Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Elizabeth Berg's Home Safe

Elizabeth Berg is one of my favorite authors.  She writes books for women (at least I would describe them that way).  They're beautiful, poignant, and tell stories about ordinary women's lives.  I like reading them because they're simple stories yet contain complex emotions which she actually allows her characters to explore.  I just recently listened to Home Safe on CD and especially loved the following passage.  It was written by a woman who was taking part in a writing class which the main character was teaching.  Ella, a simple woman who works in a nursing home, wrote about a room which has meaning for her.

"My turn!"  Ella says.  She smooths wrinkles out of the page before her, a lined page from a yellow legal tablet, covered with loopy script, and in a loud voice begins to read:
My meaning is in the shower room at the home where sometimes I help wash the ladies in D ward.  They can't do it because they are too far gone so we have to do it.  They have purple spots and brown spots and their bosoms are all long and saggy like those balloons they make dogs out of.  Their stomachs have big folds.  They have it is like little piles of blue spaghetti on their legs.  That is their veins.  Sometimes they laugh in the shower but this one, Mrs. Lundgren, every time she has a shower she yells and tries to scratch and pinch you.  She doesn't understand and so we have to tell her it is a shower it is a shower we are cleaning you up.  But she yells and even sometimes she screams which you think you're going to get in trouble even though you are not doing anything wrong.  Their hair gets flat like a drowned rat and then you have to comb it for them which they also can't do that and if you put a ribbon in oh boy they love it.  We don't have enough ribbons for all of them but some of them do.  It is only yarn anyway.  Why the shower room is meaning to me is because it is always interesting to see someone naked and I like it more than the activities room which I have been there too long.  And also I like the shower room because I like when they do things I do too.  The supervisor always tells us, they are not so different from you and me, you know.  If you learn that, you can learn compaction, and that will make you a better health care worker.  Which I am.

(Obviously that passage is written from the point of view of someone who doesn't write correctly - that's not Elizabeth Berg's style!)

What I love about the passage is Ella's description of the old women's bodies - "bosoms all long and saggy like those balloons they make dogs out of."  Wow.  Powerful description.  And "they are not so different from you and me, you know.  If you learn that, you can learn compaction (compassion)."  That says it all.  So beautiful.  Thank you, Elizabeth, for your compassionate, beautiful prose.

My favorite of her books is Talk Before Sleep.  It's the story of a woman who is dying of cancer and the friends who surround her on her journey.  She has a wonderful, loving husband, but it is the women she loves who are most important as she dies.  I read it at a time when I didn't have a man in my life, and the women in my life were showing me just how blessed I was to be a woman (a new concept for me at the time!).  They were showing me the power of women's friendships.  This book shows that so beautifully.  I sobbed at the end from the power of love portrayed so fully.

No comments:

Post a Comment