It was a long day of writing and working on the farm, and at 4 p.m., I wanted to lie down and put a bag of dry ice on my head to cool down. Maria and I are working almost all the time now, and we are tired.
I lay down for a while, fed the dogs, then decided to go to the Mansion instead, it is only a few minutes away. Dusk is my favorite time to visit on some days, the day and office staff has left around 5 p.m., the night crew is in, gathered in the office for their daily meeting.
It is a quiet hour, the residents are mostly in their rooms, the activity room is shut down, saved for a big screen TV on, and Madeline and Jeanne sitting on the sofa together watching the news, which horrifies and disturbs them. “Nothing but nasty stuff,” complains Madeline.
Red has a routine now, first he veers into the Mansion office and is surrounded by the staff, I have to eventually insist that he come out and go to work. When he does, he trots ahead of me down the hall and veers off to the right to the activity room. He comes over to Madeline and Jeanne, who fuss over him and hold him.
I stopped at Rite-Aid, of all places, to look for a stamp pad, Julie Smith wants one for the art show. I didn’t find one there, but I ordered a stamp pad on Amazon for $6.50, it is coming Monday. They have everything else they need, Julie says.
I did see a wooden and marble game called Mancula, played with a wooden board with holes and small colored stones.mIt is said to be one of the oldest board games in the world, and it is simple and straightforward. Even I could play it. I bought it for the Mansion, it cost $8.89 cents. I left it on Julie’s desk.
After we leave the activity room, we visit the residents in their rooms, three or four each trip. The first visit is always to Connie, she is usually sitting up in her chair knitting a cap or sweater or mitten or blanket. Her hands move quickly, they are practiced and sure, but she has to rest frequently because of her arthritis. She tires easily, but keeps on working. She and Red have a special relationship, they just connect with one another in the way therapy dogs sometimes do with the people they see.
Red weaves his way through the tubes and the walker, and sits quietly while Connie talks to him, rubs his head, scratches his back, brushes him with a dog brush we left for her. Red loves this attention and spirit and sits quietly, occasionally making eye contact. Connie speaks to him almost continuously, she is always happy to share him, but clearly relishes this time.
I step outside of the room, so they can have their dialogue with one another, I think Red would sit there for hours.
At this hour, the Mansion is quiet. The residents are gathering themselves for dinner. For people like Connie, that requires help from an aide to turn on her large oxygen tanks and hook them up to her breathing tubes.
They are placed on her walker, and she walks on her own down the hall to the dining room. Red walked alongside her. You can write Connie c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. She has enough yarn to fill a lifetime, she doesn’t need any more and has nowhere to put more. She is grateful for the yarn, and is working her way through it. She does love to get letters.
It’s a good time for me to walk with Red up and down the hallway.
We see Peggie and Joan and Barb and Mary, all of whom we know and visit regularly. We talk, compare notes about our lives. We see Bill, who is halfway down the hall and winks and whispers at me, “I forgot my teeth,” and then turns around and heads back to get them. Everyone stops to touch Red and talk to him.
It is not a simple or easy thing to go into assisted care, but I am always struck by the care and concern the residents show for one another. They constantly worry about one another.
When Connie leans over to hug read head-to-head several people walking by stop to make sure she’s all right, they can’t always see Red from the hallway. They all know it could be them one day in trouble.
The dining room is full now, and it is time for us to leave. I hear the quiet chatter from the dining room.
After dinner, everyone will go to their rooms, and the Mansion will settle down for the night. The staff will check on everyone and make sure they are all okay and have taken their medicines.
Often at night, the residents read your letters and messages, they help them sleep.
I am drawn to the quiet hour, it settles me to go there with Red and my camera, two of my favorite things. The residents and I know each other well know, they are thrilled to see Red and appreciate me for bringing him.
I am curiously at home there, and I am a restless man, not at ease in many places. There is a kind of quiet and stoic heroism in there, nobody wants to be there really, but everyone is grateful for it and makes the best of it.
Almost all of the residents struggle in one way or another, but with little complaint or self-pity. In a way, it feels like a family to me. I feel fortunate to know these sweet people and to do this work with Red, a great creature of empathy.
Peacefulness and love, a kind of healing meditation.