Op-Ed: Straight outta the Jewish Home for the Aged: Best wishes for 2018
Year One of the Trump era has rattled my bones in so many new and unpleasant ways that I don’t know how to brace for 2018. It’s like a recurring nightmare of mine: I’m falling from a great height, trying to position myself to minimize the impact. The instant I realize there is no such position, I wake in a sweat. But when I asked 89-year-old Elaine — my mom’s neighbor at what I’ll call the Jewish Home for the Aged — about her “hopes and expectations” for the country in 2018, she said, “I’m not afraid of the direction it’s going. I’m not fond of Trump but we have a younger generation that’s wise: my grandkids and their generation. They’ll resolve this.”
Surprised by Elaine’s optimism, I leaned past her and asked Morrie the same question.
“Personally,” he said, “I’m looking forward to my 95th birthday. For the country, I believe things will get better. Donald’s learning a lot as he goes along. I’m the only Republican here, but I don’t mention it, to keep everyone’s blood pressure calm.”
Susan, one of the youngest residents, in fashionable glasses and dark lipstick, said, “I just want peace.” So did Miriam, Rhea and Pat.
In an attempt to include my mom in the conversation, I asked her next. “As long as my family is healthy, ” she answered, as expected.
Then Mary, the program director, called for our attention: Time for chair exercises.
“I just want peace.”
At lunch, I sat with Shirley, Francis and Henny and asked them the hopes and expectations question.
“People who voted for Trump will again,” Shirley said. “I think he’s dangerous to human rights. I’m 101, I don’t know if I’ll live to the next election. But I’m not the oldest one here.”
“She’s the smartest, though,” Henny said.
“Well, I’ve lived a long time,” Shirley said. “We lived in an upstairs flat on one of the unrestricted streets in Detroit. Just one block over was where no Jews could live. When my son was 3 — he’s 79 now — he came home from playing outside and asked, ‘Am I a dirty Jew?’ And I said, ‘Yes, you’re a very dirty Jew when you don’t take a bath.’ That’s when I started volunteering for the Anti-Defamation League.
“I never experienced anti-Semitism,” Frances, 96, offered. “I lived in a small town with only four Jewish families, but never.”
“I’m from Germany,” Henny said. “So need I tell you? I lived one year under Nazi occupation then got out. I came here when I was 12.”
“Henny makes the most divine mandel bread,” Frances said. “Did you know we’ve been friends for 40 years?”
The conversation veered off for a while but it came back around when Henny said, “I love America. I can’t tell you how much.”
“I wish it could be better for my children and great-grandchildren,” Shirley said. “But I don’t know if all this anger that has been released can be corralled back in.”
After lunch my mom and I stopped at the nursing station where I quizzed Teresa, the director of nursing. “I know I sound all rainbow unicorn,” she said. “But I’d love to see all the hatred stop.”
Elizabeth, a short-term respite resident, said, “I worry more about the world than I used to. If there’s a bomb heading, I want time to pray.”
I gave my mom another chance. “As long as my family is healthy and happy,” she said again.
While getting his blood pressure checked, Lou said, “I hope for good health for my wife; I’m secondary. And peace.” I was beginning to wonder, was hoping for peace just a knee-jerk response or do people who lived through World War II in Europe know what’s really important?
While my mom took a nap, I joined the women playing gin rummy and eating popcorn: Estelle, Muriel, Beverly and Estelle’s care-giver, Shawnetta.
“Every generation has fears for the future,” Estelle said. “I’m concerned about our president. He’s ruining the country.”
“Nevertheless,” Beverly said, “he is our president!”
Judy walked up eating a sucker. Everyone wanted to know where she got it. Judy’s husband was next door in rehab for a cracked leg. “Health is the most important thing,” she said. She’d just finished chemo, for colon cancer. She was going to let it go, but her kids insisted.
At 5:30 my mom and I joined the slow march into the dining room. Our scowling table mate Sarah put five sugars in her tea and didn’t say thank you to the new server, even after she asked for and got a whole new dinner, sans gravy. Sarah was a Holocaust survivor from Czechoslovakia. Her sister, two years younger, did not survive. “I lived through too much,” she said, when I posed my silly question. “Hopes for 2018? I have none.”
Earlier, I’d asked Mary what the residents would do to celebrate the New Year. A party, she said, with games and a disco ball. Her future wish was nice, concise: “May 2018 be better than 2017.” But Jodi, the physical therapist, standing nearby, did even better.
“I want the residents to get up and dance,” she said. “But, please, don’t fall.”
Amy Koss writes young adult fiction.
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