Monthly Archives: November 2013

Star-Crossed Lovers, or Love’s Labors Lost

Olivia moved to The Hallmark from Connecticut a few months after she became a widow. She missed her late husband, Gary, although he had been a quiet presence in her life for most of their marriage. He had been a tax accountant with a good practice and was very absorbed in his work. His other passion was stamp collecting. Although Olivia and Gary had a polite marriage and had raised two fine daughters, there was little intimacy between them.

Olivia met Lawrence in The Hallmark’s twice-weekly Yoga class, which he attended regularly—the only man in a class of fourteen. She liked the fact that he did as many of the yoga positions as he could despite the fact that his left hand was paralyzed. She also thought it was romantic that he who had been a furniture salesman had always wanted to be a weatherman and storm chaser.

They became friends, then a couple, and enjoyed each other’s company for about five months. Then the unexpected happened. Lawrence’s two daughters decided that their father was not getting enough physical therapy for his hand at The Hallmark and abruptly had him moved to another facility. It was not clear whether he had objected, actively protested, or agreed to the change on his own.

It was sad for Olivia, and for a long while she was not her usual cheerful, talkative self.

The abrupt change for this couple was also disturbing to those who know them. They felt that  Lawrence’s daughters were insensitive to his relationship with Olivia, which had made him brighter and more sociable.

They also felt some fear: that adult children could decide what was best for their aging parent—role reversal!—and change his life on their own. If it happened to Lawrence, could it happen to them?

I wondered about it myself although “rationally” I know better.

Ball of Fire

Ruth Harris is a 97-year-old resident who ignores her age and is physically and mentally very
active. She is one of the few people I know for whom age is simply not a barrier. That is the unusual and glorious fact about her. She is chairwoman of the Book Club and the Hospitality Committee. If The Hallmark van is not available, that does not deter her from going about via public transportation. She takes city buses freely if she wants to visit a friend or see a doctor. Last summer, she and a friend went to an evening concert in Central Park some distance away on their own and, crowds and all, found a taxi to take them home.

Here’s another example of her get-up-and-go. Ruth’s grandson had taken a course in college from Richard Ford, the novelist, some years ago. That course was at Harvard, but she remembered that Richard Ford and his wife are now living in the New York area and that he is teaching a writing course at Columbia. The Book Club was planning to read his latest novel, Canada, and so it seemed fitting to invite him to speak to them about his work. She called the English Department at Columbia for his number, and then called him and left a message. He picked up the message as he was coming off a plane, reached Ruth immediately, and said that he would be delighted to come.

Last night, he gave a talk in the Hallmark living room about Canada and some of his other novels, including the popular The Sportswriter. About fifty residents crowded into the room and listened to him intently. He was articulate, cogent, modest and charming. He writes well and speaks well and we all appreciated the fact that he treats his audience seriously. No dumbing down to the doddering oldsters! His life as a writer of fiction was interesting (and difficult!–although he did not say that).

He renewed our interest in books and writing and several people made a note to buy and read some of his many works.

The Busybody

When I first came to The Hallmark, I was warned about a woman named Nettie who was known to give ”unsolicited advice and opinions.” An old resident and new friend, Marion, told me, “I’m putting all this kindly.”

“Why, what does she do?”

“Not the usual complaints about management, staff or the food, that you’d expect. She can’t seem to help herself from telling other residents how to live their lives.”

I laughed because it seemed so unlikely.

“Don’t laugh. Sometimes it’s small and sometimes it’s downright invasive. To Shirley, for example, she said,”You should know better than to go out in such weather.”

“That’ pretty mild.”

“You think so? She’s famous for her rude remarks. Let me think: Oh, yes, to Millie she said, “Your son , he’s a nice-looking boy. He can do better than to go for a salesman. To Claudette, a nice new woman, she said “It’s not a good idea to send a girl so far away for college. They can forget what their mothers taught them.”

“That is pretty shocking.”

To Evelyn she said,”Cerise is not your color.”

Marion has been saying more and more that we should do something about it, but today she reported that Nettie has given herself some good advice.”

“That’s had to believe.”

“But true. She told Adele, “This is not my kind of place. Nobody has anything to say.”

She’s thinking about moving back to Philly.

Remembering Sandy

Norma is an unusually friendly and warm newer resident. She has a radiant face, sparkling black eyes and a weatherbeaten complexion. She is an artist and does beautiful small landscapes and larger paintings as well. She is more animated than many newcomers who are often shy on arrival and makes friends readily. She had been at The Hallmark for about a year but still hadn’t sold her house on the Jersey Shore when Hurricane Sandy struck.

I saw her about a month after the disaster. She was dressed to go out and had a small suitcase with her.

“At last, they’re letting me go see the damage for myself. No one seemed to know anything about it.”

I looked for her for several days thereafter. I thought that it was a good sign that she didn’t return quickly. That would mean that she was able to get into her house because it was still standing. Her many other friends were of two minds about the delay. Some thought that Norma had found that the house had been damaged and was staying on to have it repaired. Others thought that she might be looking for a caretaker for her house to keep an eye on it and to prepare it for the next storm. Everyone she knew was rooting for her.

When a week passed and she hadn’t  returned everyone was frankly worried. Even the concierges asked about her.

She returned after eight days. Three or four people surrounded her when she came.

“What happened?’ we asked. When we noticed the expression on her face, we thought we knew the answer.

“It’s too bad to talk about, isn’t it?” Nettie said.

“Half bad,” Norma said, half-smiling. Her teeth shone very white in her tanned face. “The house is gone, but by some miracle the studio is still standing. My son from Montrose was going to live there and now it’s gone.”

“Oh, it is too bad.”

“Yes. The studio survived, but I live here now.”

“Ah, well,” she continued, smiling. “I guess we all know by now, that it’s one thing after another in this life. One way or another we all have to rebuild.”

Their Past Came With Them

Charlene and Doris grew up, worked, married, and had children in White Plains. Both had lived there most of their lives and they marveled that they had never met until they moved into assisted living in their early eighties. Marion, who liked them both, arranged for them to get together. The meeting was a great success when they found that they had friends, schools, a favorite restaurant, beauty parlor and shopping center in common. And of course they discovered that their children had gone to the same pediatrician!

After the initial flurry of excitement, however, they failed to come together in their new environment. After a few dinners together, each went her own way. Marion confided this to me because she was disappointed, for both of them. She thought that they would have been perfect support for each other as newcomers to assisted living.

“They didn’t become friends? How can that be?”

“It was an unusual thing that separated them. Both of their husbands had electrical supply stores. That was the trouble.”

“Why would that matter?” I asked, puzzled.

“The stores were only five or six blocks apart and they catered to the same customers, and so both women heard stories over the years about how Sam or Al was stealing the other man’s business.”

“But both stores are probably closed by now,” I said. “It’s water under the bridge.”

“Oh, if only–”

“What then?”

“Al flourished and expanded and Sam, Charlene’s  husband, was forced out of business.”

“Charlene can’t forgive?”

“Not yet. But I’m still working on it,” Marion said.

Chorus Girl

Annette, who lives on the seventh floor, is a modest and shy person with a sweet singing voice. The social director heard that she enjoys singing and invited her to join the Hallmark chorus. Annette was a little hesitant at first because she’d never been a member of a chorus before, but decided to join because she’d be only one of ten, and so would not be noticeable or commented on. The chorus director did notice and asked her if she had ever sung Ave Maria in church. She had. “Can you give it a try with me alone?” She agreed, reluctantly. He liked what he heard and asked her if he could invite a few of the other chorus members to hear her. She agreed—“If they’re not too critical.” “Why don’t you choose the chorus members you’d like to hear you?” She did, they praised her and invited her out for coffee.

She now looks forward to chorus rehearsals and being with her friends there. She has begun rehearsing Ave Maria, which she will sing in Community Room for the upcoming holiday gathering.

Overload

This morning after my swim, I met Delia, who was looking over the pool facilities as part of a tour of The Hallmark. She’s an only child, in her early forties, and is beginning  to wonder whether she can still take care of her parents on her own. She helps them get washed and dressed in the morning, makes breakfast, and then brings Dad his coffee on the patio where he likes to drink it while he reads the paper. She washes the dishes and makes sure they have something for lunch. She schedules their doctors’ appointments for them so that they don’t interfere with her job. Before she leaves, she turns on the slow cooker for their dinner and  runs to the store to get a carton of ice cream for their dessert.

Delia looks exhausted. She says her parents can easily afford to move into assisted living (they are fortunate about that), but that option hasn’t been discussed yet. I wished Delia well and told her I hope to see her here again soon.

Blackballed

Edwina is a powerful presence here at The Hallmark. She was a head buyer of women’s clothing  at Lord & Taylor’s for many years and dresses beautifully herself. Her son has run for Congress and will probably make it next time. She has many acolytes proud to sit at her table. Natalie is one of them.

Natalie recently became friendly with Shirley, a new resident, who asked her if she could join the table. There has been a vacancy because one of the six members of that group moved out of state to be closer to her daughter. Natalie asked Edwina if Shirley could join and was so baffled and hurt by Edwina’s answer that she mentioned it to me at breakfast this morning.

“I can’t believe that I heard her right, but I thinks she said that Shirley wants “buffing.”

“Buffing?”I mused. Does Edwina think that Shirley is a parquet floor?”

“Parquet floor? Edwina thinks Shirley is not refined enough to be a parquet floor or to sit at table.”

“Why? What’s Shirley’s fatal flaw?”

“Well, let’s see. She was a high school teacher in Brooklyn. Her sister, too. Same school but they taught different subjects.”

‘What else?”

“Her husband was a chiropodist.”

“Is that against the law?”

“No, but now I begin to see the problem. They were all born and bred in Brooklyn. Murray the chiriopodist included.”

“And she has an accent?”

“Yes, That must be it. I think that I’m going to have to resign from the high table and join the hoi-poloi.”

The Aides Aide

Ceecee is a well known mover and shaker at The Hallmark. She is an aide who works for several women on different floors. She says, “A lot of them are all nerves. Usually it’s because of their kids who never show up, or they got a bad diagnosis or something.” Ceecee had only completed three years of high school when she started having kids, so she had to go to work to support them. She knows that she’s smart and a hard worker and could have been a nurse, but that’s life.

She does this work because she needs the money, of course, but she also has a fierce need to help, to make things right, and, to be frank, to be the duenna of younger, less experienced aides. Once, in the laundry room I heard an aide say “Queen Ceecee fixed Roberta’s walker for me.”

The other day she called up and asked me, “Is your girl here?”

“My “girl?” By that, she meant my own aide. (Ceecee also refers to the people she works for as “my lady” or “my old man”.) “Sure. Do you want to speak to her?”

“Just tell her that I fixed the washing machine on the floor and she has to check it for overflow.”

“What?”, I said “They have two or three handymen around the place to do those jobs.”

“”Yeah, but they’ve got their lunch break or their snack break or the boiler blew up or soimething. Meanwhile, I got three girls here waiting to do laundry and one’s got a quilt. I need your girl to direct traffic.”

“Right now?”

“In an hour.”

She heard my hesitation and persisted

“I gotta go help Juan  take his old man down to  the dentist. Takes two to hold that stringy old man still. He freaks. Still, we gotta do it. I don’t know where all his teeth went. Lucky, he’s still   got a couple up front.that work good.”

“Oh, well, “ I said lamely.”I guess it’s all right.”

“I’m not taking anything from you, Mrs. Carol. You’ll get  your laundry done. And besides I got the director thinking about giving us aides a Christmas party too, and he wants me to help him plan it. So like they say, one hand washes the other.”

Assimilating

Lillian is a friend of mine from my old neighborhood, Cobble Hill in Brooklyn. She has been visiting periodically since I moved here three years ago. After her husband died, Lillian started finding it hard to manage on her own. She has a severe limp, which makes it difficult for her to leave the house unassisted, even to go to a doctor’s appointment.

During one of her visits, about two months ago, I suggested that she would probably find life simpler and easier in assisted living. Lillian said that she couldn’t bear to give up her house of forty years, the neighborhood she was fond of, or the shopkeepers whom she knew and trusted. I certainly could understand that, as I had the same hesitations when I moved away from Cobble Hill. Normally, Lillian  only stayed for dinner, but this time I gave her a mini-tour of the building and introduced her to some of my neighbors. She seemed impressed because The Hallmark “isn’t clinical or sterile” and it’s in a busy Manhattan neighborhood. Living in the city is important to her. When I walked her to her taxi, I asked, “Was there anything at all positive about the experience?” Her answer: “Well, yes. The natives were friendly!”

Lillian moved in this morning.