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I’d Like to Buy a Vowel

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My mother-in-law has just recently moved into a nursing home, which Auguste insists on referring to as anything but. He prefers Assisted Living Facility or Senior Residential Community. Whichever way you slice it, whatever term you use to try and describe it, it’s definitely not home.


While visiting with her this past week, I met her new roommate, Glenna. Auguste had met her before. Glenna is seventy-two years old and is partially paralyzed as a result of a stroke. Her quick wit, however, remains uncompromised. She is very funny, even though it takes her a few moments to communicate her thoughts.


On the wall just opposite Glenna’s bed are photographs of her in her prime. She worked as a contract player for Columbia Pictures and the photo of her with Kirk Douglas really captures her as the stunning beauty that she was. Elegant, graceful, and charismatic is how the shrine on her wall defines her, and she was eager to share with me what life in Hollywood was like back then.


I was eager to talk about Gussie and to my surprise, Glenna was very interested in knowing about the daughter of a stranger; in finding out about who she was. Beyond just being polite, she seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the world of a thirteen-year-old girl whom she might never meet. I read one of Gussie’s poems to her and afterward she smiled, the way you do when someone pays you the sincerest of compliments.


I ended up spending my time at the “nursing home” that evening, visiting almost entirely with Glenna, feeding her tapioca pudding and lukewarm Lipton tea, while Auguste visited with his mom, who was happy to share me as if she were doling out favors to the less advantaged. I wondered, as Glenna and I ended our evening having successfully guessed every single one of the puzzles on Wheel of Fortune, just how likely it would have been that, in another time and in another place, under different circumstances, we would have ever been friends. Would she have cared at all, in her heyday, about the poetry of a thirteen-year-old girl? And had life not dealt me the unexpected blows that it has, could I have genuinely considered an evening of watching Wheel of Fortune, while feeding tapioca pudding to a grown woman I had only just met—simply delightful …

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