Scrabble players

Once a week,
at Lackawanna County Nursing Home,
I entered Baba’s room # 614.
90 years old, short,
she had long white hair, braided into “bun.”
Baba wore blue house-dress and apron,
enjoyed comfort of what she called,
black & short-heel, “old lady shoes.”

Baba suffered dementia, Alzheimer Disease.
Upon room entry, she’d look over shoulder,
smile, would sometimes recognize me…,
otherwise taken for deceased brother, Andy.
I’d hear Baba talk about needing coal for stove,
how “outhouse” roof leaked,
how good was FDR’s gift of W.P.A. shoes
to Minooka neighborhood poor people.
She appreciated having learned English
from a crabby Polish Nationalist housewife.

Inside Baba’s room, family photos,
Sermon on Mount on wall, a plaque,
“Live much, Feel much, Laugh much!”
So beautiful, uncertain she
ever knew who I am, I’d often find Baba
playing game-board, Scrabble, all alone,
completely elsewhere, like those in barrooms,
enchanted with Smart Phone games.

Intently, Baba’s one Self would take account
of letters staged upon wood blocks, ponder options.
I watched as she lay vertical letters down,
spelled “ROOSTER,” achieved several point
advantage over her other Self (sister Veronica)
who lived in Carpathian Mountains,
& insisted upon unwillingness to die on foreign soil.
Baba looked at me, said,
“You know we were sisters living under same roof..,
she looked distantly across kitchen table, said,
“Well its your turn now, make move, Veronica.”

Baba seized “walker,” shuffled to table’s opposite chair.
It was opponent Veronica’s turn to create a word.
Her letter-board filled with excess vowels, anxiety,
but suddenly Veronica managed to spell “camel,”
smiled triumphantly at Baba.
In huff, Baba stood, tipped-over letters,
returned to other chair, addressed absent sister,
“Jesus, Maria & Josef, now I know for sure
you found my pack of Camel cigarettes
hidden way back in cupboard!”

Calmly, I stood in front of Baba and games I play.
She cried, was disappointed by the way she acted.
Never once a “sore loser,” Baba offered Veronica
apologies, how wise was her sister to know
“the Puzzle always wins.”
I took turn, uncovered drawn Scrabble letters.
As Baba’s reliable Sheeny-Man during Depression,
I managed to spell, “FRAGMENTED.”
Baba frowned, did not expect to encounter
such sophisticated word, long and past tense.
Tactically, she decided to skip turn,
drew new set of Scrabble letters,
“blank” pieces could be used to make
any words people wanted to say,
ones I desperately needed to see, keep sane.

Charles Orloski lives in Taylor, Pa. He can be reached at: . Read other articles by Charles.