The serenity of Elizabeth Seeney's nursing home room, with its stuffed dolls, blooming flowers and colorful quilts, often gives way to gasps of disbelief soon after the 87-year-old woman awakens each day.
That's when the newspaper arrives at the Health Care Institute in Southeast Washington and with it word of things unheard of in her day.
"I've been trying to keep up but I'm wondering about this 'crack' business," she said during an interview yesterday. "It was cocaine, and then what? Did they change the name? When I was growing up, we didn't know anything about dope unless it was in your medicine."
Elizabeth Bratcher, who is 74 and lives down the hall, frequently stops by Seeney's room to chat.
"I have a great-grandchild who is 6, and it's scary to think about what is going on," she says. "I just wonder whether it is the home life. Are parents talking to their children? Is peer pressure that strong?"
Seeney and Bratcher sigh. If you think the drugs and violence on the street are hard to comprehend, consider what it must be like for two women whose idea of a good time was playing bingo in a barnyard or walking with a lantern down a dark rural road after a church social.
They talk about the days when a long loaf of bread cost only 20 cents and now they are reading about crumbs of crack for $25.
It makes no sense. And to make matters more difficult, they are reporters for the nursing home newspaper. Their job is to try to explain what's happening to other residents. It is a tall order, indeed.
"The world is in turmoil," Seeney says.
"It is changing fast," Bratcher says.
"Maybe everything is repeating itself," Seeney says. "I remember when we had diseases that couldn't be cured: the 'old time consumption,' tuberculosis, and syphilis. Maybe they have all come back as one called AIDS?"
"It disturbs me," Bratcher says, "just like cancer does. Same thing as far as I'm concerned."
Seeney and Bratcher say they rise early and read newspapers before walking around in search of birthday news or news of other events -- such as the institute's weekly current events class.
"They are very interested in what is going on in the world and have a strong desire to communicate with others," said Craig Lakin, the institute administrator.
"We see as the most challenging part of our mission providing residents with the opportunity to maximize their potential. Mrs. Seeney and Mrs. Bratcher are outstanding examples of this."
A popular column in the nursing home newspaper is the nostalgic look at things like yard gardens called "Do You Remember When . . . "
It is a change of pace from daily revelations of ministerial misdeeds. "Disgusting," Seeney says of the latter. "Just awful," Bratcher adds.
And it is relief from the political controversies surrounding Mideast pipeline tipoffs and contra fund diversions.
"Everybody is out for the money and just lying about it," Seeney says. Bratcher adds, "You expect some men to stand taller than others."
Every now and again, something good comes along.
"I'm really interested in that young, smart girl -- Debi Thomas," the Olympic figure skater, Seeney says. "She's working with a real good aim. She is determined to make the public see what she can do and just by trying she will help some other person take the same steps she has. That's what I like about her."
Nevertheless, the troubled times always seem to make an impact, even if it's just a restless night.
At a point in their lives when they, like elderly people everywhere, should be able to sit back and rest on laurels earned after decades of hard work, they don't dare go to a store or a theater or take a simple stroll -- without the protection of nursing home staff.
"If the people on the street can't sell you dope, they'll rob you," Seeney says.
Outside their windows, they can see that the sun still rises and shines. Grass grows, flowers bloom and birds sing. Beyond that, they hardly recognize the place.