Category Archives: anecdotes

Day-to-day observations about the kind of things that go on in assisted living facilities.

Manny and Robin Williams

“You’re looking mighty hangdog, my friend,” Benny said. “What’s got you down?”

“A friend of mine just died.”

“What? Here in the old folks home?”

“No, in the world. Remember this date, August 12, 2014. Robin Williams died.”

“Getoutta here! You knew him? Here?”

“You get outta here. I had a life before the Old Folks Home.”

“He was your pal?”

“In a manner of speaking. So to say. I followed him closely. He made me laugh anytime. He even made me laugh for the first time a couple of months after my wife died. I caught him on television.
I followed his gigs on TV, movies. Radio, you name it. Did you see Mrs. Doubtfire? He was  even funny as a lady. Lady in a flouncy dress. He had everybody fooled. It absolutely killed me.”

“You kill too easy, if you ask me.”

“Not if you follow him.”

“Well, I knew his name but ‘Robin?’ Tell you the truth, I though he was a girl!”

“No, he was a fast, very fast, boychik! He was so quick on his feet—faster than anybody. He  could talk in funny voices, changing from squeaky little girl to bass like a tough guy.  ‘Improvising’ they call it. When you can come back with a fast funny line right on the spot. A quip. I miss him already.”

“I can’t believe you’re taking this so personal when you didn’t even know the guy.”

“Well, I watched him drinking water through his fingers on one show. He stood on his head in a hat. Mork and Mindy show. When he was told to sit down. He spoke a crazy language with a straight face that he made up on the spot. I tried it out for myself at the neighborhood block party and everybody laughed, which tickled me because they knew I was imitating Robin Williams. That was a good day.”

“I didn’t know that you liked funny guys. I don’t see you as a funny guy.”

“You don’t? In my own mind I’m a little like the Jewish Steve Allen.”

“Dream on.”

“Well, if you insist. In the next life, I hope to come back as Robin Williams.”

Iris the Husband Stealer

Leah is 82 years old and living in assisted living with her second husband, Herb. After they had been living there for a few months she told me that she had a special secret that was difficult for her to discuss with Herb. Worse, she was afraid that her secret might be disclosed by the newcomer.

The problem: about thirty years ago, when she was still married to Robbie and living with him in New Milford, Connecticut, she found out that he had been unfaithful. He was working as a typesetter for a local newspaper and fell in love with a woman in Accounting. He sneaked around with her for a couple of years until Leah found them out and exploded.

Leah knew nothing about the affair for the first six years that it had been going on and only found out about it in a way that humiliated her further. Her girlfriend, Sunny, said to her one day at lunch, “I saw Robbie with that dolled-up yenta who works with him at the paper. They were in Josie’s boutique. I never go in there myself—it’s too pricey—but I was looking around for something to wear to a wedding so that was my excuse.”

“What do you mean, ‘dolled-up yenta?’ Where does Robbie come to go out with a dolled-up yenta who’s not me?”

“I thought you knew about it.”

“Knew about what?”

“Everybody we know knows about him and Iris so I thought—”

“Iris?”

“Oh, God. I never wanted to be the one—”

“How long has this been going on?”

“For this you’ll have to ask Robbie.”

So Leah asked Robbie and then he had the chutzpah to complain about Leah. “If you’re talking about Iris, the woman I love, you’ll have to lower your voice and talk like a lady.”

Well that did it for Leah of course. She could see that Robbie was too far gone to save and so they split.

Time passed and Leah married Herb, a marriage of later years with no high jinks or fireworks to give you a heart attack and they went into assisted living. But along comes Iris, now a widow with mascara and rouge, still looking for romance.

Herb often played darts with Ivor, a tall. thin widower in his eighties who had owned a string of beauty parlors. Iris, the newcomer, became very interested in playing darts.

“Do I have to live my whole life all over again—the aggravation of it?”, Leah wailed to Herb.

“You have nothing to worry about, mammele”, Herb said. “Iris and Ivor have already arranged to move in together.”

“What! Now I’m really insulted!”

“You’re complaining when you should be happy. What’s wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with me is that Iris person, who doesn’t think my husband is good enough to steal! That’s a real slap in the face from this 85-year-old chippie!”

Love Story

Nathan and Millie had a long marriage of fifty-five years. They met for the first time in first grade and discovered that they lived around the corner from each other. They grew up together,  always in each other’s company, and  went to high school together. There their paths diverged, but only briefly.

Nathan went on to college, and they married after his graduation. When their children were teenagers, Millie went back to school and became a librarian.

Nathan became treasurer for a family-owned paper goods company, a position he kept for most of his life. He was a conservative person, very proud of his  thirty-nine-year tenure at Dyer Paper. Proud too that it had grown to be one of the largest companies of its kind in the state.

A notable thing about both Nathan and Millie was that they had a comfortable sense of well-being in their quiet and secure life.

Life changed for them when Millie got cancer in her seventies. Then there was the anxiety of operations, hospitals, a parade of doctors, and constant worry for both of them over what might be the next setback. They closed their house and went into assisted living after Millie recuperated.

They were often seen together, holding hands  in the public areas of our  facility. After a few months here, Millie seemed depressed and withdrawn.  “Sometimes she talks funny,” Nathan told Arthur, their son.

Her condition worsened. In the dining room, she would inject herself into other people’s conversations although she didn’t know them. She confronted a man on the van who was reading his newspaper, saying out of the blue, “What do you mean by that?” Sometimes Millie forgot who Nathan  was.

Finally, sadly, Nathan realized that Millie was sliding into dementia. Because of her outbursts, Millie was prohibited by the residence from going on movie trips or museums. Out of loyalty and love for her, Nathan never went to any of these events either. “Your mother and I have been together since Day One,” he told his son. ”So am I supposed to leave her now and go to their movies? I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.”

“But if she gets worse?” asked Arthur

Millie became more combative and loud. Her lifelong qualities of gentleness, docility and quiet were gone.  The director told Nathan that Millie would have to go to an Alzheimer’s facility. “But you can stay.”

“Never,” Nathan answered angrily. “I will take care of her.” He planned to get a small apartment and  look after her himself. She wasn’t violent. “She just  gets a little loud sometimes.”

“You never know,” said Arthur, disapprovingly.

“Alright. I’ll get in a girl to help me.”

“Dad, that’s the kids’ college money!”

“Don’t worry, my son, we’re old. You’ll soon bury us both.”

Less than a year later, they were both dead. Millie first and Nathan two weeks later.

Disgruntled

“I don’t know how it is that I landed in this particular dump, far from my native habitat that I once held dear. Strange outcome for a formerly well-known, well-regarded, and universally-courted person.

“Age and these damn tremors brought me low, put me at the mercy of my know-it-all daughter-in-law, Beattie. Thank God I can still speak. I was  scheduled to be in the Northwest this very week,  Seattle and Tacoma, studying the folkways of those fascinating (maybe not-so-fascinating, just jumped-up) entrepreneurs of the Internet. Those young guys too smart for any college who drop out and tinker on their own in their daddy’s garage with old radios, the odd nut and bolt and come up with doodads like IPhones and IPads and beyond. Who even knows? They’re out of my league. I just write about them. They give me a lot of information and printouts, and they’re eager to talk about it. None of these guys is stuck up or in it for the money.  They’re usually just thrilled to pieces that they figured something out and love to talk about it.

“So what happened? I’m unpacking my suitcase on my way to see one of these megabuck boys to write an article about one of their new electronic toys that’s gonna be bigger than the  IPhone when bamzam alicajam I’m flat on my back. The open suitcase falls to the floor to join me, and all I know is that something big, very big and bad, has happened to me and I don’t know what it is. When I wake up there is my worried-looking son from New York and Beattie.

“I finally register that that I’m in the hospital, that they’re very worried, and that something truly bad has laid me low. My son breaks it to me gently: I’ve had a stroke and I’m in the ICU.

“Well. The long and short of it is that I’m in Rehab til I can walk again. A lot of tottering around and falling til I get the hang of it, like I was just learning while of course I’ve had close to  eighty years of using my legs on my own. It was humbling, let me tell you, but the beauty part is that dmy son Bobby stuck with me for weeks out there, and in a funny way it was a good time together and we got a lot closer. It’s a crazy thing to say, but when I was struggling just to sit on my bed by myself, it was wonderful to have him with me. He left his job to stay out west with me for almost a month.

“Now—end of story—Bobby and Beattie want me near them, so when I was able to travel the three of us got on a plane and got me here. I never thought I’d  land in an old folks home, but I  kind of like it. There’s one interesting guy here who’s been all over the world and has slide shows of The Netherlands, Abu Dabi, French Canada, you name it .

“Also, you can’t beat the rice pudding, and I’m a fool for rice pudding.”

Dana’s Adventure

Dana, a woman I knew in assisted living, had a fine sense of humor. I used to visit her often when she was moved to another floor for chronic care.

One of the first things that Dana ever told me was that she had been misnamed. Her father had insisted on naming her for Richard Henry Dana, who had written a classic book on how sailors were mistreated in the navy in the mid-nineteenth century. The name of the book was Two Years Before the Mast. Dana said that her father had been “smitten” with the story because as a boy he longed to travel the world. Instead, he became a lawyer, then a judge in a medium-sized city in Missouri—landlocked—and led a blameless life, entirely free of adventure.

Dana was the last of his three children, and since she was the last and there was no hope for more, she was called Dana so her father could always keep his beloved book in mind. It was a mild fetish, Dana admitted, hard to object to. “And a pretty name, too’,even she would admit.

Her father was always pleased when she did something adventurous. “Sometimes it could get silly,”she said.“When I took my dad to my ten-year-old daughter’s school program and she sang Don’t Fence Me In,” he was actually ecstatic. ‘Dana, Dana—Meg may tame wild horses in Wyoming someday!’‘Oh, Dad,’ I told him, ‘I know you’re still disappointed that I turned out to be a milquetoast.’ ‘Not at all, not at all…’ He said this in a hurry. He was always so polite. ‘You’re no milquetoast.’ ‘A school librarian?’” Dana tilted her head inquiringly when she said this, as if her father was actually in the room with us. She took both parts of the dialogue as she continued her story.

”‘Oh no. You bring the kids adventure through books. You take them to China on the page.’

“‘Dad, I’m a conventional woman. I’ve been married to the same man for thirty-five years, I’ve never been on the briny sea. I’m a school librarian and I’m afraid of my shadow. We have three children. We’ve lived in the same house for twenty years. I play bridge, I don’t run around. Dad, face it, I’m not going to go around the world by paddleboat.’

“‘Honey, you know I love you just the way you are.’

“My dad really was a sweetheart, so when he developed heart trouble and was homebound I knew I wanted to do something special for him. So I went skiing for the first time in my life when I was in my forties, and of course I broke my leg. I was clumsy and the break was painful but the experience did serve a purpose. My husband, Ronnie drove me over so Dad could see the cast on my leg. He was lying on a sofa in the living room when I hobbled in proudly.

“‘You did it for me!’ He said.

“‘I thought I did it for myself, Dad. The sun. The snow. The hot chocolate…’

“He looked worried. Leaned over to touch me, and whispered hoarsely , ‘Don’t do it again.’

“‘Maybe yes, maybe—‘

“Ronnie interrupted loudly, ‘No, she’s not going to do it again!’

“‘Thank God’, Dad said, ‘Your leg! That’s enough adventure.’

“‘If that’s your order, Dad, I’m still your daughter and I have toobey.’

“‘Thank God’, he said, and sank back on his pillow.”

Tallulah

“Oh, I know it’s hard to believe, but there’s a story behind my name. My grandmother was English and she was given a ticket in the balcony to see the American actress, Tallulah Bankhead, on the stage. The play was Sidney Howard’s “They Knew What They Wanted”, and she never forgot it. In America, in her old age, she used to watch her on television sometimes.

“No, I never saw her in person myself. She was just part of the family lore, like my parents coming steerage to America on a rattley ocean liner in terrible seas. I did hear a recording of her deep and husky voice once and it was unforgettable. She was a flamboyant character, lived on cigarettes and pills and handsome young men. And yet, with all that dissipation, she was known to be a terrific actress.

“She came from a distinguished family in Alabama. Her father was Speaker of the House of Representatives. One, maybe two, of her uncles were senators. Yet with all that dignity and decorum in-house, they couldn’t keep Tallulah down. She was wild as a child and wild she remained.

“No, none of this history-by-association rubbed off on me. I  wish it had. When I was a child, I was quiet, studious—her very opposite. I think my grandma would have liked me to live up to my name.

“I’m usually called Tallu, and I like it. It’s distinctive. When I  got here to assisted living I should have registered as just plain Tallu, because so many people ask me about my name.  Although I’m used to being asked if I was related to her and I always answer them, and I’ll answer you before you ask,”No. I really like the association, but I was born in The Bronx and there’s no way I can pass myself off as an aristocrat from Alabama!”

Like Family

“I grew up with my Aunt Frances, whom I adored. She came to live with us after my mother died when I was only two.

“My father had his hands full. He had a small restaurant in the Diamond District that depended upon his personality. The food was very good, I’m not saying it wasn’t. He served a wiener schnitzel that was popular on the businessmen’s lunch, and he was usually there to joke and kibbitz with the customers while they ate.

“My aunt used to take me and Richie there for treat a couple of times a year. She’d get us all dressed up to meet Uncle Morty or Uncle Saul—those are some names I can remember. They weren’t really our uncles, but we’d call them that and they were very friendly and made a big fuss over us like it was a miracle that we came all the way from Brooklyn to visit! They’d order ice cream, double dip, for us. Very friendly.

“My father was naturally sunny, my aunt tells me. I didn’t see that side of him when I was growing up. He was catering to the jewelers and furriers and garmentos in the garment district and then had to run home to my brother and me, so everything was rush-rush. It was the Depression. The long hours, the children at home—it took its toll on him. He developed heart disease in his fifties.

“In the thirties, all of them put in long days. Ten, twelve hours was nothing because competition was stiff and these were all first-generation immigrant businesses. Nowadays their sons and daughters run the businesses and the pressure is still there, but not at survival-level if you know what I mean. Their fathers, like my own, left them pretty well fixed. “Sweat equity” is what these kids call it. They lucked in, that next generation. Me too.

“My father was a good provider. My husband, not so much. No ambition. Now a lot of those businesses have gone under due to cheap imports from China, Taiwan or wherever.

“Anyhow, this generation doesn’t want any part of it. They don’t want the hours or the aggravation. How I know this is I worked for Uncle Morty’s son, Georgie, a couple of summers.  Georgie kept the business going, but his heart wasn’t in it. He played accordion in a trio when they could get work. He was really musical, but there’s no money in it. Still, I’ll say this for him: he practiced in the back of the store when there were no customers. But he didn’t want a musical career for his own children. He had two boys, one girl. They all went to college. Georgie, like the others, wanted  his kids to be doctors, lawyers, accountants, you name it, but not shopkeepers worrying about inventory and if they can cover the next bill. Can you blame them?

“It was Georgie told me about this place, The Hallmark, when he came to visit me after my surgery. A very sweet boy. He  looks after me like I was family. A sensitive boy. He knew I had no family of my own.”

“These people are like family. Whenever Morty or Saul’s sons come to visit—and now their grandchildren—the memory of my father and those days in the District come back to me. I’m lucky to have them.”

Mother Decides

“You know, I’ve always been very close to my mom. Before we got married, Eddie used to kid me about it but he wasn’t only kidding. He was a little nervous about it.

“Mom  has always been open and friendly, stopping to chat with neighbors, finding out what’s going on in school or town. The nicest thing about  her  is that she’s always pleased with other people’s success. Not a mean bone in her body. My younger daughter, Karen, came home from school on day and said, ‘Mom, I found the perfect word in my eighth grade reader to describe grandma. She “rejoices” in others.’

“And that’s right. Mom was a teacher, and she would come home and say, ‘Donnie is mastering his stammer’, or ‘Eileen stepped right up and took care of her two little sisters when her mother had emergency surgery. Isn’t that wonderful in a twelve-year-old?’

“I’m the only one I know who would say that it’s fun to be around her  own mother (most people I know gripe about theirs). Go clothes shopping with her and she’ll say, ’Oh, this is your color!’ or, ‘This pale green sweater is perfect for that skirt you like so well.’ Go food shopping with her and when we unload groceries she’ll have bought me some anchovies or artichokes because she  knows I especially like them and wouldn’t buy them for myself.

“Ah, but now, my dear Mom is losing it. She left the groceries out on the back porch overnight and didn’t even remember that she had bought them. She passed Zita, my neighbor, on the street and just stared at her. Zita is crazy about Mom—her own mom, that’s another story!  Anyhow, Zita knew right away that something was wrong.

“I really knew it too but couldn’t bear to face it until Zita literally sat me down and took my hand and we both ended up crying. The signs I ignored: she invited me, my husband and Karen for dinner about a month ago, and when we got there no dinner, only blank looks. Then I would try to see her a couple of times a week by myself after work and she’d forget I was coming. When she finally remembered the forgotten date she’d say, ‘Darling, I’ll go home with you right this minute.’

“‘Well,’ I said to Eddie, ‘I’m not going to put my mother in a nursing home, I don’t care what you say,’ and he said, ‘Who said anything about nursing homes?’

But my mother may be losing it.

“ A few weeks ago I drove over to get her to take her to Karen’s dance recital and she was still in her robe and slippers. She remembered the recital as soon as she saw me and was able to say, ‘It’s Karen’s recital! I’ll be right with you.’ I was so sad and heartbroken  at the changes in her that I could hardly speak. When she was her old self, she would never have forgotten something so important to her granddaughter.

“Later that week she called me and said she had something to show me.

“She brought over a brochure from a nursing home. She said she had visited it and would like to go there. At last we were together again. I went to look at it to be sure it was okay—a  beautiful place on the Island on rolling ground. I’ve gone back with her several times to be sure I can stand the separation, to tell you the truth. It’s about  forty-five minutes by car.

“So I’m getting used to the idea. But tell me, who can bear endings?”

Everett Hennessey

“I always wanted to be an artist. I was raised in a small town in Missouri by the name of Mercer. My little brother James and I were captivated by a regional show of Midwest artists we saw on a trip to Saint Louis with our parents. I felt very much at home with a palette of oils that I was given on my twelfth birthday so my parents sent me to a small local art studio to take lessons from a very cheerful and tactful woman whom everyone called Miss Rita. My parents asked James if he’d like to take lessons too, and he said yes.

“Miss Rita encouraged both of us in different ways. She praised James’s gift for color and his good sense of perspective. James went on to become a graphic artist in an architectural firm in St. Louis. She praised me for my gift for organization, as I organized art shows for her three classes and found inexpensive and attractive ways to display them. She was silent about my artistic abilities but praised my effort and efficiency. I remember looking at her inquiringly, as though waiting for more. Miss Rita said quickly that she thought I had a good sense of perspective. She felt that it could only be good for  me to pour so much of myself into my art. ‘A lifelong enrichment for you.’ She encouraged me to go to museums.

“In high school, buoyed by Miss Rita’s support of my talents, I organized a show for the junior class. Jamie began to do drawings of his classmates by the time he was a junior and made enough money to pay for his first year’s college tuition. Even in high school, in that show I organized, James was eager to display some of his portraits.

“ I felt uneasy with those portraits because some of them were sardonic in the German Expressionist style of the thirties. I was unfamiliar with that period of art, or indeed any period of art at the time, bu I didn’t like them. I was only seventeen and still new to art, attracted by its color and vivacity and a wish to feel as free as James seemed to be. But I didn’t want to be laughed at for hanging dull, murky portraits for my show either, so I lined the walls with agreeable landscapes and a river scape in the style of Thomas Benton that Jamie had painted.

“‘What about my gambler?’

“‘There’s a knife on the table. That’s a little too gory for high school.’

“‘Miss Rita said that?’

“‘No, I make up my own mind. We don’t need any blood and guts.’

“When James’ painting was singled out in a review in the school paper, he was not pleased.  ‘It’s a wimpy painting, Ev, that river view. My gamblers have some oomph. I told you that.’

“‘There’s enough fighting in the world as it is. Here in Mercer, Missouri, we’re peaceful and proud of it.’

“I went back to Mercer after college and became the director of its historical museum. James remained on the East Coast. Philadelphia first, then New York, where he developed a small but loyal following. I came here after my retirement. James is still working in his loft in New York.

“When he here to visit last week, there was a coolness between us.

“It’s a rift that never healed.”

This, That, and The Other

Lorrie is an 83-year old woman who, in her early days, was accustomed to a lot of personal freedom, and she used it to explore various ways of living. She was born in the Midwest, but after college she went to Montana and was a hired hand at a ranch. She was in charge of mucking out the horse stalls, a job she hated and cringed from, but ever dutiful and bent on experience, she went every day to feed, water and clean out the stalls. In later life, she always said that it was good for her character.

“It taught me a little about the hard life working people have, and that was a good lesson for me. When I traveled later on in life, I tried to be aware of the long days and tired feet of waiters and chambermaids.” She said that one of the reasons she left her first husband was because he was rude and quarrelsome with working people when they went to restaurants or hotels.

She moved to California and was a civics teacher in a high school outside of Sausalito. She loved the beauty of the place but went home to Michigan to be with her mother during her last, lingering illness. She then stayed on to manage some family property.

A cousin who owned a small newspaper, The Littleton Ledger, offered her a job writing a column on home improvement because she was known in the family to be handy and inventive. She enjoyed the job but had to give it up because her older sister, Louisa, a widow with no children, developed multiple sclerosis and there was no one else to care for her. Lorrie says that she loved her sister and was glad that she was able to see her through her illness.

When Louisa died, Lorrie mourned for her but had other feelings as well. She longed for a life of her own and at last was able to go back to journalism, which she loved. She returned to The Littleton Ledger and covered community  and social events.

Lorrie says that she loved the job. She knew from the time she was twelve and started reading in the local paper about stellar high school students, community suppers and the annual Methodist Variety Show that she would one day live in a small town and write for a newspaper. As a reporter in Littleton she got to learn about several people,  including a couple of old-timers who knew her grandparents better than she had ever known them. They told her that her grandfather, Len Davis, whom she had known as a mild-mannered, quiet man, had a reputation as the town cut-up in his younger days. They said that “when he was in his cups” ( which surprised her because she hadn’t known him to drink) he would line up several chairs and one settee and sprint over them.

Eventually, The Littleton Ledger folded. At age 70, there was little chance that she’d find a job with another small-town newspaper. She was convinced that she’d seen the last of her journalism days.

Surprisingly, she became an active journalist again when, at 83,  she came into assisted living. She started a four-page newsletter which she puts out every two weeks for residents to learn about newcomers or people with special interests they would like to share.

Lorrie says, “At last , after a lifetime of doing this, that, and the other for people who needed me, I’m doing exactly what I want to do for myself!”