Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Lunch at Shiny Meadows

Last Saturday, I went to be with Dad at lunchtime, to feed him and keep him company. Mom got to stay home and hang out with Scott and get more lessons on her new MacBook.

Side note: We upgraded her from a lame-ass Dell that sucked viruses out of neighboring universes and spread them across its own hard drive like marmalade on melba toast. Each time it would virus itself into paralysis, Mom would put it in the sadly incapable hands of the computer-fixer in town. The good news: He picks up and delivers, free of charge. The bad news: His wife drives him to and fro because he's lost his license after numerous DUIs. The worse news: He messes around with the Dell, gets it working halfway, brings it back, charges Mom $150 or $200, tells her he's put the "latest high-tech" protector thingy on it. When Scott sat down to work with the Dell to transfer some photos to her new MacBook, he found ZERO evidence of any anti-virus software. Thus, a bludgeoning is in store for Mr. My-Wife-Has-to-Drive-Me-Around-Like-I'm-a-Wussy-Liar.

Now, about lunch:

Dad and I sit at a table with Bill and Bill. Old Bill is a sad little guy, hunched over in his wheelchair, doesn't say much, isn't very coherent. When he does speak, it is one of two things:

1. "Nurse! I need help." (Nurse approaches and says, "What do you need, Bill?") "I'm in trouble. I don't know WHERE I am or WHO I am."

2. A mantra: "Doggone it. Doggone it. Doggone it. Doggone it. Doggone it. Doggone it. (Pause). DON got it. Don always gets it. (Pause) Doggone it. Doggone it. Doggone it."

Young Bill is my sister's age, 61, and was in her high school class. He has terminal brain cancer. He wears a hat over the pink worm of a scar on his head, and gets mixed up sometimes. His speech is halting. Otherwise, very coherent.

We're waiting for the kitchen workers to roll the ungainly metal carts to the dining room. Meals are the highlight of the day at Shiny Meadows, as they probably are at most nursing homes, outdone only by family visits (which can be good or bad) and Bingo games (always good). The push-pull of mental dissonance shows up in two steps. First, the palpable anticipation of the meal. A small eagerness, hopefulness hangs in the air. Very small. These people are so old and tired that even their collective mental hoopla can only muster the electricity needed for an Easy Bake Oven bulb. Part Two is the realization that this meal is the same old crap. A mushy entree, a mushy vegetable and a small sliver of a dessert that presses the sighs out of each old chest as they pick up the bent fork and attempt to dig in.

In the long moments before we hear the clangy silver cart swerving down the hall, Young Bill has become vocal.

Young Bill: I think...I smell...BROCKLY.

Candy: You probably DO smell broccoli. They seem to have it a lot here.

Young Bill: We get...a lotta...STINKIN' food here.

Candy: Yes, indeed. You said a mouthful.

Young Bill: You do know...that the two most...poop-smelling foods are.......BROCKLY and...cauli...flower, right?

Candy: I think I'd agree with that.

(The metal cart rolls into the dining room. Trays are distributed by the kitchen girls. I see the freshly-uncovered plate at the table next to us. There it is. Broccoli. And as usual, it is all stems, no flowers.)

Candy: Bill, you were right. It's broccoli.

Young Bill: Oh yeah? Well, why don't you tell 'em to... take it for a walk. It wouldn't be half a mile...down the road before...twelve dogs would be followin' it. Thinkin' it was...their own shit.

(I uncover Dad's tray and my own and try to assess the possibilities of what Dad will like. It is a turkey Manhattan, and broccoli. And a surprisingly large slice of chocolate cream pie.)

Young Bill (putting a fork into his Manhattan): Turkey just naturally poop.

Meanwhile, OLD Bill has spied the chocolate cream pie on his tray, pushed away the entree plate, and attacked the pie with his left hand. THUNK, it goes, his curled old claw, digging out a handful of chocolate and meringue. He smashes it into his face, covering his mouth, nose, and leaving meringue all over his chin and even in one eyebrow. This is what he has been waiting for.

Young Bill: Somethin' tells me...this man likes his pie.

Candy: You are the king of understatement, Bill.

As Old Bill gets some assistance from a CNA, and I continue to feed Dad, who is quiet and docile, as usual, Young Bill switches gears.

Young Bill: Henry David Thoreau...he had...the right idea. Walden Pond. THAT was the place

Candy: You like Thoreau?

Young Bill: Oh yeah. I've read Walden least ten times.

He goes on to compare Thoreau to Emerson and I listen and feed Dad and watch Old Bill clean the pie crust down to the bone.
Young Bill leans toward the window, closes his eyes and lets a beam of sunshine cover his face.

Young Bill: Sun. Now nice.

I watch him soak it up. He knows how to enjoy the sun on his face. I feel my own little piece of happiness, extending directly from his. I wipe Dad's mouth with a napkin, and start cutting up his chocolate pie.

Old Bill is being wheeled back to his room, where he will go back to sleep.


  • At 6:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That was beautiful, young Bill, and Thoroe is still in there,living his few months at Walden Pond. I even have a picture of my feet standing in it. Wish I knew where you are. When you have time, remember 460-4616, OK? Love you, Anita

  • At 8:00 AM, Anonymous Scott P said…

    Shiny Meadows is really an amazing place, isn't it?

  • At 9:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This makes me cry. A lot makes me cry these days. You are a beautiful writer, and I can't wait to read a book or three once you get them published.

  • At 9:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I laughed and cried reading this. I'm still waiting for the book...

    the rabbit

  • At 10:14 AM, Blogger prairie biker said…

    Young Bill is a brilliant man. There ain't much better than a nice ray of sunshine, wherever you can catch it.


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