Tuesday, June 27, 2006

"Cutting a Rug"

Bea is having such fun in her mind that I regret my intrusion with breakfast. She greets me cordially and exclaims about how very much she has been enjoying the fashion show: hats have been on display all morning. “Which one did you like best?” she asks.

I explain I must have missed most of it, and apologize.

I cannot tell whether she has been modeling the hats or admiring the selection from the audience, but one thing is sure: Bea has been having a great time.

Up in the attic, there is a wooden hatbox that dates from the twenties. Bea actually stored her hats away. She kept some favorites for years, wrapped in tissue paper and collecting dust. They were made of felt or silk, and often had veils. My children used these hats for dress-up over summer vacation. More recently their grandma wore a crocheted cloche with a two-inch B covered in rhinestones pinned to the brim.

When Lisa arrives, I tell her what Bea has been up to.

“Did you model? Lisa asks, always up for a good story.

Bea nods with an impish grin.

“Where? New York?”

“Best & Company. I can remember being so pleased when a handsome man saw me in a black dress with white sleeves. It had polka dots.”

“What did he look like?”

“Oh, very handsome. Jet black hair.”

“What did you do?”

“We went dancing. Don’t you think that’s what people who are young and happy ought to do?”

We both can only agree.

“Did you cut a rug?” Lisa asks.

Bea’s whole face lights up, like when you find something you thought you had lost and come upon it by accident so the discovery is even more thrilling.

“That’s a funny expression,” I say. “What does it mean?”

Bea tries to explain: “You do something with your whole body. It involves a lot of exercise.”

“Dancing!” Lisa whispers.

Bea has transported the three of us to a dance floor, in Manhattan. You can almost smell the cigarette smoke. There Bea is, in the spotlight, dancing up a storm in her black and white dress.

“I bet you were a fetching sight,” Lisa says.

“J’espere que oui!” Bea responds in French, then translates, in case Lisa doesn’t understand. She is in fine spirits and all the attention has made her blossom.

It warms my heart at how very supportive Lisa is of my mother. Lisa has a gift. She is able to make elderly people feel good about themselves. It sounds easy. But it is not. Often strangers avoid the elderly as if old age were a contagious illness. The expectation is that the person with the cane and puckered skin has nothing more to contribute to society. Actually the opposite is true. Elderly brains brim with interesting information, accumulated over a lifetime. The trick is to approach them with the respect they deserve. Hospice workers know how to do that ...

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