I hadn’t seen Trudy for a while, but she was excited when I walked in. I am always amazed by her memory–the first thing she asked was about my trip to Roanoke. I had gone home late last week and she remembered! Earlier last week I had gone to visit the Chancellorsville battlefield with my civil war class. I sent her a post card and she told me how she had gotten it and was glad to receive it. The postcard had Stonewall Jackson on the front and we talked a while how I had seen where he was shot and killed. She shared what she had learned in school about the Civil War and it was neat to see how much she actually remembered. After catching up for a while, we went to play Scrabble in the game room. We came to a couple standpoints throughout the game but she always came up with a big word to help solve the problem. We ended up finishing the game with a few letters left we weren’t able to use but nonetheless had a fun time. We went to her room after to talk a little more, and she showed me a sheet she had gotten from a friend that told a story of an old Indian legend and how those in the tribe were taught to respect their elders. She told me how respect is what a lot of people today lack, and if her mother was still around, she wouldn’t have any part of it. I had to leave after that to get back to classes, but I’m looking forward to going next week!
This week I was fortunate enough to attend the end-of-semester event at another AAGP site, Charlottesville Health and Rehab. The grandparents and volunteers had an ice cream social together and entertained questions about travel as a group while enjoying fudge swirled- ice cream with various sugary toppings. An administrative aid of Charlottesville H&R called out questions to the group like, “Who has been outside America?” We all contemplated our histories and replied by separately calling, “I’ve been to Europe!” or “I’ve been to Brazil!” or even, “Well I’ve been to Brooklyn.” A chuckle resounded, and the aid continued, “Alright, alright, fair enough. Where is the farthest place you have been then?” An eccentric, outspoken man with a sailor’s cap replied, “I’ve been to Charlottesville!” Everyone laughed, and the man continued with an encore song about the “sweet drinks out in Batesville and how, why, you must save me some.” We all clapped after each one of his performances (he sang encores several times throughout the social).
It was the first time I had been to Charlottesville Health and Rehab. It is a new building, and there are many open windows throughout that let in the nice glow of an early spring sun. The place seems very friendly with caring staff, who were very receptive and engaging towards us volunteers as well as the patients. I felt at ease among new faces and characters and tremendously enjoyed the atmosphere of a communal living setting. It is quite different from volunteering at someone’s home. There is an energy among the various grandparents, and they all seem to feed off of the eccentricities of each other in a type of familial way.
I truly enjoy just sitting back and listening as each grandparent talks a little about their life experiences, or even daily experiences. To me, the group question is irrelevant. Whether we are all trying to connect over places we’ve been or haven’t been to, the effort of communication is the same. The art of volunteering (and the art of Adopt-A-Grandparent as well) comes from having the patience to just listen to a stranger and expend the energy necessary to at least try to understand a small part of their life story. That way, the exchange (whether it be in a group or home setting) is made between two people who are only trying to chart the uncharted and understand through questions, answers, and simple observations, how we differ and how we are the same. It is remarkable how similar the very young, young, old, and very old all are.
On this stormy day we drove over to visit our grandmas and I found Trudy eating lunch in the cafeteria. Due to a longer visit today we were able to go play Scrabble in the common room. We don’t talk much while we play, just because I think we’re both concentrating on the game. I need to especially to hold my own (she’s so much better than me!). I kept only being able to come up with 3 letter words while she was spelling out 6 to 7 letter words. But I guess they say with age comes wisdom! We finished the game and I had to go catch my ride but she said she was going to stay in the activity room to wait for the director and that today they were going to play cards. I’ve always been interested in learning to bridge, I asked if maybe she could teach me, but she said she used to play that long ago and doesn’t remember anymore. I probably wouldn’t be able to remember how to play at 93 either!
Today I visited Trudy for the first time since spring break. Not a lot had changed on her end but she did notice my tan. I was more than happy to share the details of my vacation in Mexico and she was interested in all the things I did. My reminiscing about my spring break led us to get into a discussion of her favorite vacation spots growing up.
Some of her favorite vacations that she remembers were her family trips to Virginia Beach. She shared how her whole family, often including her cousins and aunts and uncles, would all pick one week out of the summer to head to the shore. I told her how that sounded like a blast, but at the same time very crowded!
Today we sat in her room, and didn’t have a lot of time, so we didn’t get into our usual scrabble game. We talked some more about her jobs that she had all her life (she only had two total) and retired about 30 years ago from her seasoned position at Dominion Resources. It was ironic that she mentioned Dominion because in business class the week before break the president of Dominion Resources came to talk to us about his company. It was neat that I knew enough about Dominion to relate to the things that she was telling me about her old job details. I always ask her advice for what I should major in and each time she tells me to be a teacher. Each time I tell her I wouldn’t really like being a teacher, but she still persists!
On a rainy Monday I went to see Trudy. I arrived a little earlier than normal and got there while she was eating lunch. There wasn’t a chair for me, so I waited in the hallway in the meantime. She was glad to see me as normal and we had gone a little while without visiting due to a virus that had broke out at the nursing home.
She said she had chili for lunch, and proclaimed she didn’t get why it was called that when its really actually spicy and warm. We laughed and that and then went into to her room to talk. Someone was using the scrabble board, so instead we decided to catch up instead. Her birthday had passed earlier in the month and she had turned 94! She was delighted when I handed her the flower I brought to her, she promptly told me where to put to assure that it got proper sunlight. I’m pretty sure I made her day with the little gift, and it felt great to know that she appreciated my thoughtfulness.
She was in a particularly talkative mood spent a lot of time talking about her nine brother and sisters that she had growing up. She was the third youngest and the only one still alive today. I find it remarkable that she has lived as long as she has and still has a positive outlook on life. Being an only child I couldn’t begin to comprehend what it would be like to live with so many other people in one house, she assures me there was never a dull moment, and she was never alone. I asked her if any of her brothers, which she had three, had fought in any of the world wars. Being a history buff, I thought it was interesting to find that they didn’t fight in any of them, but her nephews were in the navy for WWII. It was neat to talk to her about what she remembers from the war.
Next week is spring break, and I was sad to tell her I wouldn’t be visiting but would be sure to try to send her a card from home to let her know I said hello and remind her to water her flower!
This week when I visited Ellen she wasn’t feeling very well. Her back was hurting her, and she had trouble standing up and walking. I tried to help her as best I could, but she is independent and likes to do things herself. I respect that, but when a neighbor was at the door, it was just too much for Ellen to quickly stand up so I opened the door instead.
The neighbor was an elderly man (in his eighties) who was kindly dropping off an empty, washed popcorn bowl, thoughtfully filled with a jar of spaghetti sauce and two Java Twix bars in thanks. I told the man “Thank you” and gave the gift to Ellen. She smiled and said, “Now you take those candy bars. He knows I shouldn’t have them. I’ll never lose weight!” I laughed. Nearly every day Ellen makes popcorn for this man, who is incredibly grateful not only for the snack but for the daily consideration. In return, he gives her what he can for the week– spaghetti sauce, candy bars. The friendship brings them both gratitude, shown as a smile worn daily, and it is as simple as taking five minutes to pop some popcorn or return a clean dish.
Today was my first visit with Trudy for the spring semester. She was surprised to see me since I showed up on a different day than I normally do. I walked in and the look on her face was priceless! She showed me the cards that I had sent her over break and how she had hung them on the wall. I was happy to see that she appreciated my effort and that she knew that I was thinking of her.
We talked for a few minutes in her room then went on to do our normal routine – play Scrabble.
Honestly, I was truly amazed the first time I played with her. For a ninety three year old woman she has a vocabulary bigger then some fourth years I know! Mid game we discussed what I did over break and all the goodies we received and as old people love to talk about, the weather! While we were playing someone came in and started playing to piano so we had live music that sounded great!
Trudy has never been married and doesn’t have any kids so I really feel like I fill an important part in her life by visiting her. She also shared that her birthday is coming up so I’m checking with the nursing staff to check with her diet to make sure I can bring her a goody bag with some candies and a card. I can’t wait until I go visit next Friday! Until then I’ll be reading the Scrabble dictionary!
When I went to visit Ellen this past week, she was watching “Sweet Home Alabama” (starring Reese Witherspoon and Josh Lucas) with a neighbor friend. Honestly, I was thankful to have the chance to just relax and watch the movie with her (the week had been a long and tiring one). However, Ellen found creative ways to inject conversation throughout the movie. She commented on the simple love-story (“Rom-com”) plot and said, “Now I believe everyone has had a first sweetheart at some point when they are young.” I nodded in agreement. Every so often she offered me Now & Laters candy she received from another neighbor friend, whom she makes popcorn for every now-and-then in return.
Her other neighbor friend watching the movie with us was very kind and smiled when she heard I volunteered at the local rescue squad (Western Albemarle). She suffers from seizures and told me, “Now I may be needing you and calling you one of these days.” I nodded in agreement (more as an affirmation of comfort for her), and we all finished watching the movie (of course Reese returns to her first sweetheart…).
Sometimes just sitting together on a quiet Friday afternoon is all that is needed to recover from a tiring week. Even interspersed conversation helps break up the predictable, cliché plot and keeps the simple act of watching TV a type of interaction among those who enjoy each other’s company, as neighbor friends.
I am visiting a new grandparent, Ellen, who lives out in Crozet. The drive out to her place is long but quite scenic. Charlottesville truly has a remarkable landscape surrounding it, with Crozet exhibiting a nice selection of open fields, neighboring forests, and mountains looming in the distance. It is quite a calming and gratifying drive, but its length does not fail to remind me just why I make it. When I arrive at Ellen’s, she greets me with gratitude and a personal appreciation for making the trip out to Crozet. That appreciation by itself is more than enough to cover the gas cost.
Ellen is energetic to the point where I can’t exactly tell just how old she really is. I know she must be approaching 90 because she has an array of photos detailing her extensive and growing family (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren). Her face, though, does not reflect 90 years. She seems to enjoy the fact that age is relative to how you live your life. She tells me, “I may be old, but I like to stay active.” (And I think, “I may be young, but I like to stay active too.”)
We sit in kitchen chairs across from each other, and she starts in immediately with, “Do you ever wonder why we are here? Like what’s the point?” I take a breath, sigh– what adolescent-almost-adult-college student hasn’t? I respond with a soft nod, and she continues talking about her faith and interpretations, wonderings, philosophy. I listen patiently, thinking at the same time how nearly a century of life can only ignite one’s curiosity about it– how seemingly exciting that must be and what great energy that must impart for those curious.
I have been calling Louise for three weeks now to no avail. I just recently found out that she is in a rehab center and no longer at home. I have also been told that she has another UVA volunteer that sees her every week, and so, I am to be assigned to a new grandparent. The news is exciting in a sense because I will be able to get to know another grandparent, but in another sense, it is a little sad to be leaving someone I have gotten to know for just about five months now. I am comforted to know that she will not be alone, and her weekly visits with a student will continue.
Reflecting back on my time with Louise, I have come to realize that she is incredibly dynamic. At 91, she was able to keep me enraptured in conversation as she espoused old memories and new ones, from stories about screwing in a light bulb in the kitchen to helping her husband get ready for a yard sale. Her associated emotions were suddenly fierce at times. It amazes me how true the old adage is–age is relative–because for Louise, it seemed at times she was so young, and then, at other times she seemed so old. I suppose it is not unexpected then that she had to move to a rehab center. Age has a way of making itself heard sooner or later– it is only so relative.
I have learned from Louise that life seems to creep up on you in a way that is both fleeting and gradual. What seems to be momentary anchors to life’s constant change are the memories you make along the way (cheesy perhaps, but it is so true). From Louise I learned how valuable memories (especially of loved ones) are because life will eventually creep up on you. You will be old, and those memories will be stories to tell, moments to share and recall. And it is a wonderful thing to listen to that recalling.