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The Mischief Cup




The Delmar Village, located in St. Louis County, consisted of several low-lying redwood buildings nestled in a perfusion of evergreens and beautifully manicured lawns with an array of beautiful flowers of all hues. The first buildings I encountered had two levels, and they were the assisted living apartments, where my aunt had an apartment. The next set of buildings, maybe a hundred yards away, was for the convalescent patients. The convalescent facility was more like a hospital. My aunt is in rehab from a recent hip operation, and for the time being is housed in the convalescent building. I would stay in her apartment during my visit.

It was lunchtime by the time I had parked the car and headed to the dining room, housed in the convalescent building. “Hello, I’m looking for Dorothy Gray,” I said to the receptionist with frozen auburn hair behind the desk, who seemed but minutes from claiming her spot with the residents.

“She’s right inside,” she said with a genuinely sweet voice; I can tell the difference. She pointed to the dining room, not twenty feet away. When I walked through the doors of the dining hall, I spotted my aunt at a table on the far side of the room. She sat with two other ladies, neither of whom sat upright; no doubt skewed from the ravages of old age.

All the tables in the dining room, about thirty, where occupied by men and ladies with pouf’s of hair of varies shades of purple, blue, and even hues of pink mixed in with the traditional fluffy white clouds of manufactured, tightly curled permanent waves. The wheel chairs and walkers were placed around the walls but conveniently within reach of their owners. The various stages of decline were hard to digest and extremely humbling. I was saddened as I made my way over to my aunt’s table, with a profound sense of the end of life.

When she looked up and saw me, even though she was expecting me, she let out a “Yippee!” and a happy “Sonny Boy!”, and reached out her arms for the hug to follow. I fought back tears. “This is my nephew Sonny,” my aunt said to the table and more directly to Sylvia, one of two table mates. The other woman, whose name I never caught, was one hundred and one and wasn’t aware that I’d joined them at the table. Her daughter is there feeding her and nodded a hello to me. She was also responding to her mother’s memories as she commented on things long since passed. “Where is Ruby?” Her mother said. The daughter, without missing a beat said, “Ruby’s no longer here, mama.” Her mother’s expression never changed as she opened her mouth when her daughter lifted the spoon with a small amount of food to her lips.

“Nice to meet you,” Sylvia said just above a whisper. Sylvia’s body bent a tad to the left, which made her jaw droop slightly on the left side of her face, and she couldn’t or wouldn’t speak above a whisper. This made talking to her kind of hard. But I felt it was my duty to engage her while I sat at the table. She seemed to enjoy me including her in conversation, but she didn’t pose any questions. There was a slight smile in her eyes when she turned her head and looked up at me. I’d smile back and watch as she meticulously and slowly chose measured amounts of food, and spooned it into her mouth. My aunt said Sylvia is in her nineties.

I sat with them for the remainder of lunch, and after lunch we went outside as did most of the other seniors. An array of wheel chairs walkers and a few without assistance gathered to sit and enjoy the warmth of the seventy-five or eighty degree weather. However, our stint outside was short lived. Dorothy felt that the weather had somehow changed-at least by a degree-and might cause some physical harm to her already feeble body.

After delivering Dorothy to her room in the convalescent building, I went to her apartment building next door. A very nice lady greeted me at the reception desk; I believe her name was Margaret. This was no doubt an after-retirement job for her because she looked old enough to be retired. She had the formula frozen hair, strawberry blonde, and she smoked cigarettes-not at the reception desk-but took frequent breaks to go outside to smoke. After I retrieved the keys from the front desk I got on the elevator and punched two. There was a resident in the elevator already. He was somewhat disheveled, unshaven in house shoes. He kept punching the button for the first floor. Since there were only two floors and we were on the first floor, the elevator doors closed and sprung back open, and closes again and again sprung back open.

“What’s wrong with this thing? I’m trying to go to one,” he said, more to himself than to me, standing to his right. He punched it more vigorously and muttered something about the damn door not closing. “Where are you trying to go, Harry?” Margaret said from the desk, watching him assault the elevator button. “This damn door won’t close,” he said irritably, and punched the button for the first floor again. “Well, are you trying to go up or down”? Margaret said. She then looked at me as if to say, “please be patient.” I simply nodded and tried to keep my composure, rather than laugh.

“I don’t know,” Harry said in honest bewilderment. “Well, Harry, if you stop punching the button the doors will close.” Margaret offered. He stopped long enough for the doors to close and then started to punch them again. “I should have gotten off,” he said and offered up more mumbled irritation that he didn’t get off and rode the elevator to the second floor. I got off on the second floor and he stayed on, punching buttons and mumbling incoherently as the doors started to close and then opened again and again and again.

The next day after some running around down in the city of St. Louis, I ended up back at the facility to dine with my favorite aunt. My aunt and Sylvia were already in place. The centenarian wasn’t at dinner. After dinner I took my aunt to her hair appointment. As she waited, just inside the little beauty salon, I walked down the hall to speak to a lady who had always given me a big smile when I looked her way. She was in a wheel chair and propelled herself about with her feet, hardly ever using her hands. There was something different about her. Unlike the others, her hair was a mixed grey and ash-blond, cut into a smart short bob, making her look much more youthful then her counterparts. Looks could be deceiving.

“Hello, my name is Sonny,” I said as I sat next to her wheelchair. “I’m here visiting my aunt Dorothy Gray.”

“How are you, young man?” she asked as I sat down. “My name is Irene.” She lifted her feeble hand to shake mine. I couldn’t help but notice the twinkle in her eyes with a smile not far away. She too bent slightly forward and had to turn her head and look up to talk. “It’s very nice of you to come visit your aunt,” she said, and the twinkles in her eyes seemed to sparkle. She went on, “I’m an only, and I had an only.” Right then I knew that I had a real character sitting next to me. There was no semblance of self-pity. “I’m okay,” she said and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, what can one do at the end of life… She trailed off. I wanted to say something but I was at a loss for words. Here she was at the end of her life with no regrets, accepting her fate with dignity. She regained her composure and said, “Now, don’t forget to mind your mischief cup because mine ran over.”

Tuesday, early afternoon, I went over during lunch and said my goodbyes to all the ladies and gentlemen I had met. I especially sought out Irene and thanked her for her wisdom. Her eyes twinkled and her smile broadened when she took my hand and said, “Goodbye, and don’t forget to mind your mischief cup.” For the second time on this trip I had to fight back tears. Then I kissed my aunt on the cheek and promised to return soon. I left the Delmar Village with more than I came with, and thanks to Irene my cup runneth over.