My ideas about old folks’ homes were shaped by television – a black-and-white television, a Muntz, if memory serves me correctly. I don’t recall any shows revolving around life in what are now euphemistically referred to as retirement communities, but several commercials did. In those ads, three or four grizzled residents sat on the veranda discussing constipation. Then one of them, the fellow with the cheery countenance, would wax ecstatic over his latest bowel movement and, flush with excitement, recommend that the others try the laxative responsible for it.
Constipation is still a problem for those of us of a certain age, and I talk to myself about it quite often. But this is the 21st century, and this isn’t your grandfather’s geezerhood. Thursday after lunch I was talking to Al. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, Al does not suffer from constipation, but he does on occasion describe his bowel movements in great detail. “The damn thing must have been a foot long.” Al’s concern Thursday, however, was writer’s block. He is writing the story of his life, and when he runs into a problem he calls me. He does this because, “It’s all your fault, Tom. You’re the one who got me started with all this.” It is my fault because when he asked me to see if there was anything about him on the web, I found a newspaper story, by Peter Arnett no less, about the Battle of Song Be. “Damn it, Tom, that’s what did it.”
Anyway, as Al went on about the difficulty of recalling all he’s been through in the last ninety years, his phone rang. It was Beatrice, one of the managers at Covenant Woods. She had something for Al and wanted to know if she could bring it up. Al told her he had several bags of VHS tapes and DVDs in the trunk of the car that he wanted to give her, and he suggested they meet in the parking lot.
The movies – there must have been fifty or sixty of them – were given to Al by his friend Ken, the man who bought Al’s house when Al moved into Covenant Woods. Ken is a retired colonel, who, according to Al, worked for a time with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In retirement, Ken has become a hoarder. And his hoard of movies is being pushed out by his hoard of elephant figures – “He must have a thousand of the damn things. Everywhere you look in that house there’s an (effing) elephant,” – and his hoard of jigsaw puzzles – “You know what Ken got in the mail today? A package with ten puzzles in it. And he said he’s ordered twenty more. What the hell is he going to do with all of them? I think he’s losing it.” Al hoped Beatrice would be able to find a spot in the building where the movies would be available to the residents.
In true lieutenant colonel fashion, Al told me to come along, and we set off for the parking lot. Beatrice was holding a bulging six-by-nine envelope, which she handed to Al and said, “There are eight of them. But be careful; that’s some pretty good stuff. Don’t have more than one at a time. When you eat it, it takes longer to hit you, but when it does, you’ll know it.” Who needs laxatives when Alice B. Toklas brownies are available? Not Al. At dinner that evening, he said, “Beatrice was right. I had one this afternoon; it’s good shit.”
When I moved into Covenant Woods, nearly two years ago, William and Evelyn were an item – an odd item, to be sure, but an item despite the difference in their ages. William was fifty-nine, and Evelyn ninety-two. Evelyn has since moved out of Covenant Woods, and there was talk that William was planning to marry a woman he knows in Atlanta. Whether or not that was his plan, I can’t say, but it is clear William now has a new squeeze.
The woman in question moved into Covenant Woods not long ago, and appears to be a sixty-something. Appearances at Covenant Woods can be deceiving. Erris appears to be an eighty-something, a low eighty-something, something like eighty-one or eighty-two. She is 102.
But back to William’s love life. Evelyn was a feisty old broad. She had opinions on everything, and she was more than willing to share them. So willing, that even if you didn’t care to have the opinions shared with you, she’d share them anyway. When Evelyn spoke, you listened, or at least put on an Oscar worthy performance of rapt attention.
The current object of William’s affection is not the scrappy, high-strung sort. Her countenance is beyond placid; it is more like blankly unaware. There are times when she looks like something out of Night of the Living Dead, although she’s never been spotted with entrails hanging from her mouth.
Then again, perhaps looks are deceiving. A day or two ago, as I was on my way to dinner, she passed me in the hall with what looked to be a glass of wine in hand. “Hey, Tom” she said, smiling. “I’m trying to track down that old William.” She knew my name, which means she is more aware than I am, because I have no idea what her name is. And at dinner last night, Isabelle, who lives next door to the woman whose name I do not know, said she had heard William and her having a lovers’ quarrel earlier in the day. She must not be as passive as I thought, either.
’Tis the season, and Bethany and Russ each received a CD of scenes of Christmases past at the Beck house in Geneva-on-the-Lake from their Uncle John, Debbie’s brother. Beth was taken aback by the fashions of twenty years past.
“Mom was wearing this puffy red jacket or something,” she said when we talked Friday. “It was so weird looking. I can’t believe she wore that stuff.”
Russ, on the other hand, noticed my hair.
“Dad, you sure did have a lot more dark hair back then,” he said while he, Karen and I were shopping Saturday morning.
“I thought you had a wig on,” Karen said.
This must be what is meant by what goes around comes around. I used to make remarks about my mother’s gray hair. But just a few ... now and then ... only once in a while ... maybe a couple times a year ... almost never ... really.