Thursday, September 10, 2015

Mr. Laurel's Style

During the past nine months, I've met a number of remarkable people.

They're all unique, of course; as people are.  But at the same time, these people I've met tend to be remarkably similar, even though they've been born in different places, have different ages, and have done a variety of different things during their lives.

One similarity these people share is their address:  the Alzheimer care facility where my father has lived for the past nine months.  I've already written about a couple of them, and friends have encouraged me to write more about them.  Yet I've held back, realizing that, the more I get to know these dear folks, they're still human beings of dignity.  To a certain extent, they're entitled to the same privacy we should extend to anybody who isn't aware that their daily actions are being recorded for strangers to learn about later.

When Mom and I drive up to Dad's Alzheimer place, I'm frequently struck by how anonymous a place it is.  From the outside, it could pass for a rambling single-family McMansion.  Within its brick-and-stucco walls, however, are 43 residents representing a vast panoply of life experiences, yet who can barely remember any of them.  There's a whole community within these walls, from nurses and cooks to janitors, and residents who are quite affluent, and residents whose families - like mine - are spending down their life's savings to spare their loved ones the ordeal of state-funded care.

Meanwhile, you could drive down the street, past this facility, and have no idea the significance of what's inside - or who's living inside.

These days, dementia-care facilities like Dad's exist all over the country, yet if you or your family haven't had much exposure to dementia-related diseases, you probably don't understand how remarkable these facilities are.  And they're remarkable because they quietly house, day in and day out, a subsection of our country's population that is profoundly incapable of managing themselves - but who, at one time, could.

I've already introduced you to Shirley, she of red sweater fame.  But she's one of the better-functioning members of this curious community of dementia patients.  Most of these patients, like Shirley, are white Caucasians, but there are several black residents as well.  One of them, Mr. Laurel, has been particularly interesting to get to know.

Mr. Laurel is probably in his late 70's or early 80's, with a head full of dusty-gray hair.  He is extraordinarily tall and enviously thin.  Although his two cloudy eyes tend to aim in different directions, he has a handsome face as well as a disarmingly cavalier disposition.  And like an aristocrat from another generation, he always dresses for dinner!

Oh, boy, how he dresses!

Let's start with his feet, which are long and often quite swollen.  Mr. Laurel rarely wears socks, and his black, puffy ankles, rolling down from under pants that are always far too short, are crusted white from poor circulation.  He also rarely wears the same set of shoes at any one time; almost always, he's got mis-matched shoes on!  Usually they're at least the same color, but one may be a lace-up, while the other is a slip-on.

When he wears his slippers, however, he wears a tan one and a black one.  At least when he's wearing his slippers, though, he also is wearing his silk bathrobe - neatly tucked into his pants.

Yesterday, he was wearing his pants wrong-way around.

And I couldn't count the number of shirts he was wearing.  But they were all tucked into his back-side-to pants, and the collars of his shirts were each carefully folded over each other, like birds' feathers.

Indeed, when he shows up in the dining room, he's usually a sight to behold!

One day, he appeared fairly normal, albeit in a thick wool sportshirt, which was a bit uncharacteristic for Mr. Laurel.  Most mealtimes, Mr. Laurel will sport one of his suit jackets - meticulously turned inside-out.  How he can wear his clothes in ways they were not intended to be worn - yet also look so neat and tidy - baffles me.

At any rate, I commented to him that with his thick sportshirt, he appeared uncharacteristically under-dressed for dinner.  At least, by his own standards.

"I'm not under-dressed," Mr. Laurel happily countered, turning up the cuffs of his thick sportshirt to display a quilted lining.  It was like a padded hunting jacket that guys way up North wear when it's freezing outside.

"See?  This here's black!" he exclaimed proudly, pointing to the shimmering satin quilted lining that, to him, offered an adequate amount of style and panache.

One element of style with which Mr. Laurel is hardly ever without is his ballcap, a black Navy-themed number with colorful embellishments around the Navy logo.  When I first introduced myself to him, he shook my hand with his long, bony fingers, and then immediately removed his cap.

"This here cap has something on it that will tell you everything you need to know about me," Mr. Laurel promised confidently.  "Let me see... where is that?"  And he fumbled with his cap, mumbling quietly as he inspected all of the stitching and graphics covering it.  Finally, he found what he'd been looking for.

"There!" he exclaimed proudly.  "This is all you need to know about me!"  And his bony index finger was jabbing at a patch with one word on it that read, "Retired."

"Retired!" he laughed in his raspy, tired voice.  "I'm retired Navy! That's all you need to know about me! I survived the Yoo-nited States Navy!"

Hey - good enough for me, right?  If he survived a career in the US Navy, which by many accounts is an admirable feat in and of itself, isn't he entitled to wear whatever he wants to dinner?

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