The social worker had requested help from “Focus on the Elderly,” a charity supported by my college service club. Our orientation visit was to a woman whose house was about to fall off of the hill. She lived there by herself, and had moved into the kitchen because she
could heat and cook on the same coal-burning stove that way. It was a good introduction to being rural, poor, and elderly in the South. Soon, I got my first assignment, which was to take some groceries to a lady and help her go to the bank. When I stopped at the grocery store on the way to her trailer, the cashier told me that she had family, but they didn’t visit any more. When I placed the groceries on her kitchen counter, I saw that it was full of cigarette burns and covered with chewing gum. The single-wide trailer reeked.
She repeated her sentences until I seemed to understand. The stroke that had distorted
her speech had also distorted her thoughts. Her world was the recliner in the living room, except that today we were going to the bank. The teller filled out the check and handed it to me. I placed it on the counter and held it down for her. She put the pen to the
paper. Then, she stopped, and time seemed to stop with her. I took a deep breath and started prompting. “G,” I said, and she got that character herself. “R,” I said, and she needed some help getting that one started. Her “A” started to slide off of the signature line. I took another deep breath, looked at the teller, and took her hand. We wrote “CE” together and handed the check back to the teller.