The nursing home has a big flat-screen television. And at ten in the morning, you can find white-haired women sitting in front of it, expressionless. TV blaring.
The woman to my left turns and asks, “Have you seen my daughter? I think she’s coming today.”
“Sorry, ma’am. Haven’t seen her.”
On TV: a fitness model explains the paramount importance of the perfect beach-body. This girl looks like she’s made of plastic and Spandex.
The elderly woman has no problem talking over the noise. “HEY! That girl on television looks like my daughter. Do you know if my family’s coming today?”
Fitness-girl is doing step-ups, and punching the air.
The old woman goes on, “We didn’t have time to exercise in my day. My daddy was a cotton-mill worker. We didn’t know where our next meal was coming from. By the time I’s fourteen, we’d moved twenty-one times around Alabama.”
Now the girl on TV is demonstrating how to tone buttocks by squatting on a chair. “MY BUTT,” the girl is saying, “is the most ESSENTIAL part of my being…”
The woman ignores the television. “I had a friend when I’s young, she invited me and my little brother for supper. My brother didn’t touch his food, but asked if we could take it home to share with Daddy and Mama, ’cause we were so poor. Lord, I was embarrassed.”
Television-Barbie is still squatting, talking about eating too many carbs.
“We found inventive ways to keep from starving,” the woman says. “Whatever Daddy could do to make money. Like the time we went knocking on doors asking if anyone needed repairs. One gentleman, in a fancy house, needed a window pane fixed.”
This makes the woman laugh.
“So, Daddy goes back to the cotton-mill, and steals a small pane of glass from the window. He charged the man for the glass, AND the labor. Paid for our supper.”
Barbie is jogging in place. “Your INNER-strength comes from your physical assets. If you wanna find happiness…”
The woman adds, “I ain’t never known anyone as tough as Mama and Daddy. They made do with nothing.”
The television went to commercial break.
“Oh, fiddle,” the woman says, looking at the screen. “How do I get it back? That girl on TV looks like my daughter.” She hung her head. “I miss my family.”
I know you do, and I know I’m not much of a substitute. But I’m here, now.
And I’d sure like to hear another story.