On Saturdays, a banana appears at each place setting in the Covenant Woods' dining room. I almost always have a few bananas in the room, and I would give Isabelle the banana Covenant Woods gave me. Every Saturday I gave Isabelle a banana. This went on for almost two years, and every time I did, Isabelle smiled a great appreciative smile. I don't think she enjoyed the banana half as much as I enjoyed seeing her smile when I reached across the table to hand it to her.
At dinner one night a few months ago, Amy came up behind me and whispered in my ear. I forget exactly how she phrased it, but the gist was, "Your legs don't work, but can you still get 'it' up?" Amy hurried off tee-heeing, and I tried, without success, to laugh without spraying everyone at the table with the half-chewed salad in my mouth. Isabelle giggled and said, "I bet that had something to do with sex." I told her it did, and she giggled more. When Amy came back, she told Isabelle what she had whispered to me, and Isabelle burst out laughing.
It must have been two years ago - Ralph, Isabelle's husband, was still alive, and Sharnell was still working here as a server. Anyway, depending on the day, Al is either combing the Harvard Medical Newsletter and the pages of the AARP magazine for the latest medical advance that will make it possible to live forever, or he's lamenting his long life and hoping for an early end. On this night, it was the latter.
"You know what I'm going to do?" Al said. "I'm going up stairs, drink a glass of wine, get my pipe out and have toke, take some pills and see where it takes me."
"What if you don't come back?" Isabelle asked.
"So what?" Al said. "Nobody cares about us old folks anyway."
The life, the spirit, instantly drained from Isabelle's face. She was, I think, worried that Al was right. I couldn't think of what to say. Then I noticed Sharnell busing tables. "Hey, Sharnell, do you care about these old folks?"
She came over to the table, said, "Of course I do," and gave Al, Ralph and Isabelle a hug. Isabelle, looking like the little girl on Santa's lap who is about to ask the Jolly Old Elf to bring Daddy home from the war, or to make Mommy's cancer go away, looked up at Sharnell and said, "Do you really care about us old people?" "I care about all the residents," Sharnell said with enough conviction to bring a beaming smile to Isabelle's face.
I never asked Ralph what made him fall in love with Isabelle. I bet her smile had something to do with it.
Leon, the fellow who said I look like a "damn Jew," probably isn't the bigot I took him for. He undoubtedly is, however, a loud-mouthed, egotistical, know-it-all Texan, and that's almost as bad. What's worse, like the man in The Man Who Came to Dinner, he joins Al and me for dinner every chance he gets, which is just about every night. I don't look forward to dinner the way I used to.
One thing I do look forward to these days is helping Penelope with her 100-word story project. My job is to play Mr. Reader's Digest and chop away at the stories until they're down to the word limit. I worked on six of them Wednesday morning, including one of Charlie's, which had to be cut down from four-hundred-some words. Then I ate lunch and took a nap. When I woke up, I took a shower, and, all spiffy and clean, I went for a ride around the parking lots.
It was such a beautiful day, and I felt so very good riding around in the late-afternoon sunshine, I realized dinner with Leon would only bring me now. A peanut butter sandwich and some tomato soup in my room sounded much better than being in the dining room at a table with Leon. Unfortunately for Al, he ended up having dinner with Leon, one-on-one.Fortunately, we've been able avoid Leon for the last three days.
The 100-word stories mentioned above will be shared with the other residents on Valentine's Day. The theme, of course, is love, but not necessarily romantic love. Three of my contributions follow.
In order to avoid being accused of Brian Williams-like behavior: Bethany asked to have the training wheels removed while she, Debbie and I were on our way home from the store one Saturday. It was easier to stay within the word limit by having us at the breakfast table.
It should also be noted, that in a niggling, technical sense, Russell took me to every Indians game we ever went to. Back in those pre-Jacobs Field days, back when the attendance at an Indians game in cavernous Municipal Stadium seldom reached five-figures, the Indians and the Plain Dealer gave away tickets to six or seven games each year to school kids with straight-As or perfect attendance. Russell qualified on both counts. On one occasion, when he was in high school, he treated Debbie, Beth, and I to box-seat accommodations at an Indians game. He was the first caller with the correct answer to some baseball trivia question posed by a local radio personality.
The sky has been overcast since Monday. There is no beauty in the overcast. The gray shroud mutes nature’s colors and deadens their sparkle. It is the Plain Jane of weather. But, now and then, the sun breaks through and reminds us of how terribly hot a June day in Georgia can be. And now and then, heavy dark clouds appear beneath the overcast and threaten to unleash their fury.
But, the overcast holds its own. With neither the beauty of sunlight nor the awe inspiring rage of a storm, the overcast has given us three days of unremarkable pleasantness.
“Daddy, take the training wheels off my bike,” five-year-old Bethany said at breakfast one Saturday in March. She didn’t have much experience riding the bike even with training wheels. Except for a day or two here and there, the northeast Ohio winter had kept her Christmas present in the garage
“Please,” Beth said, with a pleading look that trumped the parental-concern faces Debbie and I had donned.
The training wheels came off, Beth got on and pedaled away as if she’d been cycling for years. “Yes!” I shouted, unable to contain my fatherly pride.
Take me out to the Ballgame
One summer afternoon when I was eight, I met Dad downtown. He said he was taking me to dinner and the ballgame.
I’d never been to Forbes Field, never been to a Major League game. Vern Law pitched, Roberto Clemente was in right, Bill Mazeroski at second, Dick Groat at short. Dale Long homered, and the Bucs won 8-5. It was a magical night.
Thirty years later, I took Russell to Cleveland Municipal Stadium to see his first big league game. It was another magical night for me. I think – I hope – it was magical for Russ, too.