I’ve always been drawn to “older folks.” When I was very young, one of my favorites was my neighbor Bessie Jacobs. If I was sick and couldn’t go to school when Mom was working, I’d stay with Bessie for the day. Then there was the little-off-kilter, but utterly fascinating Rozina Henningfield. She was different, but had very cool stories to share. Kathy lived at Valley Manor when Mom worked there and I was in school. As I walked in, Kathy would grab my hand and off we’d go, stopping in most of the rooms to visit residents, but I did all the talking.

The doll quilt Bessie Jacobs made for me in the mid 50’s…

Ivor and Gertie Dearborn were an elderly couple who lived 2 blocks from my house. Ivor was spry, but Gertie was frail and needed help. Mom worked for them caring for Gertie. Fixing their meals was a bit of a challenge for Mom because the Dearborn’s still used a cook stove. Ivor would tell Mom what kind of wood to use for what she was cooking. They were a devoted couple who were a joy to listen and talk to when I was a kid. Clarence and Ida were an older couple who lived next to us in Hinton when we were young, inexperienced parents. Their only “child” was a yippy-snippy-coffee-drinking-cigarette-smoking-chubby-Chihauhau named Ginger. She used to sit on a “throne” about table height with a lit cigarette in her mouth. Head tilted way back to keep the smoke out of her eyes. I kid you not. She had her own coffee cup, although she preferred to lap it out of the saucer. Had to watch baby Shannon like a hawk around Ginger. She (the ornery dog) was used to being the only princess in the house, and truly did not play well with others or cared to share the affections of her 2 biggest fans.

I was working part-time as the Parish Visitor of a large Methodist Church, once home to 1600 members during the ’50’s and ’60’s, our congregation had shrunk. Wealthy folks who lived, worked and worshipped in the downtown area had moved out to the burbs. The total membership hovered around 500, but half that attended.

I had noticed this odd couple in church several times. To be truthful, I thought they were homeless and came in to escape the cold. Pretty sure they were a mother-son duo. She was quite old and frail. He was tall, skinny as a rail, and used a walker. Then there was his hair. He dyed it pitch black, but every week looked as though another dye job was 6 weeks overdue. The mom passed away and sonny stopped coming.

Preacher-boss-#-2-passing-through-my-life asked me to add a new name to my growing, ever changing parish visitor list. A man named Charles. He lived just a few blocks from me. Until he opened the door, I didn’t know he was the tall-skinny-walker-bad-dye-job-guy. And he was just a few years older than me. Hmmm, that was different. Charles was suffering from a very serious kidney ailment. Soon learned what foods I had to steer clear of when bringing him anything edible. Nothing with bananas, beans or potatoes. This was part of the reason I kept such comprehensive journals to help refresh my memory on folk’s backgrounds.

Wasn’t exactly sure what was different about Charles. Our chaplain thought he might have Asperger’s Syndrome. Charles had detailed, vast knowledge that he enjoyed sharing on certain subjects, but trouble relating one-on-one-with-what’s-going-on-in-your-world-today-conversations. He had some dear friends, Al and Nyla who came to visit every Wednesday, which was Nyla’s day off. She was still working full time as an R.N. They ran his errands, paid his bills, looked out for his best interests as guardians and advocates. I discovered it was more enjoyable to visit Charles when Al and Nyla were there. If I arrived before they did, Charles would bark out orders like a drill sergeant. “Start the coffee, take out the trash, turn down the heat.” (He did keep it 85 in his house most of the time. No meat on his bones, he was always cold) Once Nyla and Al got there, Charles appeared to be watching a tennis match. His head would bob back and forth, listening and watching Nyla and I talk. He would contribute to the conversation on occasion. I learned that Nyla had grown up just a few miles from me!

Charles had a collection of paperweights. I bought this at his estate sale…

Charles had an enormous pipe organ in the basement of his house. He was so infatuated with the organ that he had a special furnace and de-humidifier installed to keep it from going out of whack. He used to beg Nyla to play some of his favorite hymns when she came. I never heard him play. He was too sick to go downstairs, but he must have been pretty talented. He once played the organ at the Crystal Cathedral in California.

Al, Nyla and Charles on vacation to California

As his health failed, Charles was hospitalized and had a procedure fitting him with a permanent feeding tube. I stopped in and saw he wasn’t doing very well. He had lost so much weight. Dialysis, though keeping him alive was taking a huge toll, and it took several hours 3 times a week. Just getting in and out of their transport van was exhausting for him. He looked miserable. I made small talk for a few minutes, soon he fell sound asleep. I sat by his bed, then got twitchy thinking of the rest of the folks I still wanted to see that day. All I did was pick my purse up off the floor. One of his eyes peeked open, he stared at me, then made this peculiar statement, “don’t go gettin’ your eagers,” (which I understood to mean, please sit still and stay with me awhile longer-even if I’m sleeping). Never heard that before, but it was what I needed to hear and where I needed to be. So I stayed.

Charles continued his downward spiral. Although it’s been many years since he passed, one of my biggest regrets is that he died alone in a nursing home about a mile from my house. He must have been so scared. I know he was never alone-God was there, but to a man like Charles I think he would have been terrified. He had many child like qualities. He would have felt comfort (and me too) if I’d been there to hold his hand when God took him home. I visited him a couple days before, he was on his side, groaning, eyes closed. I touched his shoulder, “Charles, what’s wrong, are you in pain? What can I do to help? Do you want me to find a nurse?” He shook his head, “no, don’t bother. I’ve got so much pain in my legs. Will you put a pillow between my knees?” I did and the pain seemed to ease somewhat. He stopped moaning, grew still and fell asleep. I sat for a few minutes, said a prayer and left. It was the last time I saw him alive, but not the last time we will meet my friend…

One thought on “Charles-in-charge…

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