Hair once red is now a color that's hard to describe. Blue eyes are still blue, less blue, but blue, set past the brow, partially hidden back beneath the skull. Lips are surprisingly supple, kept moist with small but steady trickles of drool. Few teeth, more than you'd guess, and those that are, still set straight and strong. Ears oversized for a head that seems to have shrunk. The skin and tendons and fluids all withered. Do skulls shrink?
Skin hangs taut topside of the biceps muscle, that is attached loosely by tendons to elbow and shoulder bones. Upper arm skin and muscles bow low, sway to and fro: Conjure a chicken wing you'd flick aside for lack of good flesh.
Hands still grip with power, they feel and are made soft, tender, and smooth, by the type of persistent erosion that turns ledge to stone. Finger nails painted, look perfectly in their prime; they are ten little egomaniacs ready for the ultimate Homecoming Ball. Interesting information; fingernails continue to grow after death.
Veins plump as Slim Jims run arbitrarily like rivers from the forearm to the tips of the fingers. Arms and hands tell the age and the story as much or more than the face. More. The arm is an old lady horror movie arm. It's ultra defined. It's freeze dried, shrink-wrapped. All its components are visible, which makes for an easy study. Arms are sexy, even these one hundred year old arms. The face, not so much.
Below the neck, which resembles a turtle's, a soft baby blue dress lies draped, unfulfilled, over a body that has worked fluidly and effectively for ninety-nine years. It can't and won't last much longer.
The old body stroked, forsaking a long-lived collaboration between itself and the spirit and soul of Laura Wallace. The brunt of the stroke left Laura's left side dead, still, and out of commission. Nice to see her right arm could still move, and she could still force un-intelligible sound out the right side of her mouth, which she did periodically throughout my thirty minute stay.
"You need to rest. Rest is good Aunt Laura. You're set up perfectly here to rest. The girls will keep you comfortable," is what I came up with in response to what Aunt Laura was trying to say.
Aunt Laura's struggle to speak was sad to watch. I'd experienced end of life moments with my father, so the scene didn't throw me. But still it's odd and heart wrenching to stand watching life leave a blood relative. However at the same moment came a refreshing thought; half my genes are from the longevity hogging DeWees' side (Dad lived to ninety-three, Laura Wallace is his sister), while the other half are from my mother's side, the Masons, a blood line that has shown serious longevity of it's own for having sent many members deep into their eighties, and beyond.
Twenty-four hours after Aunt Laura's stroke, a nurse from the care home called and said Laura had regained the ability to move her left side, and she was sitting up and talking fluently. The nurse said Laura wasn't yet able to gulp down meals, but they were working on that.
The news was good, not because anyone would suspect Aunt Laura is dying to live longer, but because she had hastily repaired from the stroke to the point where she no longer had to struggle to breath and speak.
A week has passed and I've visited a flourishing Aunt Laura several times. She's bushy tailed as can be. She jokes, laughs, charms, and she's even taking nourishment in the form of ice cream and sweet drinks. Not the most nutrient rich diet, but what the hey, when you're 99, who's keeping track?
How long can a human being last without a steady run of healthy fuel? Who knows? All I know is, if we give the human organism the slightest chance to survive, it will utilize our efforts to the nth degree. What a machine.
I take that knowledge as a prompt to work hard and respect the body and soul I've been blessed with, with all my heart and soul, and to the best of my abilities. To give anything less than a supreme effort to maintain a healthy mind, body, and spirit, in my opinion, is down right rude. My effort has waned, too often, but never yet to a level where the cause is lost.
Thank you, to whom, and or whatever, is responsible for life. Thank you, especially at this particular time, for giving Aunt Laura a beautiful and long life. A life that is quickly approaching its end-I think.
Rusty DeWees tours Vermont and Northern New York with his act "The Logger." His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen for The Logger, Rusty DeWees, Thursdays at 7:40 on the Big Station, 98.9 WOKO or visit his website at www.thelogger.com