It was about time I did something that involved giving, doing something for others. And painting nails at a nursing home actually sounded fun.
One of the first ladies through the door was 90-year old Anna, pushing her walker, a green knit blanket folded over the front bar and a small heart-shaped balloon taped there. Anna didn't want her nails painted. Someone had done them a couple of weeks ago, and she thought they still looked fine. I exclaimed that they looked fantastic after two whole weeks, and she replied “Well, that’s because I don’t do anything!”
"I used to paint my own nails," she said. "And one day I asked them 'Where are my things? I want to paint my nails.' They told me I couldn't have them anymore because some people here would drink the polish. And I said, 'So I have to suffer because of someone else?' . . . So now they paint my nails . . but they do it on their time, not mine."
She told me life in the nursing home was dull, and "all anyone wants to do is play cards all day". But she knew she needed to be there, and she counted her blessings. She loved her daughter, her three sons and three daughters-in-law, and she teared up when she talked about them.
She told me about life in Brooklyn, New York, growing up in a poor Italian neighborhood, playing music in the street and dancing. "My husband and I were good dancers. We made quite the winnings in our day. Everyone would stop dancing to stand back and watch us." Pretty soon, Anna and I were singing lines from old songs like "Tea for Two" and "The Very Thought of You". Her eyes twinkled.
It wasn't long before Doris came to join us. She appeared to be a young hippie chick in a very old woman's body. She couldn't carry on much of a conversation, but insisted "Whatever you want to do, just do it, that's what I say!". To say Doris loved the mini muffins we brought was an understatement. She couldn't eat enough. The problem was that she literally couldn't eat enough, and most of the muffin was missing her mouth, crumbs falling all over the floor.
Anna had told me what a peaceful person she was. “I’ve never had an enemy. I get along with everyone.” But as soon as Doris left the table, she told me how she really felt. “Doris is a pig. She’s always dropping food everywhere, and I feel like I need to pick up after her. If my foot wasn’t so bad, I would. I just want to hit her in the head.” It was true – she had left an awful mess all over the floor, and she didn’t seem to care.
Minutes later Doris returned. She began to pet Anna’s salt-and-pepper hair, calling her a dear, as Anna sat perfectly still with a look in her eye that only I could understand. I began to giggle, knowing her unspoken thoughts. Doris wasn’t in on the joke. “What are you giggling for?” she asked. “Well, there’s nothing wrong with it,” she answered herself. “The people that giggle have the most fun.”
Anna and I just smiled.