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What I Really Know About Gossip: Small Talk

The first thing I notice when I walk into the foyer of the assisted living facility is the distinctive smell of pine cleaner. Men and women in wheelchairs are lined up for lunch. Some talk, others are slumped and silent.

Walking down the hallway to my mother’s door, I visualize her sitting in her recliner, dozing, television blaring.

“Hi Mom!” I say, letting myself into her small apartment. I lean over to kiss her cheek and grab the remote to turn off the TV. She opens her eyes, gives me a smile.

The magazines are piled up, untouched, on the table beside her. The novel she’s been reading (so she says, though the bookmark hasn’t moved in about a year) sits on a shelf nearby.

“Reading anything interesting?” I ask, and she nods toward the book. I smile sadly. She was an avid reader. Her magazine subscriptions lapsed months ago, but she remains unaware she isn’t getting them anymore.

I help her into her wheelchair, in preparation for the noon meal. Her eyes are vacant. She’s silent. Mom was talkative until a few months ago, and at 93 she’s in remarkably good health. But now she has trouble finding words, and finishing sentences. She talks haltingly to me, asking about my trip down and if it’s really been a whole week since my last visit?

I wheel her up to the table to join her friend, Jean.

“Lillian!” Jean says, bending forward conspiratorially towards Mom. Eyes suddenly sparkling, Mom leans toward her to hear the latest gossip.

“Did you hear what happened to Marty?” whispers Jean, excitedly.

“No! Tell me the latest!” Mom nudges her wheelchair closer to the table.

They sit there through the meal, looking around the room, exchanging glances, trading stories and laughing. Between the two of them, it could have been the social event of the year. George stops by the table, and Mom pats her hair, smiles coyly.

“Good day, ladies!” he calls to them.

Gossip can be treacherous, mean-spirited and destructive. But it can also be the link between two social beings who have lost interest in most of the world around them, but not their own little corner of it.

The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Leslie Balick Picker lives in Havre de Grace, Md.

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