Friday, November 18, 2005

P.E.O.: Pretty Exciting Oldsters

Everything worked out beautifully for Mom's first P.E.O. meeting in two years.
When we left for the meeting, I handed her the information and address booklet from her old chapter in Boulder, Colorado, in case this chapter in Santa Irena needed proof that she was really a P.E.O. However, the booklet confused her. She looked through the addresses, remembering the names of friends and asking, "Will Harriet Smith be there?"
"No, she's in Boulder," I explained. "We're in Santa Irena, so the Boulder P.E.O.s won't be here. It's like the song, 'Make new friends, but keep the old.'"
"Oh, I see," she said, and she did get it.
The home was perfectly wheel-chair accessible--it had been built for a family with a young woman in a wheelchair.
Mom got through the three hours from 10 am to 1 pm without doing or saying anything too bad, I think. I had to sit outside in the garden for the business meeting, which was not open to non-P.E.O.s, so I'm not sure what transpired then, other than my anxiety as I sat there copying addresses from one address book to another and wondering whether she was behaving normally.
"How did she do?" I asked the hostess when I was allowed back in.
"Oh, we enjoyed her," she answered. "She told us all about when she and her friends went swimming in the nude and her uncle was watching."
"Oh dear!" I gasped, thinking through various versions of this story she enjoys telling.
Footnote regarding LBD: there are often no sexual inhibitions because the frontal temporal lobe is not functioning properly. In a normal mind, this part of the brain looks at various behavioral options and discards many as inappropriate. In a mind affected by LBD, anything can happen. There can even be a greater interest in sexuality.
(Note to myself: join P.E.O. so you can stay with her at all times and redirect her when needed.)
Mom was thrilled to be at a P.E.O. meeting again. She chatted and ate the refreshments and met all the ladies.
The entertainment portion of the meeting was a member from a nearby chapter reporting on the International P.E.O. Convention this fall in Vancouver, BC. The speaker was intelligent and revealed a new policy: "It's okay to talk about P.E.O."
I nearly fell off my chair as she apparently revealed what those initials stand for: "We are a philanthropic, educational group." Philanthropic Educational Order?! Bingo!
The report was detailed, however, and I found myself hardly able to stay awake.
"And then we went back to the hotel again," she continued as I struggled to keep my head up.
Mom, however, stayed alert and attentive the whole time. Go figure.
As I expected, these twelve ladies were the creme de la creme of Santa Irena. The home was in a wealthy neighborhood. It was spacious and mission-style with beautiful tiled floors, gardens, white walls and exposed dark beams in the ceilings.
One of the ladies introduced herself as Margaret and told about earning a BS in biology and chemistry at Pomona College in the early 1940s but being denied admission to medical school because of a bad recommendation from a chemistry professor. He had written that she was not good at spatial design. She ended up earning an MS from the University of Colorado and working in laboratories and bioengineering.
Just one thing surprised me: these women were gracious and tolerant of Mom, in spite of her obvious dementia and her wheelchair-bound state. I had told them she lives on the "secure floor" of Ocean View Assisted Living, and they witnessed her wild talk. But they still invited her to join the chapter. One of them talked about living in the neighborhood of another chapter for years and never being invited to join.
Driving back to Ocean View afterward, I was moved to tears by their generosity.
But I was also faced with a moral decision: they had invited me to join too. In fact, the hostess's first words to me had been, "How have you escaped becoming a P.E.O.?"
I stammered some kind of answer, not listing the organizations I am a member of: NOW, NARAL, RCRC, EEWC, WomenChurch Convergence.
My goal is to take Mom to P.E.O. meetings without myself making any commitment to these ladies. But their devotion to others in the "P.E.O. Sisterhood" is impressive and must be the reason they welcomed Mom and me to their meeting on short notice.
"Sisterhood"--the cry of feminists in the late 1960s and '70s, the second wave of the women's liberation movement.
I didn't realize Grandma and her friends were into sisterhood, or Mom and her friends. But P.E.O. was founded in 1869, so it must have been a part of the first wave.

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