Tuesdays at the Nursing Home- Darla Strikes Back

At first she tries to be nice about it.

"This is a lovely place you've got here," she tells the aide. "And the food was delicious, but I have to get on home."

She checks her Sunday hat in the mirror, ignoring the reflection of the watchful aide behind her. With slow deliberation, she picks up her handbag and turns to leave.

By now the social worker has been called. She steps inside the room, placing herself between the elderly woman and the open door.

"Darla, they're having church this evening. Mary just wants to get you cleaned up before the service starts. We'd love for you to stay."

The social worker is well-intentioned. She edges even closer, trying not to sound as if she is yelling as she raises her voice because Darla is extremely hard of hearing. "I know you like to look your best but, well, frankly, you do smell a bit..."

The social worker never gets to finish. Whap, whap, whap! Darla raises her cane and rains three quick blows down on her new foe. For a tiny lady in her 90s, Darla is strong and deadly accurate with her weapon.

"She got me right behind my ear the other day," her aide, Sally, says later. "And my head is still ringing! They wanted me to file an incident report but I couldn't do that."

"She really packs a wallop," The social worker agrees. "I haven't been hit like that in years!"

And they smile, both of them. They seem proud of their tiny charge, not a bit patronizing or condescending. This is the respect due a worthy adversary. "I like the feisty ones," the social worker confides.

Later, when Darla falls asleep, the social worker steals her cane. It is replaced with a new, lightweight walker. "I'm a big chicken," she confides. "I snuck in when she was taking her nap, grabbed the cane and ran!"

Darla hasn't survived this long without having skills. She lived alone until recently, until her stepson discovered a crack addict had moved in and was slowly siphoning off Darla's food and medication. That's when Billy decided something had to be done and moved her into the nursing home.

Darla has been in the home for a month now but she still wolfs down her food as if expecting the plate to be jerked out from under her.

"Oh, Lord," Sally murmurs, with a sad shake of her head. "That first shower, the water ran black, she was so filthy." She clucks her tongue and glances down the hall toward Darla's room. "The ones living in that house where she was were just terrible to her, just terrible." Sally sighs. "She's started putting some weight back on. She's not all skin and bones, like when she came in. It's a lot better for her here."

But Darla doesn't think so.

She's lost her home and doesn't realize how close she came to losing her life at the hands of strangers.

Her stepson lives too far away to look after her, so he has done what he thinks is the next best thing. He has "disposed" of Darla's "assets," her home and belongings, and brought her to live in the nursing home. She will be safe-er here and her stepson will feel less guilty.

Day to day, when she has no visitors to remind her of what once was, Darla likes her new accommodations.

Her roommate dotes on her, believing Darla to be her mother. This is remarkable as the roommate had the reputation of being the meanest lady on the hall, a woman who couldn't be bothered to make friends and who would like as not cuss you out for smiling in her general direction.

Darla has changed all that.

"Mama?" the roommate asks gently. "Have you had enough to eat? Can I get you anything?"

But Sylvie can't help her make-believe mother.

Darla longs for the home of her remembrance- and a time that has vanished without fair warning.

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