Tag Archives: senior moments

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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Senior Moments: Spring Break

Given the proliferation of Florida pictures in my Facebook feed, it’s become apparent that it’s currently Spring Break season. In the words of the immortal Matt Foley, a la Chris Farley, “Whoop-deefrickin-doo!”

My apologies to those enjoying sunshine and relaxation, but until a mandatory Spring Break for working adults is implemented, I will continue to carry a slight chip on my shoulder.

Oh wait, that’s just part of a pita chip. I really shouldn’t eat those on the couch.

Anyway, my point is this got me thinking about Spring Breaks of the past. When I was in elementary school we often went down to Florida to visit my grandparents, and I’ve already recounted the tale of eight grade Abby and her best friend going down to stay with those grandparents at their condo for 10 days.

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I was basically a child genius.

In case you don’t want to click over—although I would advise that you do if you want a good chuckle—we spent the trip riding three-wheeled bicycles to the community pool, narrowly avoided both food poisoning and elderly binge drinkers while dreaming of a trip to the beach that turned out to be less than expected.

But a couple years later I went back to Florida to spend Easter with my grandma, as it was the first Easter she would celebrate after my grandpa passed away.

Unlike the first trip, it rained almost every day and instead of spending time sunning myself at the pool, I made the 20 minute drive to the only mall within 100 miles to use a tanning bed so I could at least return home looking less miserable than I felt.

However, a large chuck of time was once again spent cleaning large Ziploc bags full of ketchup and mustard packets from various fast food establishments—“free condiments!”—out of the freezer, among other mysterious things.

Now if you’ve never spent time as the youngest person in a retirement community, I feel the need to prepare you for your adventure.

Geriatric Girls Gone Wild

Elderly women often marinate in perfume and get their thinning hair styled and set into old lady Afros once a week at the beauty shop, tipping “the young girl” of 55 at least $1 each time. Old men with shorts pulled up to their nipples will smell of flea market cologne and stylishly wear white socks with balls on the back with their sandals. If the temperatures dip below 60 degrees, all will be outfitted with earmuffs and gloves.

Yard decorations, a year-round staple, will take on a festive Easter feel, and passive aggressive signs of a dog pooping with a big “X” over said pile of crap will be replaced with trees decorated with massive plastic eggs, pastel lights and plastic flamingos wearing bunny years.

Dinner at the clubhouse will bring to mind memories of middle school in which the women gossip and men talk about their upcoming athletic pursuits, be it a shuffleboard tournament or landing a 7-lb fish. If you’re single, this will become the point of conversation and condemnation as each yenta tells you how perfect you are for their 60-year-old single Jewish son who has most of his hair and part of his hearing.

Members will make sure to eat their fill—they paid $10 for the meal, after all—and then stuff whatever they can into napkins to take back to their condos for later. This not only includes food, but often silverware, sugar packets and toothpicks.

Speaking of food, you might return back to the condo one blazing hot afternoon to find a picnic basket on the front porch—in the sun—from your grandma’s best friend down the street. This picnic basket might contain potato salad and leftover prime rib.

You might have a horrified look on your face as your grandma deems it her supper for later, as she believes once meat is cooked, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated and can left out until it’s either consumed or disintegrates.

You might just be lucky to make it out alive, older—but still the youngest around—and hopefully just a bit wiser.

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Senior Moments: Elvis

I realize that the job of words is to describe things, but sometimes there just aren’t enough words to describe seeing nuns and senior citizens in wheelchairs dirty dancing with an Elvis impersonator on a sunny Saturday afternoon in September.

ElvisPresley

However, I will try in the latest “Senior Moments” installment. (The others can be found by searching that term on my sidebar.) 

This past weekend was the annual community carnival at the old people’s place. The term “carnival” is a bit of a stretch, but they fill the huge parking lot and yard with booths of games for the kids, a very modest petting zoo, a bounce house (for the kids, not the seniors) and carts/tables of food, ice cream and drinks donated by local businesses.

Gram was having one of her good days, so mom and I wheeled her outside to mingle among the residents, employees and their families, goats, nuns wearing bright green “St. Ann’s Carnival 2012” T-shirts over their habits and…Elvis.

Oh yes.

Elvis had left the building and set up shop on the makeshift stage. He was the real deal, resplendent in a white jumpsuit bedazzled with gold and silver gleaming in the late afternoon sun. His black hair hardly moved when the gentle breeze blew, and his sideburns accented his exposed chest hair of a similar hue.

While many of those in the audience were aware that this wasn’t in fact the real Elvis, there was one senior friend who informed the Hunka Hunka Burning Love that she saw him in concert in 1957 and threw her panties on stage.

We were all just relieved that she didn’t try and recreate that moment.

Elvis was actually awesome, although with his gyrating hips and plethora of “silk” scarves to give out to the ladies, I think at times he forgot that he was working a crowd of senior citizens, children and nuns.

One nun who had recently celebrated her 60th anniversary of sisterhood joined Elvis on stage for a rousing rendition of “Little Sister,”— dancing like she had been into the holy wine a wee bit too much — while Sister Judith grabbed the microphone stand and proceeded to dip left and right, a back-up singer to the King and the Lord for “Devil In Disguise.”

When Elvis made his way towards Gram for a song, she joined in signing and dancing in her chair while the King placed a scarf around her neck. When asked later by a friend about this budding romance, she replied, “He’s got business to take care of and I’m too tired right now. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be up for some fun yet tonight.”

He continued making the rounds as each song came over the speakers, changing the words to fit the situation at times —“I really want one of those hot dogs” (sung to “You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog”)—while the nuns continued to dance in the grass.

Add in a middle-aged woman who apparently thought she was at a karaoke bar after last call, an old guy who yelled, “what the hell are you doing?” when the microphone was thrust in his face and a dog dragging his ass across the grass in front of the stage, and that pretty much sums up the moment.

So as Elvis finished his rendition of “Rolling Down to St. Ann’s,” that’s just what we did, rolling Gram back inside to the dining room to trade in her scarf for a “clothing protector” and food.

She is, after all, still the Queen.

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Senior Moments: Hail Mary

June 21 is not only the first full day of summer, but also my grandma’s 90th birthday.

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This is how we party—batting helmets and bibs.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know that she’s quite a gem, to say the least. I’ve written many posts about our “Senior Moments” at the home — everything from Bingo etiquette to dating advice — but I haven’t had many to share lately simply because there aren’t as many funny moments as there were in the past.

Heck, she’s 90.

You can’t expect her to tap dance and sing, although she often requests that my mom and I do a little of both. But she did call an old lady a cocksucker yesterday, so there’s that. Considering she’s 90, I suppose she gets a free pass on that one only because the woman referenced wasn’t a nun.

It could always be worse.

Anyway, the Tigers serendipitously had a day game today, so we spent the afternoon watching the game and treating her like the Polish queen that she is.

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There was a hot dog bar—which meant I had to explain once again to her that tube meat is not vegetarian so she could call me a spinster hippie—Cracker Jacks, decorations and cake.

It was also 352 degrees in that room, yet she still insisted on bundling up and telling us that she was cold.

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That’s her friend Evy that I named a doll after when I was little. I also had a doll named Gert and obviously no young friends. 

Anyway, as a mini-tribute I’m doing that annoying thing where I link back to some of the funnier old posts that you might have missed the first time around. (I promise my next post will be “new” and probably not improved.)

If you have a few minutes, I invite you to get to know the woman who inspired me to complete my first full phrase as a fat little baby — “goddamn dog.” She claims that she doesn’t know where I picked it up from, as it surely wasn’t from the 203 times a day she would yell at their old poodle Pokie to get off of the couch.

From that point on she only swore in Polish, which meant I only swore in Polish. At least at that point no one knew what the fat little baby was saying.

Again, it could always be worse.

So Happy 90th Birthday Gram.

I’m not sure I could love you much more.

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Senior Moments

Senior Moments Bingo

Senior Moments Opening Day

Senior Moments Dating

Senior Moments Fork Fight

It Was a Drive-By Beaching

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Senior Moments: Fork Fight

Despite what you may have heard, my Grandma did not try and stab a woman we’ll call “Eugina” with her fork at lunch.

At least that’s what I was told when I sat down by Gram the other day in the dining room, her chair wheeled up to the table and clothing protector in place. While Lorraine was wheeled up on the other side of the table, Eugina’s spot was mysteriously vacant.

Dinner with Eugina—a large, loud woman from the South who looked like Oprah in “The Color Purple” but talked like a drunk auctioneer—was stressful, so I can’t say I was entirely disappointed with this development. 

Eugina would shovel food in her mouth and loudly ramble on about things no one could understand. Gram and Lorraine would exchange cataract-filled looks across the table and ramble on in Polish I couldn’t understand, but that I interpreted as something of less than a stellar opinion of their dining companion.

(The first words you learn in a foreign language are usually those of a profane nature.)

“Put in a penny, get a whole goddam dollars worth of noise,” Gram has said on more than one occasion, a sentiment Lorraine would echo with a simple “amen”  between bites of her mechanically processed meal.

As I sat across from Eugina’s empty chair, I was immediately given the defendant’s side of the claim.

“That floosy made up some story about how I tried to stab her hand with a fork at lunch,” Gram said, taking one more bite of her meatloaf before turning the fork around to point at me—a bit of incriminating evidence, but apparently done for emphasis. “Not that I could understand her, but I know what she was saying.”

She went on to tell me how the nurses had to calm Eugina down, but that they would have been more successful if they had just put more ice cream in front of her, as “the woman would eat shit on a shingle if you put it on her plate,” a sentiment Lorraine again echoed with a simple, “amen.”

At this point in the story, the dessert cart was rolled in, prompting many seniors to get twitchy and anxious like junkies awaiting their fix. While there are always several options, there are also always several complaints—the wrong flavor of pie or cake, cookies too hard or too soft—and usually from the same people.

“Why is there no cherry pie?” Irene asked, looking around to see if everyone else was as appalled at this development as her. “All I wanted was cherry pie, and what do they bring? Apple. Who brings apple pie?”

Richard, nursing his bottle of root beer like Corona, kindly told her “don’t get your tit in a wringer” before taking some pie for himself, a nugget of advice he dispensed often to both men and women.

Settled in with some sweets of her own, Gram turned her attention back to the matter at hand—literally.

“Why would I do such a thing as stab her?” Gram asked incredulously as she brought her hand up to her heart, revealing the Kleenex shoved up in her sleeve. “First of all, I was too busy worrying about my own food to think about sticking that woman with my fork.

“And second,” she continued, “if I were going to do it, I would have used the butter knife.”

No further questions, Your Honor.

*Apparently Eugina was moved to another wing on charges unrelated to the fork incident in question. Gram is in the clear—for now.

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