Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mrs. Fossilfuel Has Clean Hair

Though I could not talk her into a shower, I contributed some of my pointed and superior psychological skills to coerce her into what my grandma used to call "a good head-warshin'."

The bait? Her son's upcoming visit.

All Mrs. F. has been able to talk about lately is that son of hers coming from Seattle.

"When John gets here this" and "When John gets here that." We Fossilfuel caregivers are sick to death of hearing his name. We have pieced together enough information about him to conclude that he is a worthless, humorless hyena of a man. 65 years old, allegedly used to be a dentist, allegedly has many "clients" but doesn't actually work. Doesn't draw social security yet because he draws so frequently from Fossilfuel Bank and Trust. When he calls to check on her, no amount of our welcoming phone chitchat can warm his level of friendliness to anything above the witch's tit/brass bra category.

Esther, Sherrie, and I, the trio Mrs. F. calls "my good team" have been using His Excellency's arrival as leverage with his mother about her all-consuming stench. We each have our own style of approach:

Sherrie: I could help you get a shower before bedtime, Mrs. Fossilfuel.

Mrs. F.: Oh no, honey. We won't worry about that.

Candy: You know what always feels good? A shower. Let's put you in the shower.

Mrs. F.: Oh honey, I need to rest. Maybe later.

Esther: You know what, Mrs. Fossilfuel? You're going to stink when your son gets here. He's going to take one whiff and run out that door.

Mrs. F.: (Remains silent, fearing that any sass aimed at a half-Hispanic will get her knifed in the spleen.)

You can guess which approach was most effective. The "Lose Your Son Because of Your Stink" Threat. The idea of repulsing her precious royal offspring dropped into Mrs. Fossilfuel's mental crockpot and simmered for days. Until, on Friday, during my shift, it plopped out of her mouth like this:

"You know, honey, I think today I might like to get a good shower."

My mouth fell open, as did the squeaky gates of heaven, and a platoon of angels came floating into the room playing harmonicas to the tune of the Hallelujah chorus. It was very moving.

But don't get excited. At the moment of truth Mrs. F. declined the shower yet again and agreed only to letting me wash her hair in the kitchen sink.

It was a lengthy process. I wheeled her in her wheelchair to the sink. Locked the wheels. Buckled her highest-heeled sandals onto her feet so she could be tall enough to lean over the sink. But wait. Before I could help her stand up so we could get started, she zeroed in on the basket of fake pink geraniums sitting in the windowsill. "Oh no," she said. "Oh NO. Who has been monkeying with that?"

"Monkeying with what, Mrs. Fossilfuel?"

"With THOSE FLOWERS. Oh my God."

"What's wrong with the flowers?"

"Oh honey," (I get very tired of being called honey, especially because she uses it only when she's annoyed) she said. "I had that arrangement just PERFECT and now someone has ADDED flowers to it and it is just ruined."

I was stunned. My brain went into acrobatics. You're turning 99 on Friday. Why in the hell are you obsessing on some crappy fake flowers? Get some perspective, for God's sake.

"I just can't believe someone did that."

I ran water to get it warm, and tried to ignore her. Nothing in the house is perfect. The decor is woefully stuck in 1955, the white eyelet lace curtains in the kitchen windows are gray with age, the wallpaper is loose on the walls, the carpet is worn and dismal. The chandeliers, still elegant, are coated with dust and look like something from the set of "The Shining." Screw the geraniums.

"I'll bet that Sherrie did that. I'll bet it was her."

"Mrs. Fossilfuel, I do not think Sherrie monkeyed with your flowers. But if she did monkey with them, I'm certain it was not her intention to make you unhappy."

"Oh I know, honey. You're right. Just please put them somewhere I can't see them." I put the horrific, nightmarish, traumatizing flowers on the other side of the kitchen.

"Now can we wash your hair?"


I assumed the pose I use to help her stand up from her wheelchair. I bend over at the waist toward her, brace myself on the wheelchair with one arm and hold the other one out to her as though I am an usher at a wedding. She hooks her arm into it and stands up in a slow, slow, careful, painful ascent.

I have never washed anyone's hair but my own. Not anyone human. It all feels weird and embarrassingly intimate. I put that out of my mind and just tell myself to go through the motions and deal with it later.

So there we are, me and this crooked little woman in her high-heeled white sandals that are yellow with age, bent over at the kitchen sink. I'm careful not to press too hard on the part of her scalp where the staples are, from her fall just after Christmas. The fall that began her decline. Two months ago she was still cooking for herself, living life alone in her house, paying little attention to the fact that she was 25 years past her life expectancy.

Things change. And before know you it, strangers are coming into your house to make your meals and answer your phone and help you to the bathroom and check on you while you're sleeping and talk you into washing your hair.


  • At 5:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Score one for Candy! (Soccer Hooligan noises)

  • At 7:38 AM, Blogger Hoosier Mama said…

    ...and fetch your castor oil, hold your cottage cheese container, and monkey with the geraniums.

  • At 7:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    There are dry shampoos to use right in the bed without water. It's not as good as a real dousing but it does improve the smell. Google "shampoo without water" and get 600+ sites.

  • At 8:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The dry shampoo is called Pssst. I just bought some for my daughter. Mrs. F. might go for it but it might be too newfangled (even though it's been around since the 60's)

    I found it at Walgreens.

  • At 11:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hoosier Mama took the words right from me! I was going to write almost the same thing!

    Candy, YOU monkeyed with the geraniums, didn't you? You just couldn't help yourself. I noticed that my silk ivy was all jacked-up after your visit, but I didn't want to say anything....

    And speaking of fake plant arrangments, I wonder if that stuff one can spray on fake plants to clean them would work for cleaning up the rest of Mrs. Fossilfuel, if she continues to refuse a bath. Or, perhaps you could sprinkle Arm & Hammer on her and then vaccuum it off?

  • At 11:23 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    I actually remembered Pssst when I was trying to figure out a way to get around her refusal to shower. But I was pretty sure:
    1. she wouldn't go for it
    2. even if I sprayed it on her against her will, it would not have done the trick on such filthy, greasy hair.

    I remember using that once in high school and my hair felt like a mixture of baby powder and Pledge had been dump on it.

  • At 11:24 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Yes, futuresis, I monkeyed with your ivy. And if I had it to do over, I'd do it again. So there.

    That's a better ending, Hoosier Mama.

    Happy Birthday again, Ana!

  • At 2:32 PM, Blogger Citlali said…

    wow, I think pignant is the word I'm looking for here. wow. It's truly scary to think about arriving at that place in life, no? I'll be puting in my request to the universe for someone like you to talk me into washing my hair. LOL. omg. Those flowers. It's going to be interesting to see what happens when that son finally visits... = ]

  • At 2:33 PM, Blogger Citlali said…

    lol, pOignant, yes, that's it. omg. my typing, or rather distractedness... jeez. = ]

  • At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Friday's the 99th b-day? What would make an appropriate and thoughtful gift? Rollerblades? Wrestling boots? Got it!--a balloon ascension! Once in a lifetime experience, and, hey! that wonderful guy, her son, could go right along! So, just google, "ascensions, Balloon." Just make sure they're fully bonded and insured.

  • At 5:28 PM, Blogger Steve B said…

    Mrs. F.: (Remains silent, fearing that any sass aimed at a half-Hispanic will get her knifed in the spleen.)

    snort, chortle, gasp, spew coffee!

    People are looking at me funny. I GOTS to stop reading this blog at work.

  • At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Pignant is much much better. It's like the melancholy of a pregnant pig.

  • At 10:26 AM, Blogger Citlali said…

    L-O-L. Thank you, Ana, I needed that... = ]

  • At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Don't know if this is realistic, but I'm taking a course on "film noir." Now, what would Cagney, Duryea, or Widmark do? They'd team up with Gene Tierney or Joan Bennett to inject plastique into Mrs. F's Ipana Tooth Power. Results? No more need for the cottage cheese box and freedom to write for our Heroine, who would quickly find herself at A MAJOR AWARD CEREMONY, thanking all of us, the "Little People," who were so damn helpful.

  • At 8:41 AM, Blogger Jerry said…

    "Esther: You know what, Mrs. Fossilfuel? You're going to stink when your son gets here. He's going to take one whiff and run out that door."

    Obviously, Esther does not need lessons in assertive self-expression. Well, you just have to be direct with some folks.

    You might consider "accidentally" spilling something that really stinks on her--something that would make her eager to hit the shower.

    I like this story. It would make a good sitcom. Kudos to you for even tempered control.

  • At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    After laying in a pool of her own feces, she still hasn't had a shower. At this point, I think it would be hard to come up with something worse than that to spill on her! :-)

    But you are right about giving kudo to Candy for keeping an even temper. I certainly could not do it. Not without being on some heavy medication, anyway.

  • At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "kudos," I meant.

  • At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    There is this thing that deer hunters use...smells I'm told, like deer urine...its pretty rank, but you could get it at any deer hunter store. I'd say it's worth a shot. Ms. F's "son"...I'm sorry...can't manufacture much sympathy for him. Love, anita


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