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Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Old Grey Matter

While I was over on the east coast, I dropped in to visit GG Mil, my husband’s step grandmother, who was recently moved into an assisted living facility in Hollywood to be nearer to extended family. Initially she wanted to return to the facility she’d been living in up in Sebring, FL, because she couldn’t deal with the multicultural aspect of South Florida, but she’s settled in now and satisfied. I was impressed with how nice it is, very elegantly decorated, not medical at all. She had put in a request for cigarettes, so I stopped along the way and bought her a carton. Not the greatest for her health, I know, she uses a ventilator at night, but I figured I would respect her request; when you’re that old, you should get what you want without people harping about the wisdom of such choices. I hope my kids will do the same for me if I reach that age. I, however, plan on subsisting on a diet made up entirely of cookies.

Mil introduced me to her across-the-hallway-neighbor, Shelley. My husband grew up just a few doors down from Shelley and her large family, in Hollywood. She is only about five years older than G. G had told me she was there, after suffering a brain aneurism, so I expected to see someone resembling a major stroke victim, maybe bedridden, with partial paralysis. Nope, she looks just like you or me. She was wearing jean shorts, a surfer tee shirt, looked like she just had her hair highlighted, very tan. In fact she goes out for breakfast every morning and rides her bike most days down to the beach.

It is very disconcerting to see someone like yourself in one of these places.

We talked about where we lived, on the island, on the west coast, and she told me that she had gone to college in Tampa. She has two daughters, so we discussed raising girls a bit. After Shelley mentioned college in Tampa for the third time, I caught on. In a lucid moment, she told me why she was there, that the aneurism had left her with a brain like Swiss cheese, with huge holes in her memory; she showed me the bracelet she wears in case she gets lost. She said with a pained look, that so much is gone, but she mustn’t dwell on it or she would get horribly depressed. Then she smiled and told me about her daughters again. And college.

After living with my grandmother and watching her mind fade into oblivion, I always wondered if Nana knew what was happening, but was trapped inside her own head. She used to rock in her chair and whistle, “The Old Grey Mare,” and then she’d give you a big wink. Years prior to that, Nana used to tell us to be sure and shoot her before she ever got too old and lost her mind, so I used to wonder, guiltily, if the Old Grey Mare was sitting in there somewhere, frustrated that no one had put her out of her misery yet.

Shelley was aware of her tragic situation, but the disturbing knowledge of what had been and what could never be, slipped away as quickly as it came. That’s some consolation.

The old grey mare,
She ain’t what she used to be,
Ain’t what she used to be,
Ain’t what she used to be.
The old grey mare,
she ain’t what she used to be,
many, long years ago.

Many, long years ago,
Many, long years ago,
The old grey mare,
She ain’t what she used to be,
Many long years ago.

On a happier note, G took the girls over to a neighboring marina while I was out grocery shopping today. He had been busy with heavy duty yard work, so for a break, they all jumped in the boat to ride over to the gourmet grocery on Boca Grande for candy, cookies, and beer. Apparently they are regulars there, because the clerk gave them a copy of Pirates of the Caribbean for free, telling them to return it whenever. Sweet G also picked me up a copy of Carl Hiaasen’s latest, Skinny Dip.

What a guy! It’s such a wonderful feeling when someone really gets you. And he’s not even the least bit insecure about buying me a book by my not-so-secret boyfriend.

Tomorrow morning, after I trim the mangrove hedges at low tide, I’m hopping into my hammock with Skinny Dip, Undaunted Courage, the August Vanity Fair, and a book of crossword puzzles.

Got to exercise that grey matter a little.

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