On a good day, one sunny and warm, peep at the window boxes outside The Willows. Whatever life might be sprouting or blooming there is likely the work of Louise Rounds, one of the assisted living facility’s residents. “I want The Willows to look good,” Louise says.
The Rhode Island native acquired a fondness for gardening from her grandmother, who also imparted affinities for reading, sewing and nursing —Louise’s eventual profession. As a kid, she would skate around the block to visit her grandma. “[She] was not a nurse, but was very nurse like,” Louise says. That was inspiration enough: when she graduated from nursing school in 1956, Louise was one of only 40 students remaining from a class that began with 80.
Louise has lived in Rhode Island for most of her life, though for a brief spell in seventh grade she was “surrounded by cornfields” in rural New Jersey. Her father, a military man, was stationed in New Brunswick. Beset with homesickness for Rhody’s shoreline and beaches, Louise was not a fan of this isolated area, though she did enjoy having a dog named Mike.
Eventually, her father caught tuberculosis, pushing the family back to Rhode Island. A preteen Louise ended up living with her grandmother for a year or so. As she progressed through high school, her perseverance and determination became deep-seated characteristics. She met resistance when wanting to take an extra class. Says Louise: “I wore them down by being persistent.”
That seriousness attracted an equally solemn mate, Freddy, who remained her husband until his death in 2011. They met at a church conference when Louise was still 16. He “wasn’t into dancing or anything like that,” Louise says. Nor did Freddy exhibit much wanderlust: he was a homebody, totally content with the domestic. Part of that joy came from their offspring: sons Tom and Brad, and daughter Martha (the couple’s youngest, who also took up nursing), as well as seven grandchildren. (Freddy and Louise did, however, travel to Niagara Falls once.)
Following her nursing career and rearing a family, the plot of Louise’s life advanced toward volunteering and pleasurable activities like quilting. The latter she still pursues, with several lovely quilts displayed in her living space. One is a large, square-based composition with colorful lines skating above fields of blended, rainbow hues.
Several years ago, Louise volunteered locally and often, helping elementary students at the Guiteras and Colt Andrews schools in Bristol improve their reading skills. She was an acolyte at Saint Michael’s Church. Audubon and Blithewold were also fulfilling venues for Louise to serve. Louise is not as active these days, her abilities somewhat impaired by health issues, though she is “pretty much pain-free” if she uses a walker.
A lifelong reader, Louise admits she had to slim down her shelves when moving: “I can’t imagine the books I got rid of to come here.” Two of the tomes she did keep have special value: Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal and another title, Should We Live Forever? The Ethical Ambiguities of Aging. Both books make room for empathy, understanding and acceptance of the inevitable difficulties of aging —a truth which Louise has admirably accepted with grit. “As elderly people we have to recognize that we can’t just go on and on and on,” she says.
Part of that recognition involves admitting the need for support in old age. Moving to The Willows has certainly helped Louise cope with and weather the challenges of later life. She easily lists the benefits of the assisted living facility: transportation to appointments and errands, on-site meals, and social activities like yoga, bingo and music which help lessen “loneliness and isolation.” In this nurturing environment, Louise maintains a satisfying measure of independence. She’s still an avid reader and, if the window boxes outside are any indication, a devoted gardener.
Ever keen and knowledgable about her own care and health, Louise holds onto the acumen and attitude of her background in nursing. “Here they treat me like a resident, but I think like a nurse,” she says.
So too does her memory recall with ease and vividness the contents of these formative years: Sitting in her nursing uniform on a 6:30 morning bus to the Roger Williams Housing Project,. Glass syringes clinking in a black bag. A student nurse who lied about a patient’s temperature and was promptly expelled the same day. (“That was an educational spark,” Louise muses.) Hanging out with Freddy at Howard Johnson’s, sipping a ginger ale float, racing back before a 10 p.m. curfew.