July 15, 2014

Table Talk: Caregiver City, Planet Aphasia

There's a line in a 1960s movie that is engraved somewhere in the space between my ears. In 'Two for the Road'---while eating a meal on the French Rivera---Audrey Hepburn asks Albert Finney: "What kinds of people sit at a table and don't talk to each other?" Then they both burst out laughing and say in unison, "Married people!"

Before my husband's stroke, Don and I never lacked for reasons to flap our jaws. But on rare occasions when we found ourselves not speaking at a table, that movie line would have a temper tantrum inside my head and demand an explanation. Sometimes our silence was from a deep, comfortable companionship like two sleeping puppies in a cardboard box. Other times the silence might have been part of a tiny tiff caused by something like a cap left off the toothpaste---I couldn't help that, I was abducted by a UFO! Or maybe we'd be sitting silent, both of us voyeuristically tuned into a dialogue between two space cadets at near by table.

I'm having trouble learning how to be old. I've got coupon clipping down pat, but I forget to take them to the store. I know about the two-for-one breakfast special at our favorite restaurant but when I haul Don out of bed to go, we show up on the wrong day. I know how to knit but that doesn't count, I've been doing it since I was a kid. I like cats, but I don't want to split cans of tuna with one on a daily basis. About the only rule in the 'Old People Handbook' that I've got mastered is the one about going to the Friday night fish fries.

The fish fries are held in a no-frills private club with a banquet room and kitchen, a bar, a couple of bowling lanes and pool tables. It's the only place in town where you're just as likely to see an Elvis impersonator for entertainment as you are a Polish polka band that has one member who missed one too many accordion lessons when he was kid, and the lady's auxiliary often sells chocolate cake that you can wash down with your beer. We don't drink but since the stroke Don likes this place because there's always a chance he'll run into someone from his distance past. He's out trolling for friends.

At the club, glasses thump on table tops. Silverware clinks against plates. Tongues are wagging. Lips are moving. People are laughing---all creating a din as people stuff white fish into the biggest hole in their faces. Three-hundred-and-fifty people lined up at tables like dairy cows at automated feeders, computer chips in their ear tags telling the machine how much cow chow to send down the shoot. "Hey, I need more fish over here!" a man shouts while I'm feeling as lonely as a Maytag repairman. What kinds of people sit at a table and don't talk to each other? People dealing with the stroke related language disorder, aphasia.

I shake that thought off like I'm a dog that fell in a river and I remember being in a momma poppa restaurant in North Dakota where they obviously didn't get many strangers. It was a no frills kind of place. Good food. Friendly people. Don wanted to order a piece of apple pie after his lunch and the waitress said, "I'm sorry, but we don't have any pie."

"Yes, you do," he pointed out, "It's right over there."
"I know it," the girl replied, "But if we sell it before five o'clock our night customers get mad."

Even after a bushel and a peck of macho-man flirting and turning the hands on his watch to five o'clock, that waitress wouldn't budge. Tourists just passing through didn't get dessert in that town where the waitresses undoubtedly all had cast iron rods holding up their resolves. God, we laughed about that. Back in those days, Don could usually sweet-talk the freckles off a girl's face, but he couldn't get a piece of pie in North Dakota.

We never traveled the major highways when we were on vacations and some of our best memories come from dinning in small towns. One time, in rural Iowa, we walked into a restaurant that got dead silent when we sat down. And for the next hour and a half we were the target of twenty voyeuristic people who sat silently, listening to our every word. Don, being full of himself and a gifted story teller before his stroke, made sure they got their money's worth as he spun a few of his well honed tales. What kinds of people sit at a table and don't talk to each other? Bored country folks who probably thought that we were Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn on a road trip. ©

If you're feeling fancy free
Come wonder through the world with me.
And any place we chance to be,
Will be our rendezvous

Two for the road we'll travel down the years
Collecting precious memories,
Selecting souvenirs
And living life the way we please.

'Two for the Road' lyrics by Leslie Bricusse

No comments: