I was reared just a few miles from the University of Chicago on the city’s South Side. As a kid riding past, I was certain that its buildings were haunted. After all, there were gargoyles clinging to the edge of every Gothic building, and where there are gargoyles, there must be vampires. It would be many years before I entered those haunted classrooms to study.
In the minutes before the wedding ceremony, I wait downstairs in Pilgrim Hall with the groom and the groomsmen. Upstairs the sanctuary is lovely, with freshly vacuumed carpeting and wedding flowers that are a cut above the usual Sunday morning carnation extravaganza.
She died on Sunday, after a month of dateless days that began on Halloween and ended just short of Thanksgiving. We went from the hospice admitting office to a Halloween party in the family room, where volunteers offered us fruit punch, orange cupcakes and orange and black balloons. Three toddlers in identical ladybug suits were dancing on the faux-parquet ballroom floor to the electrically amplified folk songs of a long-haired balladeer.
Toward the end of Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow, the title character reflects on his life as a barber in a small Kentucky town: “I am a man who has hoped, in time, that his life, when poured out at the end, would say, ‘Good-good-good-good-good!’ like a gallon jug of the prime local spirit. I am a man of losses, regrets, and griefs. I am an old man full of love.
Halloween has come and gone in Habersham County. I cannot remember when I have seen so many houses draped with spider webs and strings of pumpkin lights. A faux graveyard appeared in one front yard, with clusters of leaning tombstones that glowed like psychedelic mushrooms in the dark. Skeletons sat in front porch rockers.
The focus of geriatric doctors on testing for memory loss, which leads to possible diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s, is part of a war against the old, according to Margaret Morganroth Gullette, resident scholar at Brandeis University. She likens it to educators being preoccupied with testing schoolchildren. “‘Dementia’ is a label that dehumanizes,” she says. What aging people need is social support, which itself can enhance a sense of well-being that contributes to better memory. “In thinking about memory loss, we do well to remember two simple precepts,” she says. “Do not panic about your own. Be gentle toward other people’s” (Interpretation, April).