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Thursday, August 3, 2017

(4) "YOU'RE MAKING THINGS VERY DIFFICULT FOR ME."

     
     On Monday September 15th, I drove Mimi over to Ed’s and fixed her a lunch of leftover Lazy Man’s Lobster with sliced tomatoes.  When Ed got home, he and I went off to play golf, leaving his mother to read Playboy in peace.
     The following morning Ed, Aliceann and I went to an antique doll auction in Hyannis.  I tried not to worry about my mother-in-law, alone in her room with the curtains drawn, or making her way across the street in the midst of the 3A traffic.  When we got home, wonderful news awaited us on Ed’s answering machine—a room was available at Ocean Manor.  It was semi-private, but she would be moved to a private room at the first opportunity.
     I stopped at the motel and knocked on Mimi’s door.  Tony had told me she was in, so I knocked, banged, pounded and yelled.  A couple of weeks ago, Tony had opened the door for me after I had tried for five minutes to get his tenant's attention.  I was sure she must be dead or unconscious, but no, she was very much alive, placidly writing a letter. 
      “Oh, was that you knocking," she had said.  "I thought it was this air conditioner, you should hear the way it bangs and squeals, it keeps me awake all night, I had no idea you were outside the door, I was writing to Mary Ryan wanting to know exactly how much money I had before I made any hasty decisions . . .”
     Now it was two weeks later.  Mimi knew how much money she had, she knew her belongings would be shipped north within a few days, she was disillusioned with Tony and his padding of her bill.  Would she enter the nursing home agreeably or would she find a new reason for stalling?
     I could hear her approaching the door, talking to herself all the way, her cane tap-tapping on the floor.  I told her the news about the available room, then held my breath and prayed.
     “A room?  When?  Oh, tomorrow.  Well . . . all right, then I won’t have to do much packing, I’ve been living out of my suitcase for the last two days.  Around nine o’clock, you say?  No, you won’t have to call me, Tony brings my coffee and that wakes me up.  I’ll be ready.”
     I called Tony at 8:30 the next morning.  “Oh yes, she’s had her coffee, she’s up and around.  What time do you want her to be ready?  Okay, I’ll tell her.”
     The admissions office had requested that Mimi arrive between 10:00 and 11:00 on Wednesday morning. I knocked on her door at 9:15.  I pounded and hollered and pounded some more.  I tried a primal scream.  If this was therapy, why wasn’t I feeling terrific?
     I heard Mimi mumbling and shuffling toward the door.  She opened it a crack and peered up at me.  “Oh, it’s you, Barbara, what time is it?”
     She was wearing a robe, her hair was on end, her teeth were in the bathroom.  She was far from ready to leave for Ocean Manor.
     “I was up early, but I got sleepy, I didn’t slept a wink all night, so I thought I’d just lie down for a few minutes.”
     A case of psychosomatic narcolepsy?  A Freudian sleep?
     “I don’t know how much Tony’s bill is, Barbara, he charges an awful lot, $19 a day, that’s two dollars more than it was last year, I suppose they’ll be wanting money in the nursing home, do you think you could get my Social Security check cashed for me?”
     She went through her pocketbook, pulling out one envelope after another, removing rubber bands, inspecting the contents, shaking her head.
     “No, that’s not it, I put it someplace where I knew it would be safe . . .”  She turned the bag upside down on the bed and went through the various envelopes once more.
     Time was going by and I was going crazy, looking at my watch and holding back another primal scream.
     “Mimi,” I said, “you’re making things very difficult for me.  We’re going to be late, so let’s not spend any more time looking.  I’ll take care of any expenses, and you can pay me back later.”
     “Wait a minute, I just remembered where I put that check.  It’s here, under the mattress.”
     Mimi endorsed the check.  I said I hoped she’d be ready when I got back from the bank.
     Tony was outside, working on the brick-facing project Mimi was paying for.  Noticing my distraught air, he stood up, dusted off his hands, and patted me on the shoulder.
     “How’s it going?  Everything okay?”
     I told him she had fallen asleep after he brought her breakfast.  “I think it’s a psychological form of defense.  Wild animals do the same thing if they’re put in a cage and carried onto a plane.  They escape from their fear of the unknown by falling asleep.”
     “There’s a name for that,” Tony said thoughtfully.  “They call it the negativism of . . .ah . . . a negative personality!”
     “Exactly,” I said.
     Tony and I understood each other.  We’d been through a lot the last three years.
     When I returned with Mimi’s cash, she was clad in her slip and standing in front of the bureau, puttering with odds and ends not yet in her suitcase.
     “I’ll pay your bill, then I’ll be back to help you get dressed and packed.”
     I gave Tony an extra $25 for tips, telling him to distribute it any way he liked.  We exchanged handshakes and I thanked him for his many kindnesses to Ed's mother. 
     Mimi supervised the last minute packing of her toilet articles, stationery, Oil of Wintergreen, etcetera.
     “You can put those shoes and the box of Kleenex in my duffer bag,” she said. 
     I loved it.  From now on I would fondly regard my golf bag as a duffer bag.
     Mimi at last conceded she was ready to leave.  I checked the drawers, the closet, and the bathroom.  Nothing had been forgotten except an item she soon would have missed, her teeth.
     “Oh, another thing,” she said, pausing at the door.  “I always leave a dollar for the girl.” 
     I told her I had taken care of the tip.  On our way to my car, we encountered an old woman toting a mop and pail.
     “My daughter-in-law left you a dollar.  Be sure to get it from Tony,” said Mimi.
     Tony gave her a kiss and said he’d come to visit her.  “That’s a promise.”
     “It would be nice if Tony came to see me, but I’m not going to count on it,” Mimi said as we set off.  “Last year he said he’d send me a Christmas card and then I never heard a word from him, I didn’t really care but I know better than to believe everything he says, I always raised Edward to be truthful and honest, I told him I’d never punish him as long as he told me the truth, I taught him not to steal, either, I said if you ever see anything you want, don’t steal it, just come to me and I’ll give you the money, he was a good boy until he got to be 12 or 13 years old, then his father got hold of him and from then on you wouldn’t believe how sassy he was, we got along just fine until his father began taking him hunting and paying more attention to him, it ruined him, Barbara, he began talking back to me, I couldn’t do a thing with him after that . . .”
     At the nursing home we were introduced to Mrs. Brady in the admissions office, and to Mrs. Brown, in charge of statistics.  There were forms to be filled out, questions to be answered.  At 89, Mimi’s memory was amazing—how many people her age could reel off their social security number?  She also knew that she had $189 in her pocketbook.  She was advised to leave $40 in the office safe, keep $4.00, and give the remainder to me to deposit in her new checking account.
     Some of Mrs. Brown’s questions were decidedly personal.  For instance, did family members get along well with Mrs. Dodds?  We nodded.  “Is Mrs. Dodds entering the home voluntarily?  Was it her idea or someone else’s?”
     “Hers,” I replied, while Mimi simultaneously said, “She hounded me!”
     "Why Mimi, what about those letters you wrote me week after week, telling my you couldn't manage by yourself and you wanted to go into a home?"
     Hounded her, indeed.  Well, maybe she’d said it with a twinkle in her eye.  She seemed to enjoy watching me stammer out my self-defense.  A few minutes weren’t enough; I could have talked for an hour about who gave whom a hard time.
     Next we were introduced to Mrs. Haig, Mimi’s floor nurse.  She said she’d do everything she could to see that her charge was happy and comfortable.  She led us to Mimi’s room, which she would be sharing with a woman named Frances.  Frances was resting on her bed.  She raised her head to say hello and gave us a smile.
     Mimi’s bed was next to the bathroom—what a stroke of good fortune—and her chair was beside a wide, sunny window with a ledge for books and plants.  Another bit of luck:  the top two drawers of the bureau belonged to Mimi, so she wouldn’t have to stoop.
     She sat down and directed the unpacking of her suitcase and duffer bag.  We were nearly finished when Mrs. Brady, the blonde and breezy director of admissions, stuck her head in the door.
     “Lunch will be served in the dining-room at noon, Mrs. Dodds.”
     “Oh, Barbara, do you suppose you could stay and have lunch with me?”  Mimi looked alarmed at the idea of facing a roomful of strangers.
     “Maybe we could arrange it,” said Mrs. Brady.  “I’ll go ask the manager.”  She returned a few minutes later and told us Mr. Oliver said I could stay.    
     We were led to a table near an aquarium set in the wall of the attractive dining room. A woman named Sarah introduced herself and told us she’d won a dime at the Bingo game the day before. “I’m going to frame it,” she chuckled.
     “What?” said Mimi.
     “She won a dime playing Bingo. She’s going to frame it.”
     “Ha-ha,” laughed Mimi.
     Suddenly Mrs. Haig was at my elbow, telling me I would have to leave; I was sitting in someone’s chair. Behind her, a bent old woman was eyeing at me reproachfully.
     “But I got special permission from the manager.”
     “We’ll see about that!” Mrs. Haig said briskly. “Please come with me.”
     “I don’t understand this, Mimi. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
     I followed Mrs. Haig, who was explaining that elderly people are very proud, they’re embarrassed to eat in front of strangers, so they leave their food untouched.
     “Then why did Mrs. Brady say it was all right? How about my mother-in-law’s feelings? She must be terribly disappointed.”
     “There's been a misunderstanding.” Mrs. Haig disappeared into Mr. Oliver’s office and was gone quite a while. I complained to the receptionist that no matter how great the staff may appear in an institution like this, there always seems to be one nurse without a heart. The receptionist assured me that Mrs. Haig was kind and well liked.
     “I guess I’d better leave,” I said. “I don’t want to make waves and have Mrs. Dodds start off on the wrong foot.”
     "Now you just relax and see what happens.”
     When Mrs. Haig reappeared, I said, “I’ll just say goodbye to my mother-in-law and go along.”
     Mrs. Haig looked relieved. “These old people are easily upset by any change in their routine, but you’re welcome to have lunch with Mrs. Dodds in her room.”
     “I think it would be better if she stays in the dining room and gets acquainted.”
     I returned to Mimi’s table and found her engaged in conversation with Sarah. I sat on my haunches (that was one perch no one could take away from me) and said, “Mimi, would it bother you very much if I didn’t stay for lunch?”
     “Why no, dear, that’s all right,” she said, smiling down at me.
     “You’re not disappointed? You’re sure you’ll be okay?” I felt my eyes stinging. What was this? Tears? For Mimi?
     “I’ll be fine, dear.”
     “I love you, Mimi,” I said.. What was going on here? I thought she’d be the weepy one when the time came to part.
     ”I love you, too, Barbara.” Her eyes grew red and moist. “Don’t worry about me, Sarah and I are having a lovely talk.”
     We hugged each other, and then I left, with mixed feelings.  Relief that Ed's mother was finally settled in a safe place, mingled with a discombobulated sense of loss.  Rarely had we ever used the word "love" in connection with each other.
     The next day Ed and I drove over to Ocean Manor to bring his mother a TV set and see how she was adjusting to her new life.  He noticed that my hands were pressed together.
     “Praying?” he asked.
     “Oh God, yes!  Oh God, I hope she’s going to be happy!”
     Ed fiddled with the television while I sat down and listened to Mimi.
     “Barbara, I’ve been having such a time, I’ve been constipated for three days, then along comes the nurse last night and asks if I want some juice, she had orange juice, cranberry juice, tomato juice, any kind I wanted, so I asked her if she had some of that brown medicine, you know, it’s brown and it has a stone in it.”
   “A stone in it?”
     “Yes, brown, with a stone.”
     “Do you mean prune juice?”
     “That’s it!  The nurse said of course we have prune juice, it’s good for what ails you, well this morning I had my breakfast and I was going to go to the TV room but then I heard my stomach rumbling away so I said to myself, you better stay right here in your chair next to the bathroom.  Well did that brown medicine ever do the trick, the nurse came in later to take my blood pressure and I told her how well that prune juice worked.”
     My prayers had been answered.  After only one day at Ocean Manor, Mimi was already feeling right at home.
     “Are the nurses nice?”
     “They’re all very kind and nice.  I’ll say this, Barbara, they pay a lot of attention to you here, they don’t just leave you sitting around, someone comes in to see if you’re all right, several times a day, they take your blood pressure, they bring you juice or milk, they ask you if you want anything, I told the nurse I didn’t sleep all night so they’re going to give me a pill, I was up late last night talking to Sarah, she’s Irish, she lived in South Boston all her life, she worked for the Telephone Company for 40 years, she has a good sense of humor like all the Irish, we went into the TV room last night and we were the very last ones to leave, we were so busy talking we had no idea how late it was, she told me a lot about this place, you know they charge $15 a month for laundry, that’s ridiculous, don’t you let them put that on my bill, I don’t have that much laundry and I’m not going to pay it, they let you do your stockings and hang them in the bathroom, you’re not supposed to hang anything else, but I found this little rod on the back of my night table, take a look, Barbara, my panties are there, I’ll just keep washing them myself and no one needs to know . . .”
     On the following Wednesday I received a call from Bekins Van Lines.  They wanted to know if I wanted my furniture delivered that afternoon.
     “Good grief, not here, I live in a condominium!”  I gave them Ted’s address in Scituate.
     I brought Mimi the mail the Masons had forwarded, told her the movers would be arriving at Ted’s house any minute, and asked her to give me the list she had made of her belongings.  Then I drove to Ted’s to see if the movers had shown up.  “Hellooo!” I called into the empty house.  I heard male voices coming from the direction of Ed’s driveway.
   “Oh God, they’ve gone to the wrong house,” I thought, jumping into my car.  Sure enough, the van was in ex-husband’s driveway, with furniture all over the place.  The mover hadn’t wanted to get stuck in Ted’s narrow, winding lane.  Ted and Michael were lifting furniture onto the pick-up truck, while Ed and Maureen conferred over what should go to the barn and what could temporarily be stored in Ed’s guest bedroom—including 30 cartons of various sizes and shapes.  The mover was having a beer and admiring our beautiful, on-the-verge expectant mother.  To me, Maureen takes on the glow of a Madonna when she’s pregnant.  To the mover, I suppose she was a great looking broad, pregnant or not.
     We took time out to study some old photographs stored in Mimi’s dresser. There is a wedding picture of Mimi and her second husband, Bob, whom we’d never met; another of Ed’s grandmother and Mimi as a little girl with long, blonde ringlets; pictures of Ed during his growing-up years; snapshots of Mimi taken during her travels. We gawked and marveled over one that showed her sitting on a camel. Mimi? That elderly lady with a cane, all hunched over with arthritis—on a camel?
     Ted tells us not to throw away any pictures, even if we don’t know who is in them.
     My car is blocking the pick-up truck. I hand Ted the keys, so he can move it. He climbs in and sits beside me for a few minutes, looking somber.
     “This is all kind of strange, isn’t it? It makes me feel funny to think that this is what we’ll all come to some day. Here’s all this stuff Mimi accumulated through the years, moved so carefully from place to place—stuff so important to her that she was ready to go down to Florida herself to be sure she got it all. It’s one of life’s ironies, I guess. The things we attach so much value to—when we’re dead and gone they’re not really important at all.  Well, back to work!”
     I had assumed the unpacking of the boxes would take place over a period of days or even weeks but reckoned without Maureen.  Ted, his father and I were the helpers, Maureen our tireless director.  We spent three hours at this job while little Teddy played contentedly in what looked like the aftermath of an earth-quake.  One huge pile would be picked up by the Crosbys, Michael’s grandparents, another would go to Good Will, and a third lot, destined for the dump, was tossed into trash bags.  I stood by with Mimi’s list, trying to rescue her treasures before they got past me. 
     Toward the end of our labors (speaking of which, I told Maureen she was going to pop that baby any minute with all the bending and reaching she was doing), Ted sat down on the bed and began tossing almost everything within reach into the trash bag.  His bum knee must have been hurting him by now, though he didn’t complain.  My attention had been diverted by two lovely vases from China, which Maureen was rapturously admiring.  When I next looked in Ted’s direction, I saw the contents of Mimi’s medicine chest disappearing into the black plastic maw.  He had saved the jar of Vaseline on her list, and I managed to find the rubbing alcohol (green, as advertised), but I was too tired to search through the trash for her suppositories.
    This was a mistake.  We were going to hear a lot about those suppositories in the next few weeks.  The ones I bought for her were made of wax, she would inform me repeatedly, they were no good, they were not glycerin like the ones she paid $2.50 for in Gulfport, how was it that we found the Vaseline but didn’t find her suppositories, etcetera, etcetera.  When Ed went to Fort Lauderdale in November, I vowed those damn suppositories would be on his Christmas list.  If his mother didn’t like them, she could . . . I think I’ve said enough.
     By 5:30 that afternoon, even Maureen began to droop.  She almost succumbed to our suggestion that we finish the job some other day, but on second thought—no, there’s only three cartons left, let’s get it done. 
     “If you have that baby tonight, it’s middle name should be Mimi,” I said.  She arrived a week later, but that’s another story, which begins this way:
     We gathered at Ted’s house Sunday evening.  I collected Mimi at 5:30, and on the way to Border Street found myself actually enjoying my listener role.  She had many interesting events to talk about, now that she was living at Ocean Manor.  I especially appreciated one that took place a few days earlier.
     “When I heard the priest was coming, I began to wonder about confession and tried to think about sins I might have committed during the last few years when I wasn’t going to church.  They told me confession wasn’t necessary, but I guess they figure in a place like this nobody has any sins, not to amount to much, anyway.  I hadn’t been to Mass since I moved to Florida, it would have been too much trouble, getting on the bus and having to make changes, I was never one to ask my neighbors for a ride like some of them did, I just minded my own business, so when I heard about the Mass in the dining room I decided to go, they’d taken away the tables and had the chairs lined up in rows . . .”
MIMI WITH KAITLIN
     Mimi had also attended last Tuesday’s Beano game and won 20 cents!  Moreover, she’d helped another resident win 10 cents.
      “She was hard of hearing, Barbara, so she wasn’t catching the numbers when they were called out, a lot of old people are quite deaf, they won’t admit it but they are."
     At Ted’s house, Mimi had her picture taken with her new great-granddaughter.  Kathie and Dick arrived, then Tim with Betsy Blake, whose folks bought our Cohasset house back in 1966.  
     I took Tim aside and showed him a poem I wanted him to read after dinner.  He looked through the verses describing our years at Sandy Cove, said he was afraid he’d cry, but okay, he’d do his best.[I remember only the title, “Owed to the House at Sandy Cove.”]
     Mimi was in good spirits as long as she got sufficient attention.  Someone mentioned the picture we’d seen of her, sitting on a camel.
     “That was in Egypt,” she told the group clustered around her chair.  “After I got off, he nipped me.  I was walking past him and all of a sudden he reached out and grabbed my left breast.  I hit him on the nose with my pocketbook and said, `You let go of me, you dirty thing!' He didn't hurt me but I let him know I wasn’t going to put up with that!”
     Everyone laughed, but soon family members began drifting away and chatting with each other.  Of course Mimi couldn’t hear a word. 
     “When are we going to go?” she asked me crossly, dismissing my offer of crackers and cheese.  I told her we’d leave very soon, we were just finishing our cocktails.  Ed would be taking her back to Ocean Manor.
     Outside, with Mimi on my arm, I waved to Michael, who was shooting baskets on the tennis court.  I learned why his great-grandmother was scowling so ferociously.
     “He never came anywhere near me, he never even came up to say hello.”
     “Are you sure, Mimi? I saw him standing by your chair, waiting to speak to you.  You were busy talking to Timmy, and he probably just gave up.”
     I called to Michael, and he managed to pacify the offended old lady.
    Ed reported that when he drove his mother back to the nursing home, her sole topic was the Mystery of the Lost Suppositories.  They had cost her two dollars and fifty cents, she reminded him more than once, they were made of real glycerin, not like those cheap things Barbara bought, what could have happened to them, someone must have thrown them away, had he thrown them away, etc. etc. etc.
     I expect Mimi will go to her grave wondering how anyone could have been so careless with one of her most valued possessions.  And I will go to mine, never to reveal the name of the culprit to a soul, except in these pages.  Ted, tsk tsk. 

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