every woman needs a bikini and a boyfriend

image by nasos3 via flickr

The ladies at the nursing home are just loving my oldest daughter’s visits. She’s a lovely girl with a gentle presence and a beautiful smile that no doubt lights up the hallways of an otherwise rather sad place. She just started volunteering there recently and her only “task”—one she embraces with great enthusiasm—is to just chat them up… to visit with them, read to them, sit outside and offer her company.

Actually they are the ones doing most of the chatting. One went on and on about her husband (whom daughter was told doesn’t exist) who comes to read to her. She asked my daughter if her husband read to her and was rather surprised when she replied that she didn’t have one. “Such a pretty girl.” Tsk. Tsk. (She’s only 15.)

My daughter caught on right away to that phenomenon of old age, where short term memory fades fast (they often don’t remember her from one visit to the next), but long-term memory is extraordinarily sharp and vivid, vibrant with detail. They tell her stories of their youth replete with beautifully described moments.

It’s summertime, summertime, summertime and the living is easy. They are happy these days, and their stories reflect that. I wonder if in the depth of winter they will grow more melancholy and my daughter’s cheery presence will be all the more valuable.

Today the ladies were talking about the heat for it’s been really hot lately. One talked at length about wearing her bikini, which would no doubt be an interesting sight given the fact that she was, in my daughter’s words, “reallllly old.”

The other ladies went on and on about how they need a boyfriend and how they wish there would just be a line-up of men and they could pick one. I can just picture them, long trembling fingers pointing and gesturing for the men to turn around, squabbling over who called who first.

And here I worry about the racy influences of television and peers…when it’s the sweet ladies at the nursing home I should worry about, deliciously sassy things that they are!

All of this of course reminds me of Siri Hustvedt’s The Summer Without Men which I read earlier this summer (I call this “the summer of siri,” many scenes of which took place in a nursing/retirement home. How well she captured at once the pathos of their circumstance and the gloriously mischievous natures of these women, both strong and delicate.

Atoll Annie, my blogging friend, wrote recently about how first appearances often mislead, and how there are stories behind the façades people present of themselves. How very true, and how important to remember. I love that my daughter, who up until now has had little to no contact with the elderly, can see the treasures that lie within. Stories, some true, others false, others mixtures of the two, always lingering at the ready to be coaxed from a surface that belies the complexity and beauty within.

I wonder what they’ll tell her of next time. Maybe they’ll convince her to sneak in a flowery bikini or two… 🙂

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6 thoughts on “every woman needs a bikini and a boyfriend

  1. Lately my parents use the expression that they are “circling the drain.” As their friends die, they feel a true sense of loss that the best is over.

    What your daughter is doing at her age is such an amazing thing. I often wonder about going into elderly homes and asking if anyone would like to share their story. Everyone has a rich tale. No one’s life should be forgotten without even a droplet of it left behind.

    What a wonderful post…and a great reminder that all of the elderly dressed in housecoats who stumble out of their houses in the morning to fetch the paper and then slam the doors and close their blinds, will soon be gone. Don’t miss those moments and stories with them. I’m sure some would be glad to share a story or two. AND, thank you so much for mentioning my blog!

    1. It’s tough to be old. I spent some time in nursing homes with my own parents when they were too ill to live at home. In my time there I met so many wonderful souls, many of whom have no one. It can be hard to get beyond the external, the sights and smells are ones we’re not used to, but when you do you often are in awe of the wealth of experience and wisdom and… life … within.

      I am so happy that she’s done this. It was totally her initiative and the first time she’s really done anything like it, her time spent mostly on normal teenage things. I also realize that not only is she giving, but receiving, in ways perhaps none of us realize, through her contact with those sassy ladies! 🙂

  2. You must be so proud of your daughter to be volunteering her time. especially at 15, an age when most girls start to make boy-catching their priority.

    It’s interesting how so many of us view the elderly as burdens we’d rather shift onto to others. Or as people to be waved away or ignored. My m-i-l is starting to show signs of Alzheimer’s and whenever she voices a complaint about how she’s treated, her relatives say she’s crazy and “doesn’t know what she’s talking about….”

    1. Both my parents are gone, and both had very difficult endings. It has changed the way I view the elderly and the infirm, and how I view the end of life.
      In the past people aged in the same village, around the same people who’d known them their whole lives. I think that enabled them to retain some dignity and command some respect. Now often the elderly are cared for by strangers, who don’t realize that the frail woman in diapers before them was once a talented musician, or writer or that the man whose drool stains his shirt was once a brilliant lawyer, or athlete. They are often taken from their homes, their friends, their dignity wrenched from them at a time when that is all they have.
      Many of those who care for them are saints, truly dedicated and kind and gentle. It is not easy. I have an intense admiration for nurses and spouses and others who handle the day in day out care of the elderly, especially challenging when physical and mental challenges are involved. I know from my parents’ experiences that the people who took the time to get to know them, to offer them comfort or a laugh, a smile or a treat, made an immense difference.

  3. In the Filipino culture, as with most Asian cultures, the elderly are venerated. The prospect of growing old here the U.S. makes me glum, especially since 99% of my family reside in the Philippines.

    Why is that we can look at a child and wax poetic about potential, but we cannot look at old people and be bothered to think about how they fulfilled their potential?

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