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Susan Shinn Turner: Sisters vs. the bug

For 2½ years now, I’ve taught a memoir writing class at Trinity Oaks. Each month, my students and I — the majority of whom are in their 80s and 90s — discuss the importance of writing things down. Because when you’re gone, your stories are gone.

Or, as my good friend Hap Roberts likes to say, “When a person dies, a library burns to the ground.”

He’s right.

Here’s a story about a friend of mine who’s in her 90s. She gave me permission to relay it to you as long as I didn’t use her name. She doesn’t want any publicity, she said.

When I visited her recently, I noticed her left wrist was bandaged.

“What happened?” I asked her.

“It’s a long story,” she said.

Of course, I had time to listen.

“A few weeks ago,” she began, “I had a bug in my apartment.”

And it was not just any bug — one of those nasty, fuzzy caterpillars you see in trees this time of year.

“I keep a fly swatter handy,” she said, “so carefully, with my cart (her rolling walker, the kind a lot of folks at retirement communities have), I went after him.”

She got him, but in her enthusiasm to swat the critter, she fell.

“It kind of shook me up for a minute,” she admitted, “so I sat there and got myself together.”

By the time she was able to get up, her furry nemesis had vanished.

“You stunned him,” I said.

“I knocked him out,” she agreed. “But he recovered.”

Meanwhile, she wrapped her wrist. She’s a retired nurse, so she knows her stuff. In a couple of weeks, her wrist felt better.

Then one day, she again spotted her archnemesis.

“I know it was him,” she said. “I know it had to be.”

The two played a cat-and-mouse game around her living room. He decided to hide between the legs of her dining table. She didn’t go after him, thank goodness, but waited him out.

Finally, she spotted him in her bedroom. She went for the fly swatter again. She swatted him again. This time, she got him for good. She carefully scooped him up using the edge of her fly swatter and carried him into the bathroom.

Flush.

Burial at sea.

The only problem was — you guessed it — she fell. Again. And hurt her wrist. Again.

But it’s not broken, and it’s almost better, she assured me.

“Why didn’t you just call down to the front desk and ask them to come up and swat him?” I asked her.

“Susan, do you know how long it would take for them to get up here?” she said.

“Well, why didn’t you get your cereal bowl and trap him until help could arrive?” I asked.

She rolled her eyes.

“Susan, do you how long it would have taken me to get the bowl and get back over there to him?” she said.

She had a point.

But she did promise me she would be more careful. After all, we both know there’s no sense breaking a bone over a bug. I happen to know my friend’s sister, who’s in her 80s — and told her about it when I ran into her later in the day.

“Oh, that’s nothing,” she said.

“Do you also have a bug story?” I asked her.

(You know how competitive sisters can be.)

She did indeed.

“The other day, a dad-blamed fly got into the house,” she said. “I got out my fly swatter.”

I was beginning to sense a pattern.

“He landed on the kitchen window,” she said. “I got him, and he fell right into the sink. Since I was standing right there at the disposal, I turned on the water and he went right down the drain.

“Haven’t seen him since.”

Sisters: 2. Bugs: 0.

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