Notes from the Home - November 12, 2013



   Ralph passed away a week ago, and last night Isabelle had dinner in the dining room for the first time in two weeks or more.

   “He died in my arms,” she said. “I was in bed next to him reading a book on death and dying that someone had given me. Ralph asked me to get closer, and I put my arm around him. Then I heard that terrible sound and I knew he was gone.”

   Their daughter and son-in-law had driven from Oregon and were able to see Ralph before he died. They began their return trip yesterday.

   “I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t promised my daughter I would come down for dinner,” Isabelle said.

   Whether or not she will be back remains to be seen. Ron turned dinner into an ordeal for Isabelle. Ron is sixty-four, lost his left eye somewhere along the line, and used to work for Tom’s, the snack food people. He has other problems, but other than social ineptitude, I’m not sure what they are.

   “You know, Isabelle, Ralph’s age was against him,” Ron said. “He was an old man, and we all have to go some time. None of us live forever. We all die some time. His age was against him. Ralph was an old man, you have to expect those things when your ninety-years old…” and on and on he went. Everything he said was true, but it was an endless stream of words, just words, no emotion, no sign of concern for what Isabelle might be going through, no pauses to give her an opportunity to respond.

   Then Ron moved on to Isabelle’s plans. “What are you going to do about … If I were you I’d … Don’t you think that … Wouldn’t it be better if … Why don’t you … Maybe you ought to …”

   Ron ordered his usual last night: a chicken sandwich, a bag of potato chips and a bowl of chocolate ice cream. He was done almost before Isabelle, Al and I got out entrees. But then, for the first time ever, or at least the first time in the months I’ve been eating at that table, Ron didn’t say, “I’ll see you all tomorrow” and leave. Instead, he asked for a cup of coffee. And when he finished it, he asked for another.

  

   Back in September, Beverly, a friend of Penelope’s from California, spent several days here interviewing some residents. I’m not sure what the plan is; I think they want to put them together in a small book for the residents and their families. Penelope gave Al a copy of the story they had written about him and asked for his comments. Then Al showed me the story and asked what I thought. We both thought it needed some work, although for different reasons.

   Al was concerned about what was left out. I was concerned about what was in it. Al would like to make sure that every unit he served in is mentioned. This is a problem because Beverly and Penelope want to keep the stories short, and there is a battle of wills going on. I’m almost convinced – darn that Suzanne, I want to say, I’m pretty sure, but she always said that use of pretty wasn’t pretty – that Al will relent on this one. He is smoking less marijuana and drinking less, too. And to stay busy, he is finally getting around to writing the story of his life, or at least going through all his papers in preparation for writing the story.

   “Damn it, Tom, it’s all your fault.”

   It is my fault, because when he asked me if I could find anything about the Battle of Song Be on the Internet, I found some stuff.

   “That’s what got me started,” he said.

   My concerns about Beverly’s story center around what is in it. For instance, in the second paragraph, she writes that Al was raised as an only child. A sentence or two later, she mentions Al’s brother. She misspelled soldier several times – she wrote “solider” – and she wrote that in 1960 Al was deployed to North Vietnam as an advisor.

   Yesterday, when we passed in the hall, Penelope asked if Al had let me read the story. When I said he had, she asked me what I thought. “Well, it’s a good story, but …”

   “I’ll have to take a look at that,” she said. “Would you mind reading some of the others?”

   I think I might have myself a non-paying editing job to fill some empty hours.

  

   Madeleine Crum, Huffingtonpost.com’s associate books editor, recently wrote a column defending the use of “like” in utterances such as, “it’s, like, really cold today.” But she began by writing about going out with a man who filled the conversation with “you know.” “My assumption [that he was unintelligent] turned out to be false, but, you know, his convoluted way of speaking was seriously off-putting,” she wrote. Then in the next paragraph, she says, “… I included the word ‘seriously,’ which is a classic case of excessive adverb usage, and frankly, I'm okay with that. Had I followed traditional grammatical guidelines and written, ‘his convoluted way of speaking was off-putting,’ my criticism would have seemed more severe than I intended it to be.”

   The language is changing too rapidly for me. Here I am, like, stuck in, like, the 20th Century, still convinced that “seriously” means “seriously.” But, I guess I’m, like, wrong.

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