was even able to do my laundry – Covenant Woods charges a hefty fee to do a resident’s personal laundry, and I was running short on my personals – after putting it off, lest the chair prove unable to get me to the laundry room and back. The loaner does not have anything to indicate how charged the battery is, so I’ve resisted the urge to wonder around the Covenant Woods’ parking lots and find out how long a charge might last.
   Long about ten Wednesday morning, the clouds slowly drifted away and the sun came out. As I sat in the apartment that afternoon looking out at the cloudless sky, I called Beth. She wasn’t at home, but Grandma was there babysitting.
   “Do you want to talk to Hayden?” Debbie said.
   “Just a minute,” she said, and I heard her moving around, then she said, “Say hi, Grandpa.”
   “Hi, Grandpa,” a little voice said, and my holiday season was made.
   The holiday delight continued on Thanksgiving Day, when I thanked Karen, her sister Colleen, and Russ for the delicious dinner they prepared. They, in this case, is the operative word. Karen roasted the turkey, made the mashed potatoes and green beans. Colleen made the cranberry sauce, even throwing some blueberries into the mix. And Russ made the rolls and apple pie.
   Russ, it seems, is becoming quite familiar with the kitchen, and he was full of gastronomical advice. As we were eating the apple pie, which was excellent, Karen said, “I can’t believe how thin you cut the apples.”
   “You want to have them a quarter of an inch thick,” Russ said. “If they are any thinner, they turn to mush. But if they are too thick, the filling doesn’t set up right.”
   Besides getting the apples to the correct thickness, Russ also managed to avoid the embarrassment of having a soggy bottom crust. The rolls were exceptionally good, too, but Russ ended up being hoisted on his own petard. A few decades ago, back in Ashtabula, when Russ was a young whippersnapper aspiring to become a wise guy, Debbie picked up a package of Just Like Home cookies at the store.
   “Why didn’t you just make cookies?” Russ asked.
   “Look,” Debbie said, “it says they’re Just Like Home.”
   “No they’re not,” Russell said. “They don’t have black bottoms.”
   Well, Russ’ rolls, like his mother’s cookies, had black bottoms.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Notes from the Home-November 24, 2013

   Ron is the always at the table in the dining room well before Isabelle, Al or I get there for dinner. Until earlier this week, he always ordered the same thing: a chicken sandwich, a cup of coffee and a glass of lemonade. It wasn’t much of a chicken sandwich: a grilled breast from a not terribly well-endowed chicken on a plain-Jane hamburger bun, no lettuce, no tomatoes, no onion, no pickles, no mayo, no mustard, no ketchup, no nothing but an anemic hunk of chicken on an uninspiring bun.
   The coffee and lemonade came first. Ron put two sugars and one cream in the coffee and slurped away. He seldom took more than a sip or two of the lemonade. Then the server would set the sandwich in front of him. He’d lift it to his mouth and eat quickly and nosily. He never ate the whole sandwich. He would eat about three-quarters of it on most nights. But once or twice a week, he’d quit after three or four bites, put the sandwich back on the plate and place his napkin on top of it, as if fearing the server would make him sit there until he finished whole thing. Then, he’d try to get the server’s attention as she went by carrying a large tray of dinners for other residents. “I’d like a bowl of chocolate ice cream,” he’d say impatiently. Often he would say it two or three times before the server finished serving the main course to everyone. Ron tried hard to eat all of the ice cream, but a spoonful or two always landed on the table cloth. As soon as he’d swallowed the last bite, Ron would push his chair back, slowly get up and say, “I’ll see you all tomorrow.”
   A few weeks ago Ron began talking more during dinner. He didn’t say anymore, but he repeated what he did say more often. He’d ask Al if he’d sold his car yet five or six times a night. And poor Isabelle has endured Ron telling her, “Well, we all have to go some time,” over and over again every night since Ralph died. And the last bite of ice cream was no longer Ron’s cue to exit stage right. Instead, he’d slurp his way through another cup of coffee, and some nights another cup after that.
   This week, Ron expanded his culinary experience. He’s been ordering a salad and eating most of it; he doesn’t like the cucumbers or onions. And he’s been finishing his sandwich every night and draining the glass of lemonade.
   “I’ve got to start eating better,” he tells us several times a night.
   The transformation seems to have coincided with weekly visits to a psychiatrist.
   “I owe the shrink $600,” Ron told us last night.
   “What shrink is that?” Al asked.
   “Dr. Peterson, the quack.”
   But the question of whether Ron has stopped taking some pills he is supposed to take, or started taking again some pills he had quit taking months ago, or if the quack has prescribed all new happy pills, remains unanswered.
   Al, it turns out, can be terribly difficult to please when the subject is Al. Penelope and her friend Beverly are working on a book project, interviewing residents and writing stories about them. Al is not happy with the story Beverly wrote about him. “It doesn’t make any damn sense,” he says. The story does contain a number of errors, and Beverly and Penelope are in the process of correcting them. But the story does make sense.
   The story, which is about six pages long, focuses on Al’s youth, his determination to get to Europe during World War II and the Battle of Song Be, where Al was “blown all to hell,” in Vietnam. Al is worried that readers will be confused because all the stuff in between those parts of his life has been left out. “I think I’ll tell them to just forget about it,” Al said last night. I hope he doesn’t. I can’t imagine anyone here having lived a life more interesting than Al’s.
   Sunday dinner is served at 11:30 here at Covenant Woods. I got there in timely fashion today, but there were already four people at the table for four at which I usually sit. Al doesn’t eat in the dining room on Sunday, but Grace and Bob were at the table with Isabelle and Ron. So, I sat with Coach, who was alone at a table, and a few minutes later Leila and Ruth joined us. Leila lives next door to me, Ruth next door to her, and Ralph lives across the hall from Ruth. You might think that we’ve talked together before, but we haven’t, other than saying hello in the hall.
   “The big game is Saturday,” Ruth said.
   I first learned how big the big game is in 1971. I was a radio operator in the Tactical Operations Center at Fire Base Jack in South Vietnam. Captain Holsapple, the operations officer and an Auburn graduate, spoke of little else in the week leading up to the Tigers’ big game with Alabama that year. He didn’t say much when it was over, however. The Tide rolled to a 31-7 win that year.
   “I played in that game four times,” Coach said.
   In 1949, his senior year at Auburn, Coach, an offensive end, linebacker and team captain, helped lead the Tigers to a14-13 win over Alabama.
   Talking about the big game reminded me of a question I wanted to ask Coach. Over the summer, to make it easier for the dog owners at Covenant Woods to dispose of their dogs’ doo-doo, several bins were put in at convenient locations around the complex. To make the purpose of the bins more obvious, a plastic statue of a Dalmatian was placed next to each bin. Saturday morning, as Russ took me out for a visit to the barber, we noticed the Dalmatian outside the B building was sporting Auburn colors. Someone had painted an Auburn sweater on the dog.
   “Are you responsible for that?” I asked Coach.
   “I didn’t paint them, there are two of them,” he said, “but I was behind it.”
   He also said that the two tigers outside his apartment door aren’t tigers. They’re cheetahs that he had someone paint.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Falling Back

   Time changes come and go. The springing aheads and falling backs preceded by a few people observing in the late afternoons, “Next week at this time it’ll be dark,” or, “It will still be light …” as the case may be. Then on the Saturday night before the appointed Sunday, setting the clocks that need to be set and ignoring the cell phone and computer, which take care of themselves. And as Sunday evening nears, someone will say, “I can’t believe it’s dark already,” or, “I can’t believe it’s still light.” Monday, the new time firmly in place and now unnoticed, life goes on as before.
   Not this time. In the hallway at six-thirty, coming back from dinner, looking out at the darkness, wondering where the day went, feeling robbed of the evening’s beauty, there is a sense of emptiness, sadness. Shouldn’t feel this way. Here on the western edge of the Eastern Time zone, the sunset comes later than most anywhere else. Beth in Orofino, near the eastern border of the Pacific Time zone, and well to the north of Columbus, says it is dark there at four-fifteen.
   Cursed the short days only once before. In 2008, in Ashtabula. Disability retirement, limited mobility, looking out the window at a parade of gray, rainy days – two weeks’ worth, or so it seemed – that made the short days following the return to standard time terribly dark and dreary.
   But this year, here in Columbus, the weather in the wake of the time change has been mostly pleasant, some glorious autumn days. The windshields of the cars in the parking lot were coated with frost one morning last week.
   But there is the wheelchair. They don’t know what is wrong with it. The control unit has been replaced, the motor for the wheels on the left side have been replaced, but the left wheels still operate erratically if at all. A week ago, they took the wheelchair and left a loaner. The loaner ain’t the wheelchair. Its battery is questionable, and there is nothing to indicate when the battery is getting low, and it gets low quickly. Can’t go outside for fear it would require a push to get back in.
   Maybe the time change isn’t the problem. Maybe it’s cabin fever.


Alisha, the activities director, asked me to play Reader's Digest editor and condense an article on spring health tips she'd found ...