When is a Victorian era retirement home not just a retirement home? When It’s Odd Oaks.

Odd Oaks Verse One

1) When I was younger and new to nursing my mother said something that stuck with me that I have been unable to forget.

            ‘When you give someone the benefit of the doubt,’ she said to me, ‘remember to do it with an open heart and mind.’

That was all she said on that subject, yet she talked even less as the years went by. We always had a subdued mother daughter relationship, but she made sure I knew what she meant. However, I’ve always tried to never judge a person or situation with haste, which I believe has opened me up to ridicule on more than a few occasions. Those quick to judge are quick to deflect blame, defend themselves, and deny any involvement when things become heated and sticky, and so I was a natural target in high school and college for wild claims of being a slut when in fact, I was still a virgin. Yet I knew those same girls accusing me had deeper, darker secrets to hide, secrets I never told even to this day.

            Most of the time I never asked to be a confidant—many times I faked excuses in order to remove myself or stated I did not wish to hear such things, but in truth, listening to the confessions of my friends made me feel like I was a better person than them. Many of my friends talked of love and sex as if they were interchangeable, like they were guys having one-night stands and bragging about toying with the opposite sex as only a woman can get away with these days.

            Still, publicly, I attempted to smile and hold my tongue in hopes of being liked and thereby proving myself worthy of such secrets and more. My mother reminded me that her generation had ‘morals,’ and that I was being sanctimonious and insincere given I had a ‘better upbringing’ than most of my friends. 

            I screamed at my mother, claiming she was being judgmental, but I was becoming everything I claimed to hate. Morals may be instilled by atheistic beliefs or god-fearing parents, and like bedrock or sand they shift and move with time.

            After returning from a trip out West at the end of last summer I discovered the world made less moral sense than even I could excuse; I wished to give up my particular vices and parties while deciding to look inward at my own heart. I had lost faith in people, and then I met Gracie, a girl who helped restore my faith in humanity. Gracie represented how the world should be, not how it is.

            If character is a series of choices, then there was something amazing in her stride, some meaning to moral ethics that beckons the question why. It was as if Gracie wasn’t real, she seemed too good to be true, almost as if she had stepped out of a black and white  nineteen-thirties film. Me being enamored with her had nothing to do with my own shortcomings, which I’m sure showed every time I left the house. Rather, she seemed confident but humble, assertive yet non-aggressive, she lived up to her name, grace, Gracie, she had grace in forms and ways I had never beheld before nor since. Yes—Gracie was a fine nurse, the finest I had ever met since becoming one myself; still things haunted her, what filthy rubble drifted in waves upon her nightmares, which briefly split my opinion of both her and the self-loathing and self-loving ebbs and flows of women. 

 

 

 

2) I had come from a proud family, and a one-time rich, important family from New England. The Fitzgerald’s branched out all over New England, with a family rumor we had descended from elite English royalty, the Windsor surname was a thing of pride in our family tree, even if we were just Irish. The real story is how my great-grandfather bought his first hotel, restaurant, and department store for fifty dollars and a handshake during the great depression. As the story goes, the man who sold him all of that laughed upon shaking my great-grandfather’s hand, stating, “I just made fifty bucks. I’ll be getting all this back like I did when the three before you defaulted on their mortgage.’ But he didn’t know my great-grandfather well. Great-grandfather served in the First World War He served the last eighteen months of the war in the brig for punching out his commanding officer, so he wasn’t about to just give away fifty bucks, no, he made millions, but then all his kids and grand-kids squandered all that money and opportunity. That’s why I’m a working girl. I never saw so much as a cent, but people still know my family’s last name, sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse.

            They say great-grandfather was a bastard, with a harsh expression on his face when in public. They also say my great-grandmother was every bit the opposite, they also say I’m most like her in my soft appearance and easy spirit.

            I graduated from Boston University with a degree in nursing in 2003, about twenty years after mother, but unlike her, I didn’t get knocked up with, well, me. I sought the open road, and so I became a traveling nurse, and I traveled all over the country, seeing a great many things for many years. I loved traveling so much, I became uneasy once I returned to New England to ‘settle down.’ New England was no longer the storybook place of my youth, rather it was another place that had lost all meaning to me after a while—so I decided to just work at a retirement home. I went to work at a place called Odd Oaks. All my friends thought this was beneath me. I was a skilled nurse, and now I was just passing pills, but the money was good, good enough to support a single woman. My family wanted me back in New England, so mom got them to pressure me as if I were picking colleges again, they all agreed, ‘You have to take the job,’ they said with monotone voices and blank faces. Mother was, had been a nurse for years, so she loaned me some money before I moved back and until my first paycheck came in. I tried to think of ways to refuse the money or run to the other side of the world, I even said I could leave at any point if and when I came back to New England, but I wasn’t fooling anyone except myself; I was here to stay arriving back the summer of 2012.

            I couldn’t move back home with mom, so the useful thing was to find a place near Odd Oaks, but that was in the city, and being an unusually hot summer, there were no places with air-condition to be found. I had departed sandy beaches and cool breezes, so a nurse at work offered her tiny, unrented cottage, which sounded great, that is until I laid eyes on the moldy shutters, sun-worn green paint. I had my cat, Cornelius—until he suddenly died at a young age—but at least my 2001 Subaru hadn’t keeled over on me yet, though he was showing signs of being on life-support since the trip back to New England.  

 

 

            Those first few weeks, I was so lonely. I thought about prison, and how when they want to punish you, they put you in isolation; maybe I was punishing myself. Then, one day, I went down to the quaint country store. I heard some people talking about Odd Oaks while in line to check out. I spoke up proudly and said, ‘I work there.’ The older ladies smiled at me. And as I left the store with goods in hand, my loneliness lifted. I felt proud of who I was and where I was going to be working now. The older ladies gave me a sense of community, as if I already belonged.