I don't know what to call it. It's a home, but of what variety: Retirement? Convalescent? Old People's? We've been there twice, but I haven't yet been able to tell The Boss exactly where it was we were going. I think I mumbled something about grandmothers and Christmas carols as we pulled up this afternoon. When we got out of our car, a middle-aged woman next to us was sobbing beside her Ford pick-up. I hurried The Boss along. Already, I didn't want to be there.
There were about five mothers and ten kids from the chapter of the MOMS Club to which I belong. One parent pulled a wagon filled with crafts of which she had overseen the completion earlier in the week as children, like snot-nosed and supremely adorable elves, poured colored sand into water bottles and planted a fake flower in each. We were at the...facility for the aged?...to deliver those homemade vases to residents amidst choruses of Rudolph and We Wish You a Merry Christmas.
There was a stench that could have been coming from either soiled sheets or the domed dinner plates that rolled by at several points during our visit. The Boss clung to my leg like she always does for the first four or five seconds in any new place. Then she warmed up.
"Happy Christmas!" She leaned into one wheelchair and handed over a flower along with her cheery greeting. Its occupant, so small in her seat that she seemed only white hair and wrinkles, was palsied in her effort to put a kiss on The Boss's face. The Boss reached up; the woman bobbed down. There were old lips on a new nose and The Boss's laugh was awkward but boisterous. "Happy Christmas," she said again.
Later, there was another woman in another wheelchair at the end of a long hallway. "She's 107," said the nurse who was directing our wiggling parade. "We shouldn't send more than a few kids over to her at once."
I squinted in the direction of the centenarian. I was wearing my glasses instead of contacts, and the prescription in my tortoise shell frames never seems strong enough. I pondered the fact that there were probably many in the 80+ set here today with better eyesight than mine. I strained to make out the oldest one of all. She wasn't that far away, but all I could see was a shapeless shift of white. Her head melted into her torso, which sagged into two stick legs. I marveled at the body and mind that refused to give up against all odds.
As we walked away, I thought of what it might mean to reach 55 years old having wiled away only half of one's life span. Maybe I wouldn't want to reach 107. Maybe the fact that I couldn't see her clearly left me more optimistic than I should've been. But there's something about that kind of longevity that inspires awe.
And maybe just a little bit of hope.