On the Job, 24 Hours a Day, 27 Days a Month

“You O.K., Bob?”

“Yeah,” he muttered. He settled in the chair by the deck, got up, plopped down on the living room couch, put his feet up, laced his fingers and stared down at them. Marjorie cleared the table.

Bob is a retired sanitation and boatyard worker from the Bronx. His white hair is going wispy, but he is dimpled and handsome in a Popeye sort of way. Four years ago, he was living on Long Island with his girlfriend and started to get forgetful and belligerent. She left.

His son and daughter moved him to Stamford, Conn., near them, and installed him in a modest house on a quiet side street. He had an aide four hours a day, then six, then eight, then one night in January at 5 a.m. a neighbor found him wandering the block.

He was put in a nursing home — $400 a day, but it didn’t seem like adequate care. “They were trying, but they were overwhelmed,” said his son, Robert Dettmer, a doctor. He contacted a home care agency, Helping Hands. “Luckily, Marge was the first person they sent to us, and she was good.”

Bob’s son and daughter agreed to allow a reporter to spend time with their father and Marjorie.

Marjorie is 58, with a broad face, high cheekbones, merry eyes and an easy laugh. She emigrated from Jamaica, lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and has been an aide for more than 20 years. She is a freelancer, affiliated with Helping Hands.

When she arrived, she said, she had to hide Bob’s shoes, lock the garage and block the doors to keep him from running. He had urinated everywhere; the whole place stank. It took her weeks to get the house and Bob under control, to instill some semblance of order and routine.

Just before lunch, Marjorie was making herself a cup of tea when she decided that Bob had been too long in the bathroom. She went to check.