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Thursday, July 2, 2009

OLD PEOPLE


Continuing the thought of Jr's house a monastery, Dean Richardson, recently out of the hospital from heart failure, something medications can handle, drove up the driveway in his brown land-yacht Cadiallac. He brought us two roast beef sandwiches from Arby's, meaning he was on his way home from probably Elkin. Jr likes burgers and roast beefs. He sends me to town fairly often to get a Whopper Jr. I pick him up a strawberry shake supposing the flavoring syrup has at least minimal nutrition. Dean brought me this week's New Yorker and some USA Todays to keep me up on what the world outside is doing; swindling each other, killing each other, suing each other, sentencing each other. Then the glamourous two-dimensional stars of tv and screen, all smiles and style, and the athletes, the jocks, gladiators post the Age of Enlightenment. I love it that their section about televeision is called LIFE.
That's about as good as Life Tastes Better With KFC. Things go better with....
Jr was on the bed napping, Dean sat down and we talked some. A red car drove up the driveway. A neighbor who lives within sight of the house parked and carried in a bag with a bucket of chicken from KFC and some other things from there, quite a lot. She was the same as the woman with Arnold and his wife a few days ago, on her way to the nursing home in Independence to see her husband who had dementia and Parkinson's, who'd been there four years. The man has a good wife. I get the impression she goes often if not every day. In the old way, the monks of Buddhism would in some monasteries go out in the morning with empty bowls to go looking for love offerings.They're people who care about Jr and want to give him something to sustain him, and for me for staying with him. Country people.
Half of the people who come through the door are older mountain people. Jr's neighbors and relataives. The other half are social workers of one stripe or another, younger, about half of them here from someplace else. A lot of them talk to old people like they're children. I believe there is something to it, possibly comforting to people whose minds have slowed down considerably and turned inward. Yesterday a woman was in here who was from Surry County and talked Jr's language. They got along like she'd known him all her life and the other way around. It was a beautiful exchange. I sat in the recliner having morning coffee. She was an RN dropping in to take blood pressure, listen to heart, see how he's doing. At one point in their talking, he was telling her about the nursing home as a train that was going down a track. She looked at me with a question in her eyes. I said lightly, "Mixing dream and reality." That answered her question and confirmed for me she had some real understanding, which I felt I knew by then.
I have known older people before, but since I've been looking after Jr the older people I know will talk to me as a peer instead of somebody younger. White hair, bags under the eyes, sagging face, neck sprouting wattles. I like being one of the old people. They talk among themslelves very differently from the way they talk with younger people. Among themslelves they talk about subjects younger people aren't interested in, like when your eyes have taken a turn for the worse, you need to make an appointment with the optometrist, but last time you bought new glasses it was over $400. That kind of money doesn't come easy. When you're living on Social Security, it doesn't come at all. You find the glasses at the drugstore for $20 work just as well, the glasses that used to be $5 not very long ago.
I find older people living much closer to the present moment than any of the younger. One thing about it, when you're 86 you don't dare believe there's much future, and looking back is nothing but troubles and hard times. The present moment is untrampled, fresh, new every minute. There's not much rush about anything. Not much burden of memory. When something from the past comes up it ususally is wrapped in a story of context.
"My mind's a-workin, but slow as hell." (Pause)
"Shit fire." (Pause)
"Lord, I've had a good life, one I'm not ashamed of." (Pause)
"Lord God" (Pause)
"My bowels are workin just right. About twice a day. My kidneys are workin. I get up twice in the night." (Pause)
"And tomorrow's therapy day again." (Pause)
"No wonder I'm not gettin any stronger. I'm not eatin nothin."
That was Jr talking just now. He rose from his nap, came in here and sat awhile. I told him who had been here. Giving her name didn't bring up a memory, but he searched in his mind and found her, remembered more and more about her. Jr'd gone to visit her husband twice while he was confined in the same institution. "Hell yeah." He told me he wished I'd woke him up to see her. I told him I was going to, but she said no, she was on her way to the nursing home to see her husband, wanted to drop off a bowl of sustenance. He went to the bathroom to wash up before we sit at the table to consume some KFC. I'll throw the bones to the crows. Maybe I'll put on some old time Kentucky banjo pickin music while we eat. Just got one in the mail today I'd ordered from amazon, a collection of John Cohen's (New Lost City Ramblers) field recordings in the 1950s that I'm just now getting around to, Mountain Music of Kentucky.
The therapist at the nursing home used putting on and taking off shirts, pants, socks and shoes as exercise for joints as well as to help be a bit more self-sufficient, advising me not to help, because it's exercise for him. Jr changed pants just now in the other room. Setting out to put on the new pants he said, "This'll be good for me, if I live through it."

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