Wednesday, October 4, 2017


August 30, 1980   
     My mother-in-law's walk has turned into a faltering shuffle.  As we crept from the restaurant to my car, I had to clutch her firmly by the arm to keep her from toppling over sideways.  She told me she’d had another fall in Gulfport and was again fortunate that she was unhurt.  The apartment complex manager, Mr. Mason, heard her cries and helped her get up from the floor.
     “Mimi, you need nursing care.  You may not be as lucky the next time.”
     “You’re right, everyone in Florida kept telling me the same thing.” 
     Parking outside Motel 3A, I put Mimi’s cane in her hand, holding her other arm while I turned to close the car door. I felt her sliding out of my grasp and had to grab her tightly to keep her upright.
     “This is a dangerous situation, Mimi.  I’m worried about your getting safely through the holiday weekend.  Be careful, won’t you!  I’m taking you to see Dr. Wachs on Tuesday, and then we’ll look at Braintree Manor.”
     “That’s a good idea.  Whatever you say.  Do you want to come in and talk for a while?”
     I came in and listened for a while.  She sat down in the chair next to the TV, took off her sweater and undid the buttons on the front of her dress.
     “This is the first thing I do when I come into my apartment in Florida.  I’m sweating from morning to night, boy do I ever sweat.  I don’t like to put on the air conditioning because then my electric bill goes way up.  You think it’s hot up here, but it seems almost cold to me after suffering through that terrible heat all summer.”
     Rising from her chair, she told me she had to go to the bathroom.  “That’s the gas rumbling out of me,” she said, never one to be embarrassed about her bodily functions.
     “Mm-hmm,” I said, at a loss for words.  I’d been hearing about Mimi’s gas for years, but this was my first direct exposure.  It seemed like a polite time to take my leave, so I kissed her goodbye and said I’d see her in the morning.
August 31, 1980
     “I’ve been sleeping all morning,” Mimi said, “that’s why I’m not dressed.  I slept good last night, too.  I got up four times to wee-wee, usually I lie awake for the rest of the night when I get up like that but I went right back to sleep every time, I was still sleeping when Tony knocked on my door and gave me your message, that’s why I’m not ready.”
     “Why don’t I pick up the things you need at the drugstore while you get dressed.  Do you remember what else it was you needed besides suppositories?”
     “I’m trying to think.  Get them in the women’s size and get a small jar of Vaseline.  I put the Vaseline on before I—“
     “Mimi, it’s so hot in here, I’m melting.  If you can’t remember what else you wanted, I’ll get it later on the way to Ed’s.  I’m going to the drugstore now, and you can get dressed while I’m gone.”
     “Oh, I’ll be dressed, don’t worry, it takes me exactly ten minutes to dress.  Believe me, I have it down to a science.  When you have to catch a bus to go shopping—I hate those buses, some of the drivers are nice but some of them are so mean and grouchy and impatient—“
     “I’ll be back in about fifteen minutes,” I said, opening the door.
     “I’ll be ready, it won’t take me long to dress, I already have my corsets on under my robe, see how loose they are?  I think I’ve lost some weight, I never eat bread or cake any more, I just have my toast and—“
     “I’m leaving, Mimi, you can tell me all this when I get back.”

     I drove my mother-in-law to Ed’s house for the day.  On the way she told me . . . everything.
     “I washed my slip and panties, in this hot weather I sweat.  I don’t like to smell so I gave myself a good sponge bath after I washed out my slip and my panties.  I hung the slip on the rod but it kept falling off so I put my panties on top of it.  Then it stayed there all right!”
     She laughed heartily at the way she’d solved her problem, and I laughed too, so she’d know I was paying attention.
     “I gave myself a sponge bath all over, starting with my head and going down, first my face, then my neck and ears and shoulders, then my armpits, they have these great big heavy towels they give you, it wears me out just to lift one, I told the girl, don’t give me one of those big heavy towels, give me one I can manage, so after I got through with my armpits I went on down, you know, washing myself everywhere so I wouldn’t smell and by the time I got to my knees I was so worn out, I had to go lay down.  Tony brought me my breakfast, it was terrible, some spongy kind of roll with a piece of ham on it and an egg. . .”
     “That’s an Egg McMuffin.”
     “What?” Mimi looked startled at the interruption.
     An Egg McMuffin!  It’s an English muffin with ham and a poached egg.  A lot of people think it makes a good breakfast!”   
     “Well, I don’t.  I told Tony don’t ever bring me anything like that again, just bring me my juice and coffee and a little thin piece of toast, I don’t eat that much for breakfast, I never have, I’d get too fat if I ate a big breakfast every day like that, I always have the same thing, juice, coffee and toast.  Tony said okay, that’s what you’ll get from now on.  He told me about an old lady staying there, she’s ninety-two years old and she never goes out except to have her hair done, she has one of those egg things with the ham on it every morning, I didn’t like it but I forced it down because Tony meant well.  I cleaned up the crumbs and flushed them down the toilet because I don’t want to attract bugs, you should see the bugs in Florida, no matter how careful I am not to leave crumbs around there were always these great big bugs that got into everything, they’d even chew your clothes up, they’re big enough to bite off one of your fingers if you could ever catch one but they hear me coming when I open the front door, they know me pretty well after three years, they run off and hide in the cupboards and under the furniture.  Mr. Mason tried killing them off with spray, you should have seen the dustpan full he swept off the shelves, he took everything out and then put it back, but I could never get rid of those bugs, I’d hear them scuttling around at night, sometimes they even ran over my body, it was awful, Barbara."
     “It sounds awful!” I shuddered.
      “It must have been awful!  I’m glad you’re up here where we can take care of you!”
     “Yes, I am too, I just wish I hadn’t left my coat on the airplane, would you call Delta again and see if they found it, it was a nice coat, I just had it cleaned, too, I paid twelve dollars for it on sale, it fit me just right.“
     By the time I drove to Ed’s, my ears were aching from listening, and my throat was sore from shouting my occasional responses.  I settled Mimi in my ex-husband’s living room and told her I’d be back to fix her lunch.  I gave her the latest Reader’s Digest, turned on the TV to the resounding volume she requires, and went off to hide for an hour or so.  Ed was out by his pool reading the Sunday papers, and then Aliceann (my favorite among his various paramours) arrived with a “Ciao.”  When she headed for the house to say ciao to Ed’s mother, I asked her not to give away my hiding place. 
     "Tell her I’ve gone to the beach.”
     Finally my conscience overcame my reluctance to face a new assault on my ears.
     “Oh, hello, Barbara, you went to the beach?  I used to like to put on my play-suit and walk along the beach at your old house, it’s too bad you sold it but this house of Edward’s is nice, he has a nice view and beautiful trees, I love all these beautiful green trees, yes, I’d enjoy a bite of lunch, Aliceann offered to fix me something but I said no because I knew I’d be having lunch with you, Edward certainly has a nice place here, I see it has two bedrooms, he sure does like plants, it must take a lot of work to water them, yes, a cup of tea would be nice.”
     Ed’s new garage apartment is a deep, dark secret, rather like the mysterious room in Bluebeard’s castle.  If Mimi were ever to hobble out to the kitchen, continue on through the laundry room, and turn the knob of the Secret Door, how astonished she would be to behold his prodigious assortment of blondes, brunettes, redheads, and Naughty Nudies.  Then those wheels would begin to go around, especially if she opened another door and discovered the lavatory. She would say to herself, “Why can’t I live here?”
September 2, 1980
     Today was my mother-in-law's 89th birthday.  We went to look at the Ripley Road Nursing Home in Cohasset. 
     “We call this your home away from home,” said our guide.  It depressed me as much as it had years ago when I was trying to find a home for Vaughan.  We were led through the narrow halls of the old converted house, past small, dreary rooms inhabited by silent, spectral figures.  There was no private room and bath.  A semi-private room was $40 a day.  No, there was nothing available at the moment, but with these old people. . .
     “Forty dollars a day—for that?”  Mimi said.  “See what I mean about people being greedy?”
     Our next stop was Dr. Wach’s office.  Ed met us there at 2:00, having volunteered to help with the nursing home tours.  The doctor checked Mimi’s blood pressure, weight and urine and proclaimed her to be in robust health for a woman her age.
     “Yes, your blood pressure’s fine, Mrs. Dodds, 140 over 80, that’s better than most folks half your age.  Those pills you’re taking must be doing the trick.  I’ll give you a new prescription and you’ll be all set.”
     “What about these?” she asked, hauling a bottle of Bufferin out of her pocketbook.  “I take these for my arthritis.”
     “Fine, fine, you don’t need a prescription for those.”
     Ed and I helped Mimi through the door while she muttered and complained that the doctor hadn’t said anything about the way she walked.  “He didn’t seem to notice I have to use a cane.”
     Clearly she thought he should have come up with a pill that would make her steadier on her feet.
     The doctor suggested that we look at a new nursing home, as big as a hospital, with 200 beds, looking clinical, well run, and nothing like a home away from home.  For $56 a day, a resident could live in a private room with a connecting bath.  We took a look.
     “Ridiculous!” said Mimi.
     Next stop, Ocean Manor in Scituate, ten minutes from Ed’s and Ted’s neighboring houses on Border Street.  Beautiful!  Homelike! Large bedrooms, many with a water view.  The cost for a double room with bath was $46 a day.  A private room was exactly like the double, except the second bed was removed. 
     For $58 a day, Mimi could have her own room and bath.
     Pat, the woman who showed us around, said there were no vacancies, but she expected something would be available soon.
     We went to the Golden Rooster with Ted and Maureen to celebrate Mimi’s birthday.  Father and son were in mellow, talkative moods, and I tried to include the birthday girl in our conversations.  It is impossible for gentle Maureen to speak loudly, but Mimi seemed to be able to read her lips—or at least her kind smile.  I learned later from Kathie that Maureen was mortified by the attention attracted by my shouting.  I have become so accustomed to this necessity that I’ve ceased noticing the stares of other diners.
     Mimi had a chance to say her piece to Ted and Maureen about how long she had scrimped and saved, doing without movies or dinners at restaurants to build up her bank account.  Ted gave her a pep talk about how much she’d like the nursing home when she got used to it.  “We’ll visit you a lot and bring the babies over to see you.  And instead of being alone all the time, you’ll have people to talk to.”
     The waitress brought a cake and we sang happy birthday.  In another month we’ll be saying happy birthday to Teddy’s new sister or brother.  Which will it be?  We’ll just have to be patient until that moment of revelation when the doctor says, “It’s a . . .”
     At 20 months, Teddy is already learning the facts of life.  His father asks: “What is Mommy going to have pretty soon?”  “Baby.”  “What’s the baby’s name going to be?”  “Maffew.”  “But Teddy, what if it’s a girl, then what’ll we call the baby?”  “Katie.”  “What will her middle name be?”  “Baba.”
     Two grandmothers named Barbara are delighted and honored.
September 5, 1980
     It’s Friday.  My ears and head feel as if I’d been in a marathon boxing match.  I’ve been thinking of stealing Mimi’s blood-pressure pills because I need them more than she does.  She may look frail, but she can out-tough me any day of the week and have enough fight left to flatten her son.
     Ed had a showdown with her.  He said if she refused to go into a home, he’d wash his hands of the whole business; he’d put her on a plane and ship her back to Florida.
     “Just remember,” he warned, “if anything happens to you, it’ll be your responsibility, not mine.”
     When I heard the beginning of this confrontation, I wanted to opt out, but I couldn’t leave those two stubborn Malleys to battle on until one of them had a stroke.  I put on my crash helmet and returned to the battle zone to referee.
     “Oh good, Barbara, you should be in on this conversation.  I’ve been telling Edward I’m not going into any home until I know what’s going to happen to all the things in my apartment.  From the way he talks, he’s going to go in there and just throw everything away.  There’s a lot of valuable things there, good mahogany furniture, I paid $150 for the bed, when I bought it, I bought nothing but the best.  Edward could get a good price from a second-hand furniture man, and then I have a lot of nice linens, doilies and place mats and bureau scarves with nice lace edges all washed and starched, they’re lovely, I have them in a box marked with your name.”
     “Mimi, people don’t use things like that these days.  Do you want to pay the movers to ship a lot of stuff no one will be able to use?  You’ve told me yourself that a lot of your furniture is just junk, you said you didn’t want to pay a lot of money for moving junk.”
     “I don’t, that’s right!  I thought Edward could drive down there and—“
     “I’m not going to drive down there!  I’ve told you that three times!”
     “That’s what the Italians do,” Mimi said doggedly.  “They pile all their belongings on top of their car and tie it good with some rope, and no one has to pay any movers.  Mr. Mason, he’s been so nice to me, I don’t care for his wife, she’s an odd, moody sort of person but he’s been real nice, he told me you can rent some kind of van that you hook up to the back of your car . . .”
     Ed began yelling again, and despite my peacemaker role I was yelling too, in order to make myself heard.  (I had tried a couple of days earlier to convince Mimi she needed a hearing-aid.  She insisted she could hear well enough, and besides, those hearing aids cost a lot of money.)
     “Ed can’t drive down there to collect all your things.  He’s almost sixty-five years old, his leg is bothering him, he hasn’t been feeling well—“
     “What about Ted?” she asked.
     “Ted can’t just up and leave his sword-fishing business.  Do you expect him to lose thousands of dollars in order to save you a few hundred?”
     Mimi continued to insist that her son should go down to Gulfport—hadn’t I written and told her he would help?  If he’d just listen to that nice Mr. Mason, everything would be properly taken care of.
     Ed was wearily making a circular, will-she-never-run-down motion with his arm.
     I’m sure Ed will consult with Mr. Mason,” I shouted.  In a normal voice I said to him, “It wouldn’t hurt to give her a little positive feedback.”
     “Okay, okay, okay.”
     “What is he saying, Barbara?”
     He says he’ll ask Mr. Mason’s advice.” 
     “Oh, I’m glad you convinced him, he never listens to me.  Mr. Mason knows the names of some second-hand furniture dealers, Edward can sell my bed and my bureau and some of the other furniture for enough money to pay the movers.”
     Ed rolled his eyes.  “What about my $300 plane fare?  Are you going to pay my expenses for going down there?”
     “I certainly am not!  I didn’t ask you to go, why should I pay your fare?”
     On the way back to Motel 3A I told Mimi that all this bickering over money was making me feel terrible.  I would be glad to pay Ed’s airfare.
     “No you won’t, Barbara, now you just keep out of this.  This is between Edward and me.”
     Ted said later:  “I’m not surprised at her answer.  It’s a contest of wills.”  Ted then said he would pay to have everything moved up to Scituate.  He didn’t care if it was a thousand dollars or three thousand dollars, it was ridiculous to worry Mimi about money, he’d even go down and supervise the moving himself, if that was what she wanted. . . .

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