She stood in a patch of sun, away from the shrubbery and flower beds. Bare feet in the grass, eyes closed, and arms wrapped across her chest.
Lillian stood here every day that the sun shined, and always around noon. She stood to face the direction of her decreasing shadow and watched it move closer to her feet. Once it slipped under her, she closed her eyes and held herself.
It is a ritual of remembering – by gathering herself into the precious, private place of memory. Once her eyes closed, her mind opened a door to one, and only one, thing that had happened some time before.
It was a test of her recall and concentration abilities. It was a brief and deliberate attempt to stay in touch with the past while being firmly planted in the now.
Her memory for today had been carefully selected while eating breakfast in her room. It was a quick choice using very few words. Nothing more, so as not to spoil the story coming at mid-day.
These encounters with her past gave Lillian a place of belonging in the midst of adjusting to new surroundings.
What do they call these places anyway? Nursing Homes? Care Centers? Assisted Living Facilities? Whatever the name, it was now ‘home’ to Lillian. And it wasn’t so bad. She had a nice room, comfortable bed, recliner with a stack of books nearby, artwork on the walls, a television to remind her of the world beyond these walls and mattered little to Lillian. She kept it turned off and after a while, decided to hang a patchwork quilt over the dark hole it created at the foot of her bed.
Lillian’s clothes, towels and bed linens were changed and laundered weekly. The clothes were brought back to be hung and placed in drawers. She would have liked to iron them. It was the one chore she loved doing but was denied. Handling a hot iron was dangerous, an accident waiting to happen in the hands of the elderly. Still, she missed it.
And often after a staff member hung the clean clothes back on their hangers, smiled politely and left, Lillian would take them off the hangers one by one and lay each in turn on her table to smooth with gentle strokes of her palm before putting them back in the closet.
Maybe tomorrow if the sun was shining, she would remember the ironing. With all the irons and ironing boards she had used. How she started with the left front sleeve of a shirt to get it flat and move the iron over to the shoulder before flipping the shirt over to repeat on the right side. Oh! And locating the inseams of pants to match up with outer seams and holding them all together to work the iron from ankle to waist. Stop! Mustn’t use tomorrow’s memory up today. Todays has already been chosen.
And it would be spent with the dry red sands of the Australian outback and how it felt drifting through her fingers.
Lillian is there now as she holds herself and remembers. Remembers the bending down to put the vastness of the view out of sight and focus on her dust-covered shoes and what she was standing on. Tufts of dry grass, small stones, an interesting stick… Some of it found its way into her pocket to be carefully drawn in a sketchbook later. After looking around the horizon for the graceful waving of a Eucalyptus tree to photograph, Lillian closed her eyes to the outback, held her arms tight to her sides and breathed it all in, pulling the sounds of birds, rustling leaves and calm deep inside to a hollow kept for the best. Later in her life it would be carefully brought out to think about and smile at before going back down deep, waiting to be needed in the times of longing yet to come.
And today was one of those times. Here in the sun Lillian was smiling as she turned slowly around, opened her arms, and gently released the memory to a shadow beginning its journey away from her.