Mabel’s Gamble

“I’ll wait outside.” Mabel settled on a bench outside the brick building, her arms pressing her purse to her bosom as tightly as the clasp on the patent leather bag.

“Mom, come on in with us for just a little while. When will you have a chance to do this again?” Her daughter’s voice softened her grip.

Seasons“I don’t know. I can just wait here for you.”

Mabel’s daughter laughed. “We’re in Las Vegas, Mom. We’ll never be here again. Let’s go into the casino for a little while. It’ll be fun.”

Mabel shifted positions and straightened her cotton dress. “I can wait here.”

But a few minutes later, Mabel found herself sitting at a metallic box with red and yellow panels and a long handle. “You just put your money in this slot,” her daughter said. “Pull down the handle and watch the fruit.”

“But I don’t gamble,” Mabel said.

“It’ll be fun.”

Mabel sighed and dug into her coin purse. Squeezing a nickel between her thumb and finger, she dropped the coin into the slot and gripped the red ball in her palm. She pulled the handle and images spun in a rainbow of colors before settling.

And then two nickels clattered onto the coin cup.

“You won!” Mabel’s daughter laughed. “Wasn’t that fun?”

Mabel nodded and reached for the coins. She rubbed each between her thumb and forefinger before popping open the coin purse.  In slid the two nickels. “Pretty good return,” she said. “I’ll wait outside now.”

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Howard’s commitment

Howard stepped off the city bus, straightened his jacket, and limped into the nursing home.

“I used to do that job,”he told me, pointing his head at the bus. “Before I retired.”

SeasonsHe made his way into his new job. Howard’s home was an assisted living facility across town.

His wife, Mildred,had been transferred to the nursing home a few months ago.

Howard spent his days with Mildred. “I get my breakfast at the Oaks then take the bus here. The last bus runs back to the Oaks right after dinner so I can eat lunch and dinner with Mildred before heading back. ”

Later Howard sat with Mildred at a round of bocce balls, a game a little like shuffleboard but using only balls.  He took his turn, aiming his ball at the target. “Turn left. More!” He directed his ball. “Aw, it doesn’t listen very well.”

Then he gently pressed Mildred’s ball into her gnarled hand. “Roll the ball. Knock that blue ball out of here. ”

Mildred stared at the floor.  After he urged her two more times, she lifted her head and dropped the ball. It listed to the left and stopped.

“Pretty good,” Howard said. “Maybe our team will win.”

Later he pulled out matching red cowboy hats. Mildred wore hers all day without saying a word.  In fact, she didn’t say much any day.

But Howard came every day.

“We’ve been married 15 years,” Howard told me one afternoon.

Long enough to cleave for a lifetime.

That brother-in-law

Agnes leaned over the lunch table, her eyebrows bent together.

“My brother-in-law is here but he won’t speak to me.”

I had joined her table at the nursing home just before lunch was served. I glanced over my shoulder at a white-haired man staring down at the table before him. He didn’t look like he talked to anyone. “Really? That’s too bad.”

SeasonsShe nodded. “I’ve spoken to him several times but he turns away. And do you know what else? He’s changed his name from Bob to James!”

I knew her brother-in-law lived 300 miles away and so I took a deep breath. “That’s frustrating for you, I’ll bet.”

“Well,” she settled back in her chair, “I just go on. What else can you do?” She studied me for a moment and then leaned forward again.

“And then there’s a woman who denies her own children.”

How did I answer this one? “Really? That’s awful.”

Agnes tilted her head. “I know. I asked her one day about her children and she claims she doesn’t have any children. She even told me she had never married. How could she forget her own husband?”

“I can see that upsets you.”

“I went up to June and asked her, ‘Do you know Melvin Roberts?’ and she said she’d never heard of him. He was her husband for 40 years. How about that?”

I knew June, too. She sat at another table in the dining room, waving at newcomers and chatting happily with others at her table. And I knew she’d never married and her last name wasn’t Roberts.

“Do you think you’ve confused June with someone else?” I asked.

“Oh,” Agnes studied my face. “I can see they’ve convinced you, too.”

Once I would have defended my position. Once I would have tried to change Agnes’ mind. But I knew she’d forget our conversation tomorrow no matter what I said. Kindness won out.

“Well, family is important to you, isn’t it?” I said.

Her face relaxed. “I’ll never forget my husband or children.”

She probably wouldn’t. But the brother-in-law was in trouble.

Walking the dream

Harvey’s eyes lit up when his wife walked through the front door of the nursing home and made her way to where he waited.

“I’ve got great news,” he said. Her eyebrows lifted. “I walked last night.”

“You did?” She glanced down at his wheelchair and his limp legs.

Seasons“I’ve been practicing,” he said. “I can show you.”

“Uh, well—“

Harvey leaned forward, gripping the armrests on his wheelchair. “I just need you to help me get started.”

She glanced around the lobby. “I don’t think I can help—“

“Oh, you under-estimate yourself. We can do this.” Harvey settled back in his wheelchair. “I practice every night.”

His wife sighed. “I think we should wait for a little help. I can’t do this alone.”

She knew that he hadn’t walked in over a year, not since he had fallen.

“All right. We can wait, I guess.”

Dreams, more vivid than the orange sunset, captivated Harvey’s days. Many of his nights included walks to friends’ houses, to the basement, and to the park.

She patted his arm and gave him a hug. “How are you feeling today?”

“Good. Did I tell you that Jerry visited me last night? I don’t know why he came but we had a good talk.”

Harvey’s wife smiled. Their oldest son lived 2000 miles away and only came on special occasions. She was pretty sure he hadn’t slipped in during the night for a visit.

“And did you enjoy talking with him?”

“Of course. He’s planning to move here soon so he can live with me.”

“I’ll bet that made you feel good. He loves you a lot, doesn’t he?”

Harvey nodded. “I guess so.”

Every day, Harvey’s wife came to kiss his forehead and hear his dreams. She loved him a lot, too.

Click and drag

The first time Dad fell at home, Mom called the logical people for help: her two daughters.

We both arrived on the scene with plenty of concern and zero medical experience.

“Should we call the EMTs?” my sister asked.

“I hate to bother them just to get him into his bedroom,” I said.

Seasons“I know. We can do this.”

We’re the two-trips-is-for-wimps sisters. We could do this.

My sister wrapped her arms around Dad’s chest, I got his knees and we carried and dragged and dropped him into his bedroom.

It happened again the next day. Dad was in the bathroom and lacked the strength to pull himself up. He fell between the toilet and the tub.

So the click-and-drag sisters got another call.

This time, we decided he needed to go to a doctor. And so we lugged him to the car and drove to the emergency room.

He was admitted overnight and then sent home.

The next day, he fell again.

“Let’s call the ambulance,” my sister said.

“Is it serious enough for an ambulance?”

“All I know is I’m tired from hauling him around. I think it’s time for an ambulance.”

We didn’t have to do the rock-paper-scissors thing to decide who called. She decided: “You call.”

So I did. “I’m really sorry to disturb you but my father has fallen and we could use some help getting him up.”

“It’s not a problem.” The woman’s voice was kind and clear. “That’s what we’re here for.”

Within minutes, a police car pulled up at our house followed by the ambulance from which two EMTs emerged with medical gear.

They checked Dad’s blood pressure and pulse. They listened to his heart. They decided a hospital visit was appropriate. And when it was time to take him to the ambulance, they gently lifted him onto a stretcher, buckled him in, and rolled him out.

So here’s what I learned:  First, when an elderly person falls, the ambulance crew does not see my call as a bother. Second, the EMTs know a lot more medical information than I do.

And, third, I’m pretty sure Dad was glad not to get towed on the carpet again.

All in stride

The door was shut but Agnes waited in the hallway, her hands folded in her lap as she faced the long hallway.

“Good morning,” I said, bending down and squeezing her shoulder. I was on my way to visit someone else in the nursing home but I always made time for Agnes.

SeasonsI remembered the day when she was able to navigate using a walker. Then as her feet and legs began to fail her, she switched to a motorized wheelchair. Now her memory loss had made the motorized controls too confusing. So she made her way with a simple black wheelchair.

Her round face broke into a wide smile. “Good morning to you as well.”

Back in the day when Agnes could still walk, she and the hobbits had one thing in common: height. Well, the lack of it. Now Agnes sat in a short wheelchair so that her legs didn’t dangle like a toddler.

“Are you getting your hair done today?” I had glanced at the sign on the door and knew the hairdresser was due any minute.

“I’m just waiting,” she said. The smile got bigger, if that were possible. “I like to watch legs.”

“Legs?” And then I bent again to her view.

“You see bow legged people. Knock kneed people. Long steps. People in sandals and people in boots.”

Standing had deprived me of a unique view. “I never thought about that.”

Agnes nodded. “I don’t mind waiting. This is kind of interesting.”

“Enjoy,” I said, patting her on the shoulder again.

But when I walked on, I did double-check to see if she was watching my stride, too.