Cross The Street
Back Off Buddy!
...The Art of Assisted Living
"Man. Woman. Birth. Death. Infinity",
so said Dr. Zorba on the 1960's TV Medical Series.
Back in the 60's, I thought anyone over the age of thirty was old. Actually, I thought anyone in their twenties was a full blown adult. A serious grown up. Gazing ahead, I saw a wide open future of possibilities, hopes, dreams, plans and great adventures.
My father straightened me out on my twenty-first birthday. From the day I was born, on each birthday, my father gave me roses. One for each year according to my age. On my twenty-first, he handed me a bouquet of crimson beauties, kissed my cheek and said,
"Well, that's the end of that."
I looked at him and smiled, waiting for the laugh line. Instead, he looked me in the eye, and in all seriousness, told me that at twenty-one, as a woman, I was at the peak of my beauty, the acme of my accomplishments and the apex of all adventure. The rest of my remaining days were all downhill.
He said that. He actually used the word "downhill". And meant it.
I gazed downward and suddenly imagined my bare feet encased in orthopedic shoes. Sensible shoes. Cement shoes.
Over and done.
20's. 30's. 40's. 50's.
Now a grown up. One of the adults in the room. Barefoot.
One of the lucky ones whose adventures continue. Grateful, not fearful, of the passage of time. I have not peaked. I am, rather, peeking over the edge, out on a limb and anxiously awaiting the future.
I mentioned to you that there are many free spaces for a new and aspiring artist. Free galleries.
I never imagined a gallery in an Assisted Living Community, so someone imagined for me. I got a call from the activities director. She asked if I would like to have an exhibit in their gallery.
A simple answer. Yes, please.
It was a gallery. A large gallery. Beautiful open walls surrounding the sitting room and down a long hallway. Filled with my pictures. The Garden Pages. In a Garden of Grown Ups.
I was greeted with unearned celebrity. A Friday night cocktail hour with the residents to introduce myself. Some guests in wheelchairs. Others arrived arm in arm. Some supported by a cane or a walker. Some slow but steady on their feet. Gracious. Endearing. Kind.
Smiling at me. Encouraging me. Wishing me the best.
We sat and visited, but mostly I listened. To their stories, their lives, their hopes, joys, successes and failures.
Some orthopedic shoes, surely. But here and there, glittering ballerina slippers, polished toes, rings and things, bow ties...the sparkle of life.
Beside me, a tiny, immaculately dressed sprite, extended her elfin hand and said,
"I have been waiting all week to meet you.
Now I want you to meet me."
Ninety-four and counting. Miss H. took me by the hand and guided me to her living room. And I do mean living. A silk scarf wound loosely around her neck, tinkling dangling silver earring and jingle jangle bracelet clad, Miss H. swung open the door. To her studio.
An easel set up in the corner. Her oil paintings on the walls. A brocade sofa bookended by towers of books. An electric keyboard with dog-eared sheet music left unfinished from an early morning performance. We sat. She spoke of Paris, fashion, travel, music and art. Her day. Up at dawn. A quiet read before breakfast. An hour at the keyboard composing. Composing. Additional brushstrokes to the unfinished canvas later in the day.
When she finished speaking, it was I, who was winded. Forty years her junior, I looked down at my sensible shoes and her ballet flats with the hummingbirds embroidered on the tiptoes. Clearly, her father had whispered something very different on her twenty-first birthday. Or perhaps she just decided to be an adventurer.
As I rose to leave, I could think of only one question. So I asked.
Is there anything you think you may have missed? Is there anything left for you yet undone?
She looked at me. Shook her head and smiled.
"Oh, honey, I haven't even started."
One of the Garden Pages now permanently resides on the wall opposite the nurse's station. Another in the activities center. I have returned year after year, by invitation and upon my request. Many of my first customers found their way to my heart, from that gallery opening. Many more still keep in touch and have walked along in this my adventure.
So, if my Dad is listening, somewhere out on the edges of a night's breeze, I would like to give him a shout out. Or perhaps a gentle jibe. I would tell him that he was wrong. I would say...