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Bionic Woman

It’s time for another visit to my dear 84-year-old mentor, Hattie, I can feel it in my gut. When I arrive at the rest home she has already been seated at one of the dining tables with her wheelchair facing toward the window. This is her choice, although she often eats alone, because it overlooks a flower bed.

She is wearing bland beige, actually her favorite non-color, and is slumping over more each day. I’ve come, as always, to liven up the place.

So far I’ve chatted with a man who surprised his wife when launching into a monologue about his life as a WWII pilot and federal court judge. “He rarely talks so coherently,” she said, astounded. “And, yes, everything he said is true. You should have known him a year ago.”

Ok, so I’ve said hello and smiled at many other residents before coming to Hattie. I grin into her face and say, “How’s my sweetheart?” Over the years, we’d come to use this term of endearment.

“Ummm. I’m OK,” she mutters. I notice that her upper lip looks kind of concave. You know, like Homer Simpson’s father, Grandpa. And as they start to lay down her food, I get a clue: “Hattie, do you have your false teeth in?”

Alarmed, she pokes around in her mouth and discovers them missing. These kinds of blunders make me crazy and I say loudly, “Well, how in heck do they expect you to eat if the people around here can’t remember to put in your teeth.”

An adorable aid sitting at the next table tells me it’s her first day but she will see to it that we get her teeth.

Meanwhile, and here’s the corker, Hattie, who was known to be highly opinionated and outraged at such gaffes, just kind of smiles and says, “Oh, well. It doesn’t matter.”

Her acceptance of her situation simply defies explanation. A tough perfectionist and boldly independent woman, her sharp edges now worn off, she has surrendered to “Que Serra.” And she can even laugh at it when I jolly it out of her.

“You’re a bionic woman,” I say, citing her hip replacement, false teeth and hearing aid (which aids often forget to insert and then they wonder why she isn’t conversant). We bump foreheads together and giggle long over that one.

Then she curls her hand around my arthritic joints and seems to be either smoothing away my wrinkled hands or my carrot juice orange tan. I pinch the skin on her knuckles and then mine. My skin is just as thin. We laugh about that too.

“Oh, Su-u-u-u-san,” she often says. “What can we do?”

I don’t see how my skin can possibly hold my organs in until I’m 84.

So, the mash comes: unidentifiable greenish stuff, perhaps split pea soup. And she shakes her head, “No!” and pushes it away.

“OK, we’ll start with the sloppy Joe,” I say, playing airplane in the hangar. Normally she feeds herself but I can’t imagine how she can be expected to eat this messy burger because she has such a tremor in her hand. I’m learning patience and acceptance as I bide my time for the next bite. Then we discover this orange mash ain’t so bad and she finishes every bit of it. I’m pushing for dessert because it’s berry ice cream. She seems disinterested but I beg and she polishes off about 1/3 of it.

Well, about now some peppy music pours through the loud speaker. Some acid rock and now “Welcome to the Hotel California.”

“Do you realize what this song is,” I ask. “Can you hear it?”


“It’s about the hotel you can check into but never check out,” I explain.

She ponders this and then, with ineffable wit, says, “Sounds like here!”

We laugh long again. Hattie knows the secret to life: no matter how miserable it gets, you gotta keep laughin’.

After wiping remnants of sloppy Joe off her mouth, I strip off her terry cloth bib and hug her and rub noses with her, to which she always grins.

She wiggles her nose and replies, “Arrivederci to my Arrivederci.”

As I leave the Hotel California I see my aviator/judge friend at the door.

Our typical goodbye is, “Later alligator.”

“After awhile crocodile.”

This aging gent also knows the secret to life . . .

School Daze

In great contrast to my visits to the rest home, I have been teaching life and career skills to “at-risk” teens. In one exercise I ask them what they would do it they had only one day left to live.

I tell them I’d eat chocolate kamikaze cake, sniff every bearded iris I could find, touch my loved ones including cats, listen to the ocean, to a stream and birdsong.

Expecting similar answers, I am appalled to hear that the majority of them would (a) rob a bank, and (b) smoke a mountain of weed.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” I decry. “You won’t have time to spend the money.”

“Who cares?” one kid shouts back. “It would be for the fun of it.”

So, you see, kids also have the secret to life: they just gotta have fun!! . . .


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