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Fireside chat

Posted Jan 03 2009 6:43pm
At four I entered the dining room, as I usually do weekdays, to pick up my dinner. The comfortably large room was festive as can be. The dining area tables, decked out in wine-red table-cloth with green napkins, artfully folded on white place-mats. Little lights on a string winding around the columns, and others hanging from the ceiling blinked in syncopated intervals; in the sitting area – a stocky Christmas tree decorated to the last needle, a one carriage train at the foot slowly winding around it, the fireplace – ablaze with light and warmth, drew me in. I sat on the back edge of a sofa facing the fireplace. In a nearby high back chair was sitting Fran. When I saw her recently after the Halloween party, I asked her why she hadn’t been at the party. She used to attend every event in the house, especially parties. She looked at me with pale blue eyes in a haggard, bewildered face: “I wasn’t? I don’t remember”. Someone had mentioned a while ago, that Fran had Alzheimer’s, but I hadn’t seen her since. I was taken aback by the change. Fran was a woman of strong, independent opinions, unafraid to express them. She also had asthma and her frequent groaning sighs bothered me, especially during film projections or performances. Usually I would leave if she was present. Now talking to her, Alzheimer’s seems to have cured her asthma, or at least the groaning symptom; the presence of a younger man had the same effect on her, I observed. At a piano recital she would boldly approach the performer, groan-free, and trap him with attention and physical contact. I took it, groaning stood for getting attention. She liked to be noticed. She was musical, played the piano and once during my art class with my resident students, she sat at the piano and started playing. I encouraged her to go on, it did not disturb my teaching the class. The Fran, who didn't remember whether she was at the party I hadn't met yet. I touched her shoulder in a way of parting. She eagerly grabbed my hand and kissed it. I was surprised by her reaction, a bit sad.

Now sitting close by she looked at me and inquired about what I knew. I suppose, she meant gossip, or what’s going on in the house. The wrong person to ask. I told her I knew as much as she did. You got thinner and I got fatter, I laughed at my expense. A light connection was made. On the nearby table there were two snow globes. I picked one, turned it upside down to cause the "snow storm" and showed it to her. Somebody had playfully overdecorated the room. The fire was crackling, enveloping us in warmth. It was comfortably homey. I remarked on how nice it was. Fran agreed, it is. Then the server brought my food and I took leave of her.

On the first day of the New Year, I was again in the dining room before dinner. At the tables there were few residents seated, an hour ahead of time. I passed by two ladies beckoning me to them, and joined Fran who was sitting alone, her back to the others. Did you watch the Rose parade, I opened up. No. I suppose nobody told you that it was on. There was a lady with her granddaughter there, I went on. She told that her grandmother had participated in the first Rose parade in 1800s. A piece of history. Fran’s eyes lit up: I used to attend the parades too, that was fun. I bet, you were the belle of the floats, I interjected. Fran did not comment, she just reveled in the memory. Then she eagerly inquired what I was doing. What can I tell her that will make sense to her. Today I rode my bike, I said. The streets were empty. Then you had them to yourself. Yeah, it felt that way. What do you do for exercise, I asked. I walk, she said. That's good too, I nodded. When I got up to leave, she said: It was nice to visit with you. Our hands touched lightly like birds in flight almost missing each other.

Those were two memorable conversations these holidays.
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