Louise is 91 years old. That’s old. The funny thing, is I forget about it when I listen to her. She is just so loud. She nearly shouts at you, but she does it not in a forceful or even personal way—in rather a remotely functional way as if the shout is more for her acknowledgement of conversation than your own.
It’s her shout and her eyes flickering (still blue!) that make her seem younger, not as old. I remember her saying over the summer, “Now blue eyes are the best. They last the longest.” Her eyes are still very blue, but they no longer are the very best. Despite me seeing her, I doubt she notices my eyes flickering or even that they are hazel. Her eyes flickering and her shout make her seem more like an excited child than a tired great-grandma.
She was telling me useful things this week like remembering to always clean potatoes outside the house and throw away the potato bag before bringing the washed potatoes in. That way, you don’t bring the roaches (that like to hide out among the potatoes) into the house. And that’s important. Don’t ever bring roaches into Louise’s house. She despises them. She told me, “Now when there is a bug in the house, I have to squash it and then clean real good the area around it. But my son, now, he has to take the thing alive outside the house. He’s different from me in that way.”
Her son is different from her, and I am thinking through all this, that I am different too. I sit across from her, tired from a long school day, thinking all I have to offer her are my ears to listen, but really, in a way I feel like all she needs or wants is just someone there– to know someone is physically across from her. She always welcomes friendly company into her house, not just the roaches.
This week at Trinity, I was able to settle back into the old groove of helping my grandparent play bingo. She is blind, so she hands me the chips and I place them on the correct numbers. We are both very competitive about the game, and as numbers are called, I make sure to tell her how the board stands and what critical slots we need to fill. The bingo prizes consist of bags of cookies, floral t-shirts, and stuffed animals, and it is enough to induce an intensity across the cafeteria as chips are played and numbers called.
We all still talk and make quiet jokes to each other when our cards get so close to BINGO but fail. It is all right because (my grandparent included) elderly smiles are exchanged. Talk of the weather and a nice church service to look forward to keep minds light.
Someone prematurely yells “Bingo!” from down the hall, just to alert elderly glances of doubt and confusion but inevitably, evolving laughter, and I enjoy my position as the “chip placer,” helping my grandparent help herself to a game of luck and expectancy.
I tell her, “Aw man..we’re close. Just two more spots..,” and she smiles and says, “Good now.” Then someone yells, “Bingo!” not prematurely, and elderly glances look up with a hope at doubt and a joke, but seeing another eager, winning face in return is answer enough for the competition to end. It ends with me telling my grandparent, “Well that’s how it is. You win some. You lose some.” And she answers with, “Yes. But I do like to win.”
I had to search for my grandma at Trinity this past Saturday, but I found her in her friend, Annabelle’s, room. She was quietly talking to Annabelle when I approached, reintroduced myself, and was kindly welcomed to sit on the nearby bed and join in on the conversation.
They were talking about the church service this past Sunday and the quality of the reverend’s sermon and preaching. My grandma asked me what I thought of a particular reverend, but I didn’t know him. She seemed a little disappointed that I wasn’t a member of the Mount Zion Baptist Church. She has been a life-long member of this church and used to play the organ for the services. Due to her recent blindness, she is resolved to playing the upright piano at Trinity for a small, selected audience of other Trinity residents. They love to hear her play though, and I remember a time last semester when she played a few Baptist hymns for me.
She can hear melodies and improvise upon them, releasing her version of the sung hymnal. She is able to remember the old songs she used to play for services, and she plays them with a new variation, one that is more syncopated and upbeat. You can tell she really enjoys playing these old songs but tweaking them just a little bit. You can tell she likes to create something slightly new from something very old. You can tell that despite having a routine in the nursing home, talking to the same friend everyday, eating the same type of food everyday, that she absolutely loves to palliate her time at Trinity with variations on the past, with musical threads and weaves– like a quilt keeping her knees (and mind) warm.
The old ladies talk at Trinity in trinity. They huddle around a gray plastic table with sweaters wrapping like boas around their shoulders and backs, and they breathe out conversations about daily trifles such as bad dreams and bad luck and bad bouts of memory loss, long forgotten under the plight of keeping down morning’s breakfast.
But they talk serenely, casually, and they say things like “ummhmm…,” “well I suppose so…,” and “ummhmm I suppose so well…”. And it is like being inside a chocolate truffle, listening at the table of old. For their words seem to form after their lips and teeth move, a delay, and it allows the word itself to suspend itself before the whole audience and decide for itself, what it’ll be–and it always chooses the speaker’s original intention. Like when they say “and…” and “yes…” and “no…,” these sounds all carry with them that slight hesitation before clarity, and it is this delay of sound and understanding that makes the conversation cozy, a warm blanket, a chocolate truffle.
And I don’t even have to understand what they are saying, to understand why they are saying it. The conversation is comforting at Trinity.