HELEN HUDSON HERE: MAKE MY DAY

 Here’s what makes my blood boil:  callous jerks running roughshod over old folks with an air of insouciance that unhinges me .  Whether it’s shoving past them in lines, defrauding them by phone, neglecting their care or outright ignoring their presence, their constant victimization makes me furious.  I defy one, single reader to go one, single day without witnessing this crime.  And it is, a crime.

A few hours ago, a frail, old man was backing out of the “Handicapped” space next to my car.  He moved slowly and looked behind carefully as he reversed.  However, when he was three-quarters of the way out, some girl flew around the corner in a large pickup, SAW him and actually SPED UP to pass him.  He slammed on his brakes.  After she passed, I looked through the window at his face.  It was grim and shaken.  I waved.  He looked up nervously.  I smiled and motioned him to roll down his window.  He did but only one inch.  “Not your fault,” I said.  “She was a jerk.  You were in the right of way.”  He gave me a tight-lipped, half-smile.      

 I kicked a cab in New York City once.  I was helping my 90 year-old grandmother across 5th avenue when a taxi ran a red light.  He came so fast that I had to pull her out of his path.  As he passed, within mere inches of us, I kicked his bumper as hard as I could.  THAT made him slam on his brakes.  He jumped out of his taxi yelling in a foreign language.  I was too mad to be intimidated.  “You almost hit my grandmother, you maniac,” I yelled.  “You could have killed her!”  As I continued to maneuver her safely across the street, cars all around him began honking.  He just stood there, yelling, as all of 5th avenue angrily swarmed around him.

Frankly, I don’t know to this day if I actually made a dent in that cab because I never looked.  However, I hope I made one in the driver.  Part of me wonders that if that girl today in the pickup had been closer, would I have kicked her bumper too?  Maybe I’ve turned into the Clint Eastwood of the elder set.  Maybe I’ll start carrying a cane at each hip.  If someone gets unruly with one of my elderly, I’ll whack ‘em.  First I’ll look ‘em right in the eye, though, and say, “Make my day.” 

Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” now on Amazon/Kindle.

YOU JUST NEVER KNOW

Bob and Joe are about as unlikely a pair as a cowboy boot and a Ked’s sneaker.  Yet every morning they hold court at the local Starbucks.  As customers dash in and out, there is a continual stream of “Mornin’ Bob.”  “Hey there, Joe.”  “How you guys this mornin?”  Each recognition makes Bob puff his large chest out further than the buttons on his monogrammed shirt, lean back in a chair half his size, and wait for his next admirer with one wary eyebrow raised.  Joe, as shy as Bob is bold, just beams like a low watt bulb by his side. 

As I leave, Bob asks me to join them.  Before I can answer, he huffs, “Oh, she won’t sit with us.  She’s always too busy.”  I plunk my coffee right down on their table.  He proceeds to make wisecracks about the ‘regulars,’  “Here comes Smiley,” he says, indicating a blonde who scowls past.  “Never seen her smile.  Not once.”  Sure enough.  She blows past us with neither glance nor grin despite a, “Hello,” from Bob.

His monologue continues while Joe nods sweetly in agreement, rarely speaking.  I figure his wife of 50 years must pick out his clothes.  They match, they fit and they’re always clean.  With his diminutive physique, she could still probably shop for him in the boys’ department.  They’re probably the same clothes he wore before he retired from the construction business.  “I was in cement,” he tells me with considerable pride. 

They’ve been friends since they rode the school bus together in 4th grade.  65 years later they’re still school boys, joking and telling tales about the locals.  Of course when you’ve lived in a town 75 years and know everyone, I don’t suppose it’s gossip, rather facts.  Bob’s married three times but says he’s, ‘keeping this one because I’m too tired to look anymore.”  Mid-conversation, he bolts outside for a smoke; his 5th of the day though it’s only 8 AM.  Joe’s dimming blue eyes follow his lumbering frame out the door, then he leans in, “You know, Bob was a BIG lawyer in town.  Litigation,” he whispers.  “But I think he has Alzheimer’s.” 

This throws me.  “What makes you say that?” I laugh.  “He forgets everything, and can’t find things to do,” he explains.  “What kinds of things does he forget?”  Joe is silent a long while.  He’s forgotten the question.  “The hardest part about getting old is finding things to do,” he continues.  “What do you like to do? I ask.  “Oh, I go to the Y with my wife.”  “What do you do there?” I prod.  He looks at me blankly.  I persist, “Well, when do you guys usually go?”  “Um.  When I finish my coffee, I guess,” he says.       

PUT ON THE HAT

A half, bent over, old man was moving very slowly in front of me as I walked to the gym this morning.  Every, single step he took was arduous, deliberate and pained me to watch.  Even though my own step these days lacks some of its’ old spunk, I slowed my pace.  He was working so hard just to put one foot in front of the other that I could not bear to pass him. 

 He was dressed in elegant, pressed dark slacks, with a brand new knitted Polo and had that snappy hat like Frank Sinatra used to wear cocked slightly over his right bushy eyebrow.  However, nothing hung quite right on his humped, misshapen frame.  His outfit would have looked sharp on a younger, stronger man, but on him, the overall effect was rather sad. . .and yet…as I drew up to his side, I realized that he once WAS a younger man. 

 “Good morning!” he bellowed with a voice ten times the size of his body.
“Good morning, to you Mr. Sinatra in that classy hat!”

He stopped.  It was probably just so he could bear the weight of the huge smile that now raised even the edges of his sagged and lined mouth.

“Ya remember his hat do ya?  You’re not old enough but you’re right.  It’s the exact kind he used to wear.”

“Well it looks handsome on you.”  And strangely enough, at that moment he did, indeed look handsome.  “You don’t see men in hats anymore and I rather like them.”

  “Ya know.  Best part of my day now is when I put on the hat.  I figure if my arms can still reach up there and my head can still hold it, it’s gonna be a good day.”

Wow.  At that moment, I felt 17.  He’s the kind of guy we could all use more of.  So if you have someone like that in your life, hang on to them.  If you don’t, just put on the hat.


*Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” an Alzheimer’s memoir.

ONE IN TEN

How dare TIME magazine announce:  “Alzheimer’s:  At last, some progress against the most stubborn disease.”  Imagine my disappointment to read merely the same old stuff:  It’s hereditary.  No drug cures it.  Some have side effects worse than the disease itself.  We still spend 5 billion a year on cancer research and only 500 million a year on Alzheimer’s.  So where’s the progress?  Slow in coming.  “Ironically, it is the one disease that most of us are likely to get,” says Dr. Peterson, head of Alzheimer’s research at the Mayo Clinic.  One in ten of us if you want the exact statistic.

Now I don’t need statistics to tell me my own prognosis is not looking so hot.  My grandmother lingered for 13 years in its stranglehold.  My mother may well have had it but other ills took her sooner.  This week, though, brings another blow:  my aunt, the one with the doctorate, who edited my college papers and never let me get away with ‘shallow thinking,’ has just been diagnosed with it, too.

The signs were there:  Last year, she sent me a copy of her Will along with a partial recipe for shortcake with the last paragraph inexplicably cut off.  The year before, after her recent visit to China, I invited her to visit.  She was always independent, so I rented her a car.  However, after watching her turn the ignition two more times while it was already running I returned it and kept her with me for the rest of our visit.

I am still keeping her with me though ‘she’ is vanishing fast.  The authors that she insisted I read in college: Whitman, Frost, Voltaire, and Shakespeare, still stand tall in my bookshelf.  Believe it or not, I can still do a perfect cart-wheel just the way she taught me when I was 12.  ‘Now hold your arms and legs into a perfect ‘X,’ she commanded, ‘then roll straight over like a wheel.’   My aunt didn’t just outsmart me at Bridge and Scrabble when I was a kid, but always showed me how she did it.  She questioned my answers until my answers became questions themselves and I loved her for it.  Still do.  Always will.  The important thing is that when she was here she was HERE.  May the rest of us be so fortunate.  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” an Alzheimer’s memoir.   http://www.helen-hudson.com).

ALZHEIMER’S? HMMM. . .

Picture this:  me backstroking in the middle of my half mile swim.  Have the lane all to myself and starting to pick up speed, which at my age is relative.  Thinking how I can’t wait until it’s over.  Then. . .smash.  Suddenly, I collide with my friend, Forest, who in his Alzheimer’s state of bliss has no clue what has just happened.  He has plunked himself into my lane without so much as a second thought or look.

“Oh,” he says with a gurgle.  “There you are.  I haven’t seen you in a while.”  Now this length of conversation is the longest we have had yet.  And, the most lucid.  Every day his caregiver sits on a bench at the end and waits as he wades back and forth in his flowered swim trunks and duck-like pool shoes.  He doesn’t swim exactly, rather plods from one end to the other with a laissez-faire stroll that would make a Persian cat jealous.

“Well, Hi, Forest,” I smile.   “It’s not a good day for climbing trees,” he confides.  “You’re right,” I reply.  “That’s why it’s a good thing we’re in the pool.”  Now I have to figure out my next move.  The lane next to us is open but if I move over it might hurt his feelings.  So, I continue.  Each time we get close, I pause until he passes and go on.

Just as I start my last lap, we reach the end at the same time.  “Hey, Forest,” I suddenly chide, “Wanna chase me?”  “Oh, Yes!” he says.  And with great anticipation on his face, Forest begins to ‘chase’ me.  I do the backstroke as he pursues.  His flowered trunks balloon around his hips like small sails.  I can tell he has picked up his pace, but no one watching would see a difference.  I don’t let him catch me, of course.  Just watch this grown man trying to come after me with all the glee of a young boy in pursuit of a rabbit; in this case, a ‘gray hare.’

I am already halfway up the steps to leave as he arrives.  “That was fun!” I say.  “Yes,” he smiles.  “And you are looking GOOD!”  “Well, so are you,” I reply.  At that moment, a rather large, buxom blonde steps down into his lane.  As I turn to leave, I hear him say, “I haven’t seen you in a while. . .”  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a nonfiction memoir of the 13 years she and her husband cared for her grandmother with Alzheimer’s.  http://www.helen-hudson.com)

 

A STITCH IN TIME!!

Well, it’s been a whole week since 2011 lurched into view.  The gym is already less crowded.  For the record, I cannot ever remember making a New Year’s Resolution.  As a kid I must have watched too many grownups make—and not keep–them.  I have always tried to make daily ones; the kind that I could actually keep.  You know, like, ‘I will NOT eat one of those Hershey Kisses sitting in that bowl today!’  Or, ‘I will listen with real interest when old Mrs. So and So tells me the same story for the umpteenth time today.’

A resolution is ultimate and firm.  It transcends time—or rather it’s supposed to.  Ultimately, it is the resolutions we make which build our true character.  Trouble is we put so much emphasis on the BIG things, like Health Care, that we ignore the little ones, like taking care of the health of our loved ones.  We rush to put our elderly in nursing homes when a little reconfiguration of their own homes would help them stay independent longer.

Right now I am potty training our new puppy.  This is my first dog, ever.  It’s a bit more work than I had anticipated.  For one thing, she likes to pee in one spot and do something else in a completely different spot.  Because I have praised her so much when she actually sets foot on the litter pad, she now goes there often—NOT to pee—but to let me know she would like a treat just for setting foot on it.

So, I am taking it day by day, just like my resolutions.  2011 will find me knitting my life like a sweater; stitch by stitch and row by row.  I know full well that I can’t start the sleeves until the body is finished.  Just like I know this ten week-old pup will not be house trained overnight.  So today, my Resolution is to anticipate her signals better.  Meanwhile, I have the 409 and paper towels handy!  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a non-fiction memoir of her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s.  http://www.helen-hudson.com).


SINGIN’ SWINGIN’ SENIOR

What a thrill I had at the supermarket this morning!!  As I was coming through the checkout line with a single bottle of CHEER, the cutest little teenage checker gave me a huge smile and said, “Are you a singer?”  “Why, yes, I am,” I said, perfectly delighted that she may have recognized me.  “Okay, then, you get 5% off today!”  Suddenly, I wished I had bought more.  “How nice,” I said, do you give all singers a discount?”  “Oh, no,” she replied.  “Just Seniors cuz it’s Wednesday.”

 

I thanked her politely and semi-staggered to my car trying to mentally calculate that my vain stupidity had just saved me about forty cents.  I blamed my poor hearing on the fact that I had just finished swimming and probably still had water in my ears.

 

While I am fully aware that I have seen more than five decades pass, for some odd reason I am still stuck in my 20’s in my head.  When my grandmother was in her sixties I asked her, ‘What does it feel like to be so old.”  ‘Well, Dear, it’s only when other people talk to me like I’m old that I realize that I am.”  I get it now.

 

But here is the real beauty of aging if you’re lucky enough to keep at it.  A few hours later I was filling my car with gas when a pickup truck with two, cute teenage boys pulled up on the other side of the pump.  Suddenly, one yelled out, “Hi, Mermaid!”  I turned around to find one of the YMCA lifeguards grinning at me.  As we talked, he seemed so proud to know me that by the time I pulled away I wasn’t feeling so old anymore.

 

However, next Wednesday I plan to take my bruised ego and gray hair straight back to that supermarket.  I am loading my cart to the brim and just guess whose aisle I’m going to?   (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a memoir detailing the 13 years she cared for her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s.  http://www.helen-hudson.com).

BE HERE WHILE YOU’RE HERE

She was only five foot two, but you couldn’t miss her at the Southwest boarding gate.  Her bright, pink, plastic raincoat just screamed, ‘Here I am!’ from the long line of dark, business suits and drab jackets.  And there she was: a tiny woman with a pixie hair cut, dressed in slim jeans, a snappy pullover and sporting a very, loud pair of black and white checkered Keds.

“I dress for my grand-kids,” she fairly shouted at me when I complimented her on the Keds. ( Hard of hearing I figured.)  “They love to see me coming,” she boasted.  ‘Who wouldn’t?’ I thought to myself.  She was all heart and pizzazz, wrapped in a bright, pink package.  “I’m eighty-four,” she volunteered before I could even ask, “and I look every DAY of it!”

Now there’s a conversation starter—but our lines split off and we went our separate ways. . .not for long.  A few minutes later, that booming voice asked, “Anyone sitting here?”  She plunked herself down in the window seat like any eight year old would; deliberately, just like Lily Tomlin in that big rocking chair on Laugh In.  Her checkered Keds didn’t quite touch the ground.

Had someone not been between us, I am sure we’d have talked away the time.  As it was, I caught bits and pieces from a distance.  “You know I figure while you’re here you might as well be here.  Know what I mean?  A lot of people are here but you’d just never know it.”  For the rest of the ride I just closed my eyes, listening to the almost childlike exuberance in her voice.

Wish I could introduce her to my friend Walter at the Y.  One day, after discovering that I liked opera, he suddenly burst into an aria from Tosca right there in the sauna.  We were even surrounded by a bunch of young guys “sweating out the beer” from their previous night’s binge at the football game.  Didn’t bother Walter.  Didn’t bother me.  Wouldn’t have bothered that gal in the pink raincoat.

Today Walt was wearing brand new, bold, black & white paisley trunks.  I’d say they were a size too big, but I think maybe he ‘s shrunk.  I finally asked him how old he was.  “Eighty-eight” he bellowed.  (Walt’s hard of hearing, too.)  “Really?” I asked.  “Well, almost,” he said in that Jimmy Durante voice of his.  “I’ll be 88 in two months. . .but I’m already anticipating!!”  So am I, my friend.  So am I.  (Helen Hudson is an author and appreciator of all things aged.  http://www.helen-hudson.com).

 

 

 

 

STARLIGHT, STAR BRIGHT

      The noted astronomer began harmlessly enough.  Proudly, he held up a steaming, baked potato in front of us.  It symbolized a white, dwarf star, gazillions of miles away from our uncomfortable, folding chairs.  By calculating the rate at which the potato, and thus the star, cooled, science could assess the age of our galaxy.  When he excitedly announced that our good, old, planet earth has been around for at least 13 ½ billion years, ‘Yippee’ did not come to mind.  Black holes did. 

     As the others lined up to gaze at M-13 through the telescope, I lost my zeal.  I kept imagining all the billions of people who weren’t here anymore.  They were now like those faraway stars:  infinitely, irrevocably untouchable.  With all the eons of TIME out there, we’re stuck in ridiculously short ‘time shares,’ one breath away from being obsolete.  ‘Is it possible to feel any smaller?’ I wondered.

     Yup.  “Stars don’t die all at once.  The larger, densely packed, intense ones die the fastest.”  (I’m thinking James Dean).  “The smaller, less dense, more demure ones last longest.” ( Betty White?)  Uh Oh.  According to my family, I’m as high-strung as a key on a kite in lightning.  My oldest said just last week, “Mom.  Why don’t you return to Disney and ask them to remove your animation chip?”  My time may be shorter than I thought.

     Now I’ve had stars in my eyes.  I’ve stepped on the stars in front of Grauman’s Chinese.  I’ve dated stars.  I‘ve stuck the glow-in-the-dark ones above my children’s cribs. But never have the stars seemed less appealing.  So, when the astronomer finished, I asked:  “Okay.  Now that we know how old the galaxy is, and that one day, billions of years from now, the universe will go dark and there will be no stars—what does this mean personally, for you, right now?’  “Um. . .Well. . .I guess. . . I. . . just don’t know the answer to that,” he said sadly. 

     But I do.  Tonight the Perseid meteor shower will be in full view and I will watch all those falling stars fall.  It will remind me that dying is pretty from a distance.  But mostly it will remind me of the nights Granny and I used to look up at those same stars and say:  “Starlight, star bright.  First star I see tonight.  Wish I may.  Wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.”  (Hudson’s memoir, “Kissing Tomatoes,” recounts the 13 years she lived with her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s).  http://www.helen-hudson.com.

THE LAST WORD

     It’s not everyday the girl in front of me at Starbucks is long, lean, wearing running shoes and almost 80 years-old.  Yes, her pure, shiny, white hair was a bit of a clue, but other than that she was all girl.  From the way she ordered her decaf cappuccino with a sweet, slow, southern drawl to her gentle, “I think y’all forgot my drink,” when the guy behind us was served first.  She had the powdery, white skin of a woman who’s always worn a hat in the sun and the straight posture of a good upbringing.

      I told her that she looked much younger than 80, but she gave me the typical, “Oh no.  You’re just sayin’ that,” response.  I told her that I’d “seen my share of 80’s” and she didn’t even come close.  When she questioned my experience with ‘older people,’ I told her about this blog.  She sighed and said she didn’t own a computer and that was that. . .

      Until I was leaving and noticed that she’d spilled her cappuccino on the floor.  An employee was cleaning it up, so I went back and ordered her another one.  As I brought her the new drink she was thrilled and said she would, “never have thought to ask for another one.”  She asked me to write down the name of my blog and said she would have a friend look it up.  As she read what I had written on the scrap of paper, she looked astonished.  “Well, how on earth did you know my name?” she asked.

       Well, Helen Hudson, you may have seen a few more sunrises than I have, but no one would ever know it to look at you.  There.  And you can’t take back THAT compliment.  I get the last word here.  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” an Alzheimer’s memoir.   http://www.helen-hudson.com)