Tag Archives: gram

Senior Citizen Bingo: They Play for Keeps

Have you ever spent the day playing Bingo with 25 people over the age of 75 on the medical side of an assisted living facility? If not, I’ll let you in on just what you’re missing.

Me, my mom and my grandma and are pretty close—three generations of Polish snark not lacking authenticity or attitude—for better or for worse. Gram’s at a home half a mile from my house, my mom goes to see her every day and I generally go once a week.

She’s been getting a lot worse the past couple of years—dementia—and now at 92 the “fun” times are few and far between. But there was a time when if we could plan it correctly, we would be there for the daily activity held in the activity room.

I’ll set the scene:

It’s four people to a table, two cards to a person, one bowl of Bingo chips for each player. Wheelchairs are locked and they’re ready to roll.

This seems innocent enough, but let’s get one thing straight. These people have been through wars, marriages, children, deaths, Depressions and depressions. Now they no longer worry about recessions as much as they do if Gertrude next door stole the extra Nutter Butter from their snack tray last Thursday.

They’ve got nothing to lose and they play for keeps. Or rather, they play for candy, which along with popcorn, is the geriatric equivalent of crack.

The activity director—a small, demure blonde girl with a huge heart—will call out the numbers like an NFL quarterback calling a play.

“B 14,” the caller will say. “B one four.”

Someone will ask “before what?” while at least two others will mistake “B14” for something either in the “N” column or as a directive to complain about the fact that it was supposed to be beer and popcorn night.

More numbers will be called and silence—save for a few rogue coughs or bodily functions—will blanket the room. This is either due to the fact that concentration is required for placing each chip, or that half of them have forgotten what they’re doing.

“O 63,” the caller will say. “O six three.”

Madge, sitting right next to the caller, will ask her what was said. This will be repeated after every number called, annoying Gram who will passive-aggressively express this annoyance with a Morse Code of exasperated sighs and Polish cursing.

I will have to remind her that Mary is 100 years old, to which Gram will reply that after 100 years, she should know her way around a goddamn Bingo card.

Leona will win twice in a row, pretty much guaranteeing evil glares and a public shunning by the women until she repents in some way—throwing a game or throwing a hip—to get herself back in good graces.

This might sound harsh, but remember, candy is at stake.

After each triumphant “Bingo!” is called, my mom will distribute that candy by prancing around the room with a tray like an old-fashioned cigarette girl in a bar. (With the exception of June, who will be given a pudding cup if she’s fortunate enough to win, as she is unfortunately on a puree diet.)

The winner will go one of two ways—either directly for the junk food jugular by grabbing their favorite chocolate-covered treats, or the less manic route, pondering this decision as if a Twix is the last thing they will ever eat in their life.

Which, to be fair, just might be true.

After everyone’s told that their cards must be cleared, the next round of play will begin.

“G 55,” the caller will say. “G five five.”

Mary will ask what was said, Gram will sigh heavily enough to move Julia’s card across the table and Leona will hide the fact that both of her cards contain G55. Out of nowhere Richard will ask where the beer and popcorn are and where the waitress went.

I will remark that a beer sounds good, at which point Gram will remind me that if I wasn’t so picky, I could be out drinking beer with a nice man like Richard or the maintenance man who hung the shelf in her room last week.

I will have to remind her that Richard  is 94 years old and the maintenance man was actually a very butch woman, to which Gram will reply that after 30 years, I should lower my standards.

O66,” the caller will say. “O six six.”

But then I would miss all the fun. 

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Don’t Just Disappear

She exists in two worlds—the reality that we all know and the reality that her mind creates.

Some days she’ll look me straight in the eyes and tell me about how she’s exhausted from running here or there for a husband who has been gone for years.

Looking at Gram in her wheelchair—where I know she’s been all day, all week, all year—I can see the confusion-filled cloud of dementia that hangs over so many that live in the home.

But lately she’s slipped past the frustrated stage into one of simple contentment most days. Sometimes she’s with us and sometimes she’s lost in that world of her own, but the fear of those two worlds colliding seems to have lessened a bit.

I’ve written about the relationship between my mom, my grandma and me here dozens of times, but this past year it’s been really hard. While there are moments of tenderness and heart-breaking hilarity, continuing to visit and watch mental and physical deterioration—and being powerless to change any of it—isn’t easy to do.

It’s no longer the way that it was.

She doesn’t understand watching baseball anymore, so our biggest shared interest is gone. And at times I don’t want to clean up the room or stop in and find that she’s still sleeping, blinds closed and room dark in the middle of a sunny summer day.

But recently an aide commented to me, “It nice that you still come and visit so much. So many families just disappear.”

As hard as it is, I admit I know exactly how those people feel. Most times I just don’t want to go.

Maybe it’s fear. Maybe it’s knowing that she is safe and in capable hands without me doing the work. Maybe it’s the difficulty in seeing a person you love with your heart and not just your eyes fade into the gathering darkness.

It’s hard when she’s not the person that she used to be, and in a way she exists in two worlds for me—the reality that we all know and the reality my mind creates, the way I want to remember she was.

But if being on the outside is rough, being on the inside must be harder, even if her recognition of this has passed, too. We all have times that we feel alone or fear that somehow we’ll be forgotten simply because we’ve changed in a way that others find hard to accept.

But while it’s not always fun and it’s not always easy, it’s also not all about me.

So I go to make sure she’s comfortable, to selfishly lessen my guilt, to connect her two worlds when I can and make sure she knows that I’m there—wherever her “there” is on that day.

I go because this is our reality now.

I go because deep down she’s still the same Gram.

I go because love doesn’t just disappear, and because she hasn’t either, neither will I.

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Girls Gone Mild

I shared this story in my first book, but I was recently reminded of this situation and thought I would share it on here in case you missed it because you’re waiting for your book to arrive.

Right? Right.

It’s a story about the time me and my best friend B went on Spring Break. This could conjure up expectations of a “Girls Gone Wild” type post if I failed to omit one important detail—we were 8th grade girls and we went to Florida to stay with my grandparents at their condo.

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Every morning we would throw on our suits and flip-flops, hop on 3-wheeled bicycles and spend our days in the sun by the community pool. The afternoons and evenings, however, weren’t always quite as smooth.

As you might remember, my grandma was someone who believed that once meat was cooked, it didn’t need to be refrigerated and could be left out on the hot countertop until it was either consumed or it disintegrated. What did need to be refrigerated—or more specifically, kept in large Ziploc bags in the freezer—were ketchup and mustard packets from various fast food establishments that always gave out “free condiments.”

Because of a desire to avoid food poisoning, we often suggested frequenting various chain restaurants for dinner. This suggestion was often well-received, not only because my grandpa loved to eat anything anywhere, but because Happy Hour drinks were 2-for-1 at most of these restaurants—as long as you ordered both drinks at the same time.

That meant that when you walked into any Applebees, Outback, etc. between the hours of 4-6, you would be greeted with tables full of senior citizens pushing their oxygen tanks off to the side of their booths to make room for their two Rum and Cokes, Screwdrivers or Vodka Tonics.

The waitresses were thrilled with their tips, I’m sure.

One day my grandparents presented us with an exciting proposition—going to the beach about an hour away where the “real” action was. We eagerly packed our beach bags and hopped into the back seat the Cadillac, windows down, Neil Diamond warbling from the speakers.

As we got closer, B and I exchanged excited glances and gathered up our bags, waiting for the car to slow down and park so we could join in the whole beach experience.

The car never stopped.

“This is the beach,” said my grandpa, proudly pointing it out as we kept driving by. Confused, I asked where we were going to park.

“What? Why would we?” asked my grandma, looking at me as if I had just suggested only playing 12 Bingo cards at once or actually refrigerating leftover chicken. “It’s too busy, too hot. Do you girls want some ice cream?”

Now mortified, I looked at B and saw panic in her eyes. The only way we wanted ice cream was if it could be eaten on the beach, which meant the car would have to stop at some point soon.

But despite my protests, the next time the car stopped was at McDonalds just off the highway. Grandpa placed the order of sundaes and cones while we sat in shock in the back. No basking in the sun on the sand, no dipping our toes in the ocean—just a drive-by in the Caddy and “Sweet Caroline” on repeat.

As we pulled up to the pick-up window, my grandma leaned over the driver’s seat and gave strict orders to the window worker to include the condiments, which I naively assumed to be the optional nuts for her sundae.

In retrospect, I should have been prepared to hear her demand not the nuts, but the free packets of ketchup and mustard to add to her collection back home.

“Free condiments means free condiments,” she said with a chortle, turning around to face us in the backseat. “When you’re paying (.99 cents) for each ice cream, you better make sure you get your money’s worth.”

Because after all, nothing completes a day at the beach like free ketchup and mustard to hoard with your ice cream.

“Now who’s ready for happy hour?” she asked, tucking the packets into her oversized purse, no doubt to make room for the sugar sure to be swiped from the restaurant.

I looked at B and saw resignation in her eyes.

We were ready.

Make it a double.

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You Get What You Pay For

Although I’m single, I’ve had several long relationships with Ziploc bags I rinse and reuse. You could say that in some circuitous way, my grandma has set me up for these questionable couplings.

She was an outspoken woman whose kitchen at any point in time was an abstract art gallery of repurposed and pilfered goods—washed and dried paper plates, aluminum foil smoothed out and reused until the tears couldn’t be (off-brand) taped up, and sugar and salt packets slipped in her purse from the local Juicy Lucy (two burgers for $1!)

This was a woman who believed that once meat was cooked, it didn’t need to be refrigerated and could be left out on the hot countertop until it was either consumed or it disintegrated.

(I once arrived at her condo, Florida sun blazing down, to find a picnic basket on her porch from her neighbor, the contents of which being potato salad, roast beef and cheesecake. “I found my dinner!” she triumphantly cried.)

What did need to be refrigerated—or more specifically, kept in large (off-brand) plastic zipper bags in the freezer—were ketchup and mustard packets from various fast food establishments that always gave out “free condiments.”

For most people, the assumption would be that a packet of sugar or ketchup was available for your convenience to use at that time. My grandma wasn’t “most people.”

I clearly recall an instance when I was younger in which we went to McDonald’s for ice cream. As we pulled up to the pick-up window, she leaned over the driver’s seat and gave strict orders to the window worker to include the condiments, which I naively assumed to be the optional nuts for her sundae.

In retrospect, I should have been prepared to hear her demand not the nuts, but the free packets of ketchup and mustard to add to her collection back home.

“Free condiments means free condiments,” she said with a chortle. “When you’re paying (99 cents) for each ice cream, you better get what you pay for.”

She wasn’t alone in her frugality though. These sundaes were purchased after a dinner during “Early Happy Hour” when drinks were 2-for-1 at most chain restaurants—as long as you ordered both drinks at the same time.

That meant when you walked into the restaurant during that time, you would be greeted with senior citizens pushing their oxygen tanks off to the side of their booths to make room for their two Rum and Cokes.

I never witnessed anyone slipping a few extra limes into their bags to take home, but there were rumors that Gram’s neighbor snuck out a steak knife from Outback.

I guess you get what you pay for.

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For Love of the Game

If you know me at all, you know that one thing I love is my baseball. Every year around this time I wax poetic about Opening Day, and this year will be no exception.

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But don’t worry.

Although I’m repeating myself, this post isn’t going to be filled with statistics and names or metaphors about the game that I’ve loved all my life. If you don’t love baseball, I won’t try and convince you. If you do love baseball, you don’t need me to tell you why.

But for me, it’s more than a game.

It is just a bat and a ball, but it can unite a city, a state, a family with one swing of that bat or one pitch of that ball. It can make grown men cry, and sometimes, even a 32-year-old woman who usually only cries for road kill and good food spilled on the floor.

It’s remembering summers by games that were played—the crack of the bat, the stitch on a ball, the smell of the grass in the field. It’s looking forward to spring training in the dead of winter when every other joy seems frozen beneath layers of ice and of snow—especially given the historically horrible winter that we’ve endured.

It’s being able to identify players by their batting stance or jersey number and feeling an instant connection with strangers wearing clothes with the old English “D” for my Detroit Tigers.

For me, it’s an escape.

Sports in general afford me the opportunity to forget about the mundane concerns of everyday life for a while and to spend time with others who take pleasure in enjoying a similar break. It’s a reminder that I can still feel excited about something when a lot of the time I’m just numb.

For me, it’s family.

It’s a 92-year-old woman who can’t always remember who I am, but who might tell me about a game in 1948 with a clarity time hasn’t stolen quite yet.

I know this year will be different.

Gram doesn’t understand the games on TV and can’t comprehend what we’re watching. Selfishly, this makes me sad because I feel like we lost our big “thing”—the talks about players, the gripes about calls, the excitement of recaps and scores.

Yet watching the game with her takes me right back to being sprawled on her living room floor as a kid, watching each game on mute while Ernie Harwell came through on the radio. (But not lying underneath the ceiling fan, as I was warned the goddamn thing would inevitably fall on me and crush me to death. Fuzzy memories.)

For me, it relates to everyday life.

The goal of every single hitter is to always make it back home. There are daily ups and downs, success and adversity. You can fail miserably one day and be the hero the next day. Slumps happen, but you have to let go of the past and look forward and remember the goal—and that you’re not in this thing by yourself.

It’s tradition and memories tied up with box scores and hopefulness mixed in with stats.

Sure, it’s a “pastime. ” But it’s my favorite way to pass that time.

Play ball.

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Pressing My Luck

I’ve come to the conclusion that my most viable retirement option is going on a game show and kicking some ass, so I’m currently looking into my options.

My love of game shows can most likely be attributed to my grandma. Everyone knew not to come over before “Price is Right” was on—she was still sleeping—but after that it was a marathon of everything from “Classic Concentration” and “Scrabble” to “$10,000 Pyramid” and of course, the immortal “Press Your Luck.”

If “Press Your Luck” were still on, I would so throw down with some Whammies.

But I miss all the old classic shows, as now we have “The Bachelor” instead of “Love Connection” in which Chuck Woolery— working one of his five jobs — charmed the audience with his impossibly white teeth, humorous quips and classic “two and two” as he threw it to a commercial.

Fortunately, some of the classics remain.

Suck It, Trebek

Of course I have to mention “Jeopardy” first, even if it’s the least viable option. Gram would usually tackle the history questions, many of which she considered to be modern news stories, and I could run any category on sports, food or household cleaning products.

But these days I only feel smart when it’s the Elementary School for Average Students Tournament of Champions and I recently slammed my head in the freezer, so I think I’ll stick with kicking the ass of the senile old people at the home.

Don’t judge. They’re a very competitive bunch.

Come On Down!

The “Price is Right” was a big one for us—once we got past Gram announcing all the models were cheap hussy floozies—and given my vast knowledge of grocery stores and couponing combined with the fact I created a PLINKO game for myself when I was little, this one might be a good bet.

It’s a long shot and I would have to wear an outrageous shirt with some ridiculous saying on it so I could get picked, but I’m confident that I could “come on down!” and bid closest to the actual retail price without going over.

However, I still can’t get used to skinny Drew Carey.

Spin to Win

Maybe it’s my love of words or the phase I went through in which I obsessively completed crossword puzzles—sometimes without even looking up the solution for the long words in the back of the book—but I can often come up with the “Wheel of Fortune” answers impressively early.

I wouldn’t be one of those players who spends all their money buying vowels—they obviously don’t know how to budget—or who shouts out every letter like they’re talking to Stevie Wonder. I also hear the “Bankrupt” sound effect every time I check my banking balance online, so I could comfortably couch my reaction should the wheel deal me that blow.

Regardless, I like The Wheel, and it’s been around so long that I expect Vanna to roll around in her walker uncovering letters at some point in time.

The only issue I see would be spinning the wheel itself. I’m not exactly what you would call “coordinated,” so falling over the barrier in an effort to enthusiastically spin the wheel and being forced to ride around in circles until it stopped is a distinct possibility.

But even then I might still end up as a YouTube viral sensation, at which time I could milk my 15 minutes of fame, go on Jimmy Fallon and convince him to hire/marry me and then retire to my couch with some hummus.

Either way, I think that’s a win.

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A Boobie Trap

Last week I overheard the neighbor kid say that he got to touch a boob, which got me thinking. First, he made it sound like a pretty big deal so I wondered if I should send a card or buy him a balloon or something to celebrate, but decided against it.

Second, what is the big deal with boobs?

Because I overshare, most of you know that I’m not exactly well-endowed and would just as soon go braless if it wasn’t for that little thing called the office and the awkwardness of “alert” nipples in cold conference rooms.

Side note: I hate, hate the word nipple. We need a new synonym for this, like “boob bulls eye” or “bust bumps” or something.

Anyway, while I got the small bump in the middle of my nose frommy grandma, I also got small bumps on my chest and not the titanic ta-tas that she has. In fact, I think my first memory of seeing actual boobs is with her.

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Every little girl needs a mullet and sock boobs.

I have this distinct memory of being on my grandma’s bathroom counter after she washed my feet in the sink. Apparently I’m a splasher because she had to change her shirt. She whipped it off, turned around and two swinging sacks large enough to alter the tides came flying around in her massive over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder.

Quickly looking down at my concave counterpart, it became clear to me that six kids and 60 years could do a lot to alter the female form.

I was both mortified and fascinated by the size of her fleshy pillows. I mean, I knew they were there before in the way I knew my grandpa had tiny bird legs and socks with the balls on the back. But to see those grand gazongas—if only as they passed in a busty blur—was quite a surprise.

After she changed her shirt, we went out to the line to hang her other shirt to dry. There—flying like a flag of fleshy freedom—were some of grandma’s bras. Big, huge white underwire numbers that could double as a hammock for a small child were clothes-pinned right next to the sheets and grandpa’s stained T-shirts on the line.

“So this is what I have to look forward to?” I wondered as I untangled myself from the now-semi-clean sheet I was “helping” to fold. “The rest of my life is going to be spent lugging around bowling balls in a bra that could house newborn squirrels? Won’t they get in the way of the fun things like baseball and teaching Get In Shape Girl on the front lawn to reluctant neighbor kids?”

Well, years later it’s become as clear as the slightly bumpy nose on my face that my cleavage is not a concern, as it doesn’t exist.

Some women might feel insecure about this, like they’re “less of a woman” because they don’t have huge honkers—or any at all. And while I admit that it would be nice to feel a bit more “gifted” in the breasticle area—if only to have something to catch the food that I drop—there are a million other things that I would rather feel insecure about.

I figure you get what you get, and what I got were more memories than mammories from Gram, one faithful bra in my dresser and a pervy neighborhood kid.

Two out of three ain’t bad.

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