On Wednesday, Lucy met her namesake for the first time, Tessa’s grandmother Lucille Tessman. Actually, my great-great-grandmother Lucy Rigby was also a factor, but Lucille – known as Nonnie to everyone in the family – was the steadfast rock upon which Tessa affixed her entire childhood. Those of you who have Netlfixed (or bought) “Five Wives” will remember Nonnie as the grandmother on the back porch saying that Tessa’s dad could buy anything except “those four letters L-O-V-E.” Needless to say, Nonnie rocks.
four generations of incredible women
I got there a little late to the Nonnie show, and so did Lucy. When I saw her in 2001, she was still driving herself around, but a bad car accident, a broken jaw and some tiny strokes landed her in the old folks’ home in Huntsville, Texas by 2003. She drifts in and out of attention, yet when Tessa shows up, she lights up like a Christmas tree.
Across the hallway from Non’s room was a door with a wreath on it, and some sort of medical tape sealing it shut; my guess is that someone had just died. Next door to that was a huge sign saying “Everyone Please Welcome Mrs. Woo!” It struck me as positively existential, the idea of moving to a place you know will be your last. There’s no getting out of there, it’s the final stop. Judging from some of the looks of the patrons, they’re quite content with the notion.
footwear: Nonnie wears the ankle monitor keeping tabs on her whereabouts, with Sandy and Tessa’s feet as well
It was Nonnie’s 89th birthday, complete with ballons and cake, and though it was great to celebrate it with her, it’s just the nature of history that Lucille and Lucy’s paths will cross but for a few years, and neither will get to know the other. Think of the time span – say Nonnie met an 89-year-old when she was 6 months old. That person would have been born in 1827 during the presidency of John Quincy Adams. Say Lucy lives to be 95. That means she will live to see the 22nd century. And both will have touched Nonnie.
It’s so hard to see someone you love deteriorate, but modern medicine has still not taken the chill off extreme old age. For Nonnie, I believe she is forgetting what feeling good feels like, and is thus not doing the things she ought to be, like taking oxygen while she sleeps. And the worse this gets, the more you slip into a dream state where you can no longer quite be sure if the life you are seeing really exists.
Furthermore, you don’t care. It’s not a flippant lack of care, like the ones we engage in as young people, but an actual inability to muster concern. This must be the defense mechanism inserted by the Higher Power of Your Choice to keep you from going crazy. In all, a nursing home is a strange environment in which to bring a baby. So incongruous, yet so alike.
Nonnie finally got sick of all the commotion and wheeled herself away. In the recesses of her memory, she knows her family loves her, she knows goodbyes are painful, and now she knows that she made such a huge mark on the world that another lithe spirit will carry her name into the distant future.