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July 4, 2011 / sharoncopy

“I never thought you would do this to me.” – Mary S.

We moved into a home in Glenside with an old woman. This was the deal: we got free rent in exchange for being there, helping her out a bit, keeping an eye on things. We only had to pay some of the utilities, that’s all. Sweet deal, right? Well, it all comes down to definitions. I was teaching and working as an Admissions Director at a small Institute, and when I came home in the evenings, I was happy to greet her and chat a bit, but I also had papers to grade and lessons to plan and I wanted to sit upstairs in our “living room” with my husband who was a seminary student. It was pleasant to sit and read together. I watched the clock, and didn’t mind helping her (stroke victim) to get undressed every night. We offered to help with meals, but she preferred to have Meals on Wheels and to make her own food or have her daughter do it on the weekends.

“Oh, Sharon, I never thought you would do this to me,” Mrs. S. said, in her guilt-producing, whiny, pathetic kind of way. She was complaining that she had let us move in so that we would be “company” for her, but all I wanted to do was to go upstairs and leave her all alone. Sigh. So I ended up spending at least every other evening sitting and watching game shows and whatever else suited her and chatting, while grading papers in the green armchair in her living room downstairs.

The oddest things would set her off. One day my husband was shoveling the snow in the driveway, for us and also for her children who would visit weekly. While shoveling, he “threw some snow on the side of the garage!” She was so upset she had to toddle across the room and get a valium.

I heard her use “the line” regularly on her daughter as well. I guess what we learned was that “living there free” wasn’t really worth it.

We lived there for 9 months, and the day we moved out of there, I was 7  months pregnant with our first child, and the next morning I said to my husband, “the best thing about this new house is that there is no old lady downstairs.”

Two of her three kids avoided coming over as much as possible. Her daughter came 2 or 3 times a week to help her out. She steadfastly refused to go places because she was ashamed of having to ride in a wheelchair and it was getting harder and harder for her to walk with her 4 pronged cane, (whom she had named “Freddy.”)  Her kids found her whining annoying and it was hard to be around her, which only made her whine all the more.

After we moved out, a single woman moved in. She didn’t last long either.

I think, and my kids can quote me on this someday (and will, I’m sure), that we have a responsibility to grow old graciously so that our kids will want to spend time with us.

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