As I look at the title, I am struck with the idea that you might think that this is an investigative piece. It is not. Carol and I have had a 15 year long relationship with the Jewish Home here in Harrisburg. When I came into possession of my aunt a number of years ago, I placed her in the Jewish Home. When Carol’s mom became enfeebled and unable to function on her own, we entered her into the Jewish Home. They were actually there for about four years at the same time. Along with those experiences, Carol was on the Jewish Home Board for a number of years. Four years ago we moved across the way from the Jewish Home.
All of these events conspired to allow us to see beyond the walls of what could be a really depressing place to a more sanguine and sometimes funny place. There is an apocryphal story about the Jewish Home told by one of our Harrisburg Rabbi’s. Rabbis and other clergy visit these homes on a regular basis. They may have known people who are there even before they were ensconced there. This Rabbi was a frequent visitor to Mrs. Rabinowitz. She was a charming woman in her early 90’s when the Rabbi came to visit her one day. She was sitting in the solarium in front of a bowl of peanuts.
When the Rabbi sat down, Mrs. Rabinowitz offered the Rabbi some of her nuts. The Rabbi politely declined. Mrs. R insisted and the Rabbi finally has in. All during the conversation, the Rabbi would put his hands in the bowl absentmindedly and extract a bunch of peanuts and plunk them into his mouth. After the conversation was coming to a conclusion, the Rabbi said, “I guess I am going to have to replace the peanuts that I have eaten. Half of the bowl is gone.” Mrs. Rabinowitz replied, “ Please make sure that when you replace them, you get the chocolate covered ones. I love to suck off all of the chocolate.”
Although, I am sure that my aunt had white hair, she always maintained a red color. She had been doing that for all of the time that I knew her. So, when she went into the Jewish Home, we asked that when they did her hair, they should continue to make it red. Not that my aunt was vain, but she had the feeling that it was part of her persona. On the other hand, Carol’s mom always had kind of frosted blonde hair, we also asked that it be continued when hair was being done.
One day, we came into the Jewish Home to visit both of them. We went into Aunt Ruth’s room and saw that her hair was now a frosted blonde color. We were astonished. We quickly went to see Lillian, Carol’s mom. Her hair was flaming read. Since neither of them seemed to mind the change, we asked that at the next hair appointment that they be switched back. It was really quite a sight.
Carol’s mom was one of the most gentle people that we knew. She was a kind and generous person. We never detected any animosity towards another human being. However, she must have had some anger towards plants. She roamed the halls of the home and pruned the leaves off all of the plants in the hallway causing quite a stir among the staff. Lillian was also allowed, at her insistence to attend all of the staff meetings at the home. We were never told why that was o.k., but the reports were that she had all kinds of suggestions about how to treat people properly. Her favorite retort was, “ Oh, I don’t think that you should do that to him/her.”
Aunt Ruth was one of the most positive people that I have ever known (see the first blog entry). Although she did not have children of her own ( hence my inheriting her), she was very proud of her nieces and nephews and their children. She was also very fond of Carol. We had one heck of time getting her from Brooklyn down to Harrisburg and if it wasn’t for Carol’s way of handling the situation, we never would have done it.
When we would visit her at the home, she would greet us with a large smile. If she was in a public room, she would turn to Carol and say, “Carol, show them your teeth.” Carol then had to smile broadly and show them .Aunt Ruth would then say to all of those assembled, “ Doesn’t she have the most beautiful teeth you have ever seen, just look at them.”
Another Rabbi of our acquaintance went to the home to visit Mrs. Schwartz. She suffered from dementia. The Rabbi’s opening remark was always, “ Mrs. Schwartz, do you know who I am?” She would look at him with a quizzical look on her face. In one instance, she showed a flash of comedic brilliance. “ If you don’t know who you are, they can tell you at the front desk.”
During the winter time, you might not have wanted to sit next to Carol’s mom at the Jewish Home. If she was seated beside you, she would reach over and take a hold of one of the loose strands of a knitted sweater. She would continue to unravel the sweater if you did not stop her. When there was some sort of gathering at the home, Lillian could always be seen sitting next to someone wearing a sweater and doing her job.
There are many other stories is this ilk. Of course, the eventuality of these places is that people pass away and trips to the Jewish Home disappear. Who knows what the future holds? Maybe . . . .