My Cousin told me about Ronnie. I had a hard time digesting what she said last night; he had the same ailment as our Aunt Brenda. As I mentioned in the last chapter she’s in a nursing home for people with dementia.
I awoke in the hotel room and anticipated getting some sort of continental breakfast served in their tiny serving area adjacent to the lobby. Naturally I checked my watched told me by its analog dial it was almost eight; plenty of time. I took a shower and dressed. I fiddled with the TV remote but gave up. Apparently, there was a code or something that I needed to input first. I grabbed my coffee mug and took the elevator down to the lobby.
When I reached the area where food would be served, I saw a smiling middle-aged woman with brownish hair and wearing a smock a nametag called Stephanie above her left breast. “Good morning,” she called out to me.
“Good morning,” I replied looking with disappointment at the emptiness of the serving area. “I take it I’m too late.”
“Yes, I’m afraid you just missed it. But you can go over to Pickles just next door. Just show them your key card and they’ll give you a discount on breakfast.” She was an attractive woman with a pleasant smile and a slight Oklahoman accent. I’d say slight compared to my cousin, whose dialect is quite rich.
“I guess I’ll go there then. Do you still have coffee?”
“We certainly do. We have a regular breakfast blend and bolder Colombian. Which would you prefer?”
“The bolder, most definitely.”
She directed to where the two carafes were, and I poured out the hot black mix and placed the cap over my Yeti cup. I then left the hotel and walked the hundred yards or so to the restaurant called Pickles. I walked inside and the hostess guided me to a seat near her station at a table with four chairs.
She handed me a menu. Like Stephanie, the hostess appeared middle-aged with visible lines along her mouth and brow. Her hair was a frosted brunette and she gave me a pleasant smile.
The server came by with a water. She appeared younger than the hostess and slightly bigger. “Would you like coffee?” She asked.
“No, I brought mine from the hotel. I guess I got to the breakfast a bit late and she told me I’d just have to show my keycard and you’d do a discount?”
“That’s right,” she replied. I showed her my keycard as verification. She nodded and smiled politely.
I returned to my menu, and she filled a couples’ waters and cleaned a booth nearby. I found a breakfast burrito that looked like it would fit the bill. She figured I was ready to order and came back over with pad and pencil in hand. “I flew all the way here from Spokane for your world-famous breakfast burrito,” I told her with a wry grin.
“I don’t think anyone in Spokane knew we exist,” she replied calling me on my bluff.
“Yeah, I’m just kidding.”
“Did you want sour cream and salsa with that?”
“No on the sour cream, but definitely on the salsa and a bottle of Tabasco too please.”
“On its way,” she told me as she appeared impressed by my wanting pepper sauce with the salsa. I then texted Cousin, telling her where I was. I also texted my son in law that I made it to Oklahoma City. The plane ran out of gas, and I had to hitch hike the rest of the way, I deadpanned.
He replied with an emoji of a happy face with tears in his eyes. Saundra texted back just as my breakfast arrived. I chose to eat then work on the reply later.
I paid for my meal and headed back to the hotel. I went to my room and grabbed my suitcase and laptop case then I went down to the lobby where I met with Stephanie and checked out just before the allotted time. While I waited for Saundra, I replied back I was at the hotel awaiting her return. She told me that she was coming to pick me up. Her earlier message stated she was on her way to pick up Ron and pick me up.
I was more than a little surprised to see her but not Ron with her. “Where’s Ron?”
“I’m going to get him next. He wasn’t ready when I called him earlier,” Saundra replied. She appeared stressed and exhausted. I explained to her she needed to get the deposit for the room and that Stephanie couldn’t give me the money. She appeared on the verge of tears when she saw Stephanie and then her face lit up. Apparently, they were close school friends in high school. Both went to each other and hugged. “Stephanie! It’s been ages. I didn’t know you worked here.”
“That’s right Saundra,” she announced after releasing herself. “When he told me your name, I just knew it was you!” Apparently, they both belonged to the same Christian fellowship program that deals in recovery. I know Saundra had gastric bypass done a while back and just assumed it had to do with over eating issues.
They continued talking but then Stephanie went to the front desk and handed her the envelope. “Thank you, Stephanie. Maybe I’ll see you at church tomorrow.”
“I’ll try but I might be working,” she told Saundra with an air of regret in her voice.
Saundra helped me with my bag and I got into the front passenger seat. She started the car and we headed to where Ron lives, not far from the hotel in Moore. “We’re both in the same recovery group at church,” she explained to me. “Mine was gambling,” she admitted.
I was shocked but didn’t say so, knowing how touchy overeating is too. I let her talk at length about Ron, her brother and my cousin. “He wasn’t the same after the Morrow Federal Building bombing. Then sometime after Mom died, he started getting more forgetful and got lost a lot. He couldn’t keep his job. Finally, he went to the doctor, and they told us…told him he has Alzheimer’s’.”
“I see,” I replied. “That’s too bad.” It was an understatement to say the least. I only remember him from 1969 when my parents, two sisters and I went to see Grandma. Uncle Hal and Ronnie had arrived a few days later and he and I, being typical cousins hit it right off becoming fast friends. I was ten and he was twelve. He was outgoing and flirtatious with the neighbor’s eight-year-old daughter. WE all went to the movie in Childress.
We arrived at his house. “This is the neighborhood that was hit by that tornado,” Saundra said. “That there was the school that got flattened.” She pulled into the driveway, and I saw a pair of other cars sitting there as well. She left me in the car and went inside to get Ronnie.
I saw a man wearing black framed glasses, wearing jeans and brown colored jacket come outside the house. He stopped in front of a garden bed, more or less vacant of any plants or flowers. Saundra came up from his rear and coerced him forward toward the car. He asked her a question, but I couldn’t quite hear what he said but then he started heading toward her sedan and opened the back door, sliding inside.
“Hey there Ron. You probably don’t remember me but I’m your cousin Jerry,” I explained to him after he closed the door and fastened his seat belt.
“Hey yourself. I’m glad you came. Where are you from again?”
“Spokane, Washington,” Saundra replied.
“Oh, that’s right. I was in the Army. Did you know that?”
“Yes, I did,” I told him. “I was in the Army National Guard about the same time you were.”
“I didn’t know that. What years did you serve?’
“I was in from 1981 to 2003,” I replied. Saundra had already started her car and was driving through the back streets toward the Interstate Highway and presumably heading to Uncle Hal’s house.
“When was I in Sister?”
“You was there from 1975 to 1995, twenty years,” Saundra replied.
“That’s right. I sure do love you Sister for taking me out. I was getting bored. Are we going for ice cream. I really love ice cream.”
“We will shortly, Brother. Jerry, I was thinking we could do the trolley. It goes in a loop around the city rather than me driving you around…”
“Sister, are we going to get a valentines cards? I want to give one to Carol for all the help she does. She’s wonderful.”
“Yes, Brother I already got her one and you will have to sign it and give it to her.”
“Sure, we can go and do the trolley thing,” I told Saundra when I was certain Ron didn’t have another question to ask his sister.
His conversations revolved around his caregiver, Carol, who I assumed was his second wife, what little he remembered of me and ice cream. Well, that and the fact he had another medical condition where he had the urge to urinate often, that he informed Saundra regularly.
She stopped at a Wal Mart and went to pay on her credit card account while Ron and I sat in the car. “How old was we when we met the first time?” He asked me as soon as she stepped outside.
“I was ten and you were twelve,” I replied. “We went to a movie, Remember?”
“Yeah, I think so.” He sounded uncertain.
“It was, damn, what was the name of it?” I honestly at that moment of clarity forgot the movie we went to see with the neighbor’s daughter. “Cactus Flower! That was it,” I spouted out, proud of myself for remembering.
“Yeah, I remember that now. Did you ever go overseas?”
“No, though after my stroke my brigade were activated to Iraq in 2003 through 2004.” I wished I could see his face, to gauge his reaction. “Did you serve in a theater of operations?”
“No, I wasn’t,” he replied simply. “We’re going to get ice cream later on, but I can wait. I’m not in any hurry. How long you here for?”
“Until Wednesday after Hal’s birthday.”
“This is why I love Pa so much because when I was in high school, I had an opportunity to go to college. Mom wanted me to go but I didn’t. I wanted to join the Army. She said no, and then Dad stepped in and said it was my decision. If I wanted to join the army, then by God, he was going to join!
She was plenty angry and I didn’t come back here for over six years.” He reminded me of a little boy who got away with something. Saundra came into the car and she drove to a drive inn/convenience store where she bought Dr. Pepper for Ron, a sweet tea for herself and a coffee for me.
“I like Dr. Pepper almost as much as I like ice cream. Isn’t that right Sister?”
“That’s right Brother.” We continued to the street Hal lives on, older brick houses that apparently are tornado resistant. She used the remote garage opener to guide us inside the garage and she stopped, shutting off the engine and getting out. I got out and Ron was right there beside me.
“Stand up straight and let me know how tall you are to me.”
“You are still a bit taller, Ronnie,” I exclaimed with a laugh.
He gave me a brief hug and said, “God it’s good you came. I sure do miss you.”
We went inside and I saw Hal sitting in his recliner, watching a Western on TV. I didn’t recognize the movie, but it had the earmarks of a Sam Peckinpah classic from the early to mid-seventies. Later the movie revealed its title as The Wild Bunch.
I looked about the house ignoring the clutter that made itself visible, besides the 60-inch HDTV that took up the majority of the living room, were the two recliners, a couch, and a table I assumed was used for her crafts.
“Hey, you better be for getting your shit together soldier,” Ron told his father in a stern fashion as though he was the battalion command sergeant major.
Hal looked at him and told him, “Soldier, you best get your shit together!” Both shook each other’s hands and then Ron sat next to me. We then watched the end of the movie together.
“This was playing at my house,” Ron told us.
“Well, you two ready?” Saundra asked. “Dad, we’re going to go on the trolley. You want to come too?”
“The trolley!” she replied louder and slower than earlier.
“Trolley? No, no I’m not interested,” Hal told her. “You all have fun without me.”
This wasn’t what I had planned for, but I have to remind myself, he doesn’t get around much anyway. I had to remember this was more about seeing my cousins and getting through Hal’s birthday on Tuesday than any preconceived notions that I would spend very much quality time with my uncle.
We left him at home, alone and we proceeded to Oklahoma City.
The skyline showed towers and buildings with names of banks and other companies that made this city great advertised for the traveler to see from Interstate 35 heading north. I admired the skyscrapers and realized they were just the pretty face they wanted us to see. I’m sure that’s the purpose of the city planners from the beginning…making that façade for all to see from afar.
We drove to the trolley’s station off Harvey and across the street from Sparks Pub. We paid for an hours’ worth of traveling that I thought was a great bargain. Saundra appeared stressed enough as it was since she apparently had her hands full with Ronnie. I merely noticed some obvious slowness in him, at first, but as the day progressed, I began seeing his dementia for what it was; far worse than earlier.
“Sister, I have to go to the bathroom again,” Ronnie announced just as we were preparing to board the streetcar as it came upon the station. I saw the pub across the street.
“There’s Sparks. I’m certain they have a public restroom there,” I suggested to Saundra.
“Come on Ronnie, let’s get you to the bathroom over there across the street.” She grabbed his hand and led him to the bar just as the streetcar pulled up. I sat on a bench and waited for their return.
“You coming?” The streetcar driver asked. He was a Black man in his mid to late forties.
“No, I’m waiting on someone.”
He nodded and grinned, and disappeared inside the trolley. It took off and I was left seeing this part of the city as I waited for Ronnie and Saundra to come back.
They arrived back to the platform just as the other streetcar arrived. It’s not the typical trolley one would experience in San Francisco. Instead, it reminded me of those light rail cars in European cities where they are oblong shaped with the driver’s seat in the front and at the rear, so that if the driver needed to reverse course for some reason, he or she just merely switched sides. Ronnie and Saundra got in first and I followed behind. The sliding gate opened automatically and then when we were boarded, it closed.
We sat up front in the same area as a gentleman who mumbled that God was the light and good would conquer evil. He said this repeatedly like a chant. If he knew Latin, it might have sounded poetic, but with him speaking in English, dressed in homeless clothes, and smelling as though he hadn’t bathed in days, he sounded crazy.
I had hoped he would get off the streetcar soon. The female robotic sounding voice told us each stop that was coming, such as Scissor tail Park, Myriad Botanical Gardens, Automobile Alley, the National Memorial, Bricktown and Mickey Mantle’s, a restaurant and bar to honor its hometown hero, along with Toby’s Bar, in honor of Toby Keith, who actually calls Moore home.
I enjoyed the sites better after our one homeless passenger got off at the transit center. We finally looped back to the Santa Fe stop where we detrained. There was a demonstration of some sort going on across the street where supposedly Mexican Americans were waving their Mexican national flags and singing in Spanish. Since I’m not completely familiar with that language I couldn’t hazard a guess as to what was being protested. We took off and ended up in Moore and the Sonic Drive-in where we ordered lunch and Ronnie got the ice cream he wanted since we picked him up earlier.
Before we left there was an issue with the toilet that needed addressing. We put the issue on the back burner until we returned. I pulled the top of the toilet off so I could see the hardware and try and troubleshoot the issue. I noticed the flapper, wasn’t going down all the way to create a seal to get the toilet tank to properly fill and fill up the bowl in the process.
Saundra told Hal. “What?” he called out.
“The toilet ain’t working right!” She repeated in frustration.
“I’ll look at it,” he told her in irritation. He got off his recliner and into the bathroom about the same time that Ronnie wanted to use it. He came back just as perplexed as he was a moment ago. “I don’t know. We need to call someone!”
“I’ll get Bob,” Saundra told him as she called this Bob guy and apparently explained to him the issue of the toilet.
“Saundra, the toilet isn’t flushing,” Ronnie informed her.
She cupped her hand and told Ron, “I know, I’m getting Bob over here to fix it,” she patiently explained to him.
“Oh, good I like Bob. Jerry, Bob’s Tammy’s husband, right Sister?”
“Yes, I’ll go down to Lowes and pick one up,” she told Bob, who was my Cousin Tammy’s husband. The last time I saw Tammy, she was seventeen, had a 71 Mustang and very well-developed breasts that my mouth watered for, though I knew that was sinful just thinking about. She was also slightly overweight and was told she too had the same gastric-bypass surgery as Saundra.
“So, what did he say?” Hal asked, though it came out more like a command.
“He’s coming over to fix it.”
“I don’t know why you keep asking Bob to fix stuff all the time for!” He was getting irritated, but I also knew the irritation was mostly due to the same issues I have come across since my stroke. He isn’t as able-bodied as he used to be and has relied more and more on other people to do what used to be a no-brainer to fix.
“Because I can’t afford no plumber to come and fix it,” she replied with impatience as she put on her coat. “You want to come too Jerry?”
“No, I think I’ll stay here and visit with Uncle Hal,” I told her. She nodded.
“I’m going to get a part for that toilet. I think Carol is going to come and pick you up here in a little bit.”
“Oh, okay Sister. I’ll see you soon then.”
After she left Ron went back to the bathroom to use the toilet again. He came back out a few minutes later and told me, “I think I messed up. See?”
He pointed at his crotch, and I honestly didn’t see anything. “What am I looking at?”
He then showed Hal. “Dammit did you piss on the floor?”
“No Dad, but I think I missed.”
Hal abruptly got up from his chair and disappeared into the garage, returning with a mop bucket and mop. He went directly into the bathroom where he assumed there was a urine mess. He came back a minute later. “What the hell are you talking about? There ain’t no mess in there!”
“No, but I got some on my pants here, see?” Ron continued showing us the seam of his zippered crotch.
“Well, if you would just get yourself bigger pants like I had to do, then you wouldn’t make those messes. I done threw away my Levis years ago because there were too tight and I was having similar issues,” Hal explained to Ron.
Just then there was a knocking at the door and Hal, who was nearest went to answer it. A moment later a bearded man came in followed by a short auburn haired skinny woman with wrinkles on her face. She gave me that aw-chucks smile that she immediately recognized me from over forty years ago. “You look almost exactly like you used to!” She announced and ran over to where I was sitting.
If it weren’t for Ron saying, “Hey there Tammy,” I still wouldn’t had the foggiest idea who she was,
“Saundra went to get something at Lowes. I don’t know why she insisted on asking you to do this,” Hal told Bob as he looked at me getting up from the couch and hugging Tammy, his wife. I’m sure I looked confused.
“I’m sure you thought ‘who’s this crazy old woman?’ But it’s me your cousin Tammy.” She smiled broadly at me as she looked me up and down, obviously noticing the limped leg and the partially raised left arm.
“I’ll go in and check it out,” Bob announced. I followed Tammy into the kitchen and we talked over a bunch of subjects including my failing marriage to my wife, exchanging pictures on our cell phones and what we’ve done with ourselves since we last seen each other back in 1978.
Saundra arrived with the replacement valve and Bob installed it, while Ron complained he needed to go to the bathroom again. Hal watched his Westerns on the True Grit channel and I listened to Tammy talking about her children, one who lives in Moscow, Idaho with his wife and two kids, and the other who lives in Pocatello, Idaho with her husband. “They both swore up and down they weren’t gonna live in Oklahoma for as long as they lived. So far, they’ve lived up to that promise,” she informed me with a wistful expression.
After about an hour, the toilet was fixed. Carol apparently called Saundra asking her to drop Ron off at his house since she was still at work. She put Ron’s jacket back on him and they left back to his place. Tammy finally introduced me to Bob, her husband and I shook his hand. Finally, it was time for them to leave and we exchanged hugs again. They went out the front door just as Saundra came back from dropping off Ron.
She asked me if I were hungry. “No, I’m still full from lunch,” I replied. Hal moved into the kitchen where he fixed himself some soup and a sandwich. I noticed the time on the wall clock showed after seven. She told me earlier it was Hal’s usual dinner schedule. She fixed herself a salad. I continued reading that Kindle book I had trouble with.
I kept my watch set on Pacific time just so my biological clock wouldn’t be messed up. At this point it was just after five my time and like I mentioned we ate that lunch at the Sonic drive-in. Tomorrow we were planning on going to the National Memorial Museum after she got back from church.