Fifty Years Later

September 15, 1958

It was unseasonably cool for September; breezy, with the sky alternating between patches of blue and torrents of rain.

My husband was returning, finally and for what I must only hope is the last time, from his naval service. He had enlisted young, right at the end of the second great war, and as a result he was able to receive his discharge before the growing threat of Vietnam spilled onto the American conscious.

I selected a petite flower dress, and a hat, from the small closet of my motel room. These weren’t the most appropriate clothes for the weather, but weather be damned, I wasn’t going to meet my husband in a heavy overcoat. Prudence, perhaps, dictated as well that I select an umbrella to avoid being caught in a shower.

The hands on the table clock swept closer and closer to 1. I would meet him, his grizzled face, his strong muscles, his take-charge attitude, all of him; at the bus station here in town. It would be an easy walk, and as I finished dressing, I could hardly contain my excitement.

“Maytown,” he wrote, “one in the afternoon. That’s when the bus is due to arrive. If I could see your face when I step off that bus, I would be the happiest man alive.”

That’s why I was here, in Maytown, in a motel.

The sundress fit me well, swishing to and fro as I meandered down the motel hallway. I could hear the sounds of last of the lunch crowd in the restaurant.

“What a beautiful dress,” an elderly lady remarked to me as I passed.

“Thank you,” I smiled, “I’m going to meet my husband.”

“Coming home from the war?” she asked.

“Oh yes, I’m so excited!”

Her wizened old face and distant eyes still held enough life to crack a smile. Perhaps she was remembering herself at a younger age, perhaps she once went in a flower print dress to meet her husband.

The motel reception desk was empty; perhaps a guest was being shown to their room. No matter. A vacuum salesman, dressed in a crisp blue uniform, carried one of the new mechanical cleaning devices across the room. In a motel this size, cleaning is surely expensive; the vacuum salesman had come to the right place. Some of my friends had told me they were planned to purchase a vacuum cleaner; prices had come down. Maybe one day I would own one too.

“That’s a nice looking vacuum,” I commented, still riding on my cloud.

“Thank you, ma'am,” he smiled.

I could see the undecided September weather through the front windows. I opened my umbrella and stepped outside.

It was cool, not cold, not as cold as I expected. The bus station was nearby, and I began to walk, trot almost, excited and giddy.

Cars picked their way up and down the street, carefully avoiding large puddles and poor souls running across the road to get out of the rain. I could see the bus station, the sign and a poster advertising the bus' services. At this moment, I was assaulted.

A young woman, not much younger than myself, grabbed my arm aggressively. “Maybelle, get inside!” she yelled.

How she knew my name, I have no idea. I’ve certainly never met or seen her before in my life. “Get your hands off me!” I cried. I fumbled with the umbrella, and it fell into a puddle. A small bit of water splashed onto my dress. Suddenly I felt very cold.

My attacker wore a strange outfit, an outfit that reminded me of the mental asylum not too many miles away. I’ve heard, well, to be delicate, that sometimes the body makes up in strength what it lacks in other areas. Perhaps she was recently released; or escaped. Who has ever heard of one young lady assaulting another, in broad daylight, near the bus station? I have never heard of such a thing.

She didn’t back down. “Maybelle, come with me,” she yelled again, and began to drag me. She’s very strong, and I have trouble holding my balance.

“My husband,” I call out in despair, “I’m going to meet my husband! He’s coming on the bus! Let go of me!”

Then I see it. The bus is here. My husband will save me from this wench. The bus rolls to a stop, slowly, easing gently into the station. “Davey!” I cry out at the top of my lungs as the doors open. “Help!”

I’m too far away now to see Davey, my husband, get off the bus. In desperation, I hit my attacker. I know it’s not lady-like, but I had to do something. It doesn’t help, she’s too strong. Suddenly, emerging from the motel, another lady, dressed like the first. Together they tear me away, back through the doors, and hallways, down, down, down.


September 15, 2008

It was unseasonably cool for September; breezy, with the sky alternating between patches of blue and torrents of rain.

Rhonda shook her head. “Good luck,” she said sarcastically.

I raised my eyebrows. The day was looking very busy all ready. One of the caregivers had called in sick, the nurse was on the phone with a doctor, in some kind of screaming match, and residents were demanding all sorts of medication and care. Maytown Nursing Home was not a place to work if you couldn’t handle action.

“I’m going to take these down west hall,” I called out to the nurse, motioned at some requested medications, “and then I’m come back and help you!”

She gave me the thumbs up, never breaking her stride with the doctor on the phone.

I walked to the end of the hall first, visiting several residents and giving out medications. Halfway down the hall, a resident named Ellen was limping down the hall with her walker. “Did you see Maybelle today?” her voice cracked, “She looks so lovely.”

“I haven’t seen Maybelle today, Ellen,” I replied quickly, “But I will go and say hello to her in a few minutes.” Maybelle was a fun older lady only in her seventies, which was a bit young compared to some of our residents. But she wasn’t aging well, and doctors had determined that she was coming down with dementia.

“Ok, then,” Ellen continued slowly toward her room.

Maybelle’s room was actually behind me now. I continued dispensing the rest of the requested medication, and then returned down to Maybelle’s room. Ellen was gone, presumably back in her room. I knocked on Maybelle’s door.

“Maybelle!” I called out.

Silence. I popped the door open and glanced around. It was quickly obvious that Maybelle was not in the room. Could she be at the nurses' station?

I skipped back down to the nurses station. Empty. I could hear the nurse rummaging in a back room, probably looking for some lost medication. The janitor, dressed in his crisp blue uniform, was vacuuming nearby. The noise of the vacuum made it impossible to talk to the nurse from here. I stepped into the back room.

“The doctor claims she was never prescribed Xanax,” she exploded, “But I’ve got three boxes right here. Why would the pharmacy have sent it if the doctor hadn’t prescribed it?”

“Sorry,” I interrupted, “Have you seen Maybelle? She’s not in her room and she’s not at the nurses station.”

“Well then go look for her!” the nurse snapped at me.

I backed out quickly. The janitor nodded to me; he was now headed for the east hall, vacuuming away.

I walked quickly toward the kitchen, thinking she might be going for a snack. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash. A dress. Maybelle. She was out in the rain.

“Maybelle’s outside!” I yelled at the top of my lungs, and, not waiting to see if anyone heard me, I ran out after her. I crossed the parking lot in record time; Maybelle in her old flower print dress and tattered umbrella, was headed for the city bus stop on the busy street.

“Maybelle, get inside!” I yelled as I caught up with her, grabbing her arm.

“Get your hands off me!” Maybelle responded. Her eyes were hollow, empty like a broken glass. I held her with care, feeling her fragile skin flex beneath my fingers. She stumbled and dropped her umbrella; it splashed into a puddle. I could see confusion clouding her vision. We had know for several months that Maybelle was developing dementia, but it had never resulted in an escape attempt before. I had to get her back inside quickly, before the cold and wet gave her pneumonia, or worse.

“Maybelle, come with me,” I said forcefully, and began to maneuver Maybelle back toward the nursing home. She resisted, and I struggled to move her without hurting her. I couldn’t let her stay outside and I certainly couldn’t let her get to the street. She could be hit by a car.

“My husband,” Maybelle called out, like a wounded animal, “I’m going to meet my husband! He’s coming on the bus! Let go of me!”

The bus. Sure enough, moments later, the bus pulled in. Several teenagers got off, but no husband. “Davey!” she calls out to them.

The nurse, finally realizing there was a serious situation, came out to help me. Together we manage to get a sobbing, incoherent Maybelle back to her room and into her chair. She’s cold, so I change her clothes and cover her with a blanket.

“We have to call the state,” the nurse says outside her door.

“I suppose her husband died some time ago,” I muse, having only known her as a widow since she arrived.

The nurse looks away. “It’s very sad,” she says, “her husband was a naval soldier; he was killed at the end of the World War 2. Ironically, it was an accidentally death. He got hit on the head by some machinery on the boat, fell off, and drowned. They were married right before he went off to duty, and she never got to see him return. She never re-married, and has no children or any other living relatives that I know of.”

I look down, and nod.

“I’ll call the state. We’ll have to arrange a transfer.”

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