I took a drive to Crazie Town last week, to visit my Aunt Betty Lou in her nursing home.
Every few months her facility schedules a family care meeting. It's an opportunity for them to explain how their $7,000 a month fee is being used to make my aunt's life better. The meeting is good, because if you ask her, they use the money to find new and interesting ways to irritate her.
I walked into her room to find her sitting in her wheelchair, arms crossed across her chest and a major pout on her face.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"I told them I didn't want to use the walker, so they deserved it," she said.
"Uh, oh. Deserved what?"
"That woman came in to help me to the bathroom and the whole time I was telling her I didn't want to use the walker, but she said (and here my aunt scrunches up her face and talks like a baby) 'Your family says you're supposed to use the walker.' So, I didn't really have a choice, did I?"
Now my face was scrunched up. "And what choice was that?"
"I threw my walker across the room."
I chuckled. I mean really, what's funnier than a tiny old woman throwing a temper tantrum?
"Come on," I said. "We better get to the meeting." I let Aunt Betty Lou stay in her wheelchair (I'm no dummy) and rolled her into the conference room, which was filled with staff from the facility. Immediately she assumed the arms-crossed, defensive position.
When we all settled in, the head nurse smiled at my aunt and asked, "How are you?"
Betty Lou snorted and then replied, "How am I supposed to know what day it is?"
"No. I said, How ARE you?"
My aunt paused, looked at the ceiling and then lowered her gaze. "I don't know how old I am, but I was born in 1926!"
Aunt Betty Lou sat quietly through the rest of the meeting while they talked over her, telling me that "Miss Betty" liked movies but hated bingo, she loved having dessert with dinner then often came back later for a second helping and that she'd gotten into a bit of a kerfuffle with another resident when the woman had tried to cut in line for a manicure.
Flipping through pages and pages of documentation, the nurse noticed there was an item left blank on her form. She leaned across the table and shouted, "Betty, do you brush your own teeth?"
Aunt Betty Lou paused and looked around the room in terror. "Well...I, well..." And then her gaze landed on me and her eyes lit up. She reached out, pointed a crooked finger my way and said, "Teresa ran away from home."
A room full of accusing eyes turned my way (well, except for Aunt Betty Lou's. Her eyes were filled with satisfaction.) I couldn't believe she'd throw me under the bus like that.
I was six-years-old and really mad at my mom, so I packed up my little suitcase - yes, family, I'm going to tell the truth (for some reason, they love this part of the story) - I packed my suitcase with every pair of underwear I owned. That was it. No clothes. Just underwear.
"I'm going to Aunt Lorena's house," I said. "Because <em>she </em>loves me." I stomped off, up the driveway and out onto the dirt road in front of our house.
I'd made about 10 yards when Mom came out onto the porch.
"You know," she said. "It's a long walk to Lorena's house. Maybe you should eat some lunch before you go."
I stopped walking but didn't turn around.
"We're having some of Betty Lou's fried chicken and mashed potatoes," Mom said and then I heard the squeal of the screen door as it opened and the sharp bang as it slammed shut. Within two minutes I was back inside, sitting at the table on my chair stacked with telephone books, shoveling mashed potatoes into my mouth.
As I sat in the nursing home looking around at those accusing faces I thought for one second about throwing Aunt Betty Lou under the bus by bringing up the walker-tossing event. But I realized that, much like a 6-year-old, an 86-year-old just needs to throw an old-fashioned temper tantrum once in a while.
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