Monday was the day- I got up early and got right to work in the kitchen. Mom’s best buddy at tha Home for Wayward Seniors, Linda, had told me that she was leaving on the 20th, so I needed to go visit- and of course I couldn’t go empty handed. If I walked in that lobby without enough goodies to go around, I’d get the stink eye. I’m not kidding- I ran out last year, and I can still see the disappointment in the eyes of the seniors who were left out after I encountered many more people than I had thought I’d see. I made cookies- the usual Toll House- along with a large batch of peanut butter cookies and a big banana cake. It was time to spread of bit of Christmas cheer at Princeton Towers.
I think it will always tug at my heart when I pull up to the building where my mother lived the very happy last two years of her life. I can still see her making her painstaking way down the ramp, hunched over her decked out walker, festooned with her Florida ‘FLASH’ license plate and the horn that she would toot as she came into a crowd of people- always to make them laugh.
Each time I visit, I am reminded of the strength and courage my mother showed, being moved yet again- at the age of ninety no less- to Princeton Towers, a predominantly African American government assisted facility for Seniors of low income. Mom lived down the street from us in a wonderful apartment in the huge historic home of dear friends for four years when we moved her here from Florida. When our friends had to sell their home, Dan built Mom an apartment in the first floor of our home where she lived for a year and a half until she had several falls and the social worker proclaimed our house unsafe for her because of all the stairs and slippery hardwood floors. After a few months of living with my brother in Georgia, my extremely independent mother moved into Princeton Towers, which I dubbed ‘The Home for Wayward Seniors’, just eight minutes from our home.
I never saw Mom happier than she was there. Change was never easy for her- especially as she aged – but she threw herself into making friends, baking pies for the residents and charming them with her gentle smile and wicked funny sense of humor. The community accepted this woman from the Deep South with open arms, calling her ‘Miz Dot’ and ‘Granny’, checking on her and cheering her on in weekly Bingo games. She became a star in her little pond of fellow fiercely independent seniors- especially when she began receiving stacks of cards and gifts from her fan club, what she called ‘The Space People’, a seven hundred member strong creative group that I belonged to. Mom didn’t quite get the internet or Facebook, calling it “that Face Thing”, saying that the people were “out in space”…well, you can connect the dots from there. Her wonderful Space People embraced their new moniker and proceeded to bring joy to an old woman in the last years of her life. What an amazing gift.
There were many changes since I’d last visited Princeton Towers; the old floors had been replaced with wood laminate and the couches and chairs where the seniors had congregated to gossip and greet people were gone. What hadn’t changed was the wonderfully warm greeting that I received as I walked down the hallway. Mom’s best buddy Linda was there with a big hug to greet me, and we sat down to catch up near their beautiful Christmas tree where I could watch for people walking by to hand them cookies. As Linda and I talked, several familiar friends came by, their faces lighting up when they realized it was Dorothy’s daughter. Sylvester, who kept Mom’s walker horn in good repair, made us laugh, doing his silly dancing to the Christmas music that was playing. No wonder Mom liked him so much.
I was extra excited to get to visit with Rev (short for Reverend), who powers around in his mobile chair, checking on each resident daily. He spoke at Mom’s memorial celebration, having me honk her horn to let everyone know that she was in the room with us. Rev told me I looked younger- this was explained later in the conversation when he revealed he liked my glasses and really needed a pair. Mom’s other buddy, Joanne, came up to me beaming, saying how glad she was to see me.
With each smile, each hug, I felt so grateful for these wonderful people who had been so good to Mom and to me. Their determination to make the best of their lives and look out for each other is inspirational. These are no sad and lonely people sitting around waiting to die- they are busy living and doing. They have adopted me as their daughter and friend, and I will continue to visit and check in on them. Linda and Rev have my number and know that they can call me if ever they need help. It’s the least I can do for them after their many kindnesses. Each and every time I walk through the glass doors of Princeton Towers, my spirit lifts and I feel my mother smile.