Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thank You, Thank You For Coming

Some call them alternative housing or assisted living places. Some are called nursing homes. I’ve only been in a couple…and it seems they are mostly like any other home, they differ. It takes special people to work there, gifted in ways most of us are not and the last thing one wants to think about, other than that other thing we don’t like to think about is having a loved one or even ourselves living there. But it happens.

Mom and I visited one the other day. Mom’s eighty eight and she wanted to give an old friend a “warmer” to put on her bed. I have no idea how old the old friend was, probably not eighty eight. We’ve been lucky. “You know, she may not recognize me this time, she was coming and going the last time I visited.” Mom said. “Well, that’s ok, I said, I’m sure she’ll enjoy the warmer anyway.” I waited in the lobby and browsed through some photo albums while she went down the hall. The pictures showed a happy staff who looked like a great bunch of folks even though they stared death and her “handmaidens” in the face every day. After twenty minutes or so mom came back with a smile on her face and I asked, “Well, did she remember you?” “No, she said, but I could tell she was trying hard.” (I guess that was enough for mom.) “I’m sure she’ll enjoy the warmer.” “Yeah, I said, wonder where she was today?” “She seemed happy” was all mom would say. “That’s good.”

Years ago, at a local church, there was a greeter. He could always be found standing out front prior to the service and whenever you showed up, whether seven days or seven years since your last appearance, he would say, “Thank you, thank you for coming.” He was a short little fellow with a great memory, a widower with a big Sunday morning grin each time you entered the vestibule of the church. “Thank you, thank you for coming” he would say, as if your simple act of walking in the door was the most important event that had taken place at that church in years... equal to a visit by the Pope perhaps or maybe Billy Graham.
He seemed really happy to be able to say “thank you” each time someone entered. A few years ago a friend and I went to see him in his nursing home after he’d had a series of strokes. We asked for his room and the attendant showed us down the hall. We both had misgivings about the visit, I hadn’t been to church in years, and a walk down “guilt trip lane” was just not something I was into that evening. As we got closer to his room I felt the walls closing in, as they say, but my friend helped me take a few more steps. Then there we were, face to face with this wonderful little fellow who had made us feel at home each time we visited the church. I didn’t think he would remember me but he did, or so I thought, and as soon as I entered his room he looked up from his wheelchair and said, “Thank you, thank you for coming!” I felt relieved and grateful he had remembered this old sinner from a few years back. I started to mumble something about “how are you” or some such and then he said it again, “Thank you, thank you for coming” and I realized those were the only words left for him to remember, six simple words that had meant so much to the people attending his church.
We stayed only a short while and left with tears as the echo of his greeting followed us down the hall. “Thank you, thank you for coming.” I wondered where he was that day and thought about all the memories and words he could have been left with in the home. He may have been luckier than we know, forever the greeter, “thank you, thank you for coming”.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Getting One's Mind Right

It is that time of year again, “the holidays”, and let’s face it…they started with Thanksgiving. From now until “Superbowl Sunday” no meaningful work will be done by anyone except those who consider work life and life work. I suppose I’m one of those but I do enjoy the reward that comes as a result of me doing my life’s work. In other words, if I won the lottery, I would still do what I do…well for a few hours anyway. Still, when this season arrives, as my wife would say, to quote Strother Martin in “Cool Hand Luke”, “you gonna get your mind right!” Well, I’ve had thirty years to get my mind right and still find myself in the “ hot box” cause “what we have here is…”failure to communicate”.

My wife takes this time of year seriously and it usually begins with unpacking the attic. That’s where all manner of stuff “holiday” is located for eleven months. This takes two days and three fights as I threaten to have a yard sale and she gets all melancholy about fifty year old Christmas stockings in need of a good seamstress. I go up the ladder while she stands at the bottom and greets each piece of holiday cheer as though she were seeing some relative for the first time in ten years. If these pieces could talk I’m sure they’d be saying, “Please, not this again, just when we were getting comfortable up there…who wants to hang on somebody’s door for a month!”

She also thinks the holidays mean family reunion time and that’s great but when you’re sixty-three a lot of the family’s Elvis moment came and they “left the building” and the ones still here are oft times starving, too young to remember the ones worth remembering and in love with somebody who they bring to the holiday festivities, usually at our house. And of course there’s always the living relatives you’d rather not see in the first place who manage to “just stop by” for a day of eating and cleaning out the liquor cabinet. This is where I do the, “this ain’t no soup kitchen routine” which gets me in a lot of trouble, particularly if they happen to be on her side of the family. So I have to get my mind right or the holidays will be a time to remember for sure as “Miss Holiday Spirit” will remind me how I ruined another opportunity to watch old people drink, and young people eat massive quantities of turkey, watch football, sleep on our couch and turn the bathroom into a Nascar experience.  
 I guess it’s that male menopause I’ve been hearing about but for the last several holidays the pets we’ve had down through the years always seem to come to mind. If I recollect correctly, they only drank water, ate their own food, watched the animal channel, slept on the floor and most times used the bathroom outside. They were a great bunch of folks to have around and when I see them in family videos, dadburned if they don’t seem like family. There was old Chipper, the blond cocker spaniel, whose ears always got in the dressing when he ate out of his bowl. And Duke the Boston Terrier who would chase a squirrel up a tree trying to get Christmas dinner on the run. Or Deuce the hairless Yorkie whose idea of a good holiday meal was anything he didn’t have to run down to eat or whatever somebody would bring to his bed. They were my kind of folks. But, like ol’ ”Bring on the Eggnog” says, I’ve got to get my mind right. I would suggest flying to some exotic warm place but I haven’t had my “junk” touched in years and it looks like the TSA officers have their hands full as it is.