The old woman in front of me is dead, this is an absolute, something I cannot change regardless of the power I have. She has been dead for quite some time, but she flutters around the broken-down trailer house like she has just been reborn, and in a way, I guess she has. It is my job to facilitate these things but she seems not to need me and moves in a busy rhythm to a beat only she can hear.
I peer around the broken trailer house and am surprised a second time this is what she chose. Most people have a different version of happiness. They choose places they vacationed or large homes with pools and waterfalls but this house is different. I am not tall, standing five foot seven inches, and I almost have to duck to enter the plywood pantry area off the main part of the trailer house. It has been painted a dark brown, and for painted plywood, it is surprisingly well done, the elderly woman has attention to detail. The shelves are filling themselves up with jars. I watch as the pantry area materializes from the memories of the old woman.
I peer into a few of the canned jars. The jars are filling with homemade canned cherries, peaches, and corn and one that I can’t place. Putting my face closer to the jar I look at the bright orange cylindrical blobs in the glass canning jars. “Chicken eggs.” She says with absolute confidence, “I butchered some hens that still had unformed eggs and decided to can them.” I lean back in horror, I may never understand humans.
I walk into the tin can trailer house and again I am caught in a net of surprise by the place. Without any effort at all, I can lay my hand flat on the ceiling. The kitchen is so small that the plump old woman is taking up most of it as she bustles around making some sort of casserole.
I take one step and I am in the living room. For such a small and run-down trailer, the place is decorated to high heaven. The woman has taken these items from her memory and I look around to see what she has produced. Knitted orange and brown afghans lay on the couch that is perched against a wall with a small window. The couch is covered in large brown printed flowers and the afghan goes surprisingly well with it. Every inch of the walls is covered in pictures. Chubby baby faces and large-toothed adults are in every frame. The old woman is taking memories from the late eighties or early nineties by the look of the enormous hair.
I peer down a small hallway and a voice calls, “movie pantry is on your left. I have every VHS you could ever want.”
“Oh, I’m not here to watch a movie, I am here to help you.”
The old woman turns, “why didn’t you say so! They are going to be here any minute. Get the hammock in the movie pantry.”
I smile and nod without a word. I walk down the slim hallway to get the hammock. We are the helpers of the transition and I am glad to have something to do besides just sitting and looking at the old woman’s memories. The movie room is no bigger than a closet but the woman has it filled from floor to ceiling with movies, candy, and more canned goods. I try to avoid the canned goods. I look through the few boxes and find one labeled hammock.
“Just hang it between the two trees out in the backyard.”
“Ok,” I call and walk to the tin door that sticks when I try to open it, I push hard and the door swings open wildly, throwing me to a haphazard deck.
Outside the trailer is materializing fast. The woman must have a strong sense of what life was like here when she was alive. I look around the place, not somewhere I have ever had someone choose.
I look out over a desert. Sagebrush materializes below the small hill where the woman lives. There is also a trailer park below the hill, spread out in a run-down wreck of mobile homes. It is so rundown and dirty that I feel dread well up in me. I put down the hammock in the yard and take out the file from the shoulder bag I carry. We can intervene if we think the person is in a place that does not meet our standards. We do not allow drugs, killing, or violence of any kind. If this kind, plump old woman has a history of violence that the paper-pushers at the office forgot to let me know about, I am going to need to intervene.
“Why haven’t you put that hammock up yet?” A voice calls from the rickety deck behind me. I jump a little and turn. “I thought you were here to help?” She asks as she walks down the shifty two stairs to the grass hill and picks up the hammock. With the precision of someone who had done the action a million times, she puts up the plastic woven hammock.
Then she walks to the coops behind her house. I follow and watch the woman. She picks up the toys in the sandbox and puts them in an orderly pile to the side. I notice there are a few small cactus points in the sand. “Where did you get the sand?”
“My daughter and I drove out to Falls Point and loaded up the back of the pickup.”
“I think that’s illegal.”
She lets out a high pitched laugh and walks into the chicken coop. She’s in there a minute but comes out with a basket full of eggs.
“The grandkids love to collect the eggs but I wanted to make sure these new hens wouldn’t peck ‘em.”
“Good call, you never can tell about after-life chickens.” Another high-pitched laugh assaults my ears and I feel a smile touch my lips. The woman has a great laugh, albeit piercing.
She slaps me on the back with surprising force and says, “you are all right for a guardian. But you still need to leave before they get here.”
“Don’t worry they can’t see me.”
“Really? Huh, this place is,” she pauses for a beat longer than I expect, “pretty neat.”
I smile at her and say, “you deserve it.”
She smiles and then looking at her watch says, “Oh I better get to it. They will be here in ten.” She runs off and I am left following at a distance in a surprisingly neat lawn. This woman knows how to polish a turd.
I sit down in the green grass and look at the file. It says she is married but the man is not here. I read he is a truck driver. Her happiest moments don’t have him in it, not unusual, but still a little sad. Marriages are sometimes people’s happiest memories but often are not. The file talks about the good things she did in life and leaves out the bad. The paper pushers don’t think the field staff should have access to the bad stuff, which might cloud our judgment of the person.
A crinkling of gravel down the hill draws my attention. Up comes a black Trooper, the backseat full. As soon as it stops a little blond girl, no older than five jumps out. Through the open door, I can see a dark-haired boy escaping from the car seat. A baby sits next to him, bald as a cucumber. A woman with black hair works to unstrap her.
“Grandma!” The little blond screams as the door opens to the plywood porch and pantry. The old woman shuffles down the stairs and embraces the little blond girl. The boy has escaped his car seat and has made uneven steps towards the old woman. She takes both kids by the hand and calls to the woman with the bald baby, “I’ve got a casserole in the oven.”
I watch the little family walk into the tin can trailer and I feel a tug on my heartstrings, this place is suddenly beautiful. I look at my clipboard and mark the last few boxes that secure the old woman for the time in her happiest memories. I turn to head back to the office. A good day, even if it was spent in trailer parks and sagebrush.