Q: When were you the activities director at a retirement community?
A: In November 1996. I was 27. I worked for a company where I planned all the outings for the seniors, and I really enjoyed working with elderly people.
Q: Was this a nursing home?
A: There was no convalescent care. Just independent and assisted living.
Q: What is the difference?
A: In assisted care, they are still able to feed themselves. You just help them with their daily activities, like bathing and making food for them. In independent, they have their own apartments but you still make food for them.
In assisted living, they had to have 20 hours of activity each week—at least one hour of activity per day. Every two to three months the state would come in to make sure we were sticking to the rules. There were no requirements for independent living.
Q: What kind of activities did you do?
A: I provided transportation to the grocery store, banks, doctors. We had bingo, bridge, watermelon-seed-spitting contests (some people would spit their dentures out), dances, canasta, movie night, karaoke night, contests to see who could get around on their walker fastest …
Q: It must’ve been a challenge. Was it?
A: Yes. I drove a 17-passenger bus and I didn’t have any assistance. One day we were on our way to the Spirit of Norfolk day cruise. You have your lunch and cruise … It’s from 10 to 2, about four hours.
On our way back, this bus was not in the best shape. We had to go through a tunnel to get back, and we got stuck in the tunnel with all the traffic. Right outside the tunnel, the bus overheated. It was about 95 degrees. Then it starts raining. There was nothing to eat or drink. We were sitting there and a cop comes and says, “You’re going to have to move.” I said, “Where?”
There was a lady who was 90 and she was using her cane to direct traffic around the bus. Another gentleman had to take a leak—he was in the bushes. I told them to stay on the bus. But I got off and then they did too. These residents weren’t the type of people who would sit back and watch.
I called my director, who was having his hair cut, and he wouldn’t help me. A lot of my passengers were diabetic and needed insulin. Finally, my husband and his co-workers brought a bunch of cars around 9 p.m. The bus had to be towed back later.
Q: What were the people like? Did a lot of people do the activities?
A: We had people from 74 to 97 years old, and even 95-year-old people would participate. There were about 172 people in independent living, 120 in assisted. We had 50 people come to our Valentine’s dance.
Q: Did you ever have any other strange encounters?
A: One time I took independent to a concert. Assisted was separate—they couldn’t go on the bus. Eva from independent had this thing for a guy in assisted. I was getting the chairs ready and I realized she’d snuck him on the bus. He was crouched down. He was supposed to be having his bath and dinner, but she’d brought him along and had a plate of Twinkies for him to eat. So he got to stay at the concert.
There was another situation where I walked in on two females and they were in bed together—they had Alzheimer’s and were in assisted living.
Q: What do you do in that situation?
A: You just take them out …
Q: Any other memorable characters?
A: There was one lady—without fail she would buy two cartons of cigarettes per week. Pall Malls. We did two grocery runs per week. On the first run, she would buy a 12-pack of Old Milwaukee’s Best, and on the second, another 12-pack. She never left her apartment.
At one point, there was a tornado that hit and the building was unsafe. We had to go back in to get things and she didn’t want her medication, just her beer. Eventually, she died from dehydration.
Q: Have you seen dead people?
A: Only two and I didn’t take it well.
I walked in on a dead person who was on the crapper. I don’t know what the cause of death was. It was my first week there. The only reason I went to check on him was that he hadn’t taken the newspaper that was outside his door.
I had to go to funerals. Over seven years I went to about 30 funerals and I didn’t even make it to everybody’s. There were times that we’d lose one or two people a week. I guess it helped me with my own grandfather’s funeral, though.
Q: Any other strange encounters?
A: Once I found a man and woman in bed. In independent living we don’t promote it but we don’t forbid it either. We’ve had weddings. This couple got married—it was his third marriage and they had a huge wedding and he took her on a cruise.
Q: Do you miss the job?
A: The best part was just being around these people. They loved me and I dedicated my life to them. I still visit—I take my son in there once a week. However, the new director doesn’t like me and I’ve been banned from bingo. She said, “When you call bingo you show favoritism.” I can’t figure out how you can show favoritism when you’re calling bingo … But I still love to visit. I loved it. I loved those people.