Saturday, July 24, 2010

Journal of a Living Lady #376

Nancy White Kelly

She is ninety-years-old. There is not a shared drop of blood between us. As I finish up the dishes, she and Buddy are in deep conversation about everything from the depression era to modern politics.

I met Allie (name changed) about four years ago. I was in the coin shop when a dilapidated van puttered into the drive. An elderly lady slowly got out of the driver side and made her way to the passenger side. I watched, almost in horror, as she assisted a big, tall man get out of the vehicle. He was more than twice her size and probably even older. The blue of his diaper showed above his belt line.
They were there to sell a few tiny gold coins. During the conversation that ensued, I found out that they lived high on a mountain in North Carolina. The couple, married for sixty-two years, were so obviously in love and even more obviously poor.

This unlikely pair were cutting their own wood to stay warm on those cold days and practically living in one room with a small heater. They had no local kin folks. Allie has a niece in Texas, a step-son in Florida and a distant relative up north who is also up in age. I kept their phone number and told them to call if they ever had a need.

Allie did call me a couple times just to talk. She didn’t complain, just commented on the tough reality of the times. A few months later her husband entered a nursing home and she was alone, unable to drive and dependent on neighbors to get groceries or to visit occasionally with her ailing husband.

That was when I started checking on Allie regularly. After a couple of weeks of not answering my calls, I finally tracked her to the same nursing home where her husband had recently died. She had something akin to a stroke and the state had taken total control of her property.

I have since talked to the case worker and think they are doing what is considered best in her interest. Even though Allie’s husband was a retired full colonel, having worked himself up from the ranks, they entered the twilight years with more bills than money.

The first time I visited Allie after her stroke, she vaguely remembered me. Gradually her mind returned to be as sharp as before. Eventually I was able to take Allie, and her squeaky walker, for short trips to eat at a restaurant. She had no money and was embarrassed at her inability to even pay the tip.
My Sunday school class bought her a few clothes and she was thrilled. Every time I visit Allie I take a few dime store goodies and some fruit. You would think it was Christmas.

Today we had Allie for an afternoon of whatevers. Buddy fixed that noisy walker and attached tennis balls to the rear wheels. Smells of spaghetti, her favorite food, filled the house as we chatted, read and laughed.
When we were ready to return Allie to the nursing facility for the night, she wasn’t ready. Being in the real world, in a normal home, was a surreal experience for her. She didn’t want it to end.

Later, when I checked her into the care facility and got her settled in her tight, two-person room, tears ran down her cheek. We hugged. I told her I loved her and her voice trembled in a mumbled reply as we parted. After the grandchildren come next week, I promised I would be back.

There are so many like Allie in this world. While we can’t pay attention to all, most all of us can take interest in at least one.

I am learning that some of the best conversations are with those under six or over eighty.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Journal of a Living Lady #375

Nancy White Kelly

Being the second of five siblings, my life has always involved children. My parent’s last two babies came so much later in my life that I became their surrogate mother and am, to this day, second mother to a sister in her forties and a brother in his fifties. I find it hard to imagine now that I changed thousands of cloth diapers for that last brother who is now 6 foot 4 and weighs well over 300 pounds. The irony is that the sum total weight of all five grown children now would approach at least 15 times the weight of our mother who was less than 100 pounds soaking wet.

Babies grow up. After college, I became a teacher and later spend the last part of my career as a school principal. In the meanwhile, Buddy and I helped raise 12 foster children and adopted the last one, Bobby, when he was 10. He now has two children himself. Charlie, our birth son, who arrived after 15 years of earnest prayer, also has two children: Micah, age 5 and Noah, age 3.

Though the grand boys are close in age and look-alikes, they are as different as chalk and cheese. Noah, the youngest, is an energetic walking-talking dynamo. One thing I know for sure. I am not smarter than a three-year old. Noah already displays a family passion for humor and words. Last week he told his brother he had “good news and bad news.”

Little Micah came into the world a bit premature. It has been a long journey to get to a diagnosis of mildly autistic. The first clue that there might be a problem was that Micah never crawled. He got around with a military elbow pull. We weren’t overly concerned. He walked a few months later and that was all that mattered to us. Another clue we missed was that he was meticulously orderly, especially with his little cars. When Micah first showed interest those little four-wheel vehicles, family and friends bestowed him with hundreds in every shape and color. The miniature cars could not be parked just any ole way. They had to be lined up perfectly according to size, type, or color. If not, we were blasted with his version of the sky is falling. At first we all thought it was a cute quirk. Not so now. Obsession was another symptom of his autism.

Thankfully, Micah’s I.Q. measures in the mid-normal range. Yet, his speech development has been slow. His potty-training was prolonged, but finally mastered. He is a quiet, self-absorbed child who can entertain himself for hours.

From those early months, Charlie and Tori have diligently pursued intensive speech and occupational therapy. This early intervention may be the one thing that has and will continue to keep him main-streamed. Though unlikely to greet you with high-fives, most people would not even notice that Micah is autistic.

Surprisingly, he has taken up a new, intense interest which I will share another time. Who knows? Micah may become the next expert in poikilothermic, ectothermic tetrapods. I have just ordered some books so Granny can keep up.

Obviously autism has taken a toll on the family finances, especially on a school teacher’s salary. Now Charlie is feeling led to the ministry and, if all goes as planned, he and the family will be moving to Kentucky in a few months so he can attend seminary. Only The Lord knows how they will manage the expense, but that is what faith is all about. When the Lord calls, he provides.