Tuesday, August 28, 2012
The Consummate Hostess
We had a slight disagreement over the last weekend. We were visiting family in Pennsylvania, where the matriarch of the clan, at age 96, lives in an independent living facility.
She is still pretty healthy and lively. She takes a walk every day, has lots of friends, gets around without using a walker or even a cane. In fact, with a little help from one of her daughters, she can walk just as far as we can, and at the end of the day doesn't complain about her tired feet as much as we do.
But she no longer has a car, she doesn't drive, and she can't get anywhere by herself. So she wanted us to come over to her place for dinner -- that was the only way she felt she could take her turn as host for the family.
And that's where the disagreement came in. Her son, age 68, hates to go to the independent-living dining room. The food is pretty good, and the dining room is bright and new-looking. But . . . it's the people. They are, of course, all old. The average age is pushing 90. There are very few men (and they are usually falling into their soup). The women are hunched over with arthritis and osteoporosis. Their thinning hair is white. Many are in wheelchairs.
In short, it's depressing as hell.
I myself (I'm embarrassed to admit) agreed with the brother. I had been to the dining room once before. First of all, they insist on eating dinner at 5 p.m. Way too early for me. (Remember the old Seinfeld episode when Jerry visits his parents in Florida, who want to get to the restaurant for the 5-o'clock special? Jerry whines: I'm not going to eat dinner in the middle of the afternoon, just to save a dollar! When they do go to the restaurant at a normal time, Jerry's father's friends think he's so rich he must be embezzling funds from the condo association.)
Anyway, I admit the food was pretty good, and the dining room was pleasant. But I can't stomach a meal when the people at the next table are sitting in wheelchairs looking like they should be in the hospital, not in the dining room.
You see all those old people. You see your future. And it kills your appetite.
Besides, there's another issue for us men. You can't help but notice all those aged women, and so few men, reminding you that as horrible as it is for these women to get old and infirm, they're better off than the men, who have already died.
Do you think I was being insensitive? Callous? Selfish? Impolite?
It's not that the men categorically refused to have dinner at the mother's place. We would have gone if we had to. And it's not that the women were adamant about eating at the independent living facility. But they thought it was important for their mother be able to play hostess, to feel that she was part of the family, involved in the activities, and not just the poor, helpless relation people felt obligated to visit.
We men could understand that, so we finally hit on a solution. We drove down to the independent living facility and picked her up. Then we headed over to a little place nearby called Mt. Gretna, comprising several small communities dedicated to "the promotion of cultural and religious activities, recreation and entertainment."
We took a walk; got caught in a light refreshing rain; we saw the theater where they were rehearsing a musical, and ate dinner at a modest but popular local spot called the Jigger Shop, where they serve hamburgers, sandwiches and the best ice cream in the world.
And the girls' mother got her way. She was the host, as she happily paid for dinner.
Later, when we got back to her apartment at the independent living facility, we wondered if we should just drop her off, or should we go inside for a visit. Was she too tired? Did her legs hurt?
"Oh no, no," she replied. "Come on in for a few minutes," she offered gladly, like the good hostess she was. And so we did.