Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Escape Down Memory Lane-Part 2: The Character of Karen

The following story is true. Only names of people and places have been changed.

Part 2: The Character of Karen

One month earlier Karen, a self-proclaimed 70 yr. old with contradicting records on her official age, arrived in the Memory Lane Unit of Summit Grove Nursing Center. While in her Somersville home, Karen suffered from a vicious infection that caused a seizure and trip to the Emergency Room in the middle of the night. She recovered from the infection well enough, but her short and long term memories remained sporadic. She recognized some neighbors and close friends, but she also reminisced about past marriages to Franklin Roosevelt (the 1st President of the United States, according to her claim) and local clergy members from her church. Due to Karen’s troubling memory condition, all parties (herself excepted) agreed to have her transferred to a reputable Nursing Center named Summit Grove. Not only did Summit Grove boast some of the best care in the region, it also found itself specially equipped for Karen’s condition with a lockdown wing,  where she could receive the needed twenty-four hour care and monitoring.

The transition proved immediately beneficial for Karen’s physical recovery. Before the seizure, Karen’s weight descended into dangerous double digit territory. This was not lost on neighbors, who constantly berated Karen for her primary diet of almond-pecan ice cream and case after case of A&W Cream Soda Root Beer (the generic brand proved inadequate to Karen’s particular tastes). After a month in Memory Lane’s care, Karen’s recovery was encouraging. Visitors often heard her brag about approaching 110 pounds, one of the physical plateaus required for release.

Mentally, Karen also showed steady progress. In fact, those who visited often commented on her appearing to be back to “normal.” Of course, they always said “normal” with reserve, because anyone who knew Karen at all would never accuse her of actually being normal in the same sense as your average person.

In Somersville, the modest municipality eight miles north of the larger, university town of Lawndale, Karen Turner is something of a legend. If one cannot identify her by name (and many can), she can be recognized with a quick description of her house--“The house by the corner bus stop with a bunch of yard decorations, sheds, and a ramp to the front door overflowing with stuff.” Some describe the residence as festive, others as cluttered, but one thing no one contends with is that it glows with eccentric personality.

Stories of Karen range from the hilarious to the bizarre. One tale reports of Karen stuck hanging from a tree after her ladder fell out from under her while she—in her ripened years of life—found herself stubbornly pruning a dying elm tree … with a chainsaw. The chainsaw clipped her as she dropped it in order to grab hold of a branch, and she had to holler for a quarter of an hour until a neighbor came to rescue her. Another story places her on an ailing riding-lawn mower at 11:00 at night (the reader will recall her status as night owl) and having to throw herself off the machine when the limited visibility caused her to careen the mower down the bank of the canal bordering her property. Others recollect seeing Karen braving her roof in the thick of a snowy, frost-filled December, working with tangled Christmas lights, in spite of entreaties by neighbors to come down.

These are simply the stories of Karen outside. The stories of Karen’s house inside are perhaps just as telling. If one is fortunate enough to enter Karen’s home, they would also have to be just as fortunate to find a path for traversing through the trails that circuitously wind around the boxes, cabinets, shelves, and stacked furniture. Draping these fixtures can be found trinkets, gadgets, statuettes, and—especially—dolls of all sorts. Any Sunday newspaper with an insert vaunting a miniature depiction of Elvis, or Santa, or Pocahontas accompanied with the byline, “BUY NOW FOR FREE SHIPPING” seemed to not have made it past Karen’s careful scrutiny. In fact, if the shifting pathways grant passage to the one-time garage, one will see wall to wall, ground to ceiling, shelves and shelves of dolls of every variety.

Some neighbors recall Karen proudly showing visitors an article clipped from an old magazine featuring hoarders. Certain parts of the article were highlighted, especially those most reflective of her own lifestyle, and Karen would transmit a self-satisfied smile while crowing, “See, it’s about me!” If that statuette of Santa spilling his glass of milk seemed to show a twinkle in his eye, the constant lighthouses in Karen’s owl-like peepers somehow managed to transcend it.

For this reason, when Karen happened to be taken to the hospital at the end of August, the whole neighborhood felt eerily different. Where were the all-hours-of-the-day visits requesting assistance to budge a glass cabinet three inches farther away from the wall? What about the constant motion from the house to one of five sheds parked around her property so as to redistribute endless arrays of holiday decorations? What topic of lively conversation could any of the neighbors carry on without a Karen vignette to bookend it? While it was clear that Karen missed her home as she spent time in the pleasant, but oh-too-tidy Summit Grove Memory Lane Unit, it was also possible that the neighborhood missed her more, in spite of—or maybe because of—her quirky eccentricities and all.
If Karen had anything to do with it, however, that absence from her beloved, second-mortgaged home, was about to change.
©2012 Marty Reeder