Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Effing Teacups

The Glitter Globe/S.R. Karfelt

Assisted living is hosting a picnic and Gummy’s family is coming. It’s a perfect day for it, reminding me of all the huge family reunions and church picnics Gummy has been part of during the years. The staff is taking the memory care patients down to the tents together, but Gummy gets to go down early with her family.

She nearly bounds down the steps, cutting in front of me, her daughter-in-law. She likes taking the stairs instead of the elevator. In the hallways she passes people in wheelchairs or walkers. They’re people who live in regular assisted living, not memory care, senior citizens without memory issues. She’s possibly ten years younger than most of them, and she leaves them in her dust.
          I go to church with all these people.
          You do?
          Yeah, don’t you recognize them?
          They do look familiar.

Today we’ve planned a big surprise for Gummy. For years she collected teacups, hundreds and hundreds of them. Juan managed to get a bunch of them brought here to the shire, along with some of her special teacup shelving, and he and the kids are going to hang them up in her room.

We’re determined to make her comfortable here. It’s a nice place. If you have to be in assisted living with dementia, it’s perfect. Outside there’s a band playing Woody Guthrie songs. It’s Grandparents’ Day and they’ve gone all out. Next to all the tables and tents there are kids playing soccer. There are mountains of good food, including an ice-cream truck. Gummy’s smile grows wider and wider as grandkids appear one by one. She points out familiar faces from the memory care unit, both nurses and patients, and people she recognizes from day club. She tells us she knows them from her church.

This is her element. She eats corn on the cob, chicken, a hotdog, potato salad, watermelon, ice cream, and peanut butter pie. She washes it all down with soda pop. We’re all sufficiently impressed. Throughout the meal she waves at people and makes small talk. The guys sneak away to set up Gummy’s room.

We go for a walk and watch a soccer game. Gummy makes over every little kid and baby. She finds ancient tricycles in the gazebo outside her room and rides one around the courtyard. You heard that right. She's riding a tricycle. 

The guys text us a couple hours later and we take her back to her room. She’s forgotten it and thinks we’re at Burger King.

Shelves and teacups, knickknacks she painted, and favorite pictures from her house now cover her walls. Even her television, with a remote she understands, sets on a stand across from the couch. She stands in the middle of her room and puts her hands on her hips.
          What’s this?
          We decorated your room! Surprise!
          This is my stuff!
          How’d you get my stuff here?
          We brought it to surprise you.
          I’m going to have to take this all when I leave.
          Yep. Don’t worry. We’ll pack it all up for you when you leave.
          Okay. Do you think it’s too much? Do you think people are going to say I have too much nice stuff? I don’t want them to think I’m showing off.
          Oh, I think people are going to like it.
          It is nice.
For a few moments she surveys the room and turns to me.
          Do you see all this stuff?
          Yes, it’s really nice, Gummy.
          I brought this all here and hung it up. It was a lot of work.
          I can see that it sure was.
          It was, but I don’t think it’s too much.
          Neither do I. It’s perfect.
The sweating guys are lying on the sofa laughing.
Life is good. Not easy. But good. 

For the first time I wanted to spank her.
I even asked the nurse for permission.
Are we allowed to spank them?
She winked.
I could look away for a minute.
I think she felt the same way.

Gummy took everything off her walls. I’m talking pictures, sconces, decorations, dozens of teacups and the big heavy rack screwed into the wall. It took the guys hours to put that stuff up. The nurses can’t even figure out how she reached it.
I know how she reached it. She climbed onto the arm of her couch and swung from it like the nimble monkey she is.

Her drawers are a jumble of dirty clothes mixed with clean, with notes, cards, newspapers, pencils, books, teacups, fresh flowers, etc. etc. The place is a wreck.
And she’s ranting. Someone’s coming in taking her pillows—she counts them—moving her stuff, taking her fifty cent school scissors. I didn’t humor her. I counted the pillows with her and confirmed that was the exact number of Target pillows I’d purchased for her. The other stuff? I told her if she’d stop having tantrums and jamming things into pillowcases and drawers, she’d be able to find stuff.
I picked the dirty clothes out, took them to the laundry, and left everything as is. Her move.

She followed me out.
When I get mad I do that.
Hallelujah. I don't know what if anything will come of it, but honesty to oneself must mean something. And I don't blame her for being angry. I do blame her that I have to be the one to put all those flipping teacups back out though. I swear I will never again take the time to match them with the right saucer.
Tonight she can fix them herself. I know her perfectionism won’t allow mismatched teacups and saucers.
Tough love.
Teacup version.
I'm hoping she'll focus on righting her collection instead of packing to leave.

Hope is the thing with feathers, and mismatched teacups.

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