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Front Street Deli

  1. Jun 27, 2005 #1
    Several years ago, I used to go to the Front Street Deli in Bath, Maine. Bath Iron Works (BIW) builds ships for the Navy. It was housed in a very old historical building and they used to have the most wonderful baker. She baked muffins, bread and quiche of all kinds as well as pies and pastries. They had a regular sandwich menu and daily specials, soups and chowders. They used to have a glass-covered case so that you could look everything over and try to decide what to order. They are no longer open but I met some very nice people. There was one elderly lady in particular that I came to know and like very much. She lived nearby behind the police department in a house that had two apartments. Her husband was a retired engineer from nearby Bowdoin College in Brunswick. He was not very well so he only accompanied her occasionally. Helen (I've changed her name to protect her privacy), stopped at the deli every morning as they were also open for breakfast. She usually ordered a muffin in the morning. I was never there for breakfast but I used to see her in the early evening hours after work now and then. Helen usually stopped by twice a day. Even though the Front Street Deli was quite a distance to drive, I would often go down after work and I would often see Helen there. Sometimes she would be sitting at the next table so we became acquainted. She was a very regal looking woman with lovely white hair that she always curled herself. She always looked immaculate and took great pride in her appearance. She was a familiar sight around town as she was very fond of walking and even a much younger person would have difficulty keeping up with her. At the time, the Front Street Deli was a thriving eatery and popular gathering place and I often wondered if patrons stopped by to see Helen as much as they stopped to eat. She seemed to know everyone that stopped by, at least the locals. The woman who did the baking loved Helen dearly and I noticed that she would give her a hug and a kiss on occasion as she was about to leave. Helen often helped out when she was there by cleaning off the tables and wrapping the forks, knives and spoons with a paper napkin and putting rubber bands around them. She seemed to enjoy having something to do and making herself useful. She would often greet me by saying, "How are you, Dear?" She always had all kinds of stories to tell about the people she met when she worked at the Thistle Inn in Boothbay Harbor. She told me about a man that didn't believe in tipping. He told her, "I believe in giving my money to God." Helen said, "Well, why don't you go up there for dinner?" She once told me about falling down on the icy sidewalk one winter and she said that the only thing that saved her was her long, heavy, quilted coat. She thought it helped cushion her fall. She walked every single day all around town and she would walk down by the waterfront. Well, winter came and I didn't go down there as much and when I did start going there again in the spring, I noticed that Helen didn't seem to be around anymore so I asked the baker if she had been by lately. She told me that Helen hadn't been herself lately and that people began to be concerned about Helen wandering all over town. They were worried that she would have some misfortune or come to some possible harm without an adult to accompany her and someone might try to take advantage of her or take her purse. Helen's husband passed away in a nursing home during this time and her daughter thought that she shouldn't be alone anymore. She arranged for Helen to move to an assisted living facility. In the beginning, she had her own living quarters with a living room, bedroom and a small kitchenette with a portable refrigerator and she could have her own furniture and personal items. She ate her meals in the dining room. The first time I visited Helen, she was in the beauty shop having her hair curled. When I stopped by at a later date, I discovered that she had been transferred to the Alzheimer's Unit and she didn't have so much freedom to walk around the grounds without an escort. I searched for her and I couldn't seem to find her among the other residents. I finally asked one of the nurses where I could find Helen and she said, "She's right over there--on the sofa." I was saddened as the staff had cut her beautiful hair and it was no longer softly curling around her face the way that she had kept it herself. The nurse said that it was just easier to take care of by leaving it straight. Even though I realized that Helen was the same person with her hair curled or uncurled, it was something that Helen cared about and it seemed that the staff didn't think if was important just because Helen wasn't aware enough to care what her hair looked like. I realize that many of these facilities are short-staffed but it still angered me at the time. Helen doesn't recognize me. I don't know if there are times when she recognizes her daughter or other family members. I don't see her often enough to know this for myself. She still likes to walk along the corridors. They have rails to hold onto along the walls. I talk to her and point out pictures hanging on the wall and ask questions sometimes and even though she responds in her own way, she doesn't appear to understand what I have said. I'm sure there are times when she is more lucid and responds appropriately to people's comments or questions. She used to enjoy walking around town. She must have missed that when she moved to the assisted living facility. She still had her independence and was free to do as she pleased even though there was no guarantee that she wouldn't hurt herself at some point. There was a man who lived in the other apartment in the building where Helen lived and when his wife was alive, the four of them were the best of friends. Sometimes, he would come with Helen to the Deli.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 27, 2005 #2
    I skipped reading the first paragraph, did it have any important information?
  4. Jun 27, 2005 #3
    She sounds like a endearing, charming person. I'm sure she made others, who eat alone, feel like they were part of a extended family.
    Alzheimer's is such a sad disorder.
  5. Jun 27, 2005 #4


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    I think the thrust of the O.P. was to the lower standard of personal care in the home, and the general indignity of it all for a person the poster had come to know and respect.

    Yes. Don't ever lose that sensitivity, that grief for others. Sh*t does happen, but we don't have to become hardened to it. In this centenary of Sartre, pursue your freedom with all your being.
  6. Jun 27, 2005 #5
    The last time I saw my grandmother was in 1999 when I went back east for her 100th birthday. I hadn't seen her in 20 years, and was surprised at how little she seemed to have aged since she was a lass of 80.

    The thing was, though, she couldn't place me. I was there for two weeks, and for the first 4 days she seemed to be under the impression I was one of her uncles. I guess I must have born a strong resemblence to one of them whom she remembered best when he was my age. Eventually, though, she got it all put together and realized I was her grandson.

    It wasn't alzheimer's, I don't think, probably more like poor circulation in her brain from being her age and sedentary from two broken hips in her 90s. She always got more alert as the day progressed after she'd gotten her heart rate up by a few trips around the house in her walker.

    For some reason she trusted me implicitly, and confided something to me which she said she'd never told anyone else. A few years earlier, she explained, she'd gone to the bank, and when she came home and was putting her bank book away in the cupboard, she suddenly realized that there was something very strange and "not right" about the whole house. It all felt wrong, as if something important had been changed that she couldn't quite put her finger on. After pondering it for a while she realized that what must have happened was that someone had moved the whole house to some different location while she'd been at the bank. She couldn't really figure out who'd have done it or why, but it was the only explanation that could account for why it felt so unfamiliar all of a sudden.

    I told her I didn't think that is what happened, because when I had come back a few days earlier for her birthday her house was exactly where I remembered it being in relation to the whole town. She nodded and agreed, "It seems to be."
  7. Jun 27, 2005 #6
    I absolutely adored your story. You should be a freelance writer. Maybe I'll even learn how to paragraph my stories by reading yours. It was a positively charming story.
  8. Jun 27, 2005 #7
    I can tell you have a soft spot in your heart for old people, as I do.

    I enjoyed your story very much. It was hard to comment though, because of the sad ending.

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