by Bob Sparrow
Recently our mother moved into what was previously called an ‘old folks home’, but we have come to understand that that term is derogatory, insensitive and . . . well yes, politically incorrect. So we have created an ever-growing number of euphemisms to cover this concept, but for simplicity reasons we’ll just call it a ‘senior facility’ – sometimes the word ‘living’ is put between ‘senior’ and ‘facility’ I suppose to differentiate it from those ‘non-living senior facilities’. Our mom’s new facility is called Merrill Gardens and it’s located in the bucolic city of Sonoma – wine country, which often times comes in handy for those visiting our mother.
It was her 93rd birthday and it was up to either one of my siblings or me to make the trip from Central California, Southern California or Scottsdale, Arizona to Sonoma to celebrate the occasion with her. My brother had just had a hip replaced, I’m assuming with another hip, so he couldn’t make the trip; my sister’s pancreas was not doing whatever pancreases are supposed to do, so she was out, and thus the familial obligation fell upon me. Road trip! The visit would not only provide me an opportunity to see how mom got nearly 55 years of crap from the last house she lived in, into a one-bedroom apartment, but more importantly it would be an chance to meet the new male ‘friend’ in her life that she had been telling us all about for the last several months. It was my job to ‘grill’ this guy and report back to my siblings regarding his intentions with our mother. Yes, apparently love has no age limit; love does however have a good sense of irony – mom’s ‘boyfriend’, as she calls him, is named Jack, which, coincidently, was what our father and her husband for 63+ years was named.
‘New Jack’, as we have affectionately dubbed him, is 87, which I suppose makes my mother a ‘cougar’ of sorts, but to her credit I’ve not heard her refer to him once as ‘boy toy’. We’re happy that mom has found someone; our father has been gone for over ten years now and mom was long-overdue as a hen in need of someone to peck. Those who have a parent in a ‘senior facility’ know that men are at a premium there, so she feels very lucky – I’m not saying she’s getting lucky, I’m just saying she’s feeling lucky – to have latched on to one.
I met ‘New Jack’ in the lobby of Merrill Gardens as preparations were being made for their big, annual Valentine’s Day concert which included the ceremonial coronation of the ‘Merrill Garden’s Valentines King and Queen’. We arrived at the showroom (actually just some folding chairs set up in the lobby) early; as mom said it would get fairly crowded rather quickly. It did indeed become ‘walker room only’ thirty minutes before show time. Mom and I found three seats in the second to last row; we sat down and mom put her purse on the seat next to her, thus ‘saving’ the seat for ‘New Jack’ who had to go to the restroom . . . again. I suppose in some circumstances we still ‘save seats’, but I thought we stopped that practice after junior high, with the possible exception of calling ‘shotgun’ in high school, thus saving for oneself the most dangerous seat in the car. After that we just seemed to accept whatever seat we had and whoever sat next to us. But I’m here to tell you that we return to ‘seat saving’ in our golden years. The seat next to ‘New Jack’s’ saved seat was also vacant and being saved by the person in the adjacent seat. As the place was filling up, an elderly woman with a rather grumpy face, that we were to subsequently learn would match her personality, ambled down our row and tried to sit in ‘New Jack’s’ seat. My mother looked at her purse on the seat and then back to the elderly woman as if to say, “Are you blind, can’t you see my purse on the seat means it’s saved?” The fact that the elderly woman was indeed vision-impaired seemed not to matter, but watching this interaction, I learned something about getting older, and that is as we tend to rely more on communicating with a look rather than verbally, I assume this has something to do with the loss of hearing that typically accompanies old age. I digress; the elderly woman looked at mom as if she was a leper and started to sit down in the next seat over, when the woman next to that seat told her it was also being saved. The elderly ‘seat seeker’ then yelled for all to hear, “That’s ridiculous, they should outlaw seat saving!” and shuffled off in disgust. Seat savers, don’t be alarmed; while our representatives in Congress have passed sillier legislation, I don’t think the seat saving initiative is getting much traction.
As we sat waiting for the show to begin, my mother gave me a running commentary on several of the passers-by. There was ‘Dog Lady’, thus labeled by my mother, not so much because she owned a dog, but because she looked like her dog, probably just in my mother’s eyes, as ‘Dog Lady’ had her eye on New Jack before “the new floozy (that’s mom) moved in’. Then there’s the ‘Chicken Lady’; no, not because she has or looks like a chicken, but because the wing in which she lives overlooks a chicken farm. Nothing too unusual there, except ‘Chicken Lady’ also had her eye on Jack (remember, I said men were a hot commodity in these facilities) and had a geographical advantage in that Jack lived in the same ‘chicken wing’. And trust me on this, proximity to target becomes more and more critical the less ambulatory one gets.
Finally the show begins . . .
Continued next post