In the middle of the work day, my phone rang. A highly unusual circumstance that caused my heart to skip a beat. I cautiously answered it. “Hello?”

Maga cleared her throat.

“Hi, Maga!”

“How did you know it was me?”

“I have your phone number in my phone, so your name appears when you call.”


Before I could ask if everything was okay, she continued, “I just called to say Happy Birthday, [Sister E]!”


“Oh, umm, I’m not [Sister E]. And her birthday was exactly one month ago.”


“What? You’re not [Sister E]?”

“No. This is Abby.”

“When was your birthday?”

“January 8.”

“I’m a bit late, aren’t I?”

“There’s no expiration date on birthday wishes. I’ll accept them at any time.”

“But today is your birthday, right?”

“No, I’m afraid it’s not.” (I’ve never felt so guilty for telling the truth!)

“Are you at home?”

“No, I’m at work.”

“You’re [Sister E], right?”

“No, this is still Abby.”

“How did I end up talking to you?”

“You called me.”

There was some fumbling and I could hear Maga and her caregiver M talking. As Maga rattled off my phone number, M pointed out my name by it. I agreed that she had my phone number there, but it was not computing that the number she had was mine and not [Sister E]’s.

I’m sure it also didn’t help matters that [Sister E] and I sound very similar on the phone.

I confirmed [Sister E]’s phone number, confirmed her birthday was 1/28, confirmed I’d be seeing Maga for her birthday in a month, and for the hell of it, confirmed my dad’s birthday was yesterday. Birthday wishes for everyone! Cake too!




“Hello, Abby dear.” Maga’s speech was slow and very slurred. “I was dozing in the chair after dinner.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to wake you. I’ll let you go.”

“No. No. I like talking to you.”

“Okay, I’ll stay.”

I let her set the pace and as she cleared the cobwebs from the post-dinner snooze, the conversation unraveled slowly. Words and thoughts were hard for her to grasp, and yet, I didn’t want to fill in her sentences because I didn’t always know what she meant and if I guessed wrong, she had to start the thought process over. It’s a lot for a 98 years and 11 month old lady.

These conversations are supposed to be comforting, not taxing.

“Things happen we didn’t anticipate” and “It will be a special time to celebrate” and “Hope for the best” and “It’ll work out fine and good” and “You’ll be comfortable.”

She kept uttering generic phrases to whatever I was (or was not) talking about. I think she’d start off by listening to me, but then the TV would catch her attention and she’d end the sentence differently than she started it.

A bit of a travelogue if you will.

“I remember when we started talking on the telephone.”

I perked up. “Yeah?”

“All those years ago.”

Generic and yet accurate. It was the most I’d be able to get out of her brain tonight, so I chalked that one up as a win.



In order to avoid another go ’round about the weather, I asked Maga if she’d had any visitors lately.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “Quite a few.”

“Oh, yeah? Who?”

“They were, you know, out-of-towners.”

“I assumed so.”

“Were they relatives? Friends? Neighbors?”

“As I say, they were out-of-towners.”

Perhaps if you say something repeatedly, it’ll be true. (Like if you stand in front of a mirror at night and say… you know what, nope. Never mind. Not going there.)

“Are you coming for my birthday?” Maga asked.

“Wouldn’t miss it.”

“How old will I be?”


“I hope I last.”

“You will.”

“I’m planning on it.”

Maybe she should say it aloud a few more times to make it so?

“What airport are you going to to get to me?” she asked.




“Oh, yes. That’s near where I live.”

“Yup. It’s not that far from you.”

“It was built recently, so it’s convenient and handy and so on.”

One, it was built in 1995. I guess when you’re 99 and 11 months old, that is recent, so… Two, she’s stating things into fact again. This time she was at least using a thesaurus. Three, I gotta try this speaking things into existence gig.

“I’m going to win the lottery. I’m going to win the lottery. I’m going to win the lottery.”

*waits for it to start raining money. or men.*



“What did you do today,” Maga asked.

“I made shrimp scampi.”


“Shrimp. Scampi.”


“I made seafood for the first time.”


“I had an adventure in the kitchen.”

“Doing what?”

“Making seafood.”

“What kind.”



“What’s your favorite meal?” I asked.

“Golly. I can’t think. I’m not that picky.”

She fell silent for a bit. I let the silence linger in case she was thinking of a better way to answer.

“Roses and rosé,” Maga said.

Now the silence lingered as I spent some time pondering an appropriate response.

She continued right on, “This episode brought to you by stunned silence.”

(I kid you not. I am not making this up. This is the exact caption she read aloud. I know because I wrote it right down and my handwriting was shaky from my suppressed laughter!)

“Umm, Maga, what?”

“I can’t make out what’s on the television.”

“Oh.” (still trying to contain my laughter from her caption reading)

“I’m not making very much sense to me,” she said.

(Me either.) “It’s okay. It’s probably just a commercial. It doesn’t need to make sense.”

“Are you coming for my birthday?”

“Wouldn’t miss it.”

“How old will I be? 98?”


“How could I be that much ahead of the world?”

Ahead of the world, and yet, behind in tonight’s conversation. She’s truly a treasure. <3



“What did you do today?” Maga asked.

“I went to work. Ran some errands. Now I’m home.”

“And how are your studies?”

“My studies? What do you mean?”

She fumbled for words. “You know what I mean.”

“No, not really. That’s why I asked.”


“I’m not in school, so I don’t have any studies.”

“You’re not?”

“No. I think I’m done with school. Two degrees is enough.”


“So, how is your evening? Did you go to the cafeteria for dinner?”

“I did. It was okay. What did you have for dinner?”


“Were they delicious?”

“The first three times, it was. This time I’m kind of over it.”

“Did you have anyone over?”

“No. It was just me. Like usual.”


Her words didn’t come easy tonight and, as such, I wasn’t sure if I was disappointing her with my answers or my lack of interesting things to talk about.

“Uh oh,” I said. “I think one of my plants is dying.”


“I’m watering it and it some of the leaves came off. It’s also changed color from green to very light yellow. And it’s kind of flat now.”


“Did you have a green thumb?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Well, did you enjoy taking care of plants?”

“I liked feeding them and watering them and doing all the things to make them happy.”

Oh, huh. If that’s what it takes, no wonder this poor succulent is reacting this way!

Well, if you need me anytime soon, I’ll be over here disappointing people and accidentally murdering plants.