It was a cold day, but bright and clear with an intense sunlight. After about an hour's drive, Bill and I arrived around 1:00pm at the Kittson Healthcare Center where Lena now lives.
We asked staff where to find Lena, then proceeded to walk down the hall to the end where her room was. Her door had a warning sign on it about being contagious and to wash hands if in contact. I asked staff what that meant, and was told she had an extremely antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection of the bladder, and that if any physical contact was made, it was important to wash your hands. I made a note to avoid physical contact, which was disappointing because I would have loved to hug her and be able to be hugged by her, but for now, it wasn't possible.
Walking in, I could see immediately she had a private room. It was decorated with many photos, nic-nacs, and other memorabilia. Lena lay on her bed, looking up towards the ceiling. She looked much like I remembered her, her hair still brunette and cut the same, her skin showing age, but the dark eyes and small features unmistakably her.
I went over by her bed, and looking down I said loudly, "Hello, Lena!" Lena is very hard of hearing nowadays. Little wonder considering she is 96 years old. She looked towards me to see who I was, and I repeated my hello. I asked her how she was doing, and she said alright. Before I could ask her if she knew who I was, or simply introduce myself, she stated/asked, "You're Patricia, aren't you?" To say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement. I did not think she would recognize me since it had been so long and I had changed so much, but she did. I said, "Yes, I am!" as I smiled at her. "You look like your mother." I have noticed that myself more as I get older. She said I knew you were going to come and visit, and I told her I was sorry it wasn't sooner, but was glad to be here now.
Over the next hour and a half, we chatted about many things. I purposely avoided talking or asking about 1954.1 I let her lead the discussion. She explained that she had only been here for about four months, but dearly wished she could go home to Michigan. It was apparent from how she talked that she realized she would not be able to go home again, stating several times that she was going to have to sell her home and car, followed by "I never thought it would come to this...", then looking at me with very sad eyes. I told her I can't imagine how hard that must be, sharing with her that Mom had to go through the same thing and it was very difficult for her, also. She was aware of my parents' passing, but not about details of Mom's last years, so she was interested to hear about some of it. From what I've been able to gather, relatives of hers from her second husband's side of the family were concerned for her and had brought her to Hallock. Lena mentioned something about being told there was no room at facilities in Michigan and there was room here, among reasons why she was brought here.
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I asked her to describe my uncle to me, since I had never met him. Did he have any hobbies, I asked? No, she said, not that she recalled. She said his life was his work - farming - that he especially liked working with the livestock, in particular the horses. She confirmed he had reddish brown hair. and a good sense of humor.
I noticed she had a photograph of a Siamese cat on the wall. I asked about it, and she reminded me that that was "Bunny", who lived to the ripe old age of 18 (as did my "Dusty"). She and I share a great love for cats. I asked did she have more cats after "Bunny", and she sadly recounted how her second husband was not fond of cats, and asked that they have no more, a request she honored. But I could tell she would have loved to have more! Anyways, she shared stories of "Bunny", how he was leash-trained and did quite well when taken for 'walkies', and also loved having his fur vacuumed, very unusual for cats who are normally frightened of them. As I looked at his very handsome portrait on the wall, I remembered meeting "Bunny" at my Grandma Fitzpatrick's one's summer when Lena visited us, and thinking how exotic he looked. His blue eyes seemed so foreign and different than other cats I had been used to. But I also thought he was very, very beautiful with his luxurious fur and coloring.
Soon it was time to go, but before I left I told her I would be back, and have every intention of further visits. I hope time is kind to us and we have that chance...
1 - 1954 has been well-covered, although I have no doubts further details are still to be uncovered. However, I have been fortunate to be able to talk to or at least communicate with either by mail or email many subjects directly connected to that tragic summer, plus read newspaper articles and other documentation from that time, that I feel that it is not necessary to sadden my aunt further by bringing up a subject that is obviously still very, very close to her heart. She told me yesterday that she made sure that photographs of her daughters were brought with her to Hallock, whereas most of her other photos are with her sister-in-law, who wants to review them with Lena in the spring and divide them up with members of the family. I got her address and hope to contact her to obtain copies of any photos related to St. Vincent and/or my family...