The Care Home (short story)

Mary sat down at the computer. “Hmm what shall I write about today” she thought. “Do I write a piece about our recent trip to the seaside or should I go with our bowls competition”.

She’d thought her life was over once she’d gone to live at the old folk’s home. Wheel-chair bound she’d needed help with most acts of daily life and knew she’d been a burden to her only son. She’d had Robbie very late in life so by the time he was ready to move on and start his own life she was retiring from her job and suffering from the arthritis that would put her in the wheelchair by her son’s 40th birthday. How did this happen to her? As a young girl she swam every day, even swimming for the County during national competitions. She had many medals from those days. After school she had worked first in a bank working her way up to personal secretary of the director before falling pregnant with Robert and deciding to spend time at home bringing him up. When he went to school she took on part time hours at the local doctors and that’s where she stayed until her health forced her into retirement. That just made things worse. Without her work routine to keep her occupied her health seemed to deteriorate and she became increasing fed up.

Robert by this time had married himself and had small children of his own. He had no time for caring for his mum and if she was honest with herself she didn’t want that burden placing on him. So they looked around for a place where she had personal freedom but with nurses and carers on hand to get her going at the start of the day and help her prepare for the night. The time in between she wanted to be her own woman. Her mind was still active even if her body let her down and she had wanted the freedom to explore what hobbies were available to her besides her love of books. She wanted her move to be a positive start to her new life and was determined that she could make something of it if given the chance.

She’d heard so many horror stories about care homes and feared being left to rot in her chair for the rest of her natural years. However, the truth could not have been more opposite with Sunshine Pines residential home. The manager had taken them on a tour of the building, showing her potential apartments made up of a bedroom, bathroom and living room so she could entertain guests. There was a small kitchenette for snacks and drinks mostly as residents mainly ate together in the huge elegant dining room on the ground floor. But even more exciting, Pines had its own cinema with films shown every other evening, a small gymnasium and part time fitness guru who would put the fitter residents through their paces and even had gentler activities for those like Mary including wheelchair bowling. She loved the idea that the home did not see their residents as past their prime but looked at trying to find alternatives for all the hobbies and interests that people had had in their prime.

What interested her most was the room that had been transformed into an internet café. The manager did say that most people avoided this room, seeing themselves as technophobes due to their age and also believing scare stories about being online. They didn’t have the resources for a member of staff to work with the residents so the room was often empty.

“There you go,” she exclaimed to Robert and the manager. “This is how I can keep my mind active! I know how to use a computer and like to look at photos of my grandchildren on their Facebook accounts. I can teach the residents how to do the same”.

And just like that she’d agreed to move in.

The manager, Jackie, was happy to let her run the computer suite initially believing that nothing would change but she didn’t reckon on Mary’s forceful nature. You didn’t get to be PA to a banks CEO without being able to persuade people into doing new things and she soon put that ability to good use. She had gone around the tables during various meal times talking to her new friends and neighbours asking them why they didn’t use the room and what could she do to change that. That had been fun and she got to know the residents very quickly especially one devilishly handsome gentleman called Jim. From the information she had gained she made some posters advertising Computers for Fun lessons. Three people turned up to the first class including Jim. He was a 72 year old former gardener and quickly became her new best friend learning how to work the laptops and create his social media account. Even though he struggled quite a bit he seemed determined to learn, often staying back after the sessions to work with her on a one to one basis. At first she’d marvelled at his determination to succeed but as the days went by he found other ways of spending time with her.

He was also the one that encouraged her to start her next venture; creating a twitter account for the home. Many of the young staff had twitter account following their favourite bands and actors as well as their friends. She loved the idea of being able to have an outlet to show that the oldies could still have active lives and aging was nothing to be scared of. With Jackie’s permission she created the account and made her first tweet.

–Hi everybody. I aim to show you there’s life in the old dogs yet and tell you all about retirement life. Can’t wait to talk to new people

Not a very exciting post she had to admit but you had to start somewhere. She spent the next few days posting about the way people spent their days, job descriptions of the staff and stories about the residents and their past lives, she talked about the bowling club, the cinema and slowly her number of followers grew. It had been a year since she had made that first tweet and now she had nearly 500 people following her. She got to talk to people from all around the world and one of her proudest moments was when a young man in Sweden told his Gran about her account inspiring her to start one of her own. Mary & Olga often chatted on twitter comparing stories of their lives including how they had been children at the end of the second Great War. She had also loved sharing stories of boys they had met during the swinging 60’s before they had both met the men they would fall in love with.

She’d never had a pen pal when she was younger yet now she had this lovely friend she could send letters to via email and even talk to on the computer. Jackie had shown her how to Skype and now they talked once a week mostly in English but Olga was now teaching her some Swedish. Who’d have thought that at 81 she would be learning a new language? She’d tweeted this bit of news to her followers and had the highest number of ‘favourites’ and retweets of any of her previous messages. She was thrilled with the idea of other people enjoying the fact that she could count to ten in Swedish!   She’d always been one for dreams and bucket lists and since she had moved into the Pines she’d created a new one. A full conversation in Swedish with Olga was top of her new list. She was even tempted to write a book of her own, maybe a historical romance. Or even a self help book teaching other elderly people the joys of a computer and the internet.

“I have it. I know what to write!” she exclaimed. She’d been sat at the computer for the past hour trying to decide what her next challenge should be. She loved her twitter and Facebook accounts, she so enjoyed talking to Olga and being able to use new technology to make friends all across the world but now she wanted something new. And she had thought of just the thing. She would create her own blog and write about all the events of the care home. She could interview staff and residents and write their life stories and talk in much more depth than twitters 140 characters. Her next door neighbour Betty was a gymnast in the circus in her youth and her darling Jim had looked after the gardens of a stately home and had lots of stories about the parties held there. But she could also do reviews of movie night, the bowling and the day trips. Even if she and Jim ended up being the only ones to read the posts she didn’t mind. She had found a new lease of life with the writing. Her twitter account success had led to so many new options but also helped connect her to her grandchildren. They loved having such a cool grandma and she knew that by being able to do these things she had more contact with the younger generation than many of her fellow neighbours. James who was 17 now loved to come and visit and show her how to use new programmes he had discovered helping her to upload photo’s to her accounts. With all the new technologies she had discovered she could contact the world she’d never even thought possible when she was younger.

So the big question she had as she settled herself down to start the new blog- just what would she find to write about first? Well there could be only one thing really. She smiled as she placed her gnarled fingers on the keyboard and started writing…

“I thought my days of romance were over after becoming widowed at 75 but then I met Jim and embarked on the second greatest love affair of my life…..”

 

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