Writer’s Corner

AgingME loves exhibiting perspectives from our local community. Check out stories from older adults depicting their personal experiences with Maine, their aging bodies, and more! To submit your own story, click here!

A Very Special Blueberry Pie

Traci Anello, The Community Gourmet

Our AgingME GWEP team recently participated in the 13th annual York County Elder Abuse Task Force Conference and had the good fortune to meet Traci Anello, Founder and Executive Director of The Community Gourmet. Our “Living Well With Dementia” message resonated with her and she shared this lovely story with us, which she has given us permission to post.

I started working at this facility when it first opened so I got to know each resident from the beginning. There was one gentleman in particular that I seemed to connect with. I’ll call him Jon. He was very tall and lanky. He also seemed grumpy all the time. I knew there was a story about him and he must have a lifetime of experiences.

Every day after lunch, I would clean the main kitchen and go out to the three individual resident kitchens and check to make sure everyone had eaten. If not, I would make a meal for when they woke up or were ready and put it in the refrigerator.

This one particular day I had gone out to check with the staff if everyone was all set. I told the staff that the next day I would be making homemade pies for dessert as I thought it would resonate with the residents. Jon was sitting at the breakfast bar. He would sit there everyday with his head hanging down and his arms crossed as if he was napping. He heard me talk about pies and this man who would not say two words picked his head up and said “I want to make a pie!”. I said, “Jon, you want to make a pie? Then we will make a pie together.”. Like a young child would say, he said,”Do you swear? Do you pinky swear?”. So I walked over to him and pinky swore.

I was so excited. I went into the director’s office to get his permission to make the pie with Jon. The director said it was okay but don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t remember. Well, I wasn’t thinking about that at all. I wanted to have everything prepped the next day so if he WAS ready, I would be too. I made the pie dough and rolled it out. I went home that night and I was so excited for this opportunity, I couldn’t sleep. I came in the next morning and looked for the apples. I always cook my pie fillings first and I wanted Jon’s to be ready to go. We had no apples. I looked everywhere and no apples. I was upset because I wanted everything to be ready. We did have frozen blueberries so I made blueberry filling instead. I tried to have this all ready to go as easy as I could for Jon.

When I came out to serve lunch, Jon wasn’t there. I was disappointed at the moment but I was grateful we had the conversation the day before. When I came out after cleanup, there he was sitting at the breakfast bar! Without missing a beat, he said, “Are we going to make that pie?!”. I ran into the main kitchen and grabbed my pie kit. I came out of the breakfast bar and sat everything down in front of him. He went right to it! He put the rolled out dough in the pan. I filled the pie and he stood up!! He crimped the pie and showed me how to put the little hearts I had cut out on the pie. He looked at me and asked, ‘How did you know blueberry was my favorite?’. I told him I was glad he liked blueberries. He then said this to me,”I make blueberry pies with my grandmother at the church.“. Not MADE but MAKE. I think he was in that younger mindset of when he made pies with his grandmother. He then said, “Where’s the sugar?! You have to sprinkle sugar on top!”. So I did and I rushed the pe into the main kitchen and placed it in the preheated oven. I knew time wasn’t on our side so I had the oven ready to go. Once the pie was baked, I brought it out to him. He was sitting there with a big smile. Not one of us could believe this was even happening. I cut the pie and served him a piece. We all had a piece. We were holding back the tears. This moment was magical in so many ways.

While we were eating the pie, his wife came in to visit. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She said,”Oh my God Jon. What’s happening?”. He said, “Sit down and have some pie!!”. She was crying. She asked if she could take him to his room to enjoy this moment of him being awake and talking. Of Course the CNAs helped bring him back to the room.

I went into the kitchen and the director told me he couldn’t believe what he just saw. None of us could. I walked into the storeroom alone and sat on the bags of flour. I cried. I was so happy. But I cried because I learned such a big lesson about people with dementia.

The next day when I saw Jon, he was sitting in his chair with his head hanging down and his arms crossed like he was napping. I tried to talk to him but there was no response. He passed away two months later.

From that very day with Jon making pies, I always listened to what the residents had to say. I talked about food with many of them. I have old recipes that they have shared. I would make those recipes for the other residents to enjoy.

I wrote a book about my experiences with people with food. It’s not published yet. Right now it’s called “The Power in Food”. The “i” is dotted with a crooked heart. The pie I made with Jon had a crooked heart on it and I thought that heart was very symbolic.There are so many stories to share. I have included a picture of the pie for you to see. I have a video of photos of us making the pie I’d love to share with you.

This experience was life changing. I’d like to teach more people about the power in food and how it relates to dementia.

Dr. Wehry,  this is one of the reasons I started making Care Packages. Inside are proteins and small meals. I try to add Fig Newtons, Lorna Doones and Vanilla wafers so that it just might bring someone back to their childhood.  The Community Gourmet is my way of connecting with seniors. I want to reach as many as we can to make sure there’s always food available for them but also to let them know we care.

 You can learn more about Traci and her work at www.thecommunitygourmet.org

Sharon Shane, 81 years old of Maine takes back control of her health

Last year, Sharon Shane finished three 5Ks, her fast-paced walking stride earning her second place in her age group. The 81-year-old retiree from Buxton, Maine, also climbed her first mountain, summitting the 1,213-foot peak of Sawyer Mountain in the highlands of western York County. “My quads were quite strained, and I had a lot of trouble getting off the toilet for almost a month,” Shane laughs. But she did it – her first mountain.

Not that Shane has ever been one to sit still for long. The lifelong Mainer raised seven children and is twice retired, first at age 65 from her job with an insurance company and again at age 74 from a series of part-time positions that included waiting tables and working in a grocery store.

But as she has grown older, she has sometimes been sidelined by several health problems, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and struggles with weight and depression. Doctors prescribed medications to help, but Shane, who lives alone, would often forget to take them, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night and wondering why she didn’t quite feel right.

Then Shane attended a presentation in the community room of her senior housing development and learned about Ibis Health, a groundbreaking virtual chronic care management program from Senscio Systems designed to help retirees like Shane take better care of themselves at home. Shane decided to give Ibis Health a try, thinking it might help her stay on track with her medications and set goals to improve her well-being. Three years into the program, Shane says Ibis Health has done that and so much more.

Through Ibis Health, Shane received a continuously connected telehealth tablet that prompts her to track her blood pressure and weight and cues her to eat at various points through the day, helping her to keep her blood sugar under control. It reminds her to take her medications and notifies her of upcoming doctor appointments. It also helps her to track her daily movement and exercise. Covered by Medicare Part B, Ibis Health’s proprietary AI-powered platform flags risks for health decline before they happen, allowing Shane to make in-the-moment changes to keep herself feeling her best.

The Ibis Health Program is powered by Senscio Systems. For more information, please visit ibishealth.org and sensciosystems.com © 2023 Senscio Systems

A Tale of Three Town Meetings (Why We Chose to Live in Maine) By Paulette Oboyski

Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

Too Snobby!

While we lived and worked in Manhattan, Vic and I had vacationed quite often on the very pretty island of Martha’s Vineyard.  The beaches are beautiful, the water in the summer is warmish, and there are plenty of picturesque bike paths.  We finally bought a vacation house which we stayed at when we could and rented when we were not there.  It was in Lambert’s Cove near a beautiful beach and the adorable Blackwater Hollow Farm.  After three years of taking the longish car ride from NYC to the ferry in Woods Hole, Mass and then the hour-long ferry to the island, we decided not to retire there. 

What helped expedite our decision to retire somewhere else, was when we attended a town meeting with the managers of the island ferry.  We were upset that they had decided to put very stringent regulations on the ferry which would hamper our travels to the island and hamper our summer renter’s arrival at our house.  There were no microphones in the room.  When Vic raised his hand and objected to the decision that the town managers had made without our consent, the moderator told him that if he did not lower his voice, they would have to ask him to leave the meeting. Wow!  They obviously did not like us “off-islanders” and did not make us feel welcome.  The snobbishness of the islanders, inconvenience of the ferry ride, and lack of good medical care were some of the reasons for our decision to not retire on Martha’s Vineyard.

Brooklyn, New York

Rough and Ready!

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Old Hands By M Maxine Wehry

Someone recently said to me ‘you have such beautiful hands,’ “Beautiful?!” I was amazed. “I cannot believe you’d think that. These old hands are so scrawny and bony and have big veins popping out of them!” ‘But I do,’ she gently responded. ‘You have long, delicate fingers and … just think what all they have done.’ “Maybe to you…” My voice trailed off as I held them up and started thinking about what they had done.

Whom did they first touch? Probably my Mother. They patted her face. They patted my Grandma’s face. How I loved Grandma Smith, who cared for me after my mother died when I was two. Grandma must have gotten a lot of pats on her face from me. Hannah. Hannah Jane was her name. She was a sweetheart. I remember helping her roll dough with a rolling pin so she could cut out sugar cookies. I remember her handing me a piece of dough so I could shape it into a biscuit. She let me gather twigs to help her start the fire for the day’s cooking. Lily and Grandma said I was the best little twig finder. I was so proud.

Living on a farm wasn’t easy. We had to work hard. Even in the dark. All day. Planting, planting, planting. Tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, peas and melons. Once the tomato factory came to town, it was our job to pick the worms off the plants. These hands hated that chore, too. Click here to read the full essay

The Porter by Leslie Woods

Here are three parts or, depending on you, only one.
At eleven I was too old for the airline’s kid price, too old for Gram to drive me
from Jim Crow Virginia to Boston, too young to not be handed to the Porter.
Late for my first train ride on giant tanks, clang plus whoosh of steam and rumble of rails.
Late to the dark, unfamiliar station, the Porter’s reassurances cradled me.
Through the gushing maw, shouts and ringing bells, the iron boom of his voice,
my book lost, his huge hands hoisted my bag and me upward, installed me in his seat.
He brought me someone’s comic pages.

At lunchtime following the Porter’s careful explanations, I found the dining car
of gleaming white cloths, napkins, dishes, curtains, white gloves disguising dark skin.
Whiter white, tighty whities, guests white, cross your lily-white hands,
White is cleanliness is godliness.

Arriving last I chose, I ate, I placed Mom’s ten-dollar bill on the small white plate.
White-gloved hands cleared below a smile. I waited for my change.
The final white men left their table, their waiter whisking until all gone.
I waited for my change. I waited in the silence.

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