1. Hanson, Richard S. PhD

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They bring their yesterdays with them, into a place that is strange, a room that is small and likely to be shared with another who seems old, sickly, demented. Another like themselves.


Anna brought her farm and the kitchen into this place. "Why aren't they in from the barn yet?" she asks. "Why ain't they done with the milking? I got all this breakfast ready, and nobody's here to eat it." She is looking at the breakfast trays set on the tables. "Who's gonna eat all this food?" Anna moves through her day from one disturbing situation to another, whimpering, complaining just as she surely did in her years as a hard-working farmer's wife. "Who's gonna feed the chickens?"


Clara counts. Slowly, with three-to-five second pauses she recites her monologue: "37 . . . 38 . . . 39 . . . 40." This is how she keeps her world in order. When it's time to give her medications, the aide says, "We're counting now, Clara. When we say 44, we open our mouth and swallow the pills. Ready? 41 . . . 42 . . . 43 . . ." and Clara cooperates.

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Lloyd has brought his car (it's parked outside, he says) and asks repeatedly why he can't drive himself home. They tell him that he left his car at home, and when he somewhat understands that this is true he asks, "Well, then, can somebody please drive me home? I'll pay you good money to drive me home. I don't belong in this place. How did I get here anyway?"


Joe has the innocent and prankish eyes, the voice, and the demeanor of Red Skelton. Joe has a repertoire of questions with which he greets every-one: Where are you going? What are you doing? Where do you come from? And if someone should give an honest answer to the last of those questions, such as, "I come from across town," or "I come from Cresco," Joe is ready with his stock response. "No, you don't. You come from your mother." He is merciless. He sits at a crucial intersection of traffic and never misses a chance to say something, especially to the female staff members who are young or attractive. "Do you like me?" he may ask. Otherwise, Joe never speaks about himself.


Buford is usually lost. He wanders, walks slowly with a shuffle. "Where am I supposed to be?" he asks, and someone guides him to a place at a table or a recliner where he can relax and wait for the next important move. Everyone loves Buford. He offers to help when a maintenance man comes to repair something. His hands move, as though he's looking for a tool.


Esther never speaks a word. She feeds herself by dipping spoonfuls of food into her cup of milk or juice or coffee. Because her lower lip has no muscle control, liquid soaks her terrycloth bib at every meal. Her eyes are wise; I imagine her as a teacher or a woman of business.


Marion dies in the night, as I'm composing these sketches. When her family arrives in her room after the coroner and the undertaker have completed their duties, they find her bed carefully made up, a candle, a Bible, and a crucifix on the table. The room has an air of quiet beauty, as did Marion.


Myrtle has an opinion on everything and advice for whoever is near. "ARE YOU GONNA EAT YOUR FOOD? YOU SHOULD EAT IT. I DON'T LIKE THIS SANDWICH, THOUGH. DO YOU WANT HALF MY SANDWICH? WHY DON'T YOU?" Her voice is a brassy baritone; surely she got herself elected to public office. Her family rarely visits.


Gerda came from Germany in her youth, as a war bride with her American soldier. "Du, du liegst mir im Herzen," someone sang one day, and Gerda joined in. She came alive with that music and briefly told her story, one of love and bereavement for her soldier now long buried.


My wife, Rita, is here, my bride of 50 years. For the past 25, she has been afflicted with Parkinson disease, and I'm no longer able to care for her at home. In her younger days, she was an RN; later, a mother. As I sit with her in the home, I point out what is happening around us. I also tell her of family news, yet her mind seems only aware of this newer, nearer world. My presence seems her only conduit to her former life. I write these vignettes as a way of knowing her world.