As soon as Dale and I heard that the Life Care nursing home in Kirkland, Washington was the epicenter of the COVID, we immediately made plans to kidnap my mom from her assisted living center here in Little Rock. Imagine not being able to get in to see her and her not being able to get out—a prisoner in her own tiny apartment. Dale and I decorated her place when she moved in a couple years ago, and she loves it. It always smells like lavender because she sprays lavender in each room a few times a day. Every time I walk in, I say, “Oh mom, your apartment always smells so good.”
“That’s my lavender room freshener.”, she says proudly. “I never want this place to smell like an old lady. Have you smelled the hallways? I stick my head out the door and spray lavender in all directions, but it doesn’t seem to help much.”
She was right. The hallways always smell of stale Depends and burnt popcorn. Every time I go in, I tell myself that Miss Wilma has overcooked her famous corned beef and cabbage again. That’s how I tolerate it—with imaginative thinking.
On my way home from work, I gave mom a call to tell her what the plan was for her big escape. It went something like this.
“Hey mom. How are you feeling today?”
“Oh honey. I’m having a bad day.”
“Did I wake you up? You sound like you were sleeping.”
“Oh honey, I wasn’t asleep. I was just resting my eyes. I’m hurting too bad to sleep. My hands and feet are hurting the worst. And you know my back—my back always hurts. My eyes are dry too. I can’t even see the floor. I thought I was picking up a piece of fuzz earlier, and it nearly scared me to death when it wound up being a beetle bug. But you know me, honey, I don’t complain.”
“Ummm. Okay. Well, Dale and I are coming to get you tomorrow and bring you home to stay with us for a while. I’m worried that your facility might get the COVID, and if their past behavior in a crisis is any indication of the future, you’re not safe there.”
“What do you mean? They’ve always been really nice to me. You didn’t say something to them did you?
I don’t want them to spit on my food because you said something that hurt their feelings.
“Mom. I didn’t say anything to them. I’m talking about the time the elevator was broken for two days and several people like you who can’t take the stairs were trapped. What if there had been a fire?”
“But there wasn’t a fire. And besides, they said they would carry us down the stairs if there was a fire.”
“No. They said, ‘Go to the stairs and wait for someone to come and get you.’ And in the meantime you could die of smoke inhalation.”
“I guess if smoke inhalation is the way I’m supposed to go, then that’s okay with me. I wouldn’t be pleased about it, but I have to go one way or another. What’s that noise? Are you in your car? Are you driving and talking on the phone? I think you need to put your phone down and call me later.”
“Mom. My car has a hands-free phone so I am not holding my phone. Just driving and talking to you.”
“Well okay, Fancy.”
Getting her back on track, I said, “Let’s talk about the plan for tomorrow.”
“Well honey, remind me why you think the COVID is coming to my apartment? Have you heard something, because I’ve been watching the news and I haven’t heard a thing?”
“After the breakout of the COVID at the nursing home near Seattle, I didn’t want to take in chances.”
“What nursing home?”
“The one that has lots of old people infected with the virus. A few of them have died already.”
“I haven’t heard that.”
“Well, it’s true so…”
“What do I need to do before you get here?”
“Just get a list of things you need to bring with you, and remember this could be a long stay.”
“I don’t know how long. Maybe weeks.”
“Can you fit my recliner in your car? That’s the most comfortable place for me to sit. I even sleep in it sometimes.”
“Mom. I’m pretty sure your Lazyboy recliner will not fit in either of our cars.”
“Well then, maybe I’ll just take my chances and stay here.”
“Really? Take your chances?”
“Now don’t yell at me.”
“I’m not yelling. I think this is one of those times when you just need to listen to me and do what I’m asking you to do.”
“Jim, you’re scaring me a little. You’ve always wanted to boss people around, but you are not the boss of me.”
As promised, we kidnapped her the following afternoon. She hadn’t made a written list—but when we arrived, she said she had her list in her mind, which she claims has no short-term memory after her self-diagnosed mini-stroke.
Needless to say, nothing was packed. Dale got there before I did. By the time I arrived, he had already loaded the majority of her apartment into his car. Mom is always commenting about how fast he gets things done while I just watch. “Why don’t you do more to help him?”, she’ll ask. Taking a defensive tone, I say, “I do stuff. I’m not as fast and strong and organized as him. I have a clear understanding of my shortcomings, thank you. I know my limits and pushing beyond them usually means something gets broken or burned or bruised. That’s why I stay in my lane.—the slow lane.”
My mom is 86 and grew up really poor. The worry of running out of something is the one consistent thought she has…every day. She’s not clinically a hoarder, but I’d say she has hoarding tendencies. This means we were packing duplicates and triplicates of several items. “Well,” she said, “I don’t want to run out of my tinted face cream.” “Do you boys want to reach up there and get a few rolls of my good toilet paper? I have to use the good kind.”
“Mom, we have good toilet paper at our house.”
“I just remember that one of you bought me some toilet paper when I first moved in here and it was awful. I’m pretty sure it was you, Jim. I had to use half a roll for one wipe. Do you have the Charmin Ultrastrong? Because that’s what I need.”
“Yes ma’am. That’s exactly the brand we have, so I think you’re good.”
Who knew that there would be a run on toilet paper and we’d be forced to purchase 2-ply. Every time mom has a bowel movement, she has to remind us that there were six rolls of her preferred toilet paper at her apartment. Lucky for us, at her age her bowels only move about every three days.
She’s settled in with us now, and she loves playing cards. She’s an amazing Scrabble player. Her mind is sharp when she’s fully awake and her pain medicine is wearing off.
It goes something like this: “This is my off card. This is “old”—o l d. Jim, you look pretty good for an old man. This is “za”—z a, which is another word for pizza. And this is “raze”—r a z e—like when you raze a building.” Then she sits back and waits for us to compliment her. Dale usually leans her way so she can hear him, and with an awkward British accent says, “You, my Queen, did a splendid job.” I roll my eyes.
So a few nights ago we were playing Quiddler after dinner. Mom played first, but she interrupted her ritual with a special announcement. “Now boys don’t get mad at me for going down so fast. I got dealt some really good cards—thank you Dale. And you shouldn’t get upset about me going down since both of you have gone down on me before.” [insert a long thoughtful pause here]. With a smirk on her face and a tone in her voice that indicated she knew the answer already, she asked, “That didn’t sound right, did it?”
“No ma’am.”, we said in unison. “That did not sound right at all.”