Retirement

“My Lonely Room” by Jerry Cordeiro

My mother’s family has produced an uncanny number of recluses.  For example, my Aunt Virginia spent three-quarters of her youth holed up in her room in a rocking chair listening to the same Barbara Streisand albums over and over and over again.  Eventually, she transitioned into a halfway house for mentally ill, which required her to coexist with others, but she later was liberated to a subsidized apartment where she resumed her Emily Dickinson like existence. Three people besides her immediate family attended her funeral. [1]

Virginia at a New Years Eve party in 1964

Her father, whom we called Kiki, also retreated almost full-time to his bedroom.  There he listened to the radio (Paul Harvey, baseball games) or played the ukulele while crooning Hawaiian songs and/or yodeling. In his later years, he took his meals in that room where he stacked dirty plates on the floor next to the door for my grandmother to retrieve and wash after he had consumed the country meals she prepared and delivered.

In his sixties, Kiki began acting oddly, putting his alarm clock upside down on his bedside table, mowing the lawn at five a.m.  Eventually he was placed in a home in Columbia called Crafts-Farrow.  I was in college in Columbia at the time, so I borrowed my girlfriend’s car to visit him.  I met him in a large room where other patients and family members milled around.

He immediately recognized me and started relating hard-to-believe tales of the abuse he was suffering.  He said, “Rusty, help me escape. Ask them if we can go for a walk; then we can ride away.  Just let me out on the side of the road.  You’ll never have to see me again.”

I explained that he’d get better if he stayed there. As I was leaving, I asked a fat lady at a desk near the door to keep an eye on him, explained that he was planning to escape, and she let out a maniacal, unhinged laugh.  Ends up she was a patient herself.

The good news is that he did get better and returned to Summerville and the house and [mocking cough] enjoyed a much better attended memorial service.

His son, my Uncle Jerry, worked on a spy ship tracking Soviet missile launches and had purchased the house where they lived.  When he retired, he also spent the majority of his time alone in his room, which was more like a suite, on the opposite end of the house from his father.  My grandmother had her own room, so essentially, you had this nuclear family who had little to do with each another living together in their separate cells.

My grandmother was the exception.  She spent her days in the living area watching television from dawn until the Indian test pattern shut things down after The Tonight Show starring Jack Paar and later Johnny Carson. One spring when I was in grad school, I visited and was almost blown out of the door by the hotness blasting from a gas heater even though the temperature outside was in the seventies.  Obviously, though not ensconced in her room, she didn’t get outdoors very often.

My mother, on the other hand, was extroverted and vivacious. She was the only sibling to have children. In the summers, she took us to the Curve In Pool or the beach and loved yard work.

Although I’m not geared for extended periods of solitude, I can appreciate its appeal. In my case, I’d opt for a darkened room with no radio and no Streisand, just a grandfather clock and a never-ending supply of camphor-soaked handkerchiefs in honor of Faulkner’s Mrs. Caroline Compson. I’d lay the handkerchiefs upon my furrowed forehead as the clock audibly ticked away seconds and marked with chimes the quarter hours and knelled away the hours — one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve — while the planet rotated and revolved its way into my oblivion.

“Hey, Wes, have any plans for retirement?”

“Yeah, I plan to take it easy.  Hey, know where I might be able to cop some camphor?”


[1]You can read about how he disposed of her ashes here.

 

2 thoughts on “Retirement

  1. Asked a fat lady to keep eye on him, heh? That sucks. His son, Jerry, sounded like he was probably a pretty cool guy. Something about those Navy guys definitely comes across well in books and movies, or just in general. That was a really good blog, btw… and I have read A LOT of blogs. It’s sort of a funny platform — not quite a short story and not really an article.

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