“Every house where love abides
And friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home sweet home,
For there the heart can rest.”
I’ve moved five times in the last 20 years. I’ve left behind a piece of my heart in each house I lived in and loved. I can only imagine how hard it was for Gmamma and DooDaddy to leave their home of nearly 50 years to move to a “retirement community,” as nursing homes are euphemistically referred to these days.
Actually DooDaddy would take great exception to the term “nursing home,” because he and Gmamma still live on their own (sort of) in an apartment within the three-tiered complex. The next tier is called “assisted living” and the final tier – with wheelchair zombies parked in the hallway – is the dreaded nursing home.
Two years ago, Gmamma fell on the front walkway on her way to the mailbox and broke her tailbone. This was after DooDaddy fell on the same walkway on his way to the same mailbox and tore his quadriceps tendon. Gmamma lay peacefully in the grass until DooDaddy called the fire department to come get her up. It’s like the cat-in-a-tree thing but with old people.
DooDaddy was not so lucky when he fell. It was raining cats and dogs – maybe even armadillos – when he went down. Because Gmamma is deaf, she didn’t hear him yelling for help or notice him crawling up the front lawn like the girl in the Andrew Wyeth painting (“Christina’s World.” Google it). With great effort, he dragged himself, sopping wet, up the front steps in excruciating pain to bang futilely on the front door. Gmamma was watching “Jeopardy” with the volume on high. An atomic bomb wouldn’t have budged her. Only when the neighbor across the street called Gmamma (and 911) did my mother realize what had happened. Thank you, sweet Mary, for always looking out your window.
A couple of months after she broke her tailbone, Gmamma had a stroke. The EMTs had to carry her down the stairs and out the front door buckled into a special chair contraption, because they couldn’t get a stretcher up to her bedroom.
Old Sequoyah Hills homes are death traps for the elderly. There are treacherous slate walkways and creepy basement steps, skinny hallways and hilly yards to navigate. But DooDaddy had promised Gmamma she could leave “feet first” and that he would never make her move to the Old Folks Home. Never. Say. Never.
I had to call in the Big Guns, my little brother, who is highly respected by the geezers, to convince DooDaddy that he could no longer honor his promise to our mother. And that if anything ever happened to him, she’d be making that journey alone. Gmamma relented grudgingly, like Granny Clampett in her rocker strapped to Uncle Jed’s truck.
Gmamma says now she has no memory of the move. I sequestered her at my house when the movers came, so she wouldn’t have to watch the dismantling of her family home. As we walked slowly out the front door for the last time, Gmamma didn’t look back.
DooDaddy, who was still walking independently and driving back then, nearly killed himself bustling Gmamma’s furs (pronounced “fuhs”) and evening gowns to the car. He forgot his own raincoat in the hall closet. But artwork and jewelry, silver and scrapbooks made the move. All the inessential essentials.
My dear friend Morena, lovingly decorated the new apartment mirroring the color palette of the house in Sequoyah. Now Gmamma and DooDaddy sit in their transplanted living room chairs, comfortable and content as house cats, napping off and on all day. Their space is sacred. They are home. They are together, like matching bookends on a shelf, holding the precious stories of their shared existence.
And my brother, sister and I have peace of mind knowing the nurses are administering our geezers’ myriad of medications and are on call 24/7 in case of a seizure, stroke or fall. And the mailbox is just down the hall.