Monday, January 14, 2013

TING AND I, Lake Osiris, 2000-now

In looking for a home to move to in retirement, we had some requirements. The place needed to be:

—within twenty miles, better ten, of the home of my mother and sister
—scenic, preferably near a body of water
—large, with numerous bedrooms, not necessarily fancy

We succeeded on all counts, our current home:

— is five miles from my mother and sister;
—overlooks Lake Osiris, a 25-acre scenic body of water;
—has six bedrooms, two bathrooms, two half-baths, two kitchens, a living room, and a dining room, though no basement or attic.

The house was actually two houses, the second built later as an attachment to the first, conjoined, if you will (“Siamese,” if you are politically incorrect).

We had sought a large house to be able to have live-in help, if needed, and to be able to offer a home to my mother and sister, should that be desired.

The rooms, and their uses, were as follows:

—one bedroom became Tina’s;
—the dining room eventually stored equipment, supplies, etc.;
—the larger of the two kitchens became the nurses’ kitchen and headquarters;
—one bedroom became my office;
—one bedroom, near the lake and next to the second kitchen, was for visitors;
—one bedroom became Phil’s;
—one bedroom was used for aides, nurses, or visitors, as needed;
—the two large bedrooms upstairs became an attic and my bedroom, adjacent to a small half-bathroom between them; and
—a living room, with couches and a TV set. It is hardly ever used.

My mother was 83 at that time, living with my sister, and we then thought (accurately, as it turned out) that one or both would live with us eventually. Mom did come to our house ten years later, in mid-November 2010, at 93, after a fall. Robert Frost wrote that home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. I would say: Home is also where, when you need to go there, they want to take you in. Better still: it is where, when you want to go there, they want to take you in.

In 2000, when we moved to Lake Osiris, Walden, Tina was paraplegic, confined to bed or to her wheelchair, and we traveled using a van that accommodated the wheelchair. She was up for an hour or so at each mealtime. She could use her left arm and hand to feed herself, to control the TV remote control, to answer the phone or ring for help and to write, though poorly. It was a pleasant, relatively stress-free time.

My mother wrote about Tina in June 2001, as part of a writing assignment in a course she was taking. Tina’s condition and my mother’s love for her are evident:

You would not expect a person in my daughter-in-law’s situation to be notable for her sense of humor. She has multiple sclerosis, and for the last five years, she has been unable to walk or use her right arm and hand. She spends her days now propped up in bed or in a wheelchair. What little strength she has in her left hand is not enough to operate the chair.
There are times, of course, when she expresses her frustration, but she is usually cheerful, and, of all the people I have ever known, she has the quickest laugh. Start to tell Tina a joke, and she begins to laugh immediately.
She has lost so much. I remember her running after me as we hustled through Times Square on a quest for tickets to a play. When she visited us in Tucson, she swam fifty laps at a time in our pool. An accomplished pianist, she struck the chords of a Tchaikovsky concerto with ease. Before her marriage to my son, her master’s degree from Harvard and a talent for writing had earned her a job with the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Now my son hoists her from bed with a Hoyer lift, a device that scoops her into a canvas seat and deposits her in her wheelchair. Occasionally, someone pushes the chair up to her piano, and, with her left hand, Tina picks out a melody. No chords.
In her bed she has a computer against her drawn-up knees on which she spells out letters to her friends and family. She talks on the phone to her former schoolmates. She talks to Amy, the sky-blue parakeet in a cage next to her bed, and to Brandy, her Golden Retriever, who nuzzles her hand with a cold nose.
Tina was born in China and brought to the United States when she was two years old. Although she is truly an American girl, her upbringing and her looks reveal her ethnic roots. Her speech, while completely idiomatic, is noticeably formal in structure. In appearance she is recognizably Chinese. Her black hair hangs straight from a center part, curving up just below her ears. Her dark eyes are almond-shaped. A faint pink colors the rich ivory skin over her wide cheekbones. Small, even white teeth show in her ready smile.
Seated in her kitchen, she can look out through a glass door at a lake and watch as squadrons of Canadian geese ripple its surface. She converses with guests, moving her good hand elegantly to emphasize her words.
Sometimes she speaks too softly for me to hear. The fault is with my hearing; she has always had a low voice. In marrying my son, she has joined a family that is large and often boisterous. This has never bothered Tina, and she has learned to make herself heard in even the largest family groups.
But mostly what she does is laugh, head back, tears streaming from half-closed eyes, as every quip transports her.
The perfect audience!

That was Tina in 2001. We had moved to Lake Osiris the year before.

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