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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Five, Minus Four

I've been reading up a storm lately and it's not that I have extra time, but that I've been reading shorter books (one with Young One and one that I'll review here) and one that I couldn't put down that kept me up late until I finished it. So, instead of my five senses, you're going to get just one.

Undiscovered by Debra Winger

I fell in love with Debra Winger in her movie roles. Authentic, real, beautiful, raw, and intense, she hooked me as an actress. She's all that and more in this delightful memoir. Part poetry and part short snippets and glimpses into her life, she talks about her career, but from the inside. She's extremely intelligent, sensitive, and delightful in her honesty. I'd like share with you just this short paragraph about motherhood. It literally brought me to my knees. Dead on. Well done, Ms. Winger. Encore.

"Irrevocably imprisoned by a crush of immense responsibility, overwhelming and oppressive; and by a delayed upsurge of love that in the interim had grown so encompassing and so completely consuming that she knew that no matter how long she lived, no matter what she did or how, she would never ever be free again. She was a mother."

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Jacob is either ninety years old or ninety-three, he can't quite remember. He's living out the end of his days in a nursing home and is completely unhappy about his situation. His grandchildren are old, his children even older and they alternate the obligation of visiting him. The circus has arrived in town and he watches from the rest home window as the tents go up and reminisces. You see, Jacob ran away and joined the circus as a young adult. His parents were tragically killed shortly before he was set to take his final exams as a veterinary student and in his grief he hops a train. Turns out it was a circus train and before he knows it, he's caring for their menagerie of exotic animals. There's suspense, intrigue, romance, violence and all of this with the nitty-gritty backdrop of the circus.

I adored this book. It was a really easy read and quite honestly, I had refused pick up of it about a month ago when it came my turn to receive this book through my library request program. I didn't think I would be that interested. i'm so glad I requested it again on the urging of a friend. The story just grabbed me from the get go. I think, because I have worked in nursing homes in the past, that the inside view of what its like as a resident made me remember the fights I had with nursing staff over protecting their dignity. Back up a bit. I was a young, know-it-all nursing assistant who was working herself through nursing school. The permanent nursing assistant staff resented a "golden child" as they called me. They knew I wouldn't be doing this extremely difficult, physically demanding job for long. I loved my job. I loved my little old folks. I learned so much from them and so much of what I learned from them has stuck with me to today. I remember one little old lady who's room had been transformed to look like a parlor, with velvet drapery and luxurious linens on her bed, comfortable chairs and real oil paintings on the wall. She said to me, "Nobody at this point in their life wishes that they would have worked more. Be sure to play and do what you love all your life." She's so right.

If you have time and room in your heart, go visit a nursing home. Don't go on a holiday, those busy times are inundated with well intentioned groups, looking to spread the cheer of the season. Go on a Wednesday or the second Friday evening of the month. Just make a call, ask if you can just come in for conversation with some of the people. Bring your kids and ask if you could bring in your dog sometime. You will meet professors and lawyers, teachers, farmers, people who built the first Ford trucks, former newscasters, nuns, mothers, sisters, dads, and uncles. So many of them are alone most of the time. Many of them have very few family or friends left or nearby. Your kids will learn a lot. You will learn a lot and you will meet some really cool people.

Be sure to prepare your children for some of what they might see, hear, and smell. It's not always easy for a lot of people to overlook those things. These people still have value and are often forgotten. I urge you to take some time. You'll be so glad that you did!

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Taking a little time to play with words, to play with food, and just to play!