Monday, July 24, 2017


    I’m going to take my mind off what’s happening by relating the ongoing story of the missing checkbooks. If only the person who found them somewhere between my apartment and the street had turned them in at the office, I would have been spared a lot of grief. Instead, my well-meaning benefactor dropped the parcel in a mailbox.

I remember receiving it a few days after my conference with the Sovereign Bank in Hingham. If I were a savant, I might have opened it, looked at the first check on the top checkbook and said to myself, “Ah, 1301, that’s the starting number of all those checks I paid $20 for the bank's stop-payment order.” But I’m not a savant, so I started using my Power of Attorney to pay for Jan’s bills and the $500 dollar checks for Ray and Linda.
      I had a talk with a banker at the Hingham branch, was told I’d have to come in to sign a form canceling the stop-payment order. I e-mailed Linda to let her know about the no-good check I sent her. I called Ray with the same information. I tell him how frightened I am by Janeth’s suicidal talk.

“Oh dear, should I go see her?”
“ Yes, today after she has her lunch.”
“That would be wonderful, Ray.”
       I call my sister to alert her to Ray’s visit.

“He’ll breeze in and try to shore me up with unhelpful comments. Sometimes I want to punch him, he makes me so angry.” She talks some more about that bitch Hertha and what she did to her flashlight.
“Jan, I tried to open it to see what was in it. I couldn’t pry it open to save me. Those spools look more like colored thread than batteries.”
“A battery was there until that vindictive Hertha took it out.” I tell her I still haven’t had my breakfast. She’s always cooperative when I have a reason to hang up.
       I call Ray to ask if he knows what Jan’s flashlight looks like.

“Oh yes, I gave it to her. You shake it and the light goes on.”
“Will you please explain this to my sister?”
“I’ll bring mine.”
“You have one?”
“Yes, I bought one for myself at the same time as I got hers. I’ll show it to her.
Oh Ray, dear, true-blue friend of Janeth, I hope she doesn’t punch you.
E-mail to Linda
     If you have time to go shopping with your mom, she could use another sweater or jacket. She doesn't wear most of her clothes because the aides won't read the instructions before they launder them and will do anything they damn please. I say okay, if they ruin them we'll just throw them out. You still have plenty of other things to wear. Every few days she insists she has nothing.
      The bank tells me only one of Jan's checks bounced. Yours and Ray's should be okay. I've tallied up the cost of the geriatric nurse, and it's almost two thousand dollars for three weeks. Thank heavens I'm feeling much better and can take Jan to doctor appointments at no charge.
P.S. Your mom just called. She says she's been trying things on and they don't fit, they bind her. I'm sure she's put on weight, so maybe a petite 8, instead of petite 6, will fit her.   
      I think one time you stopped at Sears or Kohl's. If anything or everything you bring to her is rejected, I'll return them, so you can get on the road back to Maine. She yearns for a sweater or jacket that will be long enough to cover her butt. I've told her it's difficult to find that sort of thing in her size.
      As Ray warned me, she's still in tough shape emotionally. It must have killed her to learn that the flashlight doesn't run on batteries, and that "that bitch Hertha" was unjustly accused. Ray swapped flashlights with her, so maybe she'll feel she has something better than the allegedly messed-up one.
From Linda
      What a quandary my mom lives in.
      The slacks I picked up are size 8 petite while the tops are still's only mom's belly getting bigger, right? And I shopped at Sears, since that store seems to always supply elastic waist pants with pockets. I have looked for LONG sweaters, and have come to the conclusion that what mom is seeing other people wear are OLDER clothing items, because I have not seen any of that style so far this year. I will continue to keep an eye out. I just know nothing is going to be right anyway, but we can still make the efforts on her behalf so mom will feel comfortable and loved while she's "still here."

I'm hoping to leave the house no later than 8 AM in order to have a few hours with both of you to do whatever we need. Should I plan to take mom out to eat rather than disrupt a meal if that's when I arrive? I'll try to call you today. Goodness, we are all juggling soooo much!
      I bring Jan a Chapstick Natural lip balm to replace the one full of chemicals she wouldn’t want to ingest. She starts reading the fine print on the new brand and finds that it, too, lists ingredients she never heard of.  At this point Linda arrives with a Sears shopping bag, and I gift her with the Chapstick.
      I have brought Jan’s portrait, mended by Ted. He sealed the torn backing with plastic strips so rain won’t get into it and ruin her likeness. I told her how much of her money I saved by not using a professional framer. Handing the picture to Linda, I ask her to hang it because Jan and I don’t dare stand on the sofa. Octogenarians should never stand on sofas.
      Janeth tries on the pale tan loafers Linda bought at Sears. She walks into the kitchen area and back and says they’re comfortable. She no longer wears the mesh shoes I gave her “because they’re not waterproof.”
      Linda has also brought several slacks-and-tops outfits. While Jan is taking off the old slacks, I tell Linda about our visit to the doctor for the hemorrhoid consultation.

“I asked your mom if she wanted me to leave when Dr. Fontaine was ready to examine her. She said she didn’t care. She pushed down her slacks and underpants and bent over, as the doctor requested. This was the first time my sister ever mooned me.”
      I love it when Janeth laughs. Then, as she is buttoning the blouse that matches the new slacks, she complains that her belly makes it difficult to fasten the last button. I stand up beside her, push down my slacks, and compare bellies.
      “I’m much further along than you are,” I say. More laughter.
      My sister worries that the new garments will shrink when washed, although Linda assures her they are all colorfast and shrink-proof. Jan murmurs something to Linda about the personal transaction she had with Hertha that led to the aide's revenge. Good grief, she’s never going to get the notion out of her head that Hertha became her enemy and wreaked vengeance.
      “Jan, she wouldn’t accept payment because it’s against the rules,” I say for the umpteenth time. It would be useless to point out that the acts of “vengeance” never took place. Her bed wasn't demolished; her flashlight didn't have a battery stolen. Linda and I exchange wry glances.
      Linda hangs the new outfits on Sears’s white plastic hangers designed with a swiveling hook and attached clips for the slacks. Then we begin sorting through the older outfits, most of which my niece supplied a few weeks ago. The very old striped pink slacks have a safety pin in the waistband and another on an inside seam. Jan had a striped-pink-slacks phase and wore them day and night, as if she had nothing else in her closet. Linda says she’ll take them home and mend them.
      I’ve always liked what I call Janeth’s Yellow Bird outfit. She wore it once or twice, than abandoned it. She puts on the shirt, points to her gaping neck, and confronts me irritably:

“Am I supposed to wear this with my neck sticking out like this?”
I button the top button. Problem solved. Maybe. Jan goes into the bathroom to check.
“And look at the way the sleeves are attached! Instead of the stitching being on my shoulder, look at this, it’s two inches below my shoulder.”
      Linda and I tell her it’s a dropped-shoulder style. I reach for the seam on my blouse, and the gods are on my side. “Look, the seam is dropped on my sleeve, too.”

She counters that it doesn’t show because the material is a print. Linda and I counter that the dropped sleeve is a style. My niece hangs the yellow outfit on the right side of the closet with all the new ones.
      We reject the size 6 petite slacks that are now too tight, thanks to Advantage House’s dessert cart. Linda will pass them on to her clients. Inexplicably, I discover a pair in size 12. I go into the bathroom to try them on. They will go nicely with my blue shirt. This is because I’m the easy-to-please sister who isn’t plagued by that pitiless villain, Al Zheimer.
      Jan had removed the new I-Love-Comfort loafers while she was trying on pair after pair of slacks, new and old. She asks us which pair of shoes will look best for supper. We recommend the new ones.
      “But they might get dirty.” Linda and I don’t even try to repress our laughter.
      “Jan, if we all refused to wear anything that might get dirty, the whole world would be a nudist colony.”
      We have spent over two hours on the fashion show, and I know Linda needs to get going on her long drive to Maine. She is having dinner tonight with her second-time-around sweetheart, Toby, they’re going to a barbecue tomorrow, and Toby is cooking lobsters on Labor Day.

I make my speech about not ruining a good thing by getting married. Linda agrees, says Toby agrees, too. I give her the bagful of pretty sliders Janeth turned down a month ago. It’s too late to return them, but Linda says she and Stephanie can wear them.
At twenty past four I call Jan on a hunch. I have a feeling she may have forgotten it’s time to go to the early supper. Maybe she was worn out from trying on all those clothes. Sure enough, she answers the phone.
“Were you asleep dear?”
      “No, I’ve been sitting here looking at everything you people left lying around, “I was wishing you’d come back and get it.”
      “Oh, I’m sorry. I know I left the blue slacks. What else did we leave?”

“A pair of black slacks and a maroon blouse. They’re draped over Ray’s suitcase. I don’t even remember how to open Ray’s suitcase.”
      “Just throw the stuff on your closet floor. I’ll pick everything up next time I visit”
      I e-mail Linda that I’m sending a check to reimburse her for the Sears purchases. I can’t resist sharing Jan’s latest complaint. When the person who is your mother and your sister refers to you as “you people,” it’s better to laugh than to cry.
      “Is today Saturday?” Janeth asks when she picks up the phone.
      “No, it’s Monday, Labor Day, September third. Labor Day is always the first Monday in September. “

“Monday . . . September third . . .” she repeats haltingly.
“Yes, dear, that’s right. Have you looked at today’s activity calendar?”
“It’s hard to read.”
“You can open your curtains in the daytime. Remember how we talked about the people in the other building? You can’t see them in the daytime, and they can’t see you. If you let some light in, you might be able to read the calendar.”
      “Today is . . . Monday . . . September third?”

“Yes, that’s it, Jan. A pianist named Jack Craig will be playing Hoagie Carmichael tunes. Our kind of music.”
“Not my kind of music. They pound on the keys and make a lot of mistakes. I don’t like to go, it’s too painful.”
“They’re probably playing by ear.”
      “I don’t like to go to any of those things. They’re a waste of time.”

“I could bring you a good book to read in your spare time.” She laughs out loud at that one.
“But Jan, you did read that wonderful book about Ernie’s friend Peggy Oliveri, who was born with all her bones broken.”
“Yes, I was able to read that one. I carry it with me everywhere I go. Today is Monday, right? September third?”
“Right. How did things go with Ray?”
“Well, the first thing he did was to upset my clock. He was trying to show me all these different settings. It was too confusing. He did his best to get me to my meal on time. I ordered a spinach salad, thinking I could eat it quickly, then found it was covered with bacon. I had to pick out all the little pieces of bacon.”
Evening call from Jan:
“When Hertha brought me my pills, the same extra one was there, the Tylenol. . .”
I am rejoicing inwardly. Not ”that bitch Hertha,“ ,just Hertha.
“. . . I don’t know whether I should take it.”
“I don’t think it could hurt and it might help you sleep.”
      “Robert is the sloppiest eater I ever saw. He wears his food on his face and his clothes. I was wishing Norma wouldn’t hand him the card, but she did. She said it was such a lovely card, she was going to save it.”
      “What card was that, dear?”

“I bought it when I was out with Ray. It praised her kindness and thoughtfulness. Norma is like that with other people, but she pounces on me because I’m not like her. She rolls her eyes when I can’t decide what to order or have trouble getting the words out.”
      “I’m afraid there will always be a Norma, no matter what table you are assigned. How about doing this? When she says something unkind, look at her and say, `Norma, you’re hurting my feelings.’”
      “And that’s not like you,” Jan adds. Good! I exclaim. “I’ll try to remember. The visiting nurse is another one who likes to wield her power over me. She shows me all these exercises she wants me to do, and I’m supposed to remember them and do them every day. When would I have time to do that?”

“The nurse should write them down.”
“She pushes my back to make me straighten up. She says the reason my back hurts is because I walk around bent over.”
       “She has the cart before the horse. One of my friends said exactly the same thing. If I would stand up straight and wear orthopedic shoes, my back would stop hurting. Tell the nurse you have spinal stenosis like your sister.”

“If I can remember.”
      Janeth tries on a pair of the knee-highs I brought. She has to roll up the legs of her slacks to do this.

“This is going to make the slacks look baggy. Is today Thursday, the sixth of September?”
“Yes, sweetheart, that’s right.”
“And tomorrow will be Friday the seventh?” Good, you’ve got it.
       “Look at the back of my hair. You keep saying I have great hair, but it’s so thin in the back, you can see my scalp.”

I decide to do something drastic, dramatic and demeaning.
“Jan, you don’t know how lucky you are.” I pull off my wig. Her stricken look confirms my mirror’s message: Without my disguise, I am the ugly stepsister.
I recently figured out why I began losing my hair in my thirties. It had to be the stress of those alcoholic weekends so loathed by me and so loved by party animal Ed and his party animal buddies. If I tried to persuade him to leave the merrymaking at 2:00 a.m., I was "spoiling Ed's fun." Thus it was that every Friday, Saturday, and all too often Sunday, I was doomed to sleepless, resentful nights serenaded by the clamorous snores of a passed-out husband.
"It’s lucky for me that fairly good wigs are available.”
“It’s very good. But please, don’t ever do that in front of anyone else.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t. I’ve talked to Lila about setting up an appointment to have your hair done every week.”
“But there’s always something going on. I never know when someone’s going to come in here.”
“Lila has a system. She knows you go to the early lunch, so when she has an opening she’ll go get you, even if you’re in the exercise room. It would be good for your morale.”
I’ll try, she says.
       This evening Janeth’s voice is plaintive and punctuated with longer pauses than usual.        

      “I’m getting ready to go to bed. . . I don’t know what shoes to wear in the morning.”
      “How about those pretty tan shoes Linda bought for you?” “Linda bought me some shoes?”
      “Yes, shoes and several outfits she hung in your closet on the right side.”

“Tan shoes? I don’t. . . I don’t.see any tan shoes.”
“You took them off when we were in the library, and put on the mesh shoes you decided you liked, after all. Then you had to go to lunch, so I brought the tan shoes up to your apartment.”
“I don’t see them . . . I don’t know where they are.”
“They're in your closet.”
      I thought she sounded better the last couple of days. Paranoid but more articulate. Shameless Al Zheimer, leave my sister alone.

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