She picked up but the conversation lasted only a few seconds.
“Kätchen, can you call me back? I’m putting on my stockings.”
I gave her ten minutes.
“Okay, they’re up,” she said after just one ring. “But I’m in a right state. Wait till I tell you.”
Frau B’s niece, Krista, had sent her a package for Christmas. Unfortunately, there’d been no one at reception to receive it, so it ended up being sent back to Hamburg. In the meantime, Krista developed thrombosis in her leg and had to be hospitalised. The package landed with a neighbour, who had no choice but to pop it right back in the post in the hope that this time, it might reach its destination.
The plight of this package had been plaguing Frau B for weeks. Now, with the first week of January drawing to a close, it had finally arrived.
But Frau B did not see a cause for celebration.
“I’m ready to cry,” she said. “It’s this wretched plastic wrapping. I’ve been trying to remove it for hours.”
“Besides,” she continued. “I don’t know what Krista was thinking. There are 12 bars of Ritter Sport in here and countless packets of biscuits. Where does she expect me to put them? I’m hardly going to eat them all!”
“Well,” I said, taken aback at her agitation. “I know I can help you with the chocolate. And, as for the wrapping, I’d just leave it until I come on Sunday and then we can sort it out together.”
“I know she meant well,” said Frau B. “But it’s ridiculous. I can’t even get to the cupboard to put anything away.”
On the surface, Frau B might be accused of lacking in graciousness. But that would be to neglect the reality of what life it like for a 96-year-old.
Unlike many of her peers, Frau B has managed to maintain the strength of spirit required to express indignation. If that were to disappear, I would know the end is near.
The tirade against her well-meaning niece managed, briefly, to deflect attention away from one or all of the following:
Her swollen, knobbly hands and the arthritis that cripples them – preventing her from carrying out the simplest of tasks, like tearing open a sheet of cellophane wrapping.
The real prospect that her last remaining blood relative might die before her.
The difficulty of mustering up the energy to get from her armchair to the shelf.
The indignity of dependence.
Bearing all this in mind, I too, chose to deflect.
“Guess what LSB suggested,” I said.
“That we spend next New Year’s Eve with you.”
Frau B had rung in 2016 sitting alone in her room, dismayed that the nursing home hadn’t made an effort to mark the occasion. The disappointment was all the more real because last year, she’d had such a good time celebrating that she had to be escorted back to her room. The half bottle of wine she’d downed had left her giddy and unsteady on her Zimmerframe.
“I hope to goodness I’m not alive by then,” she said.
“Well if you are,” I said, “we’ll be sure to bring some champagne.”
“I don’t really like champagne. But I suppose you can bring me beer.”
I’m not 96, but I do find that across my lifetime the packaging industry has become increasingly expert at finding creative ways to make wrappers impenetrable. There was an “Everybody Loves Raymond” episode where Raymond tried to convince his dad to switch from vinyl records to CDs, and when the time came for him to prove the much greater convenience of the CD, he was hilariously unable to get the damned plastic wrapper off the CD. I feel so much like that, that I volunteer to buy that beer for FB when I make it to Berlin.
You’re right – packaging these days is ridiculous! I haven’t seen that episode but it’s spot on! So much for “progress!” Frau B would be delighted to have a beer with you, I’m sure!
I hope you reached New Year’s Eve and a good celebration even if your host was a little irascible .Your last para, ‘Frau B rang’ I doubt it was 2016 in case you want to change it,, I’m guessing 2014 but you’re looking ahead with fingers crossed/
xxx Huge Hugs xxx
Hey David! Unfortunately the plan for a common NYE is indeed for ringing in 2017. It was this year’s celebration that proved a disappointment. Off to see her this afternoon though for some chats and coffee 🙂 Hugs right back! xx
Very touching story, Kate. It sounds like age is definitely catching up. I recall from your post when you first started writing about Frau B – she seemed like she was still going around and being rather independent for her age. It sounds like she’s still holding strong mentally – and iher dignity humbles and also impresses me. I hope the next new year’s eve will be a blast for all three of you 🙂
And Happy New Year to you, Kate! May 2016 brings you health, joy and happiness 🙂