Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Senior Moment

A Senior Moment I believe that everyone on the face of the planet has heard the term, ‘Senior Moment’. Akin to forgetfulness, it is classified as a momentary lapse of memory; an episode in which a distraction, either physical, or mental, wafts through the brain and temporarily erases the immediate subject of which is being concentrated on; in the midst of a discussion, destination or task. Linking this lapse with old age, blogs and studies have been dedicated to it, society has elected to highlight the humor in it; and it has been blazoned across t-shirts, post cards and coffee cups. Now an acceptable adage, both the young and old alike embrace it, joke about it and wear it like a badge on a Girl Scout sash. Love this! Several years ago, I had the privilege of working in an administrative capacity at a lovely senior residential community. A beautiful landscape of walkways and rose gardens and nearly 500 trees, the twenty-acre property was reminiscent of a lovely park without the runners or roller skaters. The seniors who lived there came from all walks of life: doctors, homemakers, war veterans, accountants, seamstresses and former trophy wives. They all had amazing stories to tell, and they would share them weekly in a coffee-and-chat environment set up by our social services director. Though I had many tasks to fulfill on a daily basis, I’d often find an excuse to walk through and listen to some of the stories they shared. I noticed a similar pattern with most of the residents: they were pretty long-winded when discussing their history, and often times would be interrupted by a co-resident who had a question. In answering, inadvertently the question would throw them off and they would struggle to remember what they were talking about. Sometimes another resident would help them along, and other times the conversation would simply take another direction, with the speaker failing to finish the initial story. At that point they would touch their foreheads and say, ‘Sorry, I forgot what I was going to say. I just had a senior moment.’ Being in my forties at the time, and like many of my younger co-workers, we thought nothing of using this, although in jest, to each other when the occasion called for it, until one manager suggested that we refrain from using the term, simply out of respect to the resident, and so that it didn’t appear we were mocking anyone. Though difficult to abstain from, especially in that environment, we respected her point and changed our comments. I thought I was doing well until I met a senior who I will call Dora Bernstein. Dora Bernstein was a resident, recently transplanted from another community. She was the resident speaker one day when I happened to walk through the game room where they held their coffee and conversation. I hung around for a while and listened as she shared some humorous stories of her past as a former school teacher and a WAC who served in World War II. I was walking through the game room one afternoon when I saw her sitting at a card table alone. I stop and spoke, and asked her if she needed assistance, or whether she was expecting someone. She replied that her scrabble partner had died a few weeks before. I took a seat and listened as she expressed her passion for word games, and she explained that she still came to the game room weekly in the hopes that someone would come through and show interest in starting a game. I looked at the grandfather clock across the room. I hadn’t taken my lunch break, and it was going on three o’clock. I usually ate lunch at my desk, so I thought to myself, ‘This would be a great way to spend a lunch break.’ I sat down in front of her and said, “I’ve got thirty minutes. Let’s play.” Delighted, the 86-year-old, Betty White look-a-like mother of five with an oxygen tube attached to her nostrils smiled sweetly at me. She plopped a worn scrabble dictionary onto the table and went over the rules. Then she spoke these chilling words: “I’ll give you a one-hundred point handicap to start. And I’ll still beat you.” I raised my eyebrows, looked at the clock again, and replied, “I don’t want your little handicap. And you can play first.” Like a lightning rod, Dora threw down six letters and immediately scored forty points. I pretended I dropped something and looked under the table to see if she had some extra scrabble squares sitting in her lap. An hour later, I was losing, 250 to 120. When I got up to go, Dora reverted back to the sweet little old lady I’d sat down with just an hour before, and asked me, “Do you want to save this game for another time?” I suggested that we start a new one, and I would meet her, at the same time, same place in a week. From that point, it was on. I checked my calendar and made sure I had no meetings scheduled on Monday afternoons at three o’clock. Faithful to the cause, Dora was there, always on time, and at each meeting, she offered to give me a one-hundred-point handicap. Each time I would adamantly refuse, telling myself that this was the game in which I would win. Each session, Dora beat the pants off of me. When I’d leave, she would make cracks like, ‘You should have taken my handicap,’ or ‘what’d they teach you in high school?’ and ‘Give me the name of your English teacher, so I can slap him.’ And so began our animated rivalry. One day I was working on a project and a reminder popped up on my Outlook calendar for our recurring game. As I shuffled some papers on my desk and jumped up, ready to go smack down some letters with my senior nemesis, there was a knock on the door. It was Dora in a wheelchair, being pushed by a tall, handsome man about my age. “I have to cancel our game for today,” she explained. “I have a date.” She continued by making introductions. “This is my grandson Sean. He’s a doctor, you know,” she added proudly. To him, she said, “This is our Human Resources Director. This is the young whippersnapper I beat every Monday at Scrabble.” I smiled up at him politely and glared at her behind her back as he steered her out of the office. The next week I broke down. As we started our game, she asked the usual polite question: ‘Would you like a one-hundred point handicap?’ Looking around to make sure no one else saw me; I raised my eyebrows, looked her straight in the eyes and nodded slowly. I watched her mark the numbers at the top of the scorecard, and as we grabbed our squares to start the game, I swore I heard the theme song from Clint Eastwood’s ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ playing in the background. That day I was determined to win. I challenged every word she used that I’d never heard before, and each time I ended up losing a turn. I glanced at the score. She was gaining on me with phenomenal speed. Those six-to-ten point words were quickly adding up. I started getting desperate, so I decided on a cheap tactic to throw her off. “Dora,” I asked, “What was your most memorable time during the war?” Dora smiled and the blue eyes behind the bifocals became dreamy. “Probably when I met my husband,” she replied, and she launched into the story of how they met. While she was talking, her scrabble words were getting smaller and smaller and she was only scoring four to ten points a word. I kept nodding and egging her on. I scored a thirty-something pointer and she looked at me with her eyebrows raised. Now I was the sweet one. “Do you want to challenge me?” I asked, laughing like Vincent Price. She looked down at her letters, and then at the board. The only letters left were the ones in front of us. “No,” she replied, “I was trying to remember something.” “Oh?” I goaded, basking in the glow of my conquest. “Having a senior moment?” “No, young lady. I’m finishing the game.” With that she picked up all seven of her letters, cross-connected them to my thirty-pointer and said smugly, “Humph! Scrabble!” I stared back at her, my mouth hanging open. The word she spelled was, ‘Equinox ’. I looked at the score card. Dora had won by 100 points. When I took on her initial invitation, I’d had no idea how proficient she was in Scrabble. Walking back to my office, I thought about how much I enjoyed playing, and even losing, if not for the exercise, for the simple pleasure of her company, and our light-hearted repartee. For the next two weeks I was out on vacation. Before I left, I called and left a message on her answering machine that I wouldn’t see her in the game room for the next two Mondays, but I’d be ready for her when I returned. Though I was absorbed in traveling during those two weeks, I picked up a scrabble dictionary and studied it on the plane, smiling to myself at some of the words I’d plan to place on the board, words Dora didn’t expect I knew. When I returned to work, I had notes tacked to my door, and dozens of emails to catch up on and respond to. Shuffling through them, I saw that one of the notes was from Dora. ‘She probably wants to gloat about that last win,’ I thought, as I placed it aside and jumped onto my computer. The resident chaplain would send out emails when a resident went to the hospital or passed away, so when one with the subject heading with Dora Bernstein’s name popped up, my heart dropped. When I read that she’d died in her sleep, I was immediately overcome with sadness. There were hundreds of seniors at the community. Each time an individual passed away, it was difficult, but it was the business we were in. We were aware and trained that in a retirement community, for many of the residents, this was their last stop. I thought for weeks about the feisty little senior with the oxygen tank and my eyes would get moist. I had to remind myself that she’d had nearly 87 years on this earth and had lived a full and fruitful life. From time to time I would pick up the note, usually on Mondays around three o’clock and re-read it. It was handwritten, and it was obviously from Dora. The handwriting was wobbly, but written in perfect English. She said she’d forgotten that I was on vacation and had come to the game room waiting for me. ‘I had a senior moment,’ she wrote, and then she went on to write that out of all of her scrabble partners, she’d enjoyed beating me the most. I’d smile, wipe my tears and tuck the note away.

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