Part of the reason we brought Mom to Carriage Inn was to meet people and make friends. We assumed she would be lonely at the trailer, that she needed company. Well, wrong. No dice. They try to be friendly. Several will stop by her table in the dining room to say “Good Morning, Martha Lou.” If she hears them, perhaps she’ll smile a tepid smile. Otherwise, no response.
My father was a tremendously gregarious person. I’ve probably mentioned before that my nephew, @José, has inherited Daddy’s personality—bubbly, happy, dynamic, outgoing, never met a stranger. While Mom was with him, she was drawn, willy-nilly, into his radiating warmth. They had many, many friends in Mexico. When Daddy died, the funeral was immense.
Not that Mom didn’t have friends of her own. I’ve mentioned the Marthas and Mary Ann. During the 1950s and 1960s, they all had children growing up together in our small Anglo community of Coyoacan in southern Mexico City. They all had similar interests: painting, playing bridge, parties, the Junior League. And they were all Anglo ex-pats. Because of their shared experiences, they became the very best of friends. Mom is the only one left.
For many years, I can remember Mom’s friendly interest in others. At tennis venues, while Al was playing, she met and mingled with people there. I think she even got to know the parents of Serena and Venus Williams. She always quizzed waiters on their history. By the time the meal was over, she had learned everything about them from their age and family to their hopes for the future. To my husband’s and my friends’ utter embarrassment, I follow the same pattern. It’s nice to know people, don’t you think?
During the last thirty-some years, Mom has run the roads with Al. Following the tennis circuit, they rent rooms, or camp out, spending summers in New York or Rhode Island or Pennsylvania or some other northern state. Winters, always beginning about October, they headed back south to rent a room from their Indian friend, Superna, in Orlando. Until this year. We are waiting on pins and needles to see if he is going to materialize.
Al, as I’ve mentioned before, is an odd duck. Either Autistic or with Asberger’s, he stuffs his ears with cotton, reads four or five newspapers a day, lives out of dumpsters, raids the buffet lines at Orlando hotels and wears one ghastly shirt, usually unbuttoned, and a pair of shorts. I think he does have one pair of long pants. That, and several pairs of old sneakers, make up his entire wardrobe. My sister-in-law, with whom they have bunked on occasion, swears he has never bathed—at all! Surprisingly, there is only a mild odor of oily skin around him. No stench, although, admittedly, we don’t get too close. He doesn’t like touching. No shaking hands.
But Al does have a few friends, too. All older men with whom he plays tennis. Playing tennis means you are a long way off across the court and too far away to communicate much. They meet at the tennis courts, year in and year out, when Al’s peregrinations bring him back south into their sphere of influence.
How he and Mom have bonded so is beyond anyone’s understanding. She has an EED and he, although he remembers every word he reads, can scarcely put a sentence together. He certainly can’t write a complete thought. His “letters,” usually no more than a few scrawled words, are written on the inside or the outside of whatever free mailers he finds at universities or government venues. How on earth the post office knows where to deliver his mail, with little more than a scribbled number, street name and a zip code, is truly astounding.
Now that Mom’s dementia is increasing, she is less and less inclined to make friends. I don’t think she cares any longer. For a while, when she first came here, she took a little interest in those around her. Now, she doesn’t seem to know who they are. Just a vapid smile in response to a greeting.
I, on the other hand, have made friends with almost all the residents. I enjoy hearing about their ups and downs, meeting their families, checking on the Country Club table, the Prayer table, the Cheerful Ladies table, the slightly Demented table, the Naval table, the Gentlemen’s club, and the many couples who help each other along, taking meals back to a sleeping husband or wife, walking in hand-in-hand, or pushing a wheel chair or following behind in a Hoveround. Yes, three have died in the past week. As they all know, that is why they are there. So is Mom. Only, now, once she is back at the trailer, she won’t even have to force a smile.
As for me, I will miss all my new friends here immensely.