Pelican Lady

>>>Pelican Lady

Pelican Lady scowls and mumbles, and what she’s saying under her breath would make a muleskinner blush.

Unhappiness bends her body, breaks it in dispirited places, leaves her mouthbreathing as she walks, frowning and rolling her eyes. I don’t know why she’s so angry, don’t know her backstory, but it would have to be a doozy to make her THIS miserable.

“Oh, she’s much better than she used to be,” said one attendant cheerily, “You should have seen her six months ago. She’s really mellowed. Her hair has grown all the way back in.” (Apparently Pelican Lady pulls out her hair when frustrated, and until recently was missing half her coif.)

I’m discovering that life really doesn’t change in an assisted living facility. The residents suffer the same frustrations and social irritations as their younger counterparts, but maybe with fewer internal censors.

How did I meet my husband? I was at a dance and he was there with this ass I couldn’t stop staring at. He had the most beautiful ass I’d ever seen and so before the second dance started I’d snuck up to him and said, “You’re going home with me.” And he said, “OK.”

He had a great ass and he couldn’t tell me no. I knew he was husband material.

–Marge, 89

We’re assigned seats in the dining salon, usually at tables holding four to six people. Pelican Lady has a small table all to herself. Put her at a table with others, and she’s soon marking and expanding her territory–the whole table–and woe betide any trespassers.

Now she guards her tiny table even more ferociously. A woman at a neighboring spot stood, wobbling a bit, and her folded news paper momentarily touched down on Pelican Lady’s table.

Pelican Lady was up like a shot, grabbing at it. “Biiiiiitch!” she hissed, glaring at the interloper.

“MY newspaper,” said the other woman, firmly, grabbing the paper back and swatting Pelican Lady with it. “It’s not hurting you, old woman, so just sit down and shut up.”

The invective that followed was…breathtaking. And sad.

Everything is a problem to Pelican Lady; nothing ever works, and no one can satisfy her. She eats two waffles for breakfast but only asks for one. Later, when the kitchen is closing down, she’ll demand a second. “I don’t know why you’re so stingy with the food here, stupid bitch.”

The attendant tried to forestall the extra labor by simply delivering both waffles at once. “TWO waffles on my plate?” she groused, “It’s too much. Take it away. You know I only want one.”

But when the first waffle’s gone, she demands another.

The impatient part of me sometimes wants to slap Pelican Lady upside the head, and I marvel at the patience of the caregivers who deal with her demands, complaints, and insults every day. She reminds me why technology was such a good career choice.

Still…I look at Pelican Lady, and start thinking that could be me in a couple of decades. How will I conduct myself when I’m old, and life’s disappointments have mounted until I’m counting what I lost–or never had–more than what I gained?

Will I ever get to the point that people look at me and see a Pelican Lady?

Forget it. Maybe I start right now to keep that from happening. Maybe, instead of sitting on the sidelines and observing, I should break past the barriers and befriend Pelican Lady. Get past the prickles, dive through Pelican Lady’s crusty interior, and discover she’s really a lovely person.

Tentatively, I approach the Pelican Lady’s table, careful not to encroach but holding out a hand. “Hi,” I say, smiling, “I’m Cynthia.”

“Bitch,” she mutters.

The Elmo stories (of my replacement knee and then the fight to save him when I smashed my femur) have been going on for more than two years now. People ask to read them start to finish, so I’ve set up this Saving Elmo index page to let you view the whole series in one swell foop. Thanks.



  1. Ann D November 28, 2017 at 5:09 am - Reply

    If I ever end up as the pelican lady, the saddest thing to me would be the fact that people like yourself and care givers not giving up on me would be lost to me.

  2. Diana tillotson November 27, 2017 at 8:12 pm - Reply

    So glad you are in rehab. I imagine she’s not really miserable perhaps some dementia . Thank you for trying, from your writing I don’t see you giving up on her.

  3. bobjheath November 27, 2017 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    Cynthia, after reading the first few paragraphs, I knew how this story was going to end. It’s just you. As I recall, you befriended a difficult person while staying at the Vancouver re-hab facility and it worked out well. I knew you would try with the Pelican Lady, and had a feeling about how it would be received. Thank-you for trying anyway, and thank-you for always trying to look past peoples rough exteriors to find the good inside. It’s one of the many things I admire about you.

  4. kathryncecelia November 27, 2017 at 3:57 pm - Reply

    In the two or so short years I’ve been acquainted with you via FB, I believe I have a sense of who you are through your writing. Often, when reading your blog, I think Cynthia should write professionally. You have humor, poignancy, insight, and constructive ideas to solve problems or bring them to the attention of someone who can. Wishing you a speedy recovery and the best possible holiday season. Peace.

  5. sunnystrapp November 27, 2017 at 11:02 am - Reply

    Hi ya C! I was reading a quote today, by Napoleón to Fontanes while they were in Paris. . . Some how your story today brought it back to my mind.

    The quote was “Do you know what I admire most about this world? The impotence of force to impose something. There are not, in this world, more than two powers: the saber and the spirit. In the long run, the saber is always defeated by the spirit.

    So I wonder, if the saber can’t conquer the spirit, what can? The spirit.

    And you got it.

  6. Sandy November 27, 2017 at 8:37 am - Reply

    You are talking about our greatest fear and the worst of our experiences. I am sure that most of us not only feel guilt for placing a relative in a ‘home” , but also fear being placed there ourselves. Your humor is fabulous. If you keep that sense of humor throughout this ordeal, you will be fine! Thank you for the laughter!

  7. cjgates45 November 27, 2017 at 7:20 am - Reply

    Difficult place to be housed. Diversity at it’s best. I read a book titled “The 36 hour day” to understand a little more about Azheimers/Dementia, while taking care of a 94 year old who was in the last stages of Azheimers. Each day was frightening, not knowing what to expect. The book was very enlightening. Your gesture was nice……hang in there.

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