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From Zadie Smith to Doris Zich

On the train last Saturday to Boston to see my 99-year-old mother-in-law who wasn’t feeling well and may have had another TIA, I read the following Sunday New York Times Book Review letter, the first of 3 printed in response to the Nov. 20 By the Book interview with Zadie Smith. It appeared under the topic, “What Zadie Smith Reads”

TO THE EDITOR:

I am overwhelmed by how many books Zadie Smith has on her night stand. According to my count, it is more than 20. I am impressed by her list of books, but more impressed by the night stand, able to support all that literary weight. If Smith could tell us where to buy such an item of furniture, we all could become better readers.

LOWELL COHN

OAKLAND, CALIF.

***

Zadie’s night stand and Doris’s health were not the reasons our Uber driver barked that he had a GPS and knew the way when Jonathan suggested a possible alternative route to “the place.” Do Know-it-Alls know at all how obnoxious and jerky they sound?

***

Doris, napping in her room and not at an activity when we arrived, expressed her delight and gratitude upon awakening and seeing us. “That was nice of you to come and see me,” she said more than once.

“We wanted to see you,” I said. “Did you nap okay?”

“Fine. Why shouldn’t I nap okay?” She sounded like she did nine years ago the day after her husband’s funeral when I asked her if she slept okay. “Of course,” she said. “Aren’t you supposed to?”

“How are you feeling?” I now asked.

“Fine, why shouldn’t I be feeling fine.”

Nine years ago, when she spoke like this, she scared me. She was new to me.

“You’re the least kvetchy person I know,” I told her, trying to see if she was really okay.

“That’s some honor.” Her head was still on the pillow. “It makes me wonder what kind of people you hang around with.” She definitely sounded like herself.

She asked questions about us, the train ride, my book, our kids, and grandkids. The same ones several times. Jonathan showed her the latest videos of our granddaughter and grandson. She laughed.

Three aides got her dressed in slacks and a pretty silk blouse for dinner. Now she looked like herself.

We wheeled her down to her table for dinner. She was thrilled to introduce us, despite not remembering my name, happy to show her girls we were there. “It was nice of you to come from New York to see me,” she told us a few more times as she ate her turkey dinner that was served all cut up because of the last TIA.

Our visits the last few years have been sweeter. More poignant. Her comebacks make me think of my parents. Of their humor. I wish they all could have met.

During a visit last year when I told her about the publication of my new book, she said, “So I can kvell about you.”

“Please do,” I said.

When we arrived at ‘the place’ Sunday morning, again she was still in bed. “It was nice of you to come all this way,” she said.

“I wanted to see you,” I told her. I did, too.

Three aides got her dressed in a different pretty blouse and slacks for breakfast. She wanted her lipstick on. Of course! “You look pretty,” I said. Jonathan complimented her, too. We wheeled her downstairs. She was thrilled to have us with her. She introduced us around.

“We’ll be back soon,” I said when we kissed good-bye. I saw a piano in one of the lounges. “I’ll bring sheet music next time.”

“That’ll be great,” she said.

***

The Uber driver who took us to the train station asked us if we knew a better way. He didn’t take this route often. He was open. Gentle. Sweet. I told him about the pip from yesterday. “We’re not all the same,” he said.

People show so much of themselves. I don’t have 20 books on my night stand. I often don’t know the way.

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