Al celebrated – celebrated might not be the right word – let’s say, Al noted his ninetieth birthday last week. Besides lots of good wishes, he was given chocolates of various kinds by various people. Extolling the benefits of chocolate and warning of the dangers of sugar, he distributed the bounty among his friends. He gave Isabelle the Whitman Sampler he’d received, Ron got some tarted-up Oreos, I got a bag of Ghirardelli Valentine’s Caramel Chocolate Trio and he re-gifted some other chocolate treats to a couple of women who live near him on the second floor.
I was beginning to wonder if Al was ready to turn ninety. As we were leaving the dining room Thursday, Alisha met us coming the other way. She is an attractive twenty-something who handles the evening shift at the front desk. She was wearing a black top with “Guess” spelled out across her chest in glittery silver stuff.
“What’s that say?” Al asked.
“ ‘Guess.’ I got it when I was in Las Vegas.”
“It’s not spelled right, is it?”
“Yes it is.”
With that, Al, normally quite the chivalrous fellow, went into dirty-old-man mode. He got a little closer to Alisha and looked down at the letters. “G,” he said, and poked the G. “U,” he said, and poked the U. “E,” he said, but before he could poke the E, Alisha said, “I better get back to the desk.”
“He wasn’t fooling anyone,” she told me later.
Friday, whether it was the Yuengling, the Lake Country Red, the hydrocodone, the marinol or a combination of some or all of them, Al less steady on his feet and more at sea in conversation than anyone could remember him being before. But over the weekend he got back to just being Al, and last night he was positively jovial. We were in the dining room, working on the menus.
“I wonder if anybody knows any good jokes,” he said.
“I do,” Annie said, as she blew by on her way to the kitchen to get something to eat before she went to call bingo.
When she came back through, I asked her to share the jokes with us.
“There’s no sense in me telling them,” said Annie, who has strong lungs and proceeded to use them. “If I do that, Al will look at me funny, then he’ll turn to you and say, ‘Tom, what did she say? I can’t hear a word she’s saying.’”
“Help me out, Tom,” Al said. “What did she say?”
What a difference nine hundred miles makes. Yesterday, before the sun was up, an e-mail from Nancy appeared in my inbox. “Snow day!” she announced giddily. Ash/Craft and Happy Hearts would be closed for the day, and she was going to work on her quilt and then go cross country skiing down at Cederquist Park.
Here in west Georgia it was spring. Frogs, toads and some of their amphibian friends provided the background noise with their croaking. In the morning, shortly before eight, I went out, wearing a light jacket.
These days, all my Saturdays start the same way. After getting dressed and attending to the matters that must be attended to in the bathroom, I turn on the coffeemaker, pour a glass of orange juice, gather the bottles with the child-proof caps that my prescriptions come in, and go to the table. There, I pick up the little plastic daily-pill-organizer thingy, take out Saturday’s ration and wash it down with a slug of OJ.
Saturday is the last day of the pill organizer’s week, and I set about restocking it. I pick up a bottle with my right hand, open it, tap it against the open palm of my left hand, hoping seven pills roll out on to my palm before one or more roll out on to the floor, put one pill in each of the organizer’s little compartments and repeat the process with the next bottle.
While doing this mindless task, I am amazed at how fast Saturday got here. Long periods of time – weeks, months, years – seem to speed by. In six weeks I will have been in Covenant Woods for two years. But it feels like just a few months ago that Russ and I pulled out of Ashtabula, U Haul in tow, on a rainy Saturday morning.
The days though go on forever. The afternoons are often month-long affairs. And they’re creeping by even more slowly in the early months of 2014. The dreary days – overcast, raining, more overcast, drizzle, more overcast, thundershower, a moment of sunshine, overcast, ad nauseum – are partly responsible. But the truth is an old-folks home probably isn’t the best place for a person young enough to be the offspring of many of the other residents. Richie and William, who are both younger than I, drink their way through each day.
One morning earlier in the week, I made my way around the parking lots and stopped to talk to James, who was tossing the accumulated garbage into the dumpster. As we discussed the Olympics, William came up the path from the shopping plaza next door.
“Why the cane?” James asked when he saw William.
“I’m having balance issues,” William told him.
James and I managed to stifle our laughter until William was out of earshot. Then we wondered aloud about the twenty-four pack of Coors in the Piggly-Wiggly bag William was lugging, and how it might affect his balance at eight-fifteen in the morning.
My balance being what it is, I better find other ways to pass the time.
I woke up a few minutes before midnight last night. At precisely the witching hour, an alarm went off next door in Leila’s apartment. The beep, beep, beep, beep of what was likely a clock radio went on and on. At ten-after, I called the office. The woman who answered the phone transferred me to security, and I told man about the alarm. He asked me what room I was in. I told him, and he said, “Thanks,
I’ve been called “ma’am” by strangers on the phone – male and female – a thousand times in the last six years. But it is the first time in all my nearly sixty-six years that a man has called me “darlin.” It is nothing to worry about, I tell myself, just another example of MS and the telephone playing tricks on the people I talk to. Then I think, Deliverance was set in Georgia, wasn’t it?