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
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
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
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
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
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
“After awhile crocodile.”
This aging gent also knows the
secret to life . . .
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
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!! . . .