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Proud Mary
by Glenda Sumner Wilkins

Mary maneuvers her wheelchair down the corridors by pulling it along with her feet, almost tiptoeing across the polished tiles. At a slow, but successful pace, I might add. Mary. Proud Mary, queen of the nursing home. The queen part is more in my mind. I imagine how she must have been, and looked in her youth. Before life led her to this facility where wheelchairs some times bottleneck at hallway intersections.

Her shoulder length hair, tied in back with a rose pink ribbon, matches a track suit of the same color. Fashion is not discarded simply because she no longer entertains the "ladies" of the Bridge Club.

Mary moved in a couple of years ago, here where pale yellow walls shower her in quasi sun rays. Her blue eyes still twinkle like a young girlapostrophes. But a smile is not something easily given. Within her fuzzy, but mischievous mind, she keeps the proverbial hearth, slices through the bull crap of mundane life. Her innocent, disarming banter jolts people out of their rhetoric. Wakes us up, forces us to disengage from the usual greetings of, apostropheHow-ya-doing? Fine. And you?apostrophe

I am often here to visit my mother, an invalid for some time now. In the entrance, Mary greets me, "Hey Brenda, come get me and take me home." I donapostrophet know who Brenda is, only that sheapostrophes not me. Maryapostrophes voice is minus the pleading or whining you might expect from someone living in such a place. On the contrary, her request sounds as casual as though she were asking for a glass of water, said matter-of-fact, without emotion.

I say, "I canapostrophet take you today, Miss Mary. Maybe another day."

"Well," she says. "Okay then. Go on."

One day, I arrive to find her sitting on the porch, along with several other residents, and a few staff members. She wears two hats, like a two-tiered cake. One blue. One red. Primary colors as vivid as she remains in her sunset years.

Robert, another resident, who obviously has had many conversations with Mary, says, "Why you wearing two hats. It looks stupid."

"Because I have two heads," she says, holding her head erect as though she is balancing a tiara.

"You got that right," Robert says.

"Yeah," she says. Iapostrophem wearing two hats because Iapostrophem two-faced."

I envision Mary to have been quite a socialite when growing up, and throughout her years. She would have been lead cheerleader, and reigned as homecoming queen, escorted by the star football player.

A petite young woman who married, and raised dimpled children. She wore designer suits, danced in long flowing gowns, and served tea and cucumber sandwiches to invited friends from a small town Golf & Country Club.

Yet, here she is, hampered by weak knees and legs, but moral fiber strong as ever. Although, Iapostrophed wager she was softer spoken back then, unlike her voice these days, absent of a certain lilt. And Iapostrophed also bet she was less outspoken before the stroke caught her in its grip. But dignity dares not fail her.

One day while my husband and I visit my mother, Mary wheels by the door, rolls back and stops. "Hey," she calls. "You in there. The one with the skinny legs."

I say, "Miss Mary, are you talking to me?"

"No. Iapostrophem talking about that man in there with the naked legs. He needs to put on some long britches." She stares briefly, moves on, leaving us to chuckle at the absurdity of her raw directness.

One may think her ambition is to insult at least one person every day. Well, good for her. Sheapostrophes an island in the river, not knowing or caring whether rescue is possible. She lives in the moment, no doubt forgetting lots of moments in the past. Somewhere in the cortex of her reality, she doesnapostrophet seem to care, and does not seek pity.

Another day, as we walk out, she calls out to my husband, "Hey, George."

"Well, sorry, Miss Mary. But Iapostrophem not George."

She doesnapostrophet miss a beat. "Well, you better be glad youapostrophere not."

Mary keeps her cool, whirls around -- as fast as one can in a wheelchair -- and sets off in the opposite direction in search of another subject who needs sorting out.