Monday, October 26, 2009

Golden years

posted Mon, 25 Oct 2004

Last December, I flew to Minneapolis (yes, that is prime tourist season in the upper Midwest) to see my friend Ilene, the bodacious redheaded pediatrician. I spent a day with her, then drove to Wisconsin to see my grandmothers. Helen still lives by herself at home, although she had just been relieved of her car keys.

My mother and her six siblings all agreed it was necessary (that old guy had just driven into the Pike Place market in Seattle and my mom, her brothers and sisters did not want that sort of thing to happen with my grandmother), but my mom was the bad guy in the story. She lives in Colorado, so she volunteered to take the keys, thinking it would be easier on those who live in the same town as my grandmother if they wouldn’t have the taint of being the ones to rob her of her freedom.


My favorite Elvis imitator so far is El Vez, the Mexican Elvis.
Source: http://www.princesf.com/photos/el-vez.jpg

Not that my grandmother is really so restricted. Dorchester is small enough that she can walk everywhere she needs to go. There are no stoplights. It is three blocks to church and four to the post office. But I understand my grandmother’s frustration. Psychologically, it must be very difficult to know that you no longer control your own mobility and must depend on the kindness of strangers – or friends and family, in her case.

My other grandmother, Sylvia, had been put into a nursing home several months before. My dad’s two brothers decided that she really couldn’t live by herself any more. The place she is staying is very nice as far as these places go. There are about a dozen residents. Each has her own room (there are almost no men). Sylvia has her own furniture in her room and has her own bathroom. The place is warm and cozy, not sterile and antiseptic. The attendants are cheerful and caring. Visitors are welcome any time, unannounced. My uncles visit every day.

But it’s not home.

I like the old way better – where when you were old, you moved in with your children and they took care of you. That was possible when people lived on farms and there was someone home all day to look after the old people. I guess that doesn’t work now when houses are empty most of the day. Maybe I should hire myself out as the spinster aunt who helps care for the elderly relatives in exchange for room and board. I’ll address that in another post, where I am going to talk about unaddressed market opportunities, like after-hours plumbers (for regular fees) and no-smoking bars and restaurants (market demanded, not by fiat, like in New York).

Back to my grandmother. It was clear to me why she needed to be in the home as soon as I got there. She didn’t know who I was. Her attendant tried to comfort me. “Oh, the only reason she knows me is that she sees me every day!” she said, as she handed me a tissue.

“But she’s known me for 40 years,” I said. But now, she didn’t know my name. She didn’t know I was her granddaughter. She didn’t know who I was, period. “I’m Lloyd’s daughter,” I explained. Then I had to tell her that Lloyd was her son. I pointed to the photo on her dresser. There was no reason to remind her he had died six years ago. Sometimes not remembering isn’t such a bad thing.

She held my arm as we walked to the common area. A man was setting up his sound equipment. “I like this guy,” she confided. He introduced himself, then started singing Christmas carols. A la Elvis. He was an Elvis imitator, singing karaoke Christmas carols in central Wisconsin, dairy country. Of course.

Every time he would finish a song, Sylvia would lean over to me, smile and say, “He’s good, isn’t he?” She was about the only one responding to him. The other women in the audience barely moved. He didn’t bother making eye contact with the audience. It was a grim scene.

I hope I die in my sleep in my own bed.

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