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nursing homes freak me out.

my grandfather lives in one now. most times when we visit my folks, they bring my grandfather from the nursing home to the house. but times when he's not feeling well or doing good, we go there to visit him. the last time we went out was around christmas time. we arrived late on a saturday night. nursing home late is like 8pm. we set up with our presents in one of the social rooms. there were a bunch of tweed couches, glass-topped coffee tables and framed floral prints on the wall. my mother brought my grandfather down from his room. while he opened his presents a woman started intermittently screaming somewhere in the building. bella leaned into me and said the woman sounded unhappy. without a single molecule of motion, i agreed. a saggy-jowled man in a wheelchair rolled into the room. on his lap he held using both hands a motley pile of toys. with his hands occupied so he advanced the wheelchair using one of his slippered feet. his technique was effortless and practiced. he'd reach the foot out as if taking a step, plant the heel on the tile and then pull the chair forward a foot or so. then repeat. i don't know why he didn't use both feet but i'm sure there was a good reason.

when he entered the room my mom leaned into me (me, who was still completely motionless) and said not to let anthony near the wheelchair guy because the man might be mean. averting only my eyes towards the wheelchair guy i asked, "might?". she leaned back in and explained that he had a twin and one of them was nice and one of them was mean but people couldn't tell them apart so it was best to not take any chances and stay clear of both of them. the way this guy was white-knuckling the collection of cars and armless dolls in his lap, if he was the nice one, i'm scared shitless of the evil brother. and if i worked there i'd draw a smiley face on the forehead of the nice guy and a growly face on the forehead of the other.

my grandfather finished opening presents, we chatted for a bit and then we walked him back to his room. as my mom helped get his robe off and prepared him for the move to bed i looked on the wall i was leaning against. hanging just above my shoulder was a small, framed picture of my grandfather. it was his army picture taken just before he went to europe for the war. in the picture he had a wry smile. he looked full of life, happy and mischievous. i recalled a story my grandfather told at a dinner table in the last few years. he said that when he was in high school he somehow got enrolled into a typing class which back in those days was a bit of a small-town debacle. every day the teacher would say to the class, "ok, today girls ... and daniel ... we're going to ...". the and daniel part was always drawn out and said in a mocking tone. one day he said he had it and after she said that or some such thing, he stood up, walked to the front of the class, placed his notebook on her desk and wordlessly walked out of the classroom and the school and never returned. years later as he stood in a roll call in the european war zone an officer asked the formation if anyone knew how to type. it seems there is a rule among soldiers that they are never supposed to volunteer for anything and the proper thing to do when asked is to wait to be told to or ordered to do the asked thing. my grandfather said in this instance he made an exception and stepped forward exclaiming that he knew how to type. for some period of time he became the administrative hub for that outpost even getting to ride horses and motorcycles through the european countryside between camps delivering and collecting mail. after seeing this picture and remembering this story i looked back to my present day grandfather hunched over in a wheelchair waiting for a nurse to come and help him into bed.

the kids gave kisses and hugs. even bella gave them even though she later complains to me that it's hard to give grandpa hugs and kisses because his cheeks feel scratchy like sandpaper but she still does it because she doesn't want to hurt his feelings. then we left. after getting back to my folks house i instructed all the kids to go to the bathroom and wash their hands. marty said under her breath but loud enough for me to hear, "yeah kids, go wash all the death off of your hands."

in the car driving home, marty commented that she forgets how much nursing homes skeeve me out. in reply i asked marty if she'd ever seen the tom cruise race car movie, days of thunder. she said she hadn't. i explained that in it one of the drivers, rowdy, had a bad accident and was indefinitely laid up in the hospital. none of the other drivers would go see him. it was explained in the film that race car drivers never go see other race car drivers in the hospital because it reminds them of what a dangerous occupation they are part of and shows them what could happen to them. i added that when it comes to regular life and old people and nursing homes, they are all days of thunder for us because if we're lucky enough to live that long it is a glimpse at our future.

and this is why nursing homes freak me out.




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