A few Sundays ago, the weather was so pleasant - sunshine, gentle breeze, temperature in the low seventies, the trees and lawns a vivid green - I couldn't stay inside. On my to the door I saw Francis.
"Are you going out for some fresh air?" she asked.
"I am and to work on my tan."
Francis smiled, looked at me in the wheelchair and said she admired me. I shook my head and smiled.
"You're such a nice guy."
"I try," I said and went on my way, knowing I'm not all that admirable. But, compliments, even the undeserved ones, brighten the day. And I do try my best to be a nice guy.
A few minutes into the ride, Homer, in his wheelchair, came up behind me. Homer is retired military. Unlike the vast majority of military retirees at Covenant Woods, Homer served in the Navy. He is in a wheelchair as the result of a spinal injury. He has never said whether the injury is service connected, and I never think to ask him until I get back to the apartment. Earlier in the year, Homer had surgery. He is now on oxygen, and his formerly strong voice has been reduced to a raspy whisper. He loves to talk, but these days his breathing becomes labored after he utters a sentence or two. It hasn't slowed him down.
As we wheeled through the parking lots, Homer pointed to a Lincoln of a late-sixties or early-seventies vintage. A car from the era when the term "fuel economy" had yet to be coined, and the standard luxury car was a half-block long. Given its age, this one is in decent, though hardly pristine, condition.
"I asked the guy how much he wanted for it," Homer said.
"Whose is it?"
"I don't know his name. He lives in C Building. I don't think he wants to sell it, but I'm going to see if I can talk him into it." As we got closer to the car, Homer added, "It needs a lot of work and a lot of TLC."
Fran moved into one of the duplexes two years ago. She has a large side yard, extending from her carport to the Personal Care parking lot, about fifteen yards. I'm not sure the area was considered that duplex's side yard before Fran moved in. It was nothing more than a gentle slope with a few shrubs and a lot of grass. Fran had much of area roto-tilled and now spends the spring and summer months tending the garden she has created there.
"Fran has such beautiful flowers," Homer said, as we passed the garden.
"Well, she's out working in the garden every day."
"I know. I told her once, if I saw her bend over one more time the temptation might be too much for me. I don't think she liked that."
Like it or not, that's Homer. Stacey, one of the servers, said the other day, "Mr. Homer is a mess. Yesterday, he said, 'Stacey, sit on my lap and we'll talk about the first thing that pops up.'"
Janet, who came to America from England six months ago, was outside last Tuesday morning. We talked about the weather, which was quite nice.
"But it gets so hot in the afternoons," she said.
"And, it's only going to get hotter, and more humid, too."
"I'm going to buy a stand-up fan; about this high," she said, raising her hand to eye level. "I'm going to put it over there in the car port, at least it will keep the air moving. The neighbors probably won't like it. They'll say, 'What do you expect? She's an eccentric old English woman.' Well, I'll show them; I won't let them come over and stand by it." She took a moment to enjoy her joke before steering the conversation to more prosaic matters.
On Thursday, Janet was upset with the cable service. "My TV and Internet are always going out. Do you have that problem?"
"No. Maybe once in a while, if there's a storm. Otherwise, no."
"Mine goes out all the time. I depend on the Internet to stay in touch with my friends back in England. And I like to have the TV on all the time. I don't watch it that much but I like having the background noise and the sound of other voices in the house. My daughter is going to check into satellite for me.
"And the cable better not go out during a football game . . . . excuse me, during a soccer game. The Chelsea Football Club is my team. If it goes out during a soccer game, my neighbors are going to hear words they've never heard before. And that roof," she said pointing toward her half of the duplex, "you're going to see it rise, and it will keep on rising. Who knows where it will land. It might never be found."
I haven't seen Janet since, but her half of the duplex appears to still be intact.
Frank, a retired Command Sergeant Major, yelled for help Friday evening. I was in the bathroom at the time and tried gamely to get my pants up in short order. My balance and coordination being what they are these days, every thing I do takes longer than it used to. And when I am in a hurry and trying to move quickly, I end up being a poster child for one of Grandma's favorite adages: The faster I go, the behinder I get. Fortunately, by the time I got clothed, Mildred, who lives across the hall from me, had already called the desk. "I called, but I'm not sure what apartment the yelling is coming from."
When Frank yells for help, he stands in the doorway to his apartment, where he can't be seen from the hall. I know this because I answered Frank's yells three or four times about a year ago, before Mildred moved. I told her who it was and that most likely Anna, Frank's wife, had fallen.
I went down the all to tell Frank help was on the way. "I can't hear a goddamn word you're saying," he yelled. His reaction wasn't unexpected. After all, once a Sergeant Major, always a Sergeant Major. The last time I'd answered Frank's call for help, I overheard Anna tell him to pull the cord on the intercom box in the bedroom and talk to the person at the desk. "Goddamn it, I've got this all under control," Frank told her.
Before Frank got too carried away, a couple nurses' assistants arrived to get Anna off the floor and back into bed. I went back to my apartment relieved that Mildred had heard Frank's calls for help. Most of Covenant Woods residents have difficulty hearing, and the other times I responded to Frank's yells, I was the only one who did. It's nice to know there is another set of ears on the hall.
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