“Tell me a story,” I said as we set the old swing in motion. Aunt Sue smiled and headed back in time, over a period of seventy-five years, dragging a willing listener with her.
“I have a boyfriend,” my octogenarian aunt began in present tense, and I did not even blink in surprise. What memory had come home to her today?
“Do you know his name?” I queried. “You can’t count him if you don’t know his name,” I admonished, remembering another nursing home romance that blossomed over a love for Braves games.
“We courted in the bathroom behind the church when I was sixteen, before we got indoor plumbing,” she said clearly. Now dealing with past tense, I needed further explanation.
“Courted?” I asked. “Are you talking about kissing, Aunt Sue?”
“Whatever you call it, “ she replied. (Then she giggled, I swear.) “Ginny and Sam Wilson, too. He’s always coming in my room. He says he is looking for a cook. I told him not to look for one in my room!”
I was pretty sure she was blushing, but I was now at sea, not understanding a thing.
“Who is coming in your room looking for a cook?” I asked.
“Arthur,” she reiterated. “ Arthur Finley. He says he needs a good woman to cook for him when he goes back to Molena Friday.”
Molena is a tiny southern town once anchored by a daily train visit, a post office, and a caution light. That is where I first came to love and respect my mother’s older sister, Sue. I loved her biscuits and respected her switch. So did all of the other cousins sent to this childless homemaker during our long summer breaks. Fifty years later, Aunt Sue and Molena hold memories that shaped our lives. That is why my sister and I share so much time with her today, faithful surrogate daughters to an exceptional lady.
“So,” I clarified, “this Arthur whom you once courted in an outhouse is courting you again, three quarters of a century later? Where is his room?”
“He lives three houses down from Agnes on the other side of the road, “Aunt Sue said. This was not hard for me to translate. At fifty-five, I was already having spells of misspeak, a common affliction in my family. “Let’s walk by there,” she added with a sly look.
I let Aunt Sue lead the way. Her walker, its bright green tennis balls cushioning its legs, cleared a path through a congested hallway filled with medication carts, cleaning buckets, and signs warning of wet floors. We made the turn onto Hall C, sharing hugs or greetings with each orderly that we met. Finally, as we approached the end of the hall, we met up with nurses dispensing medications. One looked up at Aunt Sue and jokingly asked, “Now, Miss Sue, what are you up to now?” She smiled coquettishly, I swear, and put a finger to her lips. “Oh, “ said the nurse. “You can’t say it out loud?”
Aunt Sue leaned in to the tall black woman’s ear and whispered something that I could not make out. The woman winked at Sue, and we were on our way. Just a few doors down, I saw Arthur’s name on a door. Inside was a nice-looking older gentleman sitting alone by his bed. He looked up, his face lighting up, and waved a huge hand at us. Susie did deign to speak, but, to my surprise, we kept right on going down the hall. She let me know very quickly that she was NOT going into his room.
We turned around at the end of the hall and made our way back to her room.
It took only a moment to fold away the walker and help Aunt Sue back into her wheel chair. A second more and her oxygen was reattached, its clear rubber tubes tucked behind each ear. I looked at Aunt Sue’s dark brown hair that had only this year begun to show its share of gray. A contented smile lit up her face, and she once again began to giggle. I looked toward the door in time to catch a glimpse of a passing stroller, his eager face turned back toward our door. Yes, courting, or its memory, was once again alive and well, nursing home style.
I’d better warn the nursing assistants to watch the bathrooms.
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