Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mrs. Inman

"Mamaw, I'm sorry, but I just can't hear what you're saying."

My maternal grandmother, Malvina, a sweet, proper Southern lady, was at the point where her Parkinson's had not only affected her mobility but had now also reduced her voice to a barely audible whisper.  We had moved into our Memphis home several years earlier, and Mamaw had the best room in the house, with her own television and air conditioner, but it just wasn't working.  She needed a level of care that my parents simply weren't able to provide, and so, in 1964, they made the difficult decision to move her into a nursing home.  

My folks didn't want to have Mamaw live in an institutional environment, so they found a gentle compromise in a large old home just off South McLean Boulevard, on a little side street that was a quiet shelter from the city traffic.  The owner of the nursing home was a kind, patient woman who treated every resident as if she were her own mother.  The home accepted only ladies, and it was spotlessly clean, with open, airy rooms.  Most of the year, the windows were opened to allow a gentle breeze to waft throughout the house.  All in all, it was about as pleasant an environment as one could hope to find in a nursing home.

On Sunday afternoons, my mom, dad, and I would visit Mamaw at the house.  I would have Beatles tunes running through my head as I stepped out of the Chevy Impala and up onto the generous wooden front porch, but once I entered the door, it was like a different world, a completely peaceful one.  Two or three ladies would gather in each room, and each had her own favorite place, with her own rocking chair, and a comfy bed.  There were plenty of caregivers on staff to attend to every need.  It would have been nice to have had Mamaw back at home, but I was old enough to understand the challenges her care presented my parents, and this seemed like a good alternative.

One hot summer afternoon, the owner asked me if I would like a Coke, and when I answered yes, she asked me to come back to the kitchen to get one.  On the way, I passed through several rooms, and just before I reached the kitchen, I spotted a little lady in a rocking chair by a window, sporting a big smile.  She looked as if she'd just won a contest -- she was smiling from ear to ear.  I said hello, and she waved back to me.  There was something about her that piqued my interest.  The owner said, "That's Mrs. Inman."

On our next visit, my curiosity got the better of me, so I wandered back to Mrs. Inman's room and said hello again.  This time, she invited me to sit down, and we started to talk.  I don't recall what we talked about, but it seemed that every thing I said to Mrs. Inman made her laugh, and her laugh was sublime.  She would lean forward in her chair, slap her knee, and giggle with complete abandon.  Looking back, I believe she probably had a touch of dementia, but nevertheless, she could giggle better than any pre-teen girl I had ever met in my neighborhood, and the more she laughed, the more I was completely infectious.  I had definitely found something here.

For months, when we would visit Mamaw, I would make a point of stopping in to see Mrs. Inman for my laughter quotient.  She never seemed to have a bad was amazing.  I could talk about almost anything, and Mrs. Inman would start laughing, then I would start laughing, and the whole thing would start rolling downhill.  Again, I have no recollection of exactly what we talked about, but it didn't seem to matter.

One day, the owner took me aside and told me how much Mrs. Inman looked forward to my Sunday visits.  When I questioned her as to why, the owner told me that Mrs. Inman had relatives right there in Memphis, but that none of them ever came to visit her.  In fact, it sounded as if I was her only visitor, and this troubled me.  How could such a sweet woman, a person who had the innate ability to make other people feel good, be abandoned by her family?  It made no sense to me.

My visits to Mamaw, and now Mrs. Inman, continued for another year or two until Mamaw's health deteriorated further, and she had to be moved to a more full-service facility in Humboldt, about ninety miles away.  We continued to visit Mamaw until she passed away in 1968, and I would like to think that even though her surroundings were not exactly home, that she was at least comfortable and happy.  And as for Mrs. Inman, I do not know what became of her or how long she lived, but I do know this: I gained more from making that elderly lady laugh, and from laughing back in turn, than I could ever have imagined, and her sense of humor has remained with me all my life.

Mrs. Inman, I never got to say a proper goodbye, but thanks so much for the memories.  Keep smiling.