I finally found a bubble-maker that I like. It’s a wand about 15” long that puts out lots of long-lasting bubbles. I brought it with me to dinner at my mother’s assisted-living facility last week. Little did I know the drama that awaited me.
Last month, my mother and I~, the other resident who sits at her table, were moved to another one where spaces had recently opened up. (An all-too-regular occurrence, unfortunately, with this population.) The change delighted me because it brought together three of my favorite people in the building. I’ve written about I~ in an earlier post, but haven’t mentioned S~ til now.
I’ve taken S~ on as a special project because she’s always alone. I’m told she rarely, if ever, has visitors, and few other residents seem to like her, much less talk to her. In appearance, she looks like an elderly Greek or Italian peasant who just stepped off the boat — in 1910. Tiny and toothless, she shuffles along when she walks, head pointed down and wrapped in a kerchief — as if she carries the weight of the world on shoulders far too slight to carry such a burden. I think of her as the quintessential sad sack come to life. My mother once pretended to have left something behind in a room just to avoid walking down the hallway with her.
So, I make a special effort to reach out to her — not always easy because I don’t want to shortchange my mother. S~ may lack all her teeth but unlike Lillian (my mother), she is able to carry on a simple conversation. She’s much more curious about me though than wanting to talk about herself: “Where do you live? What do you do there? Is that your mother? Will I see you tomorrow?” are questions she asks every week. Our conversations usually end with her saying, as tears well up in her eyes, “Thank you so much for talking to me. You’re such a good person. God bless you.”
I~ and my mother, on the other hand, were not at all happy with the new seating arrangement which put them in close proximity to S~. A week later, the dining room manager moved my mother to an adjacent table with two men. That left I~ with S~ and another woman who is generally mute.
By the time my mother was having her dessert, her male companions had left. I took out the bubble wand and invited S~ to join us as part of my outreach effort. I was also hoping that the more my mother saw me interacting with S~, the more her antipathy would dissipate.
Both women watched as the bubbles wafted into the air, some of them floating for extended periods. I showed each of them how to blow bubbles themselves, and played a game that had S~ catching bubbles in a drinking glass. When she asked (once again) how I get home, I joked about hitching a ride on one of the bubbles.
The table was right near an elevator that took residents back to their apartments. As they entered the car with their walkers and wheel chairs, I’d send them off with bubbles as fellow passengers.
At the time, I was totally absorbed in the playfulness of the bubbles, and the buoyancy they give to aging spirits. Only later did I come to feel the poignancy of these beautiful rainbow-colored spheres as metaphor.
There was one sour note in the midst of all this: I~ was now sitting alone at her table. When asked to join us, she refused, believing that my mother had moved to another table because of her, not S~. Despite my efforts, I couldn’t convince her otherwise. I hope things get straightened out this week because the two of them had such a nice relationship going. I also like having my girls together.