I remember her when…

I drove the Help of Ojai bus this morning.  Pretty busy with regulars as well as a couple of new faces.  Brought a book with me just in case there was a big chunk of downtime.   There wasn’t.

First, I escorted two folks to Oak Tree House, the day care center for those who have dimmed a bit, and for others who just find the company at Oak Tree an improvement from the usual routine.  The House also gives caregivers a much needed break.

After grabbing some coffee at Java and Joes, I drove to At Home in Ojai, one of the senior board and care facilities in our aging metropolis.  At Home has gone through some changes.  My impression is that the current managers are caring, efficient and pleasant.

I knew who I was picking up.  But I was a little surprised to find her there.  I’d lost track of her in the last year or two.  Her house, the one that I used to find her at, was sold last year.  I’d assumed she’d gone to live with family, maybe moved out of the area.  Or worse.

The manifest said she would be in a wheelchair.  The last time I picked her up at her Green Street home she had a little trouble navigating.  But she didn’t use a walker or need the lift.  So a wheelchair was a bit of a shock, even for me.  Me, who spends most of Monday mornings folding/unfolding walkers and tying down wheelchairs so folks don’t get prematurely ejected from the bus.

I arrived At Home, lowered the lift, rang the doorbell, and told the aide who I was looking for.  We walked around the gate and up the neatly manicured, shady driveway.  “Don’t tell her she’s going to the doctor” the aide confided.  Not a good sign.

I spotted her, sitting outside in a wheelchair, next to a similarly seated woman of about the same age.  “Hi ladies, how are you today?” I said smiling.  “What do you mean?” her companion said.  I changed the subject and directed my attention to my old friend.  “I used to pick you up at your house on Green Street” I said, hoping to spark a glimmer of recognition.  “Green Street?”  We began our march to the bus.

While getting the chair fastened to the bus moorings, I continued our conversation, most of it one-way.  Seating myself behind the wheel, we began the ten minute drive to the doctor’s office.  I could have driven past her old house, but didn’t.  It was a long ten minutes.

I remember her when.  When she would have a clever comeback to something I’d say.  I remember how concerned she was about where Ojai was headed.  The loss of personal contact between elected officials and the rest of us.  Her gratitude for the bus rides, the companionship, the service to the community.  I remembered a bright, caring lady.

About an hour after dropping them at the doctor’s, I got a call that she was ready for the return trip.  We went through the same routine.   “How’d it go?” I asked while adjusting her seat belt.  She looked up at me and her eyes sharpened.  “How’d it go?” she said in a way that I knew meant “How do you think it went?  I’m stuck in this chair.  I’m old.  I’m forgetful.  I’m not in my own house.  What a way to live.”

It was another long ten minutes.


4 Responses to “I remember her when…”

  1. 1 Maureen (Other Maureen or Mo) August 10, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    This one really tugged at the heart-strings – had me thinking about Mam’s experience and how bravely she dealt with it, still putting on the lipstick and wearing the earrings just to go to the day care centre, or to go out of the house at all. And then I begin to wonder what will happen to us and will there be a “Fred” to drive the bus? I hope so, but if there is not let there be a happy pill to replace any heroic medical efforts on my behalf.


  2. 2 mackay crampton August 10, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    Fred, good for you for driving the Ojai Help van. One needs a sense of humor! My husband did that for a while but it’s a tough job. I just had coffee with an 83 yr old friend whom I originally met taking Eleanor Land’s Hospice Class. Her husband died last year 10 years after being diagnosed with Alzheimers. She’s a kick–mentally alert and OK physically; however, she confided that 85 was plenty long enough to live and wouldn’t it be nice to have control over one’s own exit? I’m hearing this more and more now that I’m 65. Hopefully those happy pills will be available by the time I’m 85! Mackay


  3. 3 judie August 11, 2009 at 5:30 am

    As you know, my mom died this past Jan. at 92. Her sister, just last week at 91. I lived with good and bad days for about 11/2 yrs. and it was hard for me to accept that this mom who scrubbed the house from ceiling to floor, cooked, baked, headed organizations, bowled, travelled the world with and without me – oh so many things, was not wheelchair bound and miserable because her body could no longer do what her mind wanted to do.
    Once a month I would take my aunt and her oxygen and mom and her wheelchair, to lunch so they could be in contact.
    Thank goodness I was strong enough to do that, so I know what you go through with the walkers and wheelchairs. Oh, Aunt Lil, worked until she was 90, every day, for the school district, even after she retired at 80, she volunteered! Old age was something they both couldn’t have envisioned.
    So, G-d bless you for having the health, stength and patience to drive the senior bus. They need you!!!


  4. 4 karen evenden August 11, 2009 at 7:15 am

    the story is a beautiful, sensitive narration of what is for so many their daily reality – and the photo spans a lifetime of words. thank you.


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