My ladies at the care center probably didn't miss me, but I hadn't seen them in a couple of weeks due to the devastating effects of the world's worst cold that I suffered last week. I didn't think it felt right to spread my germs to an immuno-compromised crowd, so I skipped it last Wednesday, and I missed them. Bernice (whom I affectionately refer to as Beaker) was extra spry tonight and wasn't sitting in her customary wheelchair, even if she was still hooked up to an alarm that goes off if she tries to stand up from her chair. She was completely receptive to my questions about the weather and she even mentioned the weather in Fargo! I can't tell you how surprising it is when my pals refer to anything current. It's like the old gal comes back temporarily, visiting in place of the confused elderly lady I'm used to. I love those moments. Lorraine was feisty tonight, trying to leave the table without her walker, which is a no-no because she could fall and because she really needs to eat. She yelled at the nurse and even though it wasn't loud, because she's not capable of yelling loudly, it was sharp and mean. I visited with the gals at my old table, telling Dorothy how much I liked her denim dress and then listening to her talk to me, but feeling like she was in a different conversation.
I made my way over to my usual table and nestled the puke pink vinyl-covered chair in between Angie and Mary and made small talk. Angie smiled and stroked my long hair like she does every week, complimenting it and making a big deal about how beautiful I am. It's like any other dinner with friends for me, really. I teased Mattie, the Tina Turner look-a-like, that perhaps it was going to be a fish dinner night. I know fish is her least favorite and she always eats everything but the soggy breaded patty. Sure enough, one second later the nurse dropped the covered dish in front of her and revealed a single fetid brick of processed fish alongside some unrecognizable foodstuffs. Mattie and I laughed knowingly with one another as she dug into her starchy vegetables instead. The nurse dropped a tray of food for Inez in front of her, across the table from me, and Inez immediately pushed it away, gesturing wildly something we couldn't comprehend. Inez is deaf and mute and I can honestly say I have never had any idea what she's attempting to express, except that it seems repetitive even though I don't know sign language. She pushed the tray hard across the table and it landed in front of Leola who thought it was her dinner and started to dig in almost before I could stop her. Each resident has their own special diet, so they cannot share meals or someone could choke. Inez was so visibly disturbed that I was concerned she was going to break the window behind her, or hurt herself with her wildly flailing arms that were inadvertently striking herself in the face and neck. Finally a nurse had to take Inez away, promising that she could eat later when she was feeling better. When I left later, Inez was sacked out on a couch at the end of the hall. I don't think anybody knew what she was upset about.
I tried to lighten the tone in the area and as I offered pureed fish patties alternately to Angie and then to Mary, I teased Rosalie about spilling her rice into her purse. I have no idea why Rosalie felt she had to have her purse sitting open in her lap, but she did. She laughed when I suggested she could have the rice for dessert later in her room. Meanwhile at the next table, a nurse helped Gudrun eat and attempted to speak to her with a few words of Swedish, Gudrun's native tongue. I offered the only Swedish I know, the words for "thank you" and "you're welcome." Rosalie really took notice of my use of another language and made a few comments before excusing herself after I named her president of the clean plate club. That one always gets a laugh, it's my go-to joke! I finished feeding Mary, who was incredibly hungry, and Mattie pondered aloud why Mary always repeats the phrase, "A one and a two and a three." I offered up that perhaps Mary is a big Lawrence Welk fan, because he was known to say the phrase on his television show in the old days. Mattie was fine with that explanation, she's pretty easygoing that way. As we cleared trays and unsnapped clothing protectors, a nurse wheeled in a television and popped in a VHS tape for the folks to watch. It was, coincidentally enough, an old episode of the Lawrence Welk Show, a tribute to the music of Nat "King" Cole. I was mesmerized. Women dressed in long, flowing orange gowns with hair teased up to the ceiling sang about love next to men of varying heights in polyester suits. The program was only thirty-five years old, but it looked one hundred and thirty-five years old. I couldn't walk away. Dorothy was snapping her fingers to the music and Doris was transfixed. I wondered if they were mentally transported to another time and hoped if they were that it was a good one.
I donned my fleece jacket and grabbed my purse and started walking out of the dining room, waving goodbye to all my pals. As I passed Rosalie's room, she called out to me. She sat up on her bed, holding her purse in her lap, the same purse filled with rice from the evening's meal. She looked at me, her eyes pleading, and asked me if I could teach her to speak English. I told her that she was speaking perfect English, that she didn't need English lessons. She looked like she was searching for the words, as if she really wanted to ask me something else but that this was all that would come out. She pointed to her purse and said, "What do you call this?" I told her it's a purse and she said that's what she needs me to teach her. My heart sank as I wondered if she was reaching out for someone to simply replace the words that were leaving her head much more quickly than she had learned them as a child. She continued to sigh with frustration and tell me she just wants me to teach her English. I told her I'd be happy to teach her, that next week when I return she could ask me anything she wanted to and I'd help her. But I'm not even sure what she was asking, and I'm not certain she knew either.