When I was a kid I used to spend the summers with my great-grandparents. They lived in a small town, kind of like Mayberry. Both my mom’s paternal grandparents lived there and her maternal grandma, and then there were several great aunts and uncles and cousins living all around the area. I loved going there and being around so much family. When I would stay with my mom’s maternal grandma, some afternoons we would walk over to someone’s house and go “visiting.” Most often, we would go to my Great Aunt Irma’s house.
My Aunt Irma had MS and was unable to walk. She lived with her husband and also her daughter and her family. They all took care of her – which is another good thing about living around family – hopefully, they help each other out. Anyway, when she was younger, a doctor had left her under an X-ray for too long and she had burn scars on her face from it. That was back in the day when they didn’t understand X-rays, I guess. Now, I wonder about all that – I mean was he ever held responsible for it? I’ll never know.
She only had one arm that really worked properly so it was difficult for her to do many everyday tasks. She also had to use a bedpan. Her husband or her daughter would bring it to her and empty it for her, and also wipe her. It wasn’t a private affair either. She sat on the couch in the living room most of the time, and if she needed to use the bedpan, they would just bring it out and then remove it right in front of us. I suppose if we weren’t family, things may have been different. As a kid I was was freaked out by this, I guess in the way that disabilities can be scary for kids when they don’t understand how or why things are the way they are. As an adult, I am sad for her that this disease took away even her ability to have common privacy and I’m sure it was difficult and perhaps embarrassing to have to use the restroom in front of everyone.
I don’t remember her ever complaining, though. Maybe to her husband, or her daughter – I’m sure they saw a different side of things since they were her daily caregivers. To us though, she was kind and funny, actually. When we would go to visit sometimes she would ask me to brush her hair or help her put on some make up. I would sit on the couch beside her and comb through her thin greying hair, or in my childish fashion try to apply lipstick and powder. She would blot her lipstick on a tissue and admire herself in a handheld mirror. She always told me what a good job I had done, and I was always so happy about that. I can only imagine how it looked through an adult’s eyes.
Another thing she would ask us to do was to pluck her “whiskers.” Those fine dark hairs that inexplicably sprout on older women’s chins. Now, the whiskers really disturbed me because I certainly didn’t want to grow them! And I don’t really like the word “whiskers” – probably for that reason. The whiskers was something I felt sorry for her for, like not being able to walk or having facial scars – it was all part of the same package. Imagine my surprise when I started sprouting those same damn “whiskers”! Seriously, what the hell are these little hairs? I think of my Aunt Irma every time I have to pluck one of them out.
A couple of times I’ve had to ask my daughter to help me pluck one that I can’t see (because I’m getting old and blind!) but I can feel. She thinks it’s so weird, and I have to just laugh about how when we’re young we think we’re so immune to the inconveniences and ugliness of getting older. What comes around goes around, or something like that. There’s nothing I can do about it – no one can, it’s just the way life is. I’m just part of the “whiskers” club now – no use trying to deny it. Here’s photo of my Aunt Irma when she was a little girl with her baby brother. What a sweetie, isn’t she? She had no idea what was in store for her . . .