She was an goodlooking woman cleaning tables after lunch at the Pavillion, belying her age which must've been well over eighty and a resident of the building in which I live.
She smiled when our eyes met and the tone of her voice reminded me of favorite aunt, clear yet mellow as she said
“You speak my language.” I answered by telling her where in Fryslân I was born and raised, and from there on we chatted most every day in our mother tongue.
She was in a state of dementia, I learned, that made her feel lost lost whence outside and when asked to accompany her on her walks to the Lake a few times a week, I accepted.
We made are a fine pair I thought, here I was taking care of a woman who was likely older than me, but fitter, and unlike me walked without a cane or walker faster than me.
A frightful thought struck me though, what if she ran away, I saw scary as wel as a comical scene of an old man, steadying himself on a walker, chasing a much fitter old woman.
On our walks to the Lake we exchange a few words in the Frisian tongue witch made her eyes light up every time. Talk went easier than walk for me and I was glad that after a twelve minutes walk we were at the end destination - the Lake, where eight empty benches in a semi-circle invited weary walkers to sit and enjoy the scenery of the lake with geese and ducks and their brood making long lines over the water without rippling it. I was happy to collapse on the bench while Elisabeth remained standing, patiently waiting.
“Don’t you want to sit down for a while, Elisabeth?”
“Sit down for what?”
“Aren’t you tired?”
“We hardly walked.” I asked if she noticed the geese on the water.
“There are a lot more on the other side of the lake.” I cleaned my glasses; she was right, there must've been at least fifty over there, and Helen did not wear eyeglasses either, I noticed.
On the way back a wonderful surprise awaited us, as we wander right into Elizabeth’s old friend, accompanied by her daughter. What a joyful reunion, as the two women, recognizing each other, happily embrace. It is a small world. The daughter of Elizabeth’s friend tells me that her brother is married to Elizabeth’s daughter. On the way back I ask Elisabeth if it was her son or her daughter who had married into her friend’s family.
“I don’t know,” she said, “that was some time ago.”
When a few days later I called on Elisabeth there was a sign on her door saying AWAY.
The day after I remarked that I had called on her, but that she obviously had gone. I did not ask any questions, but got a surprise when she volunteered that she had been with her family.
“It is good for the family to be together; I am here and they are there, we don’t see each other. That is not good.”
Half a block toward the Lake is a playground for small children. Across the street is a large park with grassfields shaded by towering trees and – washrooms, to where a young mother prods her little girl, when the girl spots a colorful flower. Mother calls but the little girl has to pick the beautiful yellow dandelion, intently inspecting it before throwing it away. Helen watches the girl closely while mother is getting impatient.
Her little daughter spots a bird now, a very black crow. She scampers to catch it and bird obviously used to children lets the girl come close before it hops away. The girl runs after it, the crow waits, and at the very last moment skips away again. Mother meanwhile calls the little one more forceful to come to the bathroom but her child is too busy hunting.
A second crow wants to get into the play as well, confusing the girl. She looks from one to the other, ignoring Mother, she runs for the crows.
That is the last straw for the mother, she dashes to her daughter and takes by the arm to the bathroom. The girl screams, and then I hear Elisabeth laugh. She laughs loud and clear. I had no idea that she could laugh, which is silly of course, but this was the first time I heard her laughing heartily.
We pass by a house with an apple tree in the front. There are lots of apples on the tree and also some on the ground. Elisabeth finds a nice apple in the grass and then another one. But wait, she finds yet another one, then realizes she has only two pockets, one for each apple. I suggest to put all three apples in the basket of my walker. She agrees, but then, upon our return I forgot to leave them with her.
We watch a squirrel busily running around gathering food for the winter near the entrance of West Terrace after our walk to the lake, then take a five minute rest inside. I have a coffee and Elisabeth takes a mug with hot water. “That keeps you healthy,” she says.
After that I look for the squirrel but it has long gone.
“What has gone?”
“What is a squirrel?” I describe the rat-like animal with a bushy tail that we watched just before.
“A rat with a bushy tail? That sure is a funny rat, I never seen a rat like that before.“ She still has a surprise for me, though. When we enter the side door of the Pavilion, she takes out her own key-chain and opens the door for me. That makes me warm inside. A small wonder?
“Thank you Elisabeth.” She does not notice that her apples are staying in my basket.
“You’re welcome.” The following morning I call on her and show her the three apples. Her face is a question mark.
“You can make applesauce with them.”
“These are your apples I”
“I forget things too, sometimes. We are all getting old, I think,” she smiles.
After coming back from church one Sunday, somebody dropped her off at the Pavilion, but instead of disappearing immediately to her room, as she usually does, she takes a seat in one of the easy chairs of the entrance hall. I ask her if she has been to church, mentioning that she wears her ‘Sunday clothes.’
“I don’t know, somebody picked me up, I think.” That was last year. How much can change in one year.
Because Elisabeth has become more and more confused, she is being escorted to the dining room by a healthnurse, as she has trouble even in our own building finding her way. She still walks without stroller or cane.
“I think there is something not right in my head. It feels funny, things that I should know I don’t know anymore. It is empty in my head. I never had that before.”
Today, Sunday, she came all dressed up down to the entrance hall, were she waited for someone to pick her up to go to church.
But no one showed up.