There won’t be any Merry Christmas in Bishop after this weekend.
Because Merry’s gone.
Merry Katherine Christmas, who moved to Bishop in 1983, is moving to an assisted living facility in the Yucca Valley.
She’d rather stay here, in her own home.
But there’s no live-in help to be found.
So she’s resigned to selling her home and pulling up stakes.
Although she’s in no condition to literally pull the stakes.
She broke her femur on June 6 and was transported to Reno for surgery.
She then came back to the Bishop Care Center for rehabilitation at the end of June.
But Merry turns 83 next month, and the body doesn’t heal from such injuries like it used to. So they told her that she had two options. 1. Start paying $10,000/month to stay at the Care Center, or 2. Find another place to live.
Her principal crime appears to be that she actually still has assets.
“If you have a little money, they’ve got to clean you out first,” she says. “Then you go on Medi-Cal.”
Bishop Care Center is considered a skilled nursing facility. Where Merry is headed in the Yucca Valley is considered assisted living and is priced at about half.
The base price
The issue will be the upselling. Everything is an upsell. Want help getting dressed every morning? That’ll cost you. A bath? Extra.
And Merry’s gonna need some assistance. When I arrived, she was a bit spent because her oxygen had been left near the other bed in her room, and she’d had to pull it over with her good leg.
She then pointed to her wheelchair, which was out of reach. And the slide board to get herself into the wheelchair, which was also out of reach, propped on the windowsill.
In essence, she’s captive.
So why not fall on the sword and divest oneself of assets and throw oneself upon the mercy of the state and try to stay put?
Answer: “I worked so hard in my life. I was a single woman. I put a roof over my head that was mine and paid off. To give that all up just so I can live in this cubicle is really hard … “
“They run you in circles until you just get too tired to fight. You feel like you’re nothing … I’ve been getting nervous about it [the move]. Bishop’s home. I don’t want to leave.
Sheet: Do you worry about dying?
Merry: No. I’m a Christian. That [heaven] is someplace I’m looking forward to going to. I sometimes wish I was gone already.”
In her work life, she was an optician, and managed an optical company in Pasadena for two decades. Part of her skill set was in grinding lenses, and her claim to fame is that one of her lenses for the original Voyager, commissioned by JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) is still up there in space and still working.
She is also a Navy veteran, having served from 1961-1967 as a 1st Class Petty Officer.
Merry was born in Hollywood and grew up with a view of the Griffith Observatory. Her grandmother worked at Lockheed during WWII.
She vacationed in the Sierra for a few decades before fulfilling her dream of moving here.
Sheet: What are your favorite things about Bishop?
Merry: Good air. Views. The cloud formations. The friendly people and small-town life. I hosted many a family gathering here over the years. The family holidays are so deeply identified with my home.
Merry took another sip of her root beer. I asked her if root beer was her favorite drink.
“Favorite soft drink,” she laughed. “I like champagne, bourbon and 7, cuba libres, martinis with lots of olives … that used to be my dinner sometimes [as a young woman out on the town]. Olives and onions!”
She says her favorite restaurant in Bishop is Yamatani, and she’s partial to the sashimi and the Alaskan rolls. “Robbie [Yamatani owner Robbie Tani] came by to bring some sushi the other day. I ate it for three days,” says Merry.
She says the Care Center is “probably one of the better ones” in terms of Nursing Homes, but it’s clearly understaffed. “The other night they had three people in my entire section.”
The physical therapy has been helpful in terms of gaining arm strength, but “At Renown, they had me standing. Here, they tried for a time or two and said forget it.”
Finally, the big question. What’s it like going through life as Merry Christmas?
She says she never asked her parents about her given name. But she was from a movie industry family, so she surmises they gave her a showbiz name with the idea of that maybe it would portend a showbiz future.
“I took acting lessons at four and five years old, and I liked the lessons, but I was petrified of being onstage,” she says.
In Bishop, she sang with the Sweet Adelines, but that was different, she says, because she was part of a group and not up there alone.
In parting, Merry said, “You know what the best thing is in life? Memories.”