Monday, October 15, 2007

Music has its Charms

Music has its Charms
“What now?” Robert thought to himself as the nurse shook his shoulder. “Why in the hell don’t they let me sleep,” he wondered to himself. It wasn’t as if he had somewhere to be. He knew he was a patient in a home, but beyond that he didn’t know much anymore. He’d had a good life altogether, and now he just wanted to sleep, but the tugging continued and finally he gave in and sat up. He looked around the room and saw a man lying beside him, snoring, and he wondered for a minute if he was back in the Navy. He looked in the mirror and saw the white hair and decided that probably wasn’t it. A nurse with a very high pitched voice reminded him, “Time to get up now Robert,” and he wearily pushed his arm into the sweater they had picked out for him.

At the breakfast table, the one with the squeaky voice was still hovering over him and he wished she would give him a little space. “Say hello to your friends Robert,” the nurse suggested, and he looked around and saw one lady asleep and two other men staring straight ahead. “Are these really my friends,” he thought to himself. He said hello politely and began to eat his breakfast, deciding that they must not be that great of friends if he couldn’t remember a thing about them.
He woke up to a radio playing, and it was a familiar tune. “Baby face, you’ve got the cutest little baby face,” the song went along. And then he remembered. He closed his eyes and saw her fiery red hair and remembered how it took him a half-hour and three glasses of beer to go up and talk to her. “There’s not another one who’ll take your place, baby-face,” the song continued, and indeed for him no one ever had. They got married as soon as he got back from the war, and those first years together were the happiest memories of his life.

Robert woke up, looked around and again wondered where he was. It seemed later now, and then, without warning a balloon hit him in the head. “Pay attention Robert!” a lady he had never seen before commanded. He looked up and there were people sitting in a circle tossing a balloon. He reared back and smacked the ball all the way to the other side of the room, “Bingo!” he yelled, thinking this might keep them off his back for a while. Then he heard the radio again. “You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh,” the song went along. And once again his mind wandered back. He remembered the song from the movie Casablanca, and how it reminded him of his wife. It was the first movie they had ever seen together, and it should be a happy memory, but indeed it was not.

Robert’s wife had been killed in a car accident 8 years after they were married. They had three young daughters together, and without her he was lost. But he was a father, and he had to put on a brave face for his kids. He knew next to nothing about little girls, but they learned together as the years slipped away, and slowly, slowly after many, many years, the void in his heart left by his wife had begun to heal itself. “It’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory,” the song continued. Every time he heard that song he could remember her red hair like it was yesterday. When he looked up a nurse was wiping a tear from his eye, and consoling him. He joined the balloon game they were playing to avoid making a scene, and soon he was back asleep again.

When he woke up again something had changed. He looked around his room, and saw a familiar face sleeping next to him “I wonder how long the good lord is going to let me lay around like this,” he said to no one in particular, and then he heard the familiar high voice and he began the morning routine once again. He seemed to be grasping things better today, and he said hello to a few people he knew. There was a spelling bee in the morning which he enjoyed, and he even managed to win a bag of chips in one of the bingo games. But now he was tired, and began wheeling towards his room. “Not until after dinner Robert,” a nurse reminded him, and he decided that he better just go along.

He put his head down on the table, when he heard the radio again. “When your heart’s on fire, you must realize, smoke gets in your eyes,” and he immediately remembered where he knew this one from. It was his daughter’s wedding song, and when he cut in to dance with her she looked so much like her mother he couldn’t help but feel incredible joy, sadness, and pride, all at once. His daughter had married a wonderful man, and he finally felt a little of the pressure lift from raising three young girls alone. They had done it, his family had made it, despite his thinking a million times they might not. He begun to sing out loud and eventually he got lost in his memories. Thankful for the radio that seemed so connected to the treasures of memory he wanted and needed to hold on to in his life

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Zsa Zsa

Zsa Zsa
“Jane, Jane! get over here right now, it’s time for your insulin,” a woman in a blue jumpsuit yelled impatiently. The woman was in fact a nurse from a neighboring facility helping out for the day, and had no idea she was in the presence of greatness. The woman continued to yell across the room until another nurse came over to clear up the problem.
“Try saying Zsa-Zsa, instead of Jane,” she recommended helpfully. And with that the nurse threw her hands up in the air, and wondered why she had agreed to work in the Alzheimer’s unit for the day.
“Zsa-Zsa, it’s time for your insulin!” and with that the woman in dark glasses turned and looked at the woman for the first time.
“Are you addressing me madam,” she sarcastically replied, appalled that someone would simply yell her name out and expect her to snap to attention like a dog. The woman was an American however, and she took this into account as she wheeled over to see what all the commotion was about.
What could be so urgent,” she asked, as the woman grabbed her by the arm and began preparing her for an insulin shot. But she let it go this time, and thought about the exotic life she must have led that she was paying for now. She couldn’t at the time exactly remember the exotic details, but she knew who she was and that was enough. Jane had in fact been born in Hungary, and was by anyone’s account a great beauty in her own right. But Jane didn’t interest her anymore and now she had decided that she was in fact the great Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Following her insulin shot she began wheeling her way back to the television set, hoping to catch a glimpse of herself on TV so she could admire the woman she once had been. Before she had become Zsa Zsa, Jane had been a wife and a mother and had taken care of her family all of her life without ever worrying about herself. Now, at the age of 83 her mind had appeared to right this horrible injustice and she believed, with every fiber of her being, that she was in fact Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Her children, who came to visit often, were at first amused by their mother’s antics and then began to grow more concerned. She demanded they provide her with scarfs and wraps and jewelry and they had nearly cleaned out the costume jewelry shops trying to placate their mother’s demand that “diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”
You she Zsa Zsa had given up everything for her children, and they felt that they owed her at this late stage of her life. They knew they had often been selfish children, and even when their mother was working two jobs to support the family, they always demanded more from her and now it seemed they were getting their comeuppance.
Her daughter Karen was especially appreciative of her mother, and when the annual “King and Queen” contest in the nursing home began, she thought of a way she might pay her mother back. You see the nursing home had started a tradition a couple of years back where they announced a King and Queen every year from among the residents that was voted on by the staff, residents, as well as the family members of the people in the facility. The award was usually given to friendly and cooperative residents of the facility, and Karen new her mother had very little chance of being elected by those qualifications.
So slowly she began to hatch her plan, at first slipping an entire booklet of ballots into her purse which she then brought home and filled out with her mother’s name on it. Over the next few weeks she continued to stuff the ballot box until she was sure she had at least given her mother a good chance to win.
A couple of weeks later at the annual coronation, Karen had dressed her mother up in all of her favorites. She had on her oversized dark glasses, her scarf, a boa, and Karen had even bought her some flowers in the event that she won the contest. When the time came to announce the winner Karen was extremely nervous, and then, finally the announcement came,
“And our Queen this year is, Jane Krackow,” the MC announced over the loudspeaker. But Jane made no attempt to move and she looked around with the other residents wondering who this person was. Karen laughed to herself and went and whispered something to the MC who then chuckled to himself and began again.
“It seems there was a small error, the winner this year is Zsa, Zsa Gabor,” the announcer boomed over the microphone.
And with that Zsa Zsa took the stage. As the MC wheeled her around the room for a victory lap, she threw flowers at the audience, and blew kisses, and even stopped a couple of times and offered her hand for the men in the audience to kiss. When it came time for her to make her speech she took the microphone from the MC and told everyone how she really just had “so many people she wanted to thank.”
Karen looked up and her mother with a sense of great amusement and pride, happy her mother had found some joy in her life after so many years of sacrifice.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Harold and Maude Revisited

Harold and Maude Revisited
Romance in a nursing home can be a very sweet thing. The need for companionship and affection does not wane with age, and may in fact increase as people lose their ability to rationalize and more than ever feel a strong urge to hold on tight to another human being. That might have been the case with Francesca and Tom, had they not been nearly 50 years apart in age. You see Francesca was a patient in the home, while Tom was merely a young volunteer at the hospital
Francesca had never been an affectionate woman, and as a Serbian woman who had seen a great deal of war, there had also not been much time for laughter in her life. As the years passed, Francesca eventually left Serbia after her husband died, and she had come to America to work as a seamstress until her mind had started to wander. At first she simply forgot little things like turning the sewing machine off, but eventually her condition worsened and she had been admitted to the hospital when she started a fire in her kitchen and had nearly burned her house down. As a shy and rather private woman, she had very few friends in America, and during visiting hours she often found herself wishing she had been a little friendlier to people.
Tom on the other hand was outwardly a very friendly guy. He volunteered at the nursing home because he loved to talk and joke and share stories with the residents, and he often could be seen dancing and serenading the ladies in the home whenever he had some free time. But deep down Tom was a lonely guy as well, laughing on the outside but missing something on the inside that let him feel close to others.
When Tom first met Francesca he saw how lonely she was, and perhaps even saw a little of himself when he looked and saw the sadness in her eyes. Immediately he knew he wanted to cheer her up and make her happy. Francesca had been at first startled when this big, red young man had sprung up on her and begun belting out “Let me call you sweetheart” over a microphone. She remembered that song though, and she couldn’t help humming along as he sung, and soon she was lost in her memories.
She looked up again and the boy was on a new song now and this time he was on his knees and singing right to her. She felt her face turning red and thought about how this was the first time she had blushed since she was a little girl. She began chuckling and continued to enjoy the song and this unusual boy’s antics, and drifted off to sleep thinking of the fun she had had that afternoon.
The next time he came back Tom had found himself looking forward to seeing Francesca again, and had even practiced a couple of new songs for the occasion. The nurse had told him it was the first time she had seen Francesca truly smile since she had come to the home, and for the first time in a while he also felt the power of making a real human connection. When he got to her floor he saw her sitting and watching the door, and when her face lit up when she saw him it was now his turn to blush. He began his song, and this time when he got to “Let me call you sweetheart” he offered her his hand to begin dancing with him. She looked up at him and decided that she did indeed want to dance with this man. She placed her hands around his neck and they began dancing to the song, both enjoying the pleasure of the other’s company. When it ended, she became startled to realize she couldn’t remember the last time she had danced, but also proud of herself for giving it a try. Could she be changing, she wondered? At this late age? It was hard for her to think about though and again she nodded off, exhausted from the day’s activities and emotions.
Tom and Francesca continued their weekly dancing sessions, and the nurses had noticed a significant change in Francesca since these visits had begun. It was as if she was trying on a personality radically different than the one she had lived with most of her life, and despite her dementia and agitation, it was obvious she still had the ability to experience joy in her life. The nurse found herself wondering about the restorative power of love and how long it had been since someone had danced with her, but then dismissing these silly thoughts and returning to dispensing her medications.
Weeks went by, and Tom would come and sing to Francesca and, despite her health taking a turn for the worse, he continued to spend time with her although she was now no longer capable of dancing with him. The sadness would disappear from her eyes when he would come though, and, despite her responses getting considerably meeker, he knew his presence still meant a great deal to her. They had taken to watching movies together now, and, while watching an old movie featuring the song “Let me call you sweetheart,” she had slipped her hand into his and they had silently held hands for the rest of the movie. She was no longer good with her words, and taking his hand was her way of letting him know how much he meant to her. She looked up at him, and realized she had fallen in love in the 80th year of her life. She squeezed his hand and he looked over at her and smiled, two people, one at the end of life and one at the beginning, who improbably had each awakened something very powerful in the other one.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Anna and the Bird

Anna and the Bird
"Look Anna, all your friends came for your birthday," a lady in a pink suit encouraged her. Anna looked up for a moment and saw a group of women with their eyes closed and shook her head. "Some birthday," she said while looking at the cake on the table. She saw the numbers 97 written in green icing and couldn't believe it. She was 97 years old. She couldn't see very well, and the only time she could hear very well was with her hearing aid which caused a terrible buzzing in her head. She looked into the mirror and saw the old lady looking back at her. "97" she said out loud, and closed her eyes, hoping that sleep would come and take away her thoughts for a while.

She woke up in the television room and saw the bird in its cage and wheeled over to talk to him.

"Hello" she said, and the bird answered her back with a series of chirping noises before flying to the back of his cage.

"I guess you don't like company, I don't either," she explained to the bird.

"You and I are both all alone, don't you see?" she asked the bird, and again the bird answered her and she was happy that he understood her. The lady in pink then returned and began wheeling her out, but Anna placed her feet firmly on the ground and took one last look at her friend. "I'll come back," she assured him, and then gave in and returned to her room.

When she returned the next day she saw two boys next to her friend who were trying to make the bird talk.

"What a crummy bird," one boy remarked, and the other laughed out loud.

"Poke him with a stick maybe that will make him talk," the other boy suggested.

Anna had seen enough and wheeled over to the boys and knocked the stick out of their hands.

"He talks just fine," she scolded them. "Don't you see he sometimes doesn't feel like talking," she continued. "He's old and he's tired and he doesn't always think straight, so give him a break," she went on, now speaking very loudly.

And with that the boys went back to find their mother, embarrassed and even a little ashamed that they had upset the old woman like that.

"No one understands us anymore," she said to her friend, who knowingly chirped back to her. "We're the last of our bunch, you and I," she sighed and the bird looked back at her with knowing eyes.

"People think we're crazy now, but we know better don't we?”
she said, and again the bird agreed and she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Weeks went by and she and the bird continued their afternoon discussions. One day while coming to see him she saw a woman and a child taking the bird away and she became very alarmed.
"Where are you taking him?” Anna demanded.

"This is Paddy, and he belongs to my son," the woman patiently explained. "He's been part of our family for years, but we brought him here when we got a new dog, do you know Paddy?” the woman asked.

"I think you're mistaken young lady," Anna replied as she wheeled herself over to the woman. "He belongs here now; you see he was no longer useful in the outside world so they brought him here." Anna said defiantly. "And now that he's here, I assure you he intends to stay here."

The woman was take aback and thought long and hard about what the old woman was saying. She had dumped the bird in the nursing home when he became an imposition to the family, hadn't she? She looked down at the old woman and saw the resolve in her eyes, and came to a decision.

"You know he does seem to like it here, so maybe it is better if he stays for a while," and with that she put the birdcage down and ran swiftly out to her car, thinking about the old woman and the bird, and what would happen to her when she got to be that age. She hoped her son would understand about the bird, and in her mind she rehearsed her speech. Hoping that he would have sympathy for the old woman and understand. Hoping that he would have sympathy for her when she was an old woman and that he would remember how she had taken care of him.