Ann’s Life As A Stardust Creation
Ann Potter Stone left this life quietly Dec.18, 2020 in the ISU due to aortic dissection, a complication of an overnight elective procedure. Left in mourning are her husband of 57 years, Bryan Stone and younger son Greg Allen Stone. The older son, Quin Russell Stone, died 8/13/06 in a helicopter crash.
Ann welcomed life 5/25/1939 in Long Beach, CA from the union of two Missourians, Russell John Potter and Lois Grace Requa. She was the youngest of three with two older brothers, Paul 5 and Billy John 8 who have both preceded her in death. Father Russell died early in Ann’s Jr. year of High School 10/13/55 and is buried in Banning. Mother Lois died in Hailey 5/13/94, on Greg’s birthday, and was buried there just a few days before we left for Mozambique.
Ann burst in to blossom when the family moved to Banning as she began the 7th grade meeting her life long best of friends Claudia Newman and Frances Richburg. Claudia’s very insightful summary to Ann’s life as she reminisced , “What a blessing to have had such an amazing, happy friend since the 7th grade. If Ann had a motto it would have been, ‘Speaking the Truth with Love’ “. Ann wanted everyone she met to be the best they could be and had the uncanny knack of sensing another’s concerns and speak truth to it to bring comfort and hope. In the midst of group discussions that could cause contrary feelings her favorite intercession was “That reminds me of ——“ and the ensuing laughter brought on a warmer interchange. Another friend from her future Nursing School days, Evonne Casperonis, also caught Ann’s spirit as she told me, “A loss for everyone that knew and loved her. My memories of her in Nursing School are of her ability to make everyone laugh and feel good and important.”
So Ann has always been in mission. In Elementary School: Violin lessons; wrote a class play; had poetry published in the State Journal of Education; Brownie Scouts; piano lessons. In Jr. High: Co-produced the school newspaper; student body officer; school orchestra (clarinet); boys basketball team scorekeeper. In High School: Banning School Band, County League Orchestra, Girls’ Singing Quartet and Ensemble; National Scholastic Achievement in Drama; National Honor Society; Class President; Girls’ League President; Methodist Youth Fellowship; National Merit Scholar Semi-finalist that got her a full tuition and fee scholarship to Univ. of Calif. Santa Barbara. College: Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship; Sophomore Women’s Honor Society; tutored Jr. High students in English. In Nursing School was on the Honor Society, helped write and produce the School’s annual “Blackouts” program; was commentator of the School’s annual Fashion Show; sang in the school choir.
Besides the active school hours she had to work after school and week ends: In Banning clerking at J.C. Penney, usher at the movie theater, waitress and soda-jerk. In Nursing School worked in Hospital Central Supply and Patient Transportation and Admitting.
Ann graduated from Banning High School, Class of 57, entering U. of Calif. Santa Barbara Sept. 57. Her Sophomore year in 58 was cut short by Hepatitis A and she returned home to Banning to convalesce. Someone in Santa Barbara didn’t wash their hands. Thank you, thank you. Dealing with a health problem was enlightening. She entered the Los Angeles County Hospital School of Nursing Sept. 1959 and graduated three years later, Sept. 62.
She immediately began her RN career as charge nurse to LA County Hospitals 6th and 7th floor medical wards, evening shift 3-11. Critical timing here. In Jan. or Feb. 63 she had a rather dramatic encounter with a third year USC medical student doing an unsupervised spinal tap on one of her patients. Not having chastened him enough she tripped him as he left the ward. They were married seven months later 9/20/63. It would have happened three months earlier but he had already arranged for a SKF Fellowship to the United Mission to Nepal Shanta Bhawan Hospital in Kathmandu. That final year of medical school was made even more fun and interesting when Quin joined them 2/18/64.
After graduation in June we put LA in the rear view mirror to move to Fresno to begin on 7/1/64 a one year rotating internship year followed by a 4 year surgical residency. Then Greg magically appeared 5/13/65. It was clear we were having a logistics problem. Ann had to figure out how to take care of two tots 15 months apart and a clueless husband. Taking them camping when Greg was 4 weeks old did not help. But she became active in the programs of Grace Methodist Church and with the wives group of the interns and residents. And she had a great time teaching Quin and Greg to swim. Then in Spring 66, my first year in the Surgical Residency program, she decided it was time to finish her BA studies and enrolled in Fresno State College. Possible because the College had a nursery program to care for kids of students who needed that service but also used in teaching other degree studies. Though I think they were reconsidering that program after dealing with Quin. In two years on 6/7/68 she had her BA in English Lit. WOW! I was married to Wonder Woman. A BA AND an RN. I’m still marveling. Fresno States mascot is a Bulldog. Well of course.
We left Fresno Nov. 69 heading for Missionary Orientation and Training in Stony Point, NY 30 miles up the Hudson from NY. It was a combined Methodist Presbyterian project. Love those ecumenical projects. We were moving too fast so they routed us to Red Bird Mission in Beverly, KY in the Appalachians for two weeks. Fascinating time there. Ann made a beautiful creche set we still use. And we found that the Hatfields and McCoys were still in contention. Our walks were cautioned to stay on the narrow roads. Walking in the woods could get you shot. Pesky Revenuers!
Five months of classes in Stony Point dealing with situational stress games, politics, communism, social structures and weekly involvement with groups working in ghetto situations. One group had weekly conversations with black prisoners in maximum security Green Haven. We were impressed with how down to earth the program was. There was no pie in the sky.
Because we thought we would eventually end up in the old Belgian Congo we were sent via overnight freighter, stateroom right next to the engine room, from Sydney, Nova Scotia to St. Pierre et Miquelon, France’s last remaining possession in North America, for French language study. We picked champinones and blueberries on the hillsides and celebrated Bastille Day, Quatorze Juillet. After two plus months we flew via St. Johns and Gander, Newfoundland to Brussels, Belgium to continue French language studies and a course in tropical medicine in nearby Antwerp. Ann finally got her diamond ring in Antwerp, just seven years late. Quin and Greg spent almost a year in the public school there and we met lifelong friends Darrell and Bunny Huddleston also going and went to Congo but ended up near us in Rhodesia. A little Citroen Deux Chevaux took us around Europe and England in our study breaks.
Despite all that French, circumstances changed in Congo and the Mission Board rerouted us to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe since 1980). We arrived in Salisbury (now Harare) in early 1971 to serve under Bishop Abel Muzorewa. What do ya know, the official language was English! but we spent two months in Salisbury studying Shona before being sent to the Mutambara Mission Station hospital near the Mozambique border and the Umvumvumbu River gorge.. The year that followed was full to the brim. One morning Ann had to chase a cobra out of the laundry room. She supplemented Quin and Gregs education, worked with the women’s groups all over the Mission and revamped the hospital pharmacy. But the physician of long standing returned from his years furlough and we were transferred to the bigger Mission Station and Hospital, Nyadire, about 60 miles from Salisbury. Bryan joined two other missionary doctors and did the surgery. Ann did nursing in the morning, taught Quin and Greg via a correspondence course in the afternoon and again added to the hospital pharmacy. We finished our four year term and left Rhodesia with regrets but felt our sons deserved to be raised in the country of their birth and so choose their own destinies.
Because of previous contacts in southern Idaho we found a home in Ketchum where Ann mothered her sons and all the other kids they brought to the house and worked to sustain and better the Wood River Valley community.. She worked as receptionist , nurse and bookkeeper in our Ketchum Medical Clinic; in line with her BA in English Lit she loved her years of working in the really progressive Ketchum Library. Greg remembers a typical Ann story. One of his favorite classmates was studying at night in the library engrossed in her research at closing time while Ann turned off the lights one by one until only the one light was left. She waited some minutes more while the student continued in her absorption, but finally walked quietly to her side and sympathetically said, “How can we possibly miss you if you never leave?”
She volunteered at the Library’s Gold Mine Thrift Store; was a cub scout den mother for 2 years; was a room mother; helped with trail clearing, town clean-ups; attended public hearings; helped judge community athletic events; did precinct work for a presidential candidate; was a ruling Elder in the Ketchum Presbyterian Church for 5 years (no Methodist Church in Ketchum); a Sunday School teacher for 3 years and in church choir for 2 years; volunteered in the Sr. Center blood pressure clinic; on the Community Library Board and wrote a Home Tour brochure; on the Jr. High School parent’s advisory board and helped computerize the Jr. High School library. She worked with the American Red Cross Bloodmobile for seven years and was co-chairwoman for two years. As an RN she did Community Home Health Care and was certified as a Red Cross Nurse in 1992. She inherently followed a John Wesley principle - endeavor to go where you are needed most.
With her boys leaving the nest she again followed that Wesley principle and with tearful hearts toward our many friends we left the Wood River Valley Sept. 93 and moved to Emmett to work in the newly formed government Community Health Clinic for a short time before being accepted back with the GBGM to go to Mozambique.
With no children this time we again entered 5 months of Missionary Orientation beginning 1/1/94 but in Atlanta. Many of our classes across the street from the US CDC and Emory Univ. We attended AIDs clinics and met with the gay groups and absorbed some of the pain felt in that frequently abandoned community. We attended black churches for Sunday worship and our bodies vibrated in rhythm to their joyful music. Ann felt that brotherly love could not be better expressed than in a rollicking swaying black church.
We finished in Atlanta in mid May and in the short interval before leaving the US Ann flew back to the WR valley to be with her mother who died on 5/13/94, Greg’s birthday, and is buried in Hailey.
After 3 months of language study in Lisbon, Portugal and another 2 months in Maputo, Mozambique we traveled 300 miles up the Indian Ocean coast to finally arrive at Chicuque Mission Hospital in Inhambane Province. 135 beds with 40 in the surgical ward for which I was responsible. Ann’s main duties were administrative nursing assistant for the entire hospital, when I called her to the surgery ward for special dressing changes when the regular staff was overwhelmed (she had the touch to bring some heartfelt responses — Enfermeira Ann, and then her favorite. A Nursing School was part of the Mission function. Mozambique is surrounded by English speaking countries and Portuguese doesn’t go very far so Ann was asked to teach the nursing students English as a — what?, 3rd of 4th Language? And she used what is already the worlds common language - music! Her classes were Rockin’ and Rollin’ with Elvis, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Jacksons, Mariah Carey. Ann was censured for her classes being too noisy and having too much fun. Nursing School was supposed to be serious.
Ann’s mission in Mozambique ended summer of 98. Returning home meant rounding the world a second time. We met Ann’s brother Paul and wife Jan in NZ and spent a month driving from the N tip to the S tip. Gorgeous country. Then to their condo on Kauai for a week. Finally arriving home in Emmett Oct. 98. We asked the Mission Board for another assignment but this time to S. America. Unfortunately there were no hospital connections in that direction, only clinics. Bryan settled back with the VFHC Community Health system and Ann with the Emmett Methodist Church congregational activities.
In 2000 Ann wanted to care for Bryan’s 70 year old mother who had slowly developing Alzheimers disease. Bryan’s sister Earlyn in Safford, AZ had been caring for her for some years and Ann felt she owed her a break. They brought Mom up and Ann took on what she found to be an eye opening experience. After 10 months I flew with Mom back to AZ and Ann wrote a 13 page article of her endeavor that I called ’The Lament of an Alzheimer Care Giver’ and she entitled “Next Time I’ll Be Sweeter.” On page 5 I took a hit in this and rightfully so, an example of one commenting from a distance , not involved in the minute by minute experience. Now I cry when I read it. And we continued on — Aging. Our 50th, a cruise around the Mediterranean. A week after retiring July 2015 we were on a 3 week bus tour of Norway, Scotland and Ireland. New people in different cultures lit her furnace. She never wanted to go to Antartica. Penguins were nice but there were no people there.
But aging and health problems are relentless and the fickle finger of Fate pointed in another direction this time and cut short our 57 years of Joy. Some will say God called her home. Sorry, my God doesn’t do bad things, only good things and Ann’s dying was not a good thing. God cried as much as I did and just as He did when Fate took our son Quin. God is Love and Faith and Grace. And God opened His arms to receive and envelope Ann with tears of Love, and Ann said. "Oh, this reminds me of ——" and despite His tears God chuckled knowing she was of the best of His sculptured Stardust.
THE LAMENT OF AN ALZHEIMER CARE GIVER
- BRYAN STONE
NEXT TIME I’LL BE SWEETER
- ANN STONE
Bertha is eighty-nine years old and has had Alzheimer’s Disease for at least 12 years. For about ten years she and Ermon lived in a mobile home on Wes and Earlyn’s five acres in Safford, AZ. For almost two years after that she lived with them in their house. We wanted to take a turn at caring for Bertha. Her daughter and son-in-law were in need of respite. They came a few days before Thanksgiving (year 2000) and left her with us. I told people that I wanted to take care of Bertha because I owe her a lot. One of the women in my water aerobics class said, seriously, “Oh, how much did you borrow?”.
In March, Patti Provonsha, Bryan’s nurse in Ketchum, came with her granddaughter and her mother-in-law to visit overnight. Patti said, “You’re lucky she’s cheerful!” We didn’t say, “No, she’s lucky she’s cheerful”. We also didn’t explain that with them she was on company manners.
Bertha doesn’t usually mind my waking her up. I always find that touching. But Sunday I woke her and said, “Are you ready to go to church?” She said, just the way Walter Matthau would have delivered the line, “Do I look like I’m ready?”
Room for once more We were having the sofa bed reupholstered. It would be gone three or four days. The mattress from inside it was leaning against the wall in the guest bedroom. Bertha got stuck walking between the living room and the guest room repeating, “When will the couch be back?” and “Oh, you have a new mattress!” Finally I didn’t answer and she demanded, “Why don’t you answer me?” I said, “Bertha, I have answered you fifty-four times.” She said (all perky), “Good, then let’s make it fifty-five.”
At Fellowship Hour after church on Bertha’s birthday she was given flowers. She rose, with a hand over her heart and said in an emotion-filled voice, “I have just received this lovely bouquet, and I would like to thank you all and say that it is so nice to be remembered.”
Bananas Bertha is in the kitchen turning a banana in both hands. She says, “I’m trying to figure out if I really want this”. I said, “I don’t think you do because you’ve already eaten two bananas this afternoon, but who’s counting?” She doesn’t remember what she’s eaten. We wonder how she eats so heartily and stays the same weight with almost no exercise. The answer is that she’s bulimic. She doesn’t throw up on purpose or induce it; it just comes rolling back.
Well-meaning Bryan and I were attending the building committee presentation after church. August. Balmy. Bertha was outside watching the youth group wash cars for their travel fund. I kept going out to check on her. Each time I went out someone, not of the youth group, would be moving her, saying, “Don’t you think she’s cold in the shade?” “Don’t you think she’s hot in the sun?” “Don’t you think she’s cold in the shade?”
Smooth talk Bertha makes impressive phone conversation. Anyone listening to her would think we have the wrong diagnosis. The problem is that her end of the conversation is total fiction: Brad, calling from Reno when she’d been to church at least eight times: “Well, have you been to church?” Bertha: “Not yet, we haven’t had a chance, but I’m sure we will.” Brad: “What have you been doing today?” “Oh, a little sewing and whatever needs doing around here.”
Once as we pulled into our driveway Bertha said, “Oh, I recognize this. I’ve been here before. Who lives here?” “Bryan Stone and his wife, Ann, and his mother”, I said. She said in a conspiratorial whisper, “Did you warn them that we were coming?”
Bertha is always surprised at hot: coffee, soup, bath water, ambient air, metal teapots in the Chinese restaurant. And always surprised at cold: orange juice, milk, ice cubes, bath water, wind, other people’s hands, metal hand rails in the winter.
Bertha can dress and undress herself for the most part if someone stays with her to remind her which direction she’s supposed to be moving. One night I left her in her pink nightgown and put the clothes she’d been wearing in the hamper. She came back out fully dressed in the dirty clothes. I helped her back out of the clothes and into the nightgown. In the morning the pink nightgown and two others as well as the day’s dirty clothes were spread out all over the room like the Emporium window display and she was wearing a fourth nightgown. Not a very restful night apparently.
Riding in the car, every time our direction changes so that the sun hits Bertha she says, “I don’t like the sun in my eyes.” I say, “Close your eyes”, “Put on these sunglasses.” “I’ll turn this visor down.” “Block it with your hand, this magazine, your sweater.” “Wait, we’re turning just ahead.” “Wait, I’ll move the sun for you.” Bryan says, “That’s funny, everybody else likes the sun in their eyes.”
She still thinks the fact that she doesn’t remember something is a telling argument: e.g. “You haven’t given me anything to eat all day!” “Well Bertha, you had oatmeal, orange sections, and coffee for breakfast, and oriental chicken salad and milk for lunch. Now dinner is ready and we’re just waiting for Bryan.” “I think I’d remember whether or not I had breakfast or lunch.”
UMW members were asked to name the thing that we were grateful for. Bertha was expressly excused from the exercise, but she took her turn anyway: “I’m grateful that I can still do all my work and help others.” I’m glad that’s how she perceives her situation, but some of those women probably wonder why I don’t go out and get a job.
On our way home from Nampa, Bertha, in the back seat of the car, had been quiet for awhile. Bryan turned and said, “You all right back there, Mom?” Bertha, “Yes, I’m going along just as fast as you are!”
Bertha is a leaky vessel. For some reason she hangs wet and otherwise soiled underpants at eye level in the linen closet in the bathroom or on the bookcase in the computer room. Sometimes I just take them down quietly. Sometimes I have to point out that other people don’t like finding those. When I do say something her reactions vary; sometimes she gives the ’so-what?’ shrug, sometimes she states emphatically that they’re not hers. Last time I found them folded in fourths under her pillow, she covered her face and said, “Oh no”, so I felt like a big, mean creep for pointing it out.
Sometimes Bertha wants to do something: help fold the clothes or do the dishes. I try to let her help at times although she really can’t carry through. She just rinses dishes with cold water and puts them away with the clean dishes, or she folds the same article of clothing over and over. Once, giving up on a sleeveless blouse, she turned her back to the clothes and threw the blouse over her head where it landed back on the pile and she left with out looking back. I wish I had a videotape of that. When she helps , an untoward result is that she starts to scold about how long since that particular job has been done and what a mess this whole place is. “The kitchen wouldn’t come clean if I scrubbed for two days.” “I will get up early to get these clothes ready because no one has anything to wear.” “The dog is hungry. She hasn’t been fed for days.”
Mixed Messages: Hugging herself, “Brrrr, it’s hot!” In the car, “That wind feels so good, if it doesn’t blow my head off.”
I was preparing for company one day when Bertha began to ask, “What can I do to help:” I really didn’t have time to have her help, so I turned her down politely four times. Then she asked again and I raised my voice. She stomped out of the room shouting, “I might as well not try to help around here!” She came back three minutes later, jaunty and smiling, saying, “What can I do to help?”
After one night in the hospital because of a rapid, irregular heart beat her heart converted and she was discharged at noon. A friendly nurse’s aide walked us out to the car. A couple days later I saw that nurse’s aide downtown. She said, “I meant to tell you that Bertha seemed confused when she was in the hospital.” Related to that hospital visit discharge, Bertha had a large stool in her underpants that I became aware of the second I walked into her room. The nurse giving us discharge instructions was oblivious. I think for well over twelve hundred dollars a night basic hygiene care should be included.
I had stopped for House for Sale fliers on the way home. When we pulled in the driveway Bertha said, “If you buy one of those houses , you’ll live close to me here!”
Bryan had been gone for six nights and seven days to UMC annual conference in Oregon. He got back on Sunday night and started five days of working in Payette when he was only home at night. So for eleven days of about forty hours a day it was just Bertha and me. On the tenth day Bertha got mad at me over something, squatted over the rattan waste basket in the computer room and urinated. I said, “I’m so tired of your acting crazy. Tomorrow it’s my turn to act crazy and you can pick up the messes.” She said, “Go to it.”
How She Spends Her Day
She can still play dominoes.
She likes to color in the type of coloring book that has a duplicate, completed example so that she doesn’t have to decide what color to use and I don’t have to decide for her.
She rocks in front of the picture window and watches traffic or the school children across the street at Butte View school.
Once in awhile she becomes engaged in the television, even asking about the news.
She can read , but doesn’t remember any of it, so reads the same page or paragraph over and over.
She sings from a hymnal. Although she can carry a tune in church, when she sings here it’s a low monotone.
She whistles through her two cupped hands so that it sounds like an ocarina. That always gets a laugh. Last night after we thought she was in bed we heard the ocarina whistle coming from the dark bathroom. I guess she forgot why she’d gone in there and needed to fill the time.
Drs. Eshenaur and Stone discovered that Bertha was hypothyroid. They started her on thyroid and increased her dose twice so that she’s approaching normal, which makes her more alert but no more rational. (What do you get when you give coffee to a drunk? A more awake drunk.) Now she practically never sits still which used to be what she did most. She moves about the house rearranging everything. Standing with our mail in her hands, she says, “I’m trying to decide which of these to throw out.” Riding in the car she screams suddenly because she sees another car moving. It needn’t be on the same road with us, much less the same lane or moving toward us. Once as I pulled up behind a car at a stop sign she gave a nerve-excoriating shriek, saying, “I thought he was going to back up!”
Laurie Thomson asked Bertha if she likes to walk. Bertha: “Oh yes, I walk every day. In fact it’s the only way I have to get anywhere.”
Some things that she never remembers having seen before: fortune cookies, tacos, pizza, video cassettes, the computer, the blood pressure cuff, the automatic garage door opener, Colorado Blue Spruce.
Bryan once told me that I was bullying Bertha and another time said, “You make the mistake of thinking she’s rational. You’re not going to make it!” He wrote to a friend of his who has always thought I was an inconsequential person, saying that it had been a novelty for me for awhile, having Bertha, but it soon wore off. For my efforts on Bertha’s behalf he has never found an occasion to compliment me or to thank me at all.
I bathe Bertha in the tub. There is no shower in the bath on her end of the house and I think she needs the sitz bath. I run the water, testing the temperature. Then I ask her to test it. She steps in, then I step in behind her and lower her into the tub. Then she says either “This is too hot!” or “This is too cold.” Two times in the first one hundred and thirty baths I gave her she says, “It’s all right.” Two other times she didn’t comment at all on the temperature. Once after she declared it too cold and I didn’t react quickly, she said, “You don’t care.” I said. “Well Bertha, I knew it was going to be either too hot or too cold.” She said, “Oh you don’t know anything.”
I usually go out of the room, lay out her clothes and bring her underwear into the bathroom while she washes herself. I noticed that when I return she is usually washing her toes. So she may have very clean toes and not so clean other parts. I usually wash her back. She used to say, “Oh, that feels so good.” Unfortunately she hasn’t said that in at least four months.
When she’s clean I step in behind her again, have her bring her feet under her bottom, wide apart, I take hold under her armpits, tell her to use her own leg muscles to stand and I tug her to her feet. I’ve had to add a last second instruction: “Don’t let your feet kick out in front.” When she lets them go out from under her I may as well try to lift the whole bath tub with her and I normally get a herniated disk at those times.
Two times as we were leaving Quin and Kris’s house, Bertha said “I don’t like that guy.” I told her that was too bad because he is my son and her grandson, Quin. Once she gave the Gallic shrug which is increasingly irritating, and once she said she was sorry she said anything. The third and, so far, last time, she said it to Bryan as we were going out of the theater. Bryan said loud enough that Kris and I could hear it about thirty feet ahead, “Oh Mother, shut up.” Kris and I asked what it was about. We were both pleased that Bryan had defended Quin in that way, and I was tickled that he pretty much lost it when he always expects me to be the soul of patience. Bertha produced a tear before almost instantly forgetting the whole deal. Bryan bawled me out for insisting on knowing what it was about when he didn’t want to tell. Tough.
Braxon, 5, (Kris’s adopted son from Haiti) was staying overnight in the computer room across the hall from Bertha’s room. He went in and dug his pajamas out of his bag. Bertha told him sharply to put those back and to keep out of those bags and that room. Braxon isn’t normally easy to intimidate, but he was so shocked in this case that he did exactly as she said.
If certain articles of clothing and accessories are left out, Bertha puts them on: hats, shoes, jackets, glasses, dark glasses inside the house. This always makes us laugh. When we ask for something back, saying, “That’s mine,” she is incredulous, outraged: “WHAT?!” Most recently she was cleaning Bryan’s glasses, fogging them and wiping them at great length. Then she tucked them in the mini tissue box and stuffed the tissue on top of them. She said, “You can put those away.” I said, “I’m afraid they’ll get discarded that way. Those are Bryan’s.” “If those are Bryan’s can you tell me why I have them.” Nope
Favorite Expressions How old am I? What do they call this town? There are some nice houses in this area but they’re too close together. That’s a pretty tree. That’s a pretty car. I think I’m Bertha, aren’t I? I’m up and at ‘em. That’s the tallest tree I’ve ever seen. My brother and I did all the driving when we were kids. Am I forgetting anything? Can you find my watch? Whew, look at all the cars - seven, eight, nine, ,,, That’s a pretty color. Well, I’m up, but not at ‘em.
I was watching Bertha standing at the bathroom mirror, She brushed her hair and set the brush down, looked in the mirror, picked the brush up again, etc. Ten times by actual count, over a period of about twenty minutes. She probably didn’t remember previous brushings, or maybe she just wasn’t satisfied with how she looked until the tenth brushing.
“Every time I come in here this toilet has not been flushed!” says Bertha vehemently, gesturing to the severely unfleshed toilet. I said, “You are the only one who uses this toilet.” She said, “Oh.”
“Earlyn! Earlyn! You get right back in here! It’s not cold enough in here without you leaving the door open. Earlyn! I’m freezing to death!” Fortunately it is not my name that she is screaming. The temperature in the room is 80 degrees. It is July. The door to the hall is barely ajar, about one inch. I close the door.
Bertha and Ermon owned and operated a laundry and dry cleaners for nearly forty years. Their clothes were always clean and neat. Now if I want to put Bertha’s clothes in the dirty clothes hamper I have to be furtive about it. She often takes them back out and hangs them up. Several times she has accused me bitterly of ruining her clothes, washing them the way I do. Once she said, “I always wash this new dress (polyester double knit at least ten years old) by hand in cold water and I will do it in the morning.” I said, “Fine.” Aaaaaugh
Seeing Too Much of Each Other I had been working at the computer with a CD-ROM Spanish lesson for about an hour. I heard Bertha go out the patio door. I almost caught up with her going down the walk when she yelled back over her shoulder, “I suppose there’s no one else here to talk to.” Twice she has earnestly implored someone she has just met to come and visit her because she gets “terribly lonesome living alone.”
Buckle Shoes I bought a new pair of shoes for Bertha, cloth black shoes like the Chinese peasants wear, the style we used to call MaryJanes, I think. They have straps with buckles with elastic under them so that you don’t have to undo them every time; you can just slip them on and off. She liked them. Her feet looked cute in them. I showed her that slip-on feature. She said, “I suppose if I can’t do it I’ll always have Bryan here to help me.”
Relief One night after Bertha had already gone to bed we heard her sobbing. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking miserable, daubing her eyes, saying, “I suppose you think I don’t appreciate all you do for me, but I do. You’re the one who has done everything for me for years.” I said, “No, I’ve done everything for you for just a few months. It’s probably Earlyn that you’re thinking of that took care of you for years.” She smiled and said, “Really?” The tears dried right up, and she started to dangle and swing her legs. She kept up that care-free-looking activity for two hours even after I turned the light out.
Bertha takes her coffee black. She has taken it that way for 75 years. But twice here she sat behind her untouched cup of black coffee looking peeved. When I asked about it she said, “You forgot the cream and sugar.”
You could take her anywhere Bertha has excellent table manners for a woman in her condition. Once in a while she gets confused and does odd things such as switch the contents of the dishes: eggs onto napkin, sausage onto saucer, coffee cup in basket under flowers. She has almost forgotten that sandwiches are finger foods and often eats them with a fork, sometimes just forking the filling out as if the bread were a plate. But in the last few weeks eating seems to trigger a runny nose. She blows her nose, wipes, and scratches it vigorously with her paper napkin, which is hard to ignore. Impossible even for Bryan to ignore is that she then begins to wipe the table with the same napkin.
We bought some new bedding for Bertha’s daybed. Bringing it in, I asked her if she could carry one of the pillows. “No,” she said, grinning and making her knees buckle, “it’s too heavy for me.”
She spits - anywhere, any time. Not that she hawks up a lot of substance, but she spits out little pieces of thread, toothpick, hair, paper, fingernails. There is an accompanying resonant sound that is unmistakable and causes people to tense up in the pew in front of us for example.
Deja Vu Last weekend we made our first drive to Yellowpine. It was about four hours from here. When we came to the major intersection in the two-block downtown, Bryan said, “Which way should I turn?” Bertha said, “I remember being here before but I can’t remember which way we turned.” Months before we had been several miles north of Emmett following Washington Ave. onto the dirt roads when Bryan asked the same question, “Which road should we take?” Bertha was adamant that when she’d been there at age eight they had gone left and that was the way to go now.
Bryan was working in the computer room and Bertha was asleep on her daybed. I had just read this story and told Bryan, “Princess Diana broke off her friendship with Fergie about two years before she died because Fergie had published in her memoirs that she had borrowed a pair of Diana’s shoes and had gotten warts from them.” Bertha, whether awake or asleep, enjoyed a deep chuckle.
Book of Records Seventeen and twenty are the numbers of record-breaking sneezes-in-a-row by Bertha Stone of Emmett, Idaho. One time I began to count out loud and she took offense, saying between sneezes, “If I could stop it I would.” Her memory may be failing but she can still spot a smart aleck.
Sympathy Ploy Sometimes when I have mopped up the bathroom floor Bertha has come right in and complained that she nearly slipped. In view of the fact that she didn’t nearly slip and that the floor was wet because she had dribbled pee and things on it, we will have to find a much nicer person than I am to apologize for that.
Goonie Bird Outfits Bertha has been a good looking woman and has been known to put a lot of emphasis on her clothing, jewelry, and hair. Therefore I find it one of the saddest things to see the outfits she picks out now. Sometimes I can leave her alone in her green and red, large plaid, flannel top with the gold and black, small plaid, silky slacks and blue floral slippers, sometimes no.
Not often, but too many times, when we’ve just arrived somewhere after much preparation, with other people - Quin, Kris, Phyllis, Carol, Adam - Bertha states, “I’m ready to go now.” “Go where?” “Home.” Only a frank answer will do then: “I’m sorry, but you are not calling the shots today.”
Similarly, when we’d driven thirty miles to look at floor coverings she said, “No, you can’t go here today; they don’t have any shade trees.” I said, “We didn’t come to find shade trees, we had those at home. Do you want to come in or do you want to stay in the car with the air-conditioner on?”
On two evenings we’ve had Victoria’s daughter, Lark, who is twelve, come and sit with Bertha. The first time we had Bertha already in bed and asleep, but when we got home she had her clothes back on and was chatting up Lark whom she considered to be a guest that she couldn’t leave. (Bertha explained this to Lark.) The next time we told her Lark was coming to watch a video and that she, Bertha, was to stay in bed, but alas… Victoria got a phone call from Lark saying that Bertha had come out with her dress on backwards. Victoria said, “Does it look uncomfortable?” Lark, “No.” “Then tell her that Bryan and Ann want her to go to bed.” That did it. In three more hours she went right back to bed.
Two friends and Bertha and I were in Mocha Bay having fancy coffee and biscotti. Bertha found the biscotti dry and flavorless, kept asking if we liked it. Nevertheless she ate hers and had started on Barbara’s. I said, “Do you think it’s right to bitch about the biscotti and then eat yours and everyone else’s too?” Bertha agreed that didn’t seem right. Phyllis objected to my use of the word ‘bitch’ for ‘complain’.
I’ve been describing a short phase in the life of a woman I’ve known for thirty-seven years. When I look at her now I see her various selves telescoped through the years and I rarely find her pitiful. She has been a beautiful, hard working, intelligent, sociable person. An active community leader. All of these characteristics still show. She raised three good children, took care of her aged mother, and lived in considerable happiness for most of her sixty-six years of marriage to one man.
The linen cupboard in the hall holds games, photo albums, gift wrap, no linen, and many odd-shaped things. Bertha opened every door and stage-whispered, “This must be a bunch of junk I forgot to throw out.”
“How did I come to be in a place like this anyway?” asks Bertha. I ask, “A place like what?” “A place where I just stay in this area.” she says, indicating five rooms of the house. I explained that she goes everywhere I go but I guess when you feel like a prisoner you feel like a prisoner.
I used to help Bertha more with changing her clothes, but one “Well, jerk my head off!” and one “Well, break my arm!” caused me to remember that it’s better not to do things for people that they can do for themselves.
I was looking for the remote control behind the couch cushions, Berth’s favorite place to put things to “tidy up”. She said, “What are you looking for?” “The remote control.” Pointing to one of the eight dividers in the magazine rack/end table, she said, “I don’t know what’s down here.” Yes, the remote control, inside of a Vanity Fair magazine, inside of an atlas. It gets to me when Bertha asks me to make a decision for her, I make it, and she then argues about it. This happens so regularly that no particular example stands out. I’ll just listen for awhile and explain what I mean later.
“Where should I sit?” “Right here.” “It’s too cold there.” “Here then.”
“The dog is in the way.” “We’ll move the dog.” “No.”
(“Should I wear my slippers to bed?” …etc. etc.)
(In a restaurant, “You order for me.” …etc. etc.)
This simple incident annoyed me: Bertha had gone to bed. Bryan in the living room was watching a basketball game, roaring and whooping with excitement. Bertha raised up on her elbow and in a loud, disgusted voice said, “Well, for heaven’s sake!” and flopped back down.
Sometimes Bertha beats me to answering the door bell. She usually says, “I think I’m the only one here,” which I find humbling. So far she hasn’t bought anything there or changed our religious affiliation. Yesterday I was not able to get there in time to find out who she was talking to. She said, “No, I don’t want you playing in the grass. Oh, all right, but be careful!” It may have been one of the children who ask to play on the swing set, but there was no one there a moment later. It may have been the dog because she had been directing the dog for at least an hour earlier in the day. She had the patio door open and was parked in the patio chair in the middle of the doorway repeatedly admonishing the dog not to go inside. I finally suggested we close the door if we didn’t want the dog inside and Bertha agreed to that.
On Mondays from 9 to 3 you can find Bertha at the Sr. Center “Respite for Caregivers” courtesy of Brad and Judi, ($25/wk). They said they appreciate how loving and patient I am with Bertha, which gives me unworthiness pangs, but I do appreciate the break and Bertha does too. She can never say specifically what she did butt she seems to remember having a good time.
When Bryan got home I was in the kitchen fixing dinner. Bertha was in the living room looking out the window. Bryan said, “What’s the matter, Mother?” She was wiping tears away and said , “I’m such a pain in the neck.” I said, “Nobody said you’re a pain in the neck Bertha.” Bertha, “No, nobody said anything.” “Nobody did anything to indicate that either did they?” Bertha, “No.”
The cardiologist’s nurse asked me how tall Bertha is.
I said, “I don’t know now. I think she used to be 5’4”.”
She said, “Oh, no. She can’t be 5’4”.”
“No, of course she’s not, not now.”
“She looks more like 5’1” to me.”
“Maybe we should measure her.”
“What a good idea.”
When we got home I asked Bryan how tall Bertha is. He said, “She used to be 5’5” I think.”
For good reason there is no locked door between us at night. Three times that we know of Bertha has been rummaging around our bedroom after we were asleep. Twice she has thrown on the overhead lights which was startling, but the time she didn’t turn on the light was scarier. Oddly, both Bryan and I felt an outpouring of sympathy for her at those times. The poor woman was only trying to make sense of her surroundings and her life and she can’t manage to do that anymore.
It’s fun to watch Bertha peering out the picture window. She leans forward and from side to side not to miss any of the constantly fresh scene. Once she asked me why that child in the red coat was squatting at the edge of the road for so long. It was the fire plug. Her near vision is much better than her far vision. She used to wear glasses, but lost a few pair, I guess. Anyway, visual acuity isn’t everything in how well she interprets what she sees.
In two weeks Bryan will fly with Bertha to return her to Earlyn and Wes. She will have been here a little over ten months. Bryan says it’s easier for Wes and Earlyn because both of them are at home. I don’t think that’s true, but I’m sending her anyway. I did the best I could for Bertha but it wasn’t very good. I thought I would be sweeter.