Friday, November 05, 2004

Merouw Otto

Mevrouw Otto sits all day alone at her table. The tables at Riekerhof are set up in the dining room so that four to six people can sit at each table. For some reason, that I have not been able to discern. She is sitting at the table when I arrive at 10:30, and she is still there when I leave at 2:00. She always eats alone. "Geen soep!" (No soup!) She looks like the most disagreeable person, but she is capable of smiling and joking. She likes personal attention - as, I guess, we all do. I have seen her move to another table with Meneer DeZoete and stare out the window with him during the afternoon.

Last week, when I was serving the coffee after lunch, she was sitting with Meneer DeZoete and she brought out a box of little cake pieces. The Dutch always serve a cookie or cake with coffee. She offered me a piece and I said, "Oh! Lekker!" It's the appropriate response to food, meaning Yum or something. It was a dense cake that seemed to be made of flour, egg, sugar and vanilla and then set aside. It was like a piece of dough - about an inch square. It was gross. I took a small bite and found out just how gross it was. I walked to the back and made a face. Wilma, the head honcho asked me what the face was about. I showed her the piece of cake. She said, in Dutch, "Ooo! Don't take food from them."

Then today, during coffee, she yelled, "Ober!" It means "Waiter," and I was told never to call anyone "Ober" because it's sort of insulting. When I turned around, she was holding up a piece of cake in her hand. I walked over and took it, saying, "Oh, bedankt." I set it on the coffee cart, thinking that I would toss it when I got to the back. When I looked back, she pantomimed throwing into her mouth. I said, "Later." She did it again. I mouthed, "Later," and gestured towards the back. I avoided looking at her for the duration of the coffee round.

I felt a little bad lying to her, but I couldn't imagine putting that thing in my mouth. I threw it away and I'll have to speak to her tomorrow - about what she's going to eat for the day, etc. It's fortunate that she's a little bit senile and that her memory is not the best. She will sometimes say, "Where have you been?" to which I reply, "I was here yesterday" or "...last week."

She's sort of living the way I fear living as a very elderly person. She's alone in the middle of the room, sitting and napping. And considering her age, she was probable married and has adult children and grandchildren somewhere. But she's so alone.

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