A Nursing Home Christmas

They call it an Aged Care facility these days but in my mind it is still a nursing home. It is nicer than the homes my mother took us to when, as children, we were visiting elderly relatives. Two of the old ladies we saw were called Wink and Tess. Now I drag my own boy. I can’t remember being as unpleased as he is at this. I think I was in awe of the wizened. The smells, that so bother him, did not me. He races past the cloth bins of soiled laundry in the corridors, their colour coding signalling their degree of foulness. He instructs me, “Quick Mum, don’t breathe.”

I remember a woman who used to cry, while asking repeatedly, “Are you my mother? Are you my mother?” To us children this seemed particularly strange. Comical and sad at the same time. We would poke one another in the ribs as we passed her and say, “Are you her mother?”

We peeked into rooms as we followed my mother through the hallways. She strode ahead, her stockinged legs and half inch heeled shoes, marching matron like down the cloppity clop corridors, looking for Wink’s room. I could see the shape of thin people under blankets. People who no longer ate, who barely took a sip of fluid. Sinking into their beds. Like the mattress was some kind of quick sand determined to engulf them. Returning them to the earth.

Now at my mother’s home they hold a Christmas party where children from the catholic primary school next door come to sing carols. The OT’s are particularly enthusiastic; they trim a huge tree and a stuffed, but still thin, Santa sits on a couch at the front door like a resident waiting for a taxi. They even have an Elvis impersonator after everyone has pulled their bons bons. Vol au vents with prawns. Nurses wear Santa hats and have tinsel in their hair. Some hang christmas baubles from their ear lobes.

But still.

The corridors are carpeted, not squeaky vinyl like the Home Of Peace where we visited as children. Residents have their own rooms with bathrooms and flat screen TVs. The rooms are personalised with pictures and paintings from home. Some have brought with them a favourite armchair. My mother piles hers with New Ideas and Woman’s Days. She has her writing desk, although she no longer sits at it.

At my mother’s nursing home the demented are the same as when we were children. Asking strangers, “Have you came to take me home?” “Where am I?” “Are you my mother?”

She gets cards from well wishers, some who have not caught up on the news that her husband has passed away, even though it was six months ago. Happy Christmas June and Alex. Always June and Alex, for all those years. Now it is only June. Last Christmas he was in hospital, the first of a series of trips there. He had lost sense of time and it mattered not that it was Christmas to him. The surgeon said at least they will give you a glass of wine with your meal.

We have a Christmas ornament that makes me think of him – three candles that when lit make three angels spin and chime two bells. The ornament only ever came out on Christmas and was lit for a short time during lunch because the reality of the chiming bells was not as peaceful or beautiful as the thought of them. Still.

Nearly Christmas

When it is nearly Christmas and you are in the centre of town, shopping, you can feel the tension in the streets. There is a terrible need to buy crap. You want to get something nice for someone nice but everything nice is too expensive and everything reasonably affordable is crap. You are in a Hitch 22 type scenario. One no doubt he never found himself in. Just gave copies of his books. Worthy gifts. Now Christopher is dead you can’t find one of his books. No Hitch 22, No Arguably. Somehow hearing him speak of his cancer as a blind unemotional being, of his deportation into the land of malady, has made me want to read what he has written on other subjects. I hear people requesting copies of the Steve Jobs book. Sold out. Fifty copies in three days. All the dead guys. Sought after.

The sailing has finished. The Worlds, as those in the know called them. But no world in Fremantle. Sad streets carpeted green with rows of unused porta loos. Asking to be peed in. Hoping. Security guards, gleeful, saying how quiet it was. Money for doing nothing. Sitting in a huddle on white plastic chairs with orange wind breakers with SECURITY labelling their backs.

A bar on the beach is the only happening thing. The same white plastic chairs but this time embedded in imported white beach sand. A green flash sunset seen by a handful.

In the square the Moreton Bay Fig has itself been strangled with fairy lights. Twisting and spiralling up her thick trunk and branches she has become a sparkling triumphant tree. Giant red baubles hang like enormous cherries. Normally she is a beacon for the homeless and the spent. But she is too festive to be puked under. Too glittery. Too happy to attract the down and outs. Instead she sits choked with blazoning lights.

Jasper needs new volleys for the three month old pair have worn through. On the tennis court he felt the heat on his foot and wondered why. A hole in his sole. We are in Target. Home of crap. This time we buy black volleys. A sign of the teenager he is to become? We leave the old shoes in a shop bin and wave goodbye to them as we enter the lift. Goodbye sweet faithful shoes that have served me well. For they have gone beyond the Good Sammi’s bin. In socks we head for the counter and bumping into one another static electricity shocks us both. Ow. Socks and vinyl, rubber wheels and friction. Ow. We follow a mullet out into the sunshine and to Culley’s. For a curry pie and a pastie and a pastel green spearmint milkshake in a tall metallic cup. Beside us a retired couple order pies with mash and peas and deep brown gravy but one gets chips as the kitchen has run out of mash. Run out. Can you believe it? No mash. An extra pile of army green peas?