It was the rush for a good table at the annual Avanti Holiday Peppermint Bingo Party. Residents, and their famillies, and staff and their families were all invited for a fun night in Avanti’s main lobby, which had been transformed into a Bingo Parlor. At the party we play a holiday themed bingo card, then sip and stir our hot cocoa with old fashioned giant peppermint candy sticks and sing Christmas songs. Lillian, Gwendolyn, Curly Sue and I really take the peppermint theme to heart and only wear red and white to this affair. It’s a lot of fun and we look forward to it every year.
I spotted two open seats at a table of four near the back doors to the far left of the room and made a mad dash for them dragging poor Lillian behind me by her slap-on pointy elf ears she bought at a recent mall excursion where we went to Spencer’s gifts –my favorite naughty store.
“Slow down Darlene!“ Lillian spoke sharply adjusting her elf ear back into its upright position.
I did not want to slow down. I wanted to hurry up. Like a machete clearing a path in the wild jungle, I used my cane to make my way towards what seemed like the last two empty chairs in the room. We were packed in like sardines. This was “the event“ to be at and anyone who was anyone at Avanti was there.
Gwendolyn was sitting with her family near the window area and Curly Sue was sitting with her family and the kitchen dishwashing crew, who knew Sue’s sister-in-law’s younger brother from high school. Sam and Wes decided to stay in and watch the football game and would join us for songtime during their half-time break.
Lillian and I made our way through the large crowd like two fish heading upstream during spawning season. Awkward! We were almost there, but were slowed by a large ugly sweater family contingent making a fuss over someone’s new light-up necklace from the local drugstore like it was a diamond necklace from Tiffany’s. I rolled my eyes and got creative. Over the ugly sweater gaggle, I tossed my peppermint-colored handbag onto one of the empty chairs. Then, I took off my scarf and used my cane to commandere it up and over two ugly sweatered teenage twins onto the other free chair to buy Lillian and me a few seconds of ownership before our eighty-plus year old bodies could catch up with our accessories. We were close and yet so far to claiming the seats as the ugly sweater group started an impromptu song of Jingle Bells which had them swarm even closer together further blocking our path. Sheesh!
Lillian, who always suprises me in times like this, yelled, “diarrhea!” and the ugly sweater-singing family parted like the Red Sea and we were able to make a mad dash for our chairs.
Exhausted, we plopped down in the seats and high-fived each other. We looked up at our tablemates: two short, foreign men with heavy accents speaking a language we coud not make out. Hungarian? Czech? Russian? Portugese? Both men had gorgeous caramel colored skin, were very hairy and smiled a lot. Clearly friendly, but spoke not a word of English. One man, had on a yellow golf shirt and tan slacks. He was dressed very preppy; he had good taste in clothes. Unfortunatlely, like the incredible Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, he was born with two eyebrows so thick and expansive they formed one giant unibrow so dense it looked like an animal’s tail sitting above his eyes. I called him “The Brow.” The other man was a red-nosed jovial fellow dressed in a velour jogging suit. He was very muscular. Too muscular. Like those overly plump hot dogs you see at the movie theaters rolling on the silver cylinders that just don’t look normal – their casing stretched so tightly, they look like they are about to burst! I called this man “Workout.”
The Brow and Workout sort of grunted out a few words and we were able to discern that their great aunt was a resident here. Lillian and I assumed in the Memory Care Unit since we did not know her. Then, a very pregnant woman appeared behind them with a plate of cookies she had been eating. I will call her “Pregnant.“ She had the same beautiful colored skin and dark, dark hair and thick eyebrows. She smiled a lot too and spoke in the same fun sing-songy language as the men. Clearly, they all knew each other. I’d bet on those brows they were family. Pregnant was looking for a place to sit down. Neither man offered her their seat.
There was an long silence and then I turned to Lillian and mumbled my disbelief that Workout and The Brow were not doing the right thing.
I cleared my throat several times as a prompt to these men to give up their chair. Nothing happened. Just smiles and head nods and very broken “Merry Christmases.”
“I’ll give her my seat,” whispered Lillian.
“No, you will not! No, we will not! These men need to step up! ” I blurted.
“Chivalry is not an international language, ” said Lillian under her breath to me while feigning her best smile at the trio.
“Well chivalry is not dead here. We use our manners here at Avanti! ” I said proudly.
Pregnant looked at me with an odd expression as if she was trying to discern if I was on her side or their side, the men’s side. To assure her, I patted my belly and then blew her a kiss.
“Congratulations on your baby!” I said to her in a loud voice as if she was deaf, not foreign.
She looked away and did not respond. Poor thing. She either didn’t understand what I was saying or she was outraged and embarrassed her own family members were not giving up a seat for her to sit in.
The Brow and Workout did not make eye contact with me or Lillian either. They were busy counting out their Bingo tiles and readying themselves for the game. They kept their backs to Pregnant.
I used my cane to help myself up to a standing position and then carefully manuevered my body around the table to where Pregnant was standing. I motioned for her to take my seat. She would not budge.
Lillian tried to help out. “Here, over here, dear,” she gestured with her arms open wide to join us.
The Brow, Workout and Pregnant were quiet and still as concrete statues. They avoided our gazes. They did not want to lock eyes with us. It was so strange. It really angered me. I was on a mission for manners.
The Bingo Mistress (Miss Michelle), fired up the holiday ball tumbler and B Reindeer was called out. I watched as Workout covered a square in the B column with a reindeer drawing. Hmm? They could understand some things! Interesting.
I cleared my throat again and leaned in to our tiny table of 4 and said in my I-mean-business voice,“One of you better offer your chair to this sweet woman with child or I am going to take this cane and shove it up your…”
“I ELF,” Michelle blared into the mic looking our way to quell the commotion.
The whole room fell quiet as everyone looked at their card to see if they had an elf in the I row.
Like an instructor doing a demo, I took my cane and pointed it first at Workout’s chair and then at Pregnant’s stomach. I cleared my throat and raised my voice,
“Your seat, kind Sir!“
Workout looked at The Brow, then me. He was incredulous. He was about to stand up when we heard loud as a church bell,
“No baby in me!“ the woman struggled in broken English.
The whole room was silent and stared at our table.
“She’s just fat, ” said Workout.
“Glandular. Prednisone. Hungry all the time,” said The Brow.
Lillian covered her head with her peppermint scarf like a kidnappee.
The woman, who was overweight, but not pregnant trudged her way over, took my seat and scowled at me. You could hear a pin drop.
On the mic Miss Michelle reminded everyone, “To use our best manners tonight and represent Avanti and find a seat,” but I knew – and everyone knew – she was talking to me. And there I was just like when I came in looking for a seat again in this crowded room with no where to go.
I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. I knew the struggles of weight. I had battled with mine my whole life. I, too, was on Prednisone and hungry all the time. Oh, how I wanted to say sorry and hug this dear woman. Should I apologize? Would it make her feel worse and draw more attention to her. I did NOT want to do that! Even worse than this, I quickly realized these men weren’t giving their seat to a woman, their own kin– just struggling with her weight like all of us women forced to live a society obsessed with being young and thin. Call me old-fashioned. I’m a woman and I’d like to sit before you. I’ve earned it. I have cooked for your while you sat first for years. Now, it’s our turn to sit first at events—anywhere public. Oh, the horror of our lives! At least we out live men in the end, but I digress…
I scanned the room. Not a vacant chair in sight. I thought about Christmas Eve and the very pregnant Mary and her Joseph looking for somewhere to stay, an inn to take them in, and being forced to “barn-it” for the night. Not one of the folks staying in the inn or the innskeeper himelf could of given a pregnant woman their room back then either? Crazy!
Out of nowhere, it seemed as if Nurse Sarah appeared with a wheelchair in which I could sit down in. How thoughtful. She wheeled me to Lillian’s side.
Lillian, who was still wearing her scarf like a burka, hiding herself from the scene I had caused, was softly giggling to herself. I could see her shoulders moving up and down. She looked so funny with her pointy elf ears and that red and white scarf hiding her face. Like a Christmas-themed bank robber.
“Time to go Miss Manners,“ Lillian got up, removed her scarf a bit from her eyes so she could see and started pushing me slowly out of the room.
Pregnant, The Brow and Workout started clapping as we exited which really stung.
We made our way to Wes’ room where he and Sam were watching football hooting and hollering like they had just won the lottery. University of Texas was winning, ahead by seven points. Immediately, Sam gave Lillian his seat. This made me happy. Very happy. There was still goodness, hope and kindness in the world.
Nurse Sarah came in with a tray full of hot cocoas and peppermint sticks and passed them out. This was the delicious treat we were all looking forward to.
“Merry Christmas,” we all clinked glasses. Lillian’s left elf ear fell off and landed in her mug of coco. We looked at each other and burst out giggling. The kind of giggling that wouldn’t stop for awhile and hurt your stomach, but in a good way.