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ROBIN ABCARIAN

While Things Settle Down, She Just Keeps Marking Time

March 23, 1994|ROBIN ABCARIAN

My grandmother marks her possessions. Nearly everything of any consequence bears a date--the date of purchase--and often the price as well.

I suppose it's a way of asserting her place in the universe, a way of informally recording the sequence of her life in case no one else does it for her.

Although she has shed most of her worldly goods, she has still hung on to a few important ones--photographs, a TV set, a small refrigerator and her indispensable easy chair.

My grandmother and her easy chair parted company two months ago, after the Northridge quake forced her out of her room at Ararat Home, the new Mission Hills retirement home on the hill behind Holy Cross Medical Center.

Ararat Home sustained half a million dollars' damage in the January quake. By last Saturday, most of the big repairs had been made: Busted pipes had been fixed; the 20-ton rooftop air-conditioning units--which jumped 18 inches--had been craned to the ground for repairs and were back in their spots; the heating control tower, shaken off its foundation, was fixed and back in service.

Most of the cosmetic work was also finished--bedrooms replastered, retextured, repainted. Broken lamps and smashed glass tables had been replaced.

Grandma was still missing her chair, however, which had been put in storage while her room was being repaired. But for that, life had pretty much returned to normal.

And then came Sunday's big aftershock.

Along with nerves, the temblor shattered more lamps, caused cracks in every newly painted room--many worse than before--dislodged the air-conditioning units and heating tower again, and created another deluge in the ballroom and dining rooms when water pipes burst anew. Monday, home administrators were estimating at least $100,000 in new damage.

All Grandma could think about was when she was going to see her easy chair again.

*

The earthquake took a toll on Grandma, who turns 90 this year. And the aftershock stirred up old emotions like dust in a windstorm.

On Monday, she complained about feeling disoriented.

She had trouble, for instance, remembering that my father and daughter had visited her Sunday morning.

"Was that yesterday?" she asked. "Are you sure?"

Her 73-year-old roommate started to chuckle.

"Well," snapped Grandma, "I just wish I could be here when you're 90."

Many of the old folks who were unable to move in with families after Jan. 17 moved to Ararat Home's single-story convalescent hospital next door, where they slept in beds ringed with privacy curtains and waited.

We had brought Grandma to my father's home in January. She took sick immediately; her interest in life was dwindling away. We fretted that the end had come.

But she hung in there, got better and, after a few days, wanted like hell to go home. Where she could take an elevator between floors instead of stairs, where all her precious belongings were, where she didn't feel like she was imposing.

So my father drove her back to Mission Hills a week later. She took up residence in the convalescent hospital--and like so many others displaced by the quake--began waiting; waiting for repairs, waiting to settle back into her familiar routines.

The home had sustained much more serious damage than was first thought. What was predicted to be a couple of weeks' worth of repairs ended up taking a couple of months.

But finally, on Saturday, the old folks took possession of their rooms.

And on Sunday, the aftershock kicked some of them right back out again.

*

Grandma's room was barely damaged by the aftershock. Furniture flew, plaster cracked, but nothing like the first time around.

Still, it was upsetting.

"I'm not scared at the time, really," she said, "but afterward it seems like it works on me."

What Grandma really needed, it seemed, was her easy chair--the comfort of its familiarity, its cushioned embrace.

I had wandered off to talk to someone about it when a man came toward me wheeling a big tweedy chair on a dolly. The chair was upside down. I didn't recognize it. Just before I asked, I spied a line in black marker under the upturned skirt: "8/28/85."

Grandma's. Of course.

Her mood brightened considerably when she saw the chair. We maneuvered it into place, and she let out a big sigh.

"Come here," she said as I got up to leave. "I want to show you something."

She slid her closet door open, and pushed aside her dresses.

"They didn't see this when they repainted," she said, giggling like a high school girl.

I bent closer to see.

In an unsteady hand, my grandmother, Annie Abcarian, had inscribed these words on the closet wall:

"A.A. Moved here June 27, 1992."

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