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A Suitable Dungeon
More than thirty years ago I found myself in the terrible position of deciding my mother's future. She had had a couple of "minor" strokes and my father had recently passed away.
It wasn't safe any longer for her to live alone in their retirement house in Florida. She left stove burners on and forgot them. She stumbled frequently and almost fell.
I was summoned from across the country to "come and help me deal with Mother." My sister had moved near our parents when they retired to Florida. But she was still working and "the mother situation" had become critical. It was obvious that we had to deal with the problem quickly and I was required to be there.
We started looking at potential "retirement centers" . . really nursing homes. Upon returning to her house the first day we found Mother sitting on the edge of her bed. She looked up and gave us an evil look and said, "Well, did you find a suitable dungeon for me today?"
We were spent from the mental and physical effort of the day. Both of us plopped on the bed beside our mother and one of us said, "No, not today, Mother," and we laughed rather hysterically. Mother looked at both of us and couldn't see the humor in the situation.
The next day we heard of a brand new retirement center that was opening in three weeks. We took the tour and instantly decided it was perfect.
Mother had been a gardener and bird watcher all her life. We told her of the beautiful gardens all around the place. She inquired as to whether she could take her bird bath with her and put it in one of the gardens. We said we would see if that could happen.
We scheduled a visit for the three of us to do a walk-through of a possible apartment for Mother. It was on the third floor. She liked the sparkling newness of it all and that she could take her own furniture and personal things. We walked out on her private balcony and looked around. One of us mentioned that the bird bath would like nice down below in the garden.
Mother looked around for a minute and said, "That bird bath would be so far away I wouldn't know if they were drinking or shitting!" Then she stomped away. My sister and I looked at each other and knew we had work to do.
Over the next few days we lobbied for the place by pointing out the amenities. "You can have your own little refrigerator and microwave and coffee maker. You won't have to cook major meals. They will be served to you in the dining room."
"I won't know any of those people," she snarled.
"But you can get to know them."
"Why should I? None of my friends will know where I have gone. Nobody will ever visit me."
She had really been a loner, almost anti-social and suddenly she worried that the few friends she had would never visit her. She worried that no one would speak to her at the dinner table. It was rather ridiculous that one of the best-read, most informed persons in the area was worried that there would be nothing in common with these people.
But slowly she started to look semi-kindly on the new place. It was very different from anything she'd ever known. The move proceeded.
There was a terrible wrangle over her learning to use an electric coffee maker rather than perking her coffee on the stove. "I know good coffee and I know bad coffee and this stuff is bad."
One morning as we sipped our "bad coffee" in the new living room a movement outside the picture window attracted my attention. A giant Blue Heron was leaning down to drink from the bird bath in the front yard. He was so casual about it. My heart was pounding as I whispered to my mother, "Look, oh look at that!"
She said, "Oh yes, he stops by a few mornings a week for a drink."
Mother adjusted quickly and was quite satisified with her new home for the rest of her time.
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My daughter and I have lunch together often on Fridays. Last week she handed me a brochure for a new retirement center in town that is holding an open house for the public in a week or two. She asked if I'd be interested in going and looking it over. I said I'd like that.
When I came home and handed the brochure to my husband, he asked "Has she found a suitable dungeon for us?"
--by Judith Taylor