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… 🙂