Fred has lived at the Graceland Care Home for over a week now. The snow is long gone, and we have taken slow walks along the rural road with the dog Lucy leading the way. Every cat, dog and child in the neighborhood knows Lucy.
“It’s so quiet here,” Fred often comments as we go outside, the alarm buzzing until the door is firmly shut. We’re used to the roar of the ocean, sometimes loud and angry, sometimes whispering, but always there. It’s odd that I live up by the beach and my husband lives up on the hill. I visit every day, but it’s not the same as sharing a home. Fred often starts to cry when I say goodbye. My tears come as I face this empty house with the many reminders of all that has changed.
But this is not meant to be a gloomy blog.
Graceland was not named after anything related to Elvis. Grace, an immigrant from China, is an avid Christian and took Grace as her American name. Now she is using it for her care homes. She and her husband Rick hope to expand into a series of homes someday, but right now everything is new from the fresh paint on the walls and the bamboo flooring to the three soft sofas surrounding the big-screen TV in the living room. Residents Fred and Charley, a delightful nonagenarian with Parkinson’s Disease, are also new.
I’m getting used to the road. Each afternoon, I pass the Eureka Cemetery, turn left at the big green water tower an artist has decorated with painted fir trees, downshift for the long downhill corkscrew turn, rev up the steep incline on a 180-degree turn, keep climbing past the bright blue house and start looking for the gray house with the new-wood ramp and the black and white dog out front.
Bowls of fruit and pastel coffee mugs sit on the oval wooden table where the residents eat family style. Simple games–Chinese checkers, tic-tac-toe–and puzzles cover another table. Grace doesn’t want anyone sitting around staring at the walls.
Fred’s room is bright with the afternoon sun, everything clean, his bed always made. When I arrive, he rises from his chair, smiling. “Oh, you’re here.”
Soon we’re out the door for a drive or a walk down the tree-lined road, past the house with all the multi-colored play equipment, past the biscuit-colored kitten meowing for attention, past the big patch of smoothed mud where a new home is being built, down to the end of the county road to where the pavement yields to gravel and the road appears to go on forever.
At home, I have abandoned desk work, housework, dogs and phone calls to visit Fred. I am forced to relax and put my attention on him. We hold hands. We even stopped to kiss in the car one day. Let me tell you a Honda Element, an otherwise great car, was not built for necking.
Wherever we go, I get Fred back in time for dinner, leaving him on the front porch petting Lucy as I shift into low gear and rev up and down the hill to life with the dogs.