I'm speaking of my paternal grandmother, Older Bubbe (97), as opposed to Younger Bubbe (93). Younger Bubbe is the one who's not quite all there and recently had a patch of dental problems. Older Bubbe is the one who still has all her marbles and is in the drama club, the book club, and the poetry club.
I hadn't seen Older Bubbe in a while, so I invited myself to dinner at her home, an assisted living facility. (They provide her with housecleaning, basic health care, and two meals a day served in a common dining room.) Dinner was served at 5:30 pm on the nose. A friendly Pilipino lady wearing a striped apron brought us plates of sweet-and-sour chicken with fried rice and broccoli, and cups of extremely weak coffee.
There were three other white-haired ladies at the table, Frances, Elizabeth, and Patricia. They were good company. Patricia, in a lilting English accent, reminisced about the horse she used to ride when she was a girl, during the war. Frances enquired about the latest elder-casualty, a resident who had fallen while adjusting the window-blinds in her apartment. Elizabeth offered that this lady had fallen plunk onto her tailbone and was in a lot of pain. Shortly thereafter the lady herself appeared with a walker, moving at a glacial pace. The women at my table offered tut-tuts and other expressions of concern. "I'm going slowly, but I'm still going," said the lady.
After dinner, Bubbe and I took a walk in the greenhouse. It's a glassed-in room on the first floor of the building, full of plants, as one would expect. Bobby, a shy cockatiel with rosy cheeks, chirped and sang for us, then ran and hid at the back of his cage when I approached.
In the course of investigating the variety of plants, I managed to get a cactus needle stuck in my finger. It was my own stupid fault. Bubbe offered a pair of tweezers, but they were too blunt to get the broken-off sharp tip out. I spent the next two hours with the cactus sticker in my finger.
At 7:00, it was time for the evening's entertainment. You think that seniors settle back in their recliners after dinner (which they probably call "supper") and fall asleep while watching Jeopardy? Oh no. These people are busy. In fact, all of the ladies I ate dinner with were complaining of packed calendars and scheduling conflicts.
Last night's special event was an extravaganza of Jewish song and folk dancing. The singing was done by a choir composed of residents. The dancing was done by a younger group that had come specially for the evening. It was pretty good stuff. The dancers even went through three costume changes. You know they're taking it seriously when there are costume changes.
After the performance, we faced a traffic jam at the elevators. When you have a hundred or so people with walkers (i.e. each walker person takes up the space of two or three non-walker people) trying to get upstairs via only two slow elevators (the third is out of service at the moment), you may as well take a seat because you're going to be waiting for 20 minutes.
I was feeling antsy. It was getting late. I had been sitting for a long time, plus the Zionist undertones of the evening's presentation had made me uncomfortable. I told my Bubbe that I was thinking of just running up the stairs, grabbing my hat and bag, and then coming back down to say goodbye to her while she was still waiting for the elevator. That was when Bubbe decided that she wanted to come up the stairs with me. Perhaps I should have point-blank refused. But all I did was to look at her closely and ask "Are you sure?" She said yes, let's go.
As we walked towards the stairwell she explained to me that strictly speaking residents weren't supposed to use the stairs, because of the danger of falling. Then she told me she'd have to take the stairs one at a time because one of her knees wasn't working so well. I positioned myself behind her with a firm grip on the handrail, just in case. Well, I had my misgivings, but she managed to make it up all the way to the third floor. Huzzah! She was slightly winded, but not dangerously so, and felt very proud of herself. She said twice: "I didn't know I could do that!"
Once I was sure that Bubbe was okay, and not likely to keel over from a cardiac arrest the minute I walked out the door, I said my goodbyes and took my leave.
Then I made my way home and finally got to pull that dang cactus sticker out of my hand.