at the home on top of the hill,
the first of two.
trying to make small talk
with the neighbor we never really knew.
but he can’t speak
and the effort is unrewarding
for any of us.
down the hall
we smile at the new faces,
say hello to the old.
the old man who used to
believe he owned the home
and offered help to visitors
now sits and mumbles to himself
and stares ahead.
our friend is awake
but looks so frail.
she remembers and talks
though all is not clear.
we offer snacks and she says
put them in the drawer
which is now full of unopened
packages and soft drinks.
thanks for coming,
and we leave.
we drive two hours
to the top of a mountain
where these homes always seem to be.
an alarm whistles and never stops.
down the hall a man screams
ignored by all because
nothing can be done.
my brother asks for a cola
which we have brought,
and applesauce and pudding.
on the other side of the curtain
a football game is in double overtime.
a man in bed watches,
his son sits in his wheelchair.
a lady also sits in a wheelchair
not knowing if she belongs there.
and down the hall the man screams.
it’s an hour before supper
and meds are being distributed
and laundry dropped off
and cleaning, always cleaning
of the spills on the floor.
we leave the room and pass doorways
where sounds and smells and sights
we don’t want to experience
through the over-sized door
and into the courtyard
that is seldom used
because in this courtyard
you can’t light a cigarette.
there are plants and flowers
and hummingbirds and sculptures
and the quiet hum of the air conditioners.
there are no smells no desperate souls no screams.
a breeze blows in from the mountains
and there is peace and
we pray and give thanks
for all that is good.
Hey, boy. I ain’t no boy. Hey, boy. What? Where ya’ goin? Get some coffee. Is that all? It’s all I want. You sure? Don’t play with me. Who says I’m playin? That’s the problem. No problem, boy. I ain’t no boy. I know that. You want coffee? I’m a lady. Ladies don’t drink coffee? Chamomile. Whatever. Can I walk with you? To get some coffee? Tea. Come on. And a biscuit. See. Right there. What? That smile. So? Trouble. Deep trouble.
When I was born, my great-grandmother, Tida, was 72. By the time I was old enough to form any memories about her, she was well into her 80s. I’m sure she had the usual trouble remembering things that older people have, but she had no problem performing at least one amazing feat of memory.
When she was a child in the late 1800s, she learned many things by simple repetition, what they used to call rote. When she was in her 90s, she would sit on her porch swing on a hot summer day and, recalling her lessons of decades earlier, entertain her great-grandchildren with the story of Nanny, a poor girl who ate too much. In today’s culture, we are more sensitive to eating disorders and those who struggle with controlling their weight. And really, the story of Nanny is more about greed than it is about being overweight. Nonetheless, my apologies to anyone who may be offended by this old school-house poem. My presentation of this is not intended to be any kind of commentary about eating or obesity. It’s about my great-grandmother’s amazing mind.
Again, she was in her 90s when she would recite this entire frightening poem by memory. Thanks to Adele for transcribing the poem.
Nanny was a glutton,
not a pretty word, oh well.
But the actions of a glutton
are even worse to tell.
Perhaps there are some children
who know the meaning not.
Well, a glutton is a person
who eats an awful lot.
Nan was fat and chubby
as folks should be who eat.
Her cheeks were like big apples
and she had fat hands and feet.
At the table Nanny always
ate up her own large share.
Then she would eat her brother’s
and hang around his chair.
If anything was left,
twas eaten up by Nan.
All her family said of her,
We don’t see how she can.
She’ll make herself quite sick some day,
her family all said.
She eats of every kind of food,
rather than wholesome bread.
One day some guests her mother had.
She cooked a supper good.
Then she set the table,
and placed on it the food.
But ere the guests should sit them down,
in ran greedy Nan.
She gathered all the nice food up,
and put it in a pan.
Then to the barn she ran away
and hid behind the gate.
She put the big pan in her lap,
and ate, and ate, and ate.
Her mother came and found her,
and sent her off to bed.
“I would not care if shadowbees
came after you,” she said.
As silent on the bed
lay greedy, greedy Nan.
She heard a voice say loudly,
“Get up now, if you can.”
She looked around,
her room was full of many shadowbees.
She wondered much what she could do,
their anger to appease.
“We’ll have to stop you. Hurry up!
This greed we cannot stand!
You are the greediest girl
there is in all the land.”
They put her in a towering room,
and filled it up with food.
“Stay here until you eat it all,”
cried they in language rude.
Now Nan was nothing loath to eat,
so straightway she began
to nibble doughnuts, cakes, and cheese,
and bread bespread with jam.
Till all at once the sight of food
made her so very ill.
“I never can eat all this up.
I never, never will.”
“Go on and eat!” cried shadowbees.
“You must eat more and more.
You haven’t made a passage yet,
but halfway to the door.”
“If I eat more, I’ll surely die.”
“Eat on!” cried shadowbees.
“While you’re eating your way out,
we’ll dance beside the sea.”
So Nan was forced to eat and eat.
She grew so very stout.
That when she reached the little door,
she hardly could get out.
“The time has come,” cried shadowbees.
“To roll her out like dough.
We cannot leave her as she is,
she’s much too fat, you know.”
So off they hurried luckless Nan
and down upon the plain.
They laid her like a heap of dough
to be rolled flat again.
They took a huge, huge rolling pin.
They rolled this way and that.
They rolled her up, the rolled her down,
til she was smooth and flat.
“We’ll round her off about the size
she really ought to be!”
The King said, “I’ll attend to that.
Please leave it all to me.”
So he rounded Nanny off, nice and trim and clean.
She jumped up with a scream,
and found that all this wretched tale,
was just a horrid dream.
“Oh, shadowbees, oh shadowbess,
I will, I wll give heed
to this dream that you have sent me,
I will stop this horrid greed!”