Stella had been in the nursing home several years before anyone had thought to refer her to the psychologist. She sat in her room reading her bible all day, emerging only for showers.
“Why don’t you try some of the activities?” I asked her. “They have lots of good stuff here — even church services,” I added hopefully.
“It ain’t my denomination,” she replied. “I don’t want to go.” She ran her hand absently across the worn cover of her bible, the pages dog-earred and frayed.
I scanned the room for other signs of interest and spied a small photo tacked to her bulletin board. “Would you mind if I take a look?” I asked her.
“No, go ahead. That was me with my girlfriends from church. Ooh-ey, we did like to travel. I went everywhere with them ladies.”
“And where were you in this photo?” I took the picture to her.
“We was at a convention in Baltimore.” She laughed. “That was some fun. This here’s Mayella. She been gone eight years now. And that one’s Ray Ann. She went down South to be with her family. And there in the middle — that’s me!”
I put on my glasses to get a better look at the tiny image of a buxom woman in a lavender gown and dramatic wig. “Wow! Look at you!”
Stella giggled. “I liked to dress up in them days. All my money went to clothes and travel. Arthur, God bless his soul, took care of everything else.”
I noted her dingy housedress and hair plaited into two simple braids. “If you enjoyed it so much, how come you don’t dress up more now?”
“Ain’t got no money,” she said simply. “I been wearing this dress ever since I got here.”
“What do you spend your personal needs allowance on?”
“Your personal needs allowance — the $50 you get each month after the rest of your stay is paid for.”
“Nobody told me about no money.”
I frowned. “Well, you should be getting it. Let me make some phone calls. Hold on a minute.” I left the room and returned triumphant. “You’ve got $1,850 in your account downstairs!”
“What!” Stella’s face lit up. “Why I got so much money?”
“If you’ve been here for three years getting $50/month you never spent, that adds up.”
“What I got to do to get it?”
“They said I could bring you down now if you want.”
“Let’s go.” She placed her bible on her tray table. “I want to buy me and my roommate some egg rolls tonight. Her people been treating me ever since I been here.” She started rolling herself toward the door and I jumped up to push her chair.
Stella never became a regular at activities, but she did enjoy the attention she received when she came down to the lobby to pick up her take-out food in her new wig and colorful dresses.