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Sunday, July 16, 2017

(11) I FANTASIZED A LOT ABOUT STRANGLING MRS. HARRINGTON.

July 13, 1962
       I called Mrs. Harrington and said she’d be doing me a favor if she’d tell me why she didn’t want Vaughan to return.  “Please tell me what’s troubling you so we won’t make the same mistake the next time.”
      “Well, frankly, Mrs. Malley, I didn’t like the way Mrs. Ross talked to Dr. Cline when she thought no one could hear.  He never wanted the nurse to go in with him, he’d go in there alone and she’d tell him these tall tales.  I know because I was working on a patient in the next room one day and I heard her telling him these stories.  Another thing I didn’t like was her telling the hospital I was responsible for her bills.”
      “But she didn’t know what she was saying!  Surely you wouldn’t hold that against her!”
      “I can’t be bothered with that sort of nonsense,” she said curtly.  Then she told me the doorbell was ringing and hung up.
      I have been trying to see things from Mrs. Harrington’s point of view.  She has been without  a cook for several weeks and is preparing meals for fifteen patients herself.  She has been unable to replace Mrs. Kaywood, so she and Obie have to do double duty.  She is tired and edgy and overworked.  I’ve decided, however, that trying to understand the other guy’s side of things is the Christian way to get an ulcer.       
      I called Dr. Cline, told him I had to look for another nursing home, and asked him if he knew yet when Vaughan would be discharged.  At first he said she’d probably be there at least another week, but after seeing her this afternoon, he called and said she’d be ready to leave tomorrow.
      I have been calling one nursing home after another from here to Quincy and have yet to find one with a bed in a female ward.  Two or three supervisors offered me a private room at $80 a week, but the rest said they were full.  A number added with macabre encouragement and almost the identical words, “Call us from time to time—with these old folks we never know when we might have a bed.”
July 14, 1962
      Woke up at 2:00 a.m. yesterday, didn’t get back to sleep until dawn.  Fantasized a lot about strangling Mrs. Harrington.
      I called the Welfare department as soon as it opened and talked to Mrs. Oliver.  She gave me the names of several nursing homes in towns like Rockland, Abington, and Pembroke—all half an hour’s drive from Cohasset, but this was something I’d worry about later.  The essential thing was to find Vaughan a place to lay her head.
      “The Elizabeth Fairfield Nursing Home in Pembroke is particularly nice, but they seldom take Old Age Assistance cases.  It wouldn’t do any harm to call them, though.”
      I tried, and heard the same refrain.  “I’m sorry, all we have is a semi-private room.  Why don’t you call our home in Abington and see if they have a ward bed?”
      The home in Abington was full, as were a dozen other homes I called.  The managers were sympathetic and suggested other possibilities.  At last one of them, the North River Nursing home on Route 3 in Pembroke, answered in the affirmative.  Yes, they had a bed in a female ward.
      I didn’t see how I could bring Vaughan there, sight unseen, but it looked as if I didn’t have any choice.  I piled her belongings in the station wagon and drove to Pembroke.  The supervisor showed me around the home, which had been recently renovated and looked very attractive.  I said I'd take the bed and would  arrive with my friend late in the afternoon.
      “By the way,” Mrs. Benvy said.  “Someone called from your house and wants you to call back.”
      “Someone called me?  Here?”
      It was my on-the-ball new housekeeper, Mrs. White.  The manager of the Elizabeth Fairfield Nursing Home had reconsidered, she said, and would be willing to let Vaughan have a semi-private room until a ward bed was free. Mrs. White had tracked me down by asking the name of the other nursing home in Pembroke.
      I drove to the home, also on Route 3, and introduced myself to the manager, Mrs. Dunn.
      “I felt so sorry for you and your friend when I heard about all the homes you’d called.  I got to thinking, what a shame to make you look any further when we had an empty bed right here.”
      It was refreshing to meet someone with a heart in this business.
      I stopped at the Welfare Office to talk to Miss Oliver and make sure I was doing the right thing in canceling my other prospect.  She assured me there was no comparison between the two homes.  The Elizabeth Fairfield home was first rate.
      Hurried home for lunch, told Mom and Mrs. White about my good luck, thanked Mrs W. for her skill as a detective.  Drove to Boston for a 1:30 appointment with Dr. Altman, “my psychiatrist.”  By this time I actually needed him.  He wanted to get a general picture of our circumstances before we began regular sessions in the fall.  He would be comparing notes with Dr. Meiss, Vonnie’s psychiatrist.  It’s an expensive arrangement, but the only practical one, we were told, because sharing a psychiatrist with a parent doesn’t work. "Teenagers need to have a feeling of privacy in order to speak frankly about their problems." 
      I told Dr. Altman we had had a difficult time with our daughter, but recently the situation was much improved.  In his judgment, treatment was nevertheless necessary because scars left by early experiences might have a damaging effect in later years.  They certainly did on my brother, but I spanked Vonnie only once in her entire life.
     Next I drove to Ed’s office to get Kathie.  The good kid had offered to come along to the hospital and give me moral support.
      The moment came when I had to tell Vaughan she would not be returning to Ravenscraig.  “Someone needed your bed, Vaughan, and her family paid Mrs. Harrington in advance to hold it.  But I’ve found a lovely home for you in Pembroke.  Remember Mrs. Oliver, the lady from the Welfare Department?  She says it’s one of the nicest homes on the South Shore.”
      The corners of Vaughan’s mouth turned down and she looked as if she were going to cry.  Then she put her face back together and said, “Well, there’s no use crying over spilt milk.”
      She asked if I thought Ravenscraig might have a room for her later on.
      “They might,” I said.  “But I think you’re going to like this new place.  The lady who runs it told me she has never done to her patients what Mrs. Harrington did to you.  She always saves their beds when they have to go to the hospital. Wait till you see your room—it’s lovely.”
      “No place could be as nice as Ravenscraig,” Vaughan said mournfully.
      Dressing her was an ordeal for both of us:  painful for her and distressing to me.  It was like draping clothing on a mummy.
      Will I ever look like that?  I don’t like to think about it.
      Kathie helped me get Vaughan settled in her new room and promised to drop off her television on her way to the Cape for a visit with Grandpa and Tina.
July 16, 1962
      As Ed and I were driving home from Falmouth last night, I asked him if he’d mind stopping at the nursing home.  In spite of his impatience with the Route 3 traffic, he said okay.
      I believe this change in nursing homes is the best thing that could have happened to Vaughan.  The atmosphere is entirely different.  Her medications are brought to her without any sarcastic gibes, and the nurses are sympathetic about her pain instead of suspicious that she is malingering.  Mrs. Storm, the 3-11 p.m. nurse, took me aside and told me her sister had died of cancer two years ago at the age of fifty-five.
      “Your friend is a sweet and courageous person.  I feel so sorry for her—I know what she’s going through from having seen the way my sister suffered.”  I told her about the attitude Vaughan encountered at Ravenscraig, and she said, “People like that shouldn’t be in the caregiving business.”
July 18, 1962
     Monday afternoon I brought Tokay along for a visit to Ravenscraig.  I walked into Vaughan’s old room and found no one there but Alice Gilman.  I asked had happened to Dottie, and she said they had taken her downstairs for a visit.
      “I’m happy for her,” Mrs. Gilman said, “but it’s awfully lonesome without her.  I had to eat my dinner all alone.”
      Obie came in and asked for Vaughan.  I told her she seemed to be adjusting very well to the new home, and Obie said she was glad to hear it.”
     “Where is Dottie?”
      “Downstairs in the front room.  We want her down there where we can bring her out on the porch once in awhile on a nice day.”
     “You mean you’ve moved her down there permanently?”
      “That’s right,” said Obie.
      Alice raised herself on her elbow and said, “Oh dear, I don’t like that!”
      That was too bad, but perhaps she'll enjoy having someone she can communicate with in the next bed.
      One of Dottie’s roommates is a delightful old rascal who is 91 years old, I’m told, although she insists she is only 90.  Mrs. Kelly talks in a childish treble and pretends to be a lot loonier than she is.  I admired the afghan on her bed, and she said she had done every stitch with her own hands.
     “I like to keep busy,” she said.  “Keeps me out of mischief.”           
      She held up the afghan and pointed out a rainbow-colored section.  “See this part here?  Redorange yellowbluegreenviolet.  And these are zigzags and these are whatchamajigs and then there’s the roses—all different colors and flavors.”
      She pressed one of the roses to her nose and inhaled deeply.  “Ahh—pickled beets!”  A yellow rose was “mashed potato with lots of butter,” an orange one,“boiled turnip.”
      By this time Dottie and I and a patient named Mrs. Stevens were all giggling at her nonsense.  She dropped the afghan, pointed at Dottie, and squealed triumphantly, “Look at her!  She’s laughing!”
      Mrs. Stevens winked at me and said, “Do you know our roommate here has a boy friend?  Every morning he stops in the doorway and greets her.  Isn’t that right, Mrs. Kelly?”
     “Oh yes, he greets me all right.  Every morning and every evening.  But does he ever take me for a boat ride?  Does he ever ask me to go to the movies?  What good is he?”
     “Well, he has a smile for you, at least.”
     “A smile!” Mrs. Kelly squealed.  “Is that what you call it?  Let me show you the way he smiles,” she said to me.  She let her tongue slide out of the corner of her mouth, crossed her eyes, and made a terrible face.  “That’s the way he smiles!”
     I asked her if she was an actress in her younger days.
    “No,” said she, “I used to teach school.  I taught school in MaineNewHampshireMassachusetts Rhode IslandConnecticutandNew Jersey.  I could go back now, of course, only people would say—“ she tilted her nose, looked supercilious, and piped mincingly, “—`I’m not going to send any child of mine to an old lady like that.’”
     “I’d send mine,” I said.  “I bet they’d learn something.”
      Mrs. Kelly told me her father came over from Ireland as a stowaway.
      “He made friends with some of the folks on board, and they saw to it that he got something to eat.  When it came time to leave the boat, he hid under a lady’s skirts and no one was ever the wiser.”
      “He wouldn’t be able to do that these days,” I said.  “How old was he?”
      “He was the age when a boy itches for adventure.  Fourteen or fifteen, I’d say.  If you ever hear that I’ve run away from this place, you’ll know it’s because I got the wanderlust like my father.”
      Two or three times in the next half hour I started to leave, but Mrs. Kelly would outdo herself playing the clown, and I would sit down again.  She herself decided when it was curtain time.  The old lady suddenly fixed her eyes on Tokay and said to me with a meaningful leer, “Say—have you ever had dog stew?”
     “That does it!” I cried, leaping to my feet and grabbing Tokay.  “We’re leaving, goodbye everybody!”
     Mrs. Kelly tee-heed her appreciation of my alarmed leave-taking.  “Come back again,” she called, “and I’ll think up more foolishness for you!”
      Yesterday at Vaughan’s new nursing home I met another remarkable character, this one straight out of Tennessee Williams.  In her 70s, I would judge, Mrs. Emerson was a still-pretty woman with hunched shoulders and a lame hip.  Her home was in Atlanta, Georgia, she said, but she and her husband had been visiting her brother when he died.  She would be glad to go back to Atlanta, she went on, she didn’t care for our climate at all.  Didn’t I think it was cold?
      She chatted with me for a few more minutes in her elegant Southern manner, then went over to the table by the window (I was in the sitting room, waiting for Dr. Cline to finish his visit with Vaughan).  She sat down with Miss Hammer, who was reading, and a tall, thin, aristocratic-looking lady.
     “Why are you so solemn, Mrs. Fields?” she asked.
      Mrs. Fields regarded her without answering.  Miss Hammer continued to read.
      “Are you thinking about your troubles?” Mrs. Emerson pursued.
      “I have no troubles,” said Mrs. Fields.
      The ladies were silent for a while.  Mrs. Emerson turned her head and gazed through the window.  “Do you see those red lights, Mrs. Fields?” she inquired.
      “What?”
      “Those red lights.  Do you see them flashing?  My brother turns them on.  Before he died, he told me he  he’d flash the red lights if he was able to see me.”
Later
      I brought some lobster and butter to Alice and Dottie, as promised.  This time I checked with the powers-that-be, and Mrs. Harrington said they could have it for supper.
      I was wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt, an outfit the old folks confuse with a bathing suit, I think, because they always ask me if I had a good swim.  My new friend, Mrs. Kelly, had a lot to say about my tan.
     “You don’t get out much, do you?” she said, looking me up and down.  She gave Dottie a poke and said in a stage whisper, “Say, will you ask her a question for me?  I’m too shy to bring the subject up myself, but ask her if that color goes all the way up.”
     Dottie laughed and turned pink with pleasure at being included so intimately in the conversation.
     “It goes further than you might guess,” I said, lifting my shirt to display my midriff.
      “Oooh!” squealed Mrs. Kelly.  “Think of that!”
      Mrs. Stevens remarked that she’d heard too much sun was bad for you.
      “Yes, I’ve heard that, too,” I said.
      Mrs. Kelly was squirming about in her chair, bursting with another question.  Nudging Dottie, she cupped her mouth with her hand and whispered, “Ask her about where she sits down!”
     “In the sand,” I said.
     “No, no, no!” she squeaked.  “I don’t mean that!  I mean what you sit down with!  I know it’s really none of my business, but I was just wondering—is that tanned too?”
      I had to admit that this was one of the few areas on my person that had never been tanned.  Except by my father, I should have added.  Mrs. Kelly would have enjoyed the joke.
July 31, 1962
     My old friend is gone.  I feel lost.
     Ed and I stopped in to see her Sunday evening, on our way home from Falmouth.  I noticed that she seemed quite weak, and yet she had held on for so long, I didn’t dream she would slip away without warning.  Her beautiful brown eyes looked tired and sad and a little frightened.  Kathie told me later that Vaughan had said to her, “I’ve given up all hope of getting better.”
     When your father and I were leaving, he wandered along ahead of me, while I said goodbye and told her I was going into Boston the next day but would be back to see her the day after that.
     “All right, dear,” she said.  Then she called out in a stronger voice than she had been able to muster in weeks, “Goodbye, Eddie!”  The urgency in her voice startled me, and it flashed through my mind that she didn’t expect to see him again and was saying farewell for the last time.  I had an impulse to go after him and bring him back, but when I saw him standing on the porch, gazing at the traffic with slumped shoulders, I decided not to trouble him with my forebodings.
      Her last words are still ringing in my ears:  “Goodbye, Eddie.”
      When I got home from Boston yesterday, Mother took me aside and said she had a lot of news for me.  My sister's children were here for a visit, and Linda had disappeared in the morning, hadn’t shown up for lunch, and by mid-afternoon, they were so alarmed Mrs. White called the police.
      “They were getting ready to set up a dragnet, when she suddenly appeared.  She told us she’d been at a neighbor’s all day.  I scolded her severely—I don’t think she’ll do anything like that again.”
      The other news concerned Vaughan.  Mrs. Dunn had called around four and said Vaughan was failing rapidly and it was unlikely she would live through the night.
      “I couldn’t go over because of my lame leg,” Mom said, “and besides I was too frantic about Linda to think of anything else.”
      I hurried to the phone and called the nursing home.  Mrs. Storm answered, and when I inquired about Vaughan, she said, “Just a minute, let me check.”
      She returned and told me Vaughan had died a moment earlier.
       I felt not distraught but numb.  I went upstairs to get the list of names Vaughan had given me a year and a half ago.  “Barbara dear,” she had written, “should anything happen to me please let these people know.  
      I called Harold first.
      “Oh, dear me,” he said.  “Well, that’s too bad.  I’ve been expecting it, of course.  Now, what about the funeral expenses?”
      I told him the town would provide for a simple funeral.
      “Oh,” he said.  “Well, can you make the arrangements?  I don’t suppose there’s much point in my steam-rollering up there for the funeral, is there?”
      “I suppose not,” I said.
      “What about her things?”
      “I’ll get them together and send them to you,” I said.  “You can keep what you want and dispose of the rest." 
     He said he would call his Uncle Ralph in North Carolina, and I agreed to call Gertrude in Seattle, and Clifford in Maine.       

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