103-Year-Old Fugitive

It all began ten days ago. My phone rang as I was driving home to Santa Fe. It was my brother, Jerry. I knew this must have concerned our mother, Mozelle.
“Have you heard the latest?”
“No”, I answered, totally prepared for anything he might tell me.
“She wants to move back to Oklahoma City…now.”

Here was a woman who made the Guinness Book of Record’s oldest college graduate (class of ’90, University of Oklahoma), survived the first attempted bombing of the Trade Towers, traveled to Bali, Kenya and Greece alone in her 80’s, took her grandchildren river rafting, whale watching, sailing to Italy and wrote her last published novel at 98…definitely not a woman to be ignored.

Apparently, her current assisted living venue in Santa Fe wanted to move her out of assisted living and into the nursing unit. She took one look at the room they were proposing and balked. No way! It was a hospital room and a hospital bed. She would be unable to have her own things. It was unthinkable to her to give up her iron bed, the one she was born in and intended to die in.

Twelve years ago at age 92 she had driven herself from Oklahoma City to Santa Fe, New Mexico, ready to start phase twelve of her life. And did she ever! She moved into a lovely gated community and met many close friends (who, by the way, have all passed on), toured the Southwest, joined every institute, museum and foundation available and regularly drove her car. How many times did we hear, “You need to take her keys away”. And how many times did we reply, “You need to have your head examined”. When she was 98 I took her to have her pacemaker battery replaced and ignored the oft heard remarks in the hospital, “She’s having her battery replaced at 98?”

Three years earlier, at the spry young age of 100 she chose to move into an assisted living home in downtown Santa Fe. She opted for a lovely one bedroom apartment and regularly rode her electric cart to the local restaurants for lunch, attended various fiestas and entertainments. And shopped. Let’s not forget the shopping. She literally single-handedly kept American Express in business.

I contacted a local moving company. When learning of her age, the mover said, “Would you like this done yesterday?” However, within three days she was packed up and loaded into the back of her car, (which she, thankfully, was no longer driving) and off we headed to Oklahoma City. I urged my husband to drive her and he reluctantly agreed, which he often does. I followed in our car. (She insisted on riding in her own car.) She insists on lots of things.

She regaled my husband with stories. “Ah!… Adrian!”, she reminisced as they passed it on the interstate.
“Adrian, Texas. The train station is where my grandfather picked up my mother, 9 months pregnant, in a buckboard to take her home to Hereford to have me.”
And then she wondered, curiously, “Why in the world would Mother have left San Antonio and Daddy when there were doctors and hospitals there?” (Like mother like daughter?) Frightening thought.
Then cheerily she added, “Mother told me she would wrap up in blankets and sit outside on the porch (in January) to keep from hearing me cry.”

That explained so much to me.

We stopped in Amarillo for lunch at the Olive Garden. She, at this point was having difficulty walking. She wanted to use her walker but I, taking my cue from her, insisted she use the wheelchair. (After all, we were trying to make our destination that day.) Years ago, I remember her being in a restaurant and a woman arrived in a wheelchair. She whispered at that time, “I never want to be in one of those.” We had a lovely lunch, as she devoured her fried mozzarella. (A little hint there for all of you who might want to live past 100.)

The place she is moving is the Waterford Mansion. A lovely “made to look old” brick edifice dripping in ivy in the Waterford complex. This complex also includes The Waterford Renaissance Hotel, numerous condominiums, office buildings and restaurants. As she sat in the gazebo in front of the Mansion for her assessment, the nurse asked her, “Have you ever had any depression or anxiety?” I laughed out loud. “Hardly!”, I answered for her, “she just makes sure those around her have an abundance of it!”

The first night we stayed at the Waterford hotel. My husband and I arranged for mother to have a “helper” in her room and we went down for dinner. I left the table to go outside and make a phone call to one of her numerous relatives in Oklahoma City. I returned, finished my dinner and off we went to our room. The next morning I realized my wallet was missing. I returned to the restaurant, certain that I had left it on the table, no. I asked at the front desk and if it had been turned in, no. I checked online with my credit card company and there was no sign of nefarious use. I certainly had enough to worry about and postponed cancelling my life. (credit cards, insurance cards, driver’s license, etc.) I was devastated but vowed, in the words of a certain southern diva, to “worry about that tomorrow.”

The movers arrived that morning and arranged her furniture and unpacked her things. She insisted (I will use that word a lot) on spending the night in her new home. As my husband and I were leaving the Mansion that afternoon he calmly said, “There’s your wallet.” I looked around, where? I didn’t see anything. And then he said, “Look on the hood of the car.” And there it sat. Bright green against a light grey car. My wallet. I had apparently left it there when I went outside to make the call the previous night. It had set in the parking lot of the hotel all night and most of the day and even stayed on while we drove to the Mansion. The Universe was rewarding me for moving this diva to another state in three days.

We returned to Santa Fe and I kept in constant communication with my brother who had been handed the “Keys to Mozelle”. Earlier she had asked my daughter, who lives nearby, to find a way she could, using her electric cart, cross Pennsylvania Avenue, a four-lane thoroughfare through the city, get on the sidewalk which ran along the other side of Pennsylvania from where she was, cross the street at the Northwest Highway and get to Penn Square Shopping Mall. (Remember the American Express card?) Since that was not going to happen anytime soon she decided to explore the grounds of the Mansion.

Two days ago, I called her. She remorsefully began the conversation, “There are so many dead-end streets here.”

She was most contrite. Apparently, she had been curious about her surroundings and decided to take her electric cart out the front door of the Mansion and simply drive around it, back to the front door. You cannot do that at the Mansion. Waterford Boulevard snakes around the hotel, the restaurants, the condominiums, but does not encircle the Mansion.

The Mansion panicked. They could not find her anywhere. They called my brother three times. Twice he missed the call but the third call informed him she had been spotted at the hotel and someone had been sent to retrieve her. When she arrived back at the Mansion she was “roughly” (her words) chastised by three people and sent to her room. An elderly “time out” of sorts?

I don’t think the Mansion had any inkling of just who they have allowed onto their premises.