My aunt Catherine....aka Katrine..........has been in a nursing home for the last few years. Considering she's hovering around her mid nineties she's in pretty fair shape, except for a nasty case of alzheimers. My grandmother suffered from this for the last few years of her life and besides the tragedy and hopelessness of the situation it provided some surreal comic moments. Because my father was partially paralyzed with a stroke and my grandmother was...not my grandmother, and my mom was working full time, I stayed around as much as possible. I was playing music full time and my schedule was...uh...irregular......but I'd spend many nights at the Piscataway homestead. One night I came home after a gig...around 3 am or so...and the dining room table was set for a feast. The best china, settings for.... oh... I don't know, ten or twelve. Problem was...there wasn't a holiday in sight. My grandmother was at it again. I figured I'd take it down the next morning but by the time I got up it was gone!!!!! And I don't think anyone believed that I'd actually seen it. Gram certainly wasn't going to confess. Sometimes she would take off and man, could she motor. She could barely get across the living room but get her on the open road...dang!!!!!.People would bring her home...usually a neighbor, unless we spotted her first. One time our next door neighbor and his son brought her home and she seemed unusually......"chagrined." She was a little embarassed but said, "Well, it finally happened." I said, "What happened." She said," The (neighbor and neighbor's son's name deleted for legal purposes) took my maidenhood." Well my old man started laughing so hard his teeth almost shot out. And after the dog ate his first set he had to take care of these. My mom just looked stunned and it was time for me...to get to the gig. Pronto! She spent her last days in a nursing home and, mercifully didn't stay there long.
My aunt, on the other hand, doesnt seem to want to say goodbye. Even though I know she'd like nothing better. Katrine and I were good pals as I was growing up. After her husband died she came to live with us on W. Sixth St in Plainfield, NJ. She eventually gave up half of her part of the house to my grandmother ...remember maidenhood...? Some creative redesigning led to a full, pretty happy home. No wonder I've always felt more comfortable with women. Now I get it. And they smell much better than guys. She and my mom would sit out on the screened in porch, down a cold one or two and...commiserate. She taught me how to tie my shoes (age five), shift gears on a '54 chevy , (age ten), how much better butter is than margarine, (my mom wasn't too happy I learned about that), how to peel and cook shrimp, and the rules of when and why you hit the other guy with the high beams. She'd let me watch the good stuff on her tv, side with me on putting off bedtime, and let me pal around with her in general. The woman was a hazard behind the wheel and not real light on her feet. She had a habit of hitting the deck and took a few trips to Muhlenberg Hospital to get a stitch or two. My father...the guy with the teeth..... was her brother and was on the Plainfield Rescue Squad so he could always pull some strings. She had a great sense of humor about herself and a laugh so unique that today only I can duplicate it. And now she sits in a nursing home not knowing where she is or why she's there. I don't drop in on her nearly enough but when I do...with a little work.... I can bring her back to Sixth St for a little while. Or to Ortly Beach, where my sister and I would make beer runs from the house to the beach for Katrine, my mom and their buddies..."The Bridge Club." One of the clubbers had a house on the beach and she'd cut us a deal for a week every year. Husbands, kids...the whole deal. That's where I learned to play Gin Rummy... discovered that two bucks doesn't go very far on the boardwalk and to never...NEVER...pour beer in a milk glass.
Every now and then on my radio show I play a song from former Jersey boy John Gorka called "I don't feel like a train anymore." One of the last times I went to see my aunt I walked in and said, "Hey Katrine!!" And she said,"I don't feel like Katrine anymore." Can ya see the irony? I started laughing and she started laughing and, oh my God, the two of us were doin' the Katrine laugh like a coupla nuts. Well, we have to be there...do our best... for our moms, dads, aunts .....etc....etc. They were there for us.
A friend of mine who has a parent in a nursing home said to me, "Ya know, it's funny....we start out in diapers and we end up in diapers." I have to tell you I got kind of a chill up my back when he said that. But because I was raised on Mad magazine and Zap comics and National Lampoon and SNL......and nuns...(oh man...more women...) I had to start laughing......chortling....gagging!!!! Just like Katrine would've.
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