Friends are priceless – II

(This quartet series (Part II) is all about my friends whom I had the pleasure of meeting during my trip to US in the year 2008)

ALICE ANN

From Connecticut I drove two hours to Kennebunk in southern Maine with Brenda, a friend with whom I stayed there. The sole purpose of the trip was to visit Alice Ann Almost ninety years old,  living in a “retirement home”. I had been a frequent guest in her home since I met her when I stayed in Connecticut with Betty almost forty years ago. AA (as we called her) was married to Vin, who worked as a muclear engineer after his return from the War. They have four lovely daughters, all of whom were Betty’s students at the local high school. It has been my singular good fortune to have been their house guest and enjoyed their unbounded hospitality all these years in every place where they had lived. After Vin retired they moved to Atlanta,Georgia where he was a consultant for a few years. I visited them there. Then they moved to a lovely small town community of mostly-retired people, inNorth Carolina, the attraction being a lake and a golf course. I visited them there too and Vin took me out on his boat. My next visit to the house inNorth Carolinawas a sad one. Vin had Alzheimer’s and was moved to a special home nearby. Alice Ann took me to meet him. He was the same good-looking man I knew but his eyes were blank, no sign of recognition of me – or his wife. He politely followed us to his room, neatly furnished with his personal possessions and photographs. There was no conversation, until he picked up a photograph to show me, pointing to and naming his wife and four daughters pictured there – without recognizing his wife who stood beside me. He died the following year.

Shortly afterwards, AA’s daughter and her doctor-brother who lives in Kennebunk, persuaded her to move to a retirement home in Kennebunk where she could live independently, but near her brother and one of her daughters. I went to see her there too a couple of years ago. She had a beautiful two bedroom apartment with a small kitchen and all the utilities. She had all her favorite artifacts she had collected from her travels with Vin. Her grey cat Josephine kept her company, but her daughters and grandchildren often came to visit and stay overnight in the guest bedroom. The retirement community provided all the household care and food from the common kitchen if the residents did not wish to cook themselves. An emergency bell would bring help within minutes if the need arose. Alice Ann managed to ring the bell when she fell in the bathroom and had to be moved to a nursing home on the premises. With arthritis and a cervical problem she is confined to a wheel chair. She greeted me with her bright smile.  It was a delight to see her and spend two days with her, and Josephine who sat by her side. Most of the residents had pets; they were encouraged to keep them because they obviously improved their morale with companionship. Nurses’ aides walked the dogs.  When I visited her with Brenda and her dog, I was wary about taking animals to AA’s room. But there was no objection raised by the receptionist at the entrance.

The dog wagged his tail when AA stroked him while Josephine curled on her exclusive chair looked at the dog with narrowed, fixed-focus, inscrutable eyes!

Attendants dropped in to help her to the bathroom or took her for physio-therapy. I was her guest for an enjoyable lunch and stayed to watch the Wimbledon games on the TV in her room. The conversation revolved around grandchildren and their achievements. There were many photographs, and on the walls there were framed silk paintings of elephants purchased in Jaipur.  We talked of their visit to India in 1988. There was no mention of pain or sadness. Her brother Jim brought her strawberry shortcake which we shared. It was almost like being in her home again. We hugged each other and  I promised I would return to see her soon.

The flight from Portland,Maine, to Chicago was short and pleasant despite the exasperation when I was told the airlines would charge me for a second checked-in bag. Fortunately I was traveling light and I carried the smaller bag on, only to have the security personnel throw out my toiletries, which I had forgotten to transfer to the checked bag!!.

Stayed overnight with a friend in Chicago and then took the Amtrak train to Quincy,Illinois. The four hour train journey took me through unending fields of corn and soya beans, with the occasional barn and tall silver silo – which must be the American farmer’s phallic symbol – worshipped as the Source, not of the Ganga but of ethanol and hog-food.!

 

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