My mother has been ‘out of sorts’ and being treated for dehydration (may cause lack of appetite, dizziness, disorientation). She was sleeping and I gently woke her. “What time is it?” she asked, then glanced at the clock and gave me the look. “When you say you’ll be here by late afternoon, you really mean late.” I took this snarky remark as a sign she was feeling better, so we went out for a ride through the ‘old neighborhood’.
We took our time, meandering down sleepy, residential roads – past homes where friends once lived, past the church we once knelt in (though if you read last week’s blog, Mom was obviously not paying attention to Father Murphy), past Leonard’s Farm Stand where she used to buy our fresh produce. I was surprised it was still there and almost caused an accident while pulling a u-turn, in hopes of finding native tomatoes.
As we drove, we both commented there were no children outside playing. It was a warm, summer day and there were no kids on bikes, no hit the bat, no hop scotch or jump-rope. For the most part, there wasn’t even an open front door.
I know I’m showing my age and trust me, I used to scoff at any conversation from my father starting with, “When I was a boy…” but, when I was girl growing up in this summer neighborhood, kids owned these streets and yards.
Now, here we were on a beautiful July afternoon and Mom says, “Where is everybody? I don’t even see any ghosts.” Then she started to sing, “Those were the days, my friend…” and together, “We thought they’d never end.”
This all sounds cliché, but when we pulled up in front of the old house, it looked like someone shrunk the front yard. What happened to the miles we had to cross to get to the street and where was the weeping willow tree we used to climb and use as our ‘Ollie Ollie in free’. Now its stump served as a table for a potted plant. The house looked like something from a game of Monopoly and it was impossible to imagine a family of 7 (including 4 boys) living there.
Though next door to our old house was the town park and swimming pool. Every summer day (unless there was lightening) we’d gulp down breakfast, let the screen door slam and off we’d go through the chain link fence until hunger or thirst brought us briefly back home again. I think of my own grandchildren and there is no way…………….
I stepped out of the car and walked through the crooked gate, the path now overgrown and glass-strewn. Not a child to be seen or heard. The orange and green merry-go-round was gone and the empty space where it used to spin, just didn’t seem large enough for my memories.
One swing hung high from rusty bars and the slide was gone. There were a few picnic tables in a cluster and I remembered Barbara, the park teacher (my first love) and her shrill silver whistle. We wove pot holders my mother never used and braided lanyards my father would hang from the rear view mirror of his car.
I walked toward the pool and could hear white-nosed life guards yelling, “No running” and “Time out!” as we splashed and dashed from one end to the other. It cost 10 cents for a 45-minute session and when the whistle blew, we’d reroll our towels into a long donut, stuff our bathing caps inside, leave them at the end of the line of kids waiting for the next session to begin and hurry off to the playground until the whistles sounded again.
Peering through the chain link fence, the pool looked tiny, paint peeled and cracked. Instead of chlorine, it smelled of earth and decay. I could not conjure my young self screaming as someone cannon-balled beside me or pushed me into the deep end. I felt out of place, alone and old. Those days and those kids were gone, the pool and playground empty.
Walking back to my car though, I smiled to hear the “thunk, thunk, thunk” of a basketball, somewhere beyond the trees and my mother’s voice through the car window, “Those were the days, oh yes, those were the days.”
For more information on dehydration and the elderly, go to http://www.caring-for-aging-parents.com/dehydration-in-the-elderly.html