Monday, November 16, 2009

The man on the corner

He sits in a wheelchair in his pajama pants and fleece vest.

I've passed him numerous times on my walk as I make the loop up Orange Prairie Road and around the streets that border Liberty Village, a retirement community.

At first, I simply waved, not wanting to be slowed down or distracted from my iPod tunes. This day, he motions me over, and I cross the street to say hello.

"What's your name?" is the first thing out of his mouth.
"Amy," I reply.
"How far do you walk?"
"About three and a half miles or so."

He stares at the Velcro iPod wrap I have on my arm.
"Does that check your blood pressure?"
"No," I reply with a laugh. "That's my music."

We chat for a bit - mostly him, asking me various questions about my trek. I answer, keenly aware that my heart rate is dropping and I need to get back at it. After a few minutes, I leave him sitting there and continue on, but he doesn't leave my thoughts.

A few days later, he's there again. This time, I approach him. "Have you been sitting here all this time?" I joke. He answers, "Tell me more about yourself."

I give him the general,"stranger-danger, Cliff Notes version", but that's not good enough for him. He wants to know everything - am I married... do I have children... what do I do for a living. I tell him I'm divorced with two kids, and a writer, currently "unemployed". He says he's written a few things as well, and proceeds to tell me about a lodge he and his son built up near Princeville for friends and family so they have a place to stay when deer hunting. "I call it 'BuckSnort'," he says. "I wrote about it."

I say I'd like to read it sometime. He says it's in longhand and he needs someone to type it. I offer.

"I'll pay you," he says.
"No payment necessary," I say. "I'd love to read about it."

As we chat, he tells me he was a salesman. "My customers weren't just my customers. They were my friends. I wanted to know about them - their lives." Now in his 80's (I would guess), he's recently had a stroke, and is suffering from lung cancer. He's also had a bout with skin cancer, which is evident when he pulls out a small tube of SPF 55 and offers it to me. He continues to want to know more about me, and it is obvious he is lonely.

"Isn't it funny," he says as we talk. "You have such a life, and no money. I have money, but no life."

I stood there and talked to him for probably half an hour or so - my lowered heart rate and time schedule could not have been further from my mind. I got to thinking - this man has had quite a life, and the stories he must have to tell. He points up the street to where he lives, and I vow to stop by sometime to pick up his essay and type it up for him.

As I walk home, I wonder how many others who are late in life have a treasure trove of stories that beg to be told - to their children... their grandchildren... or anyone else who can appreciate what our elders have gone through in decades past. If your grandparents are still living, do you know their story? What about your parents? Wouldn't you like to know the lives they led, the challenges they faced, the triumphs they experienced?

My mother gave her children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren the greatest of gifts. Before my grandmother on my father's side passed away, my mom took months interviewing her and wrote "Roses in December: Reminiscences of Gladys Talcott". She had 50 copies published and bound in hard cover and had my grandmother sign them all. It's a fascinating, poignant, funny and sometimes gut-wrenching window into my grandmother's life that probably would have followed her to her grave had it not been for my mom's persistence and vision.

I hope to learn more about the life of the man in the wheelchair, and more like him. If you know of someone who is interested in sharing their story, please contact me. I'd love to be the one to tell it.

6 comments:

  1. I find this fascinating for a few reasons. I love hearing my grandparents tell stories.. Not the 'when I was a kid..' stories, but the "I once knew a young woman and my parents didn't approve.." or the "I once was fired from a job" type of stories. They intrigue me because in my mind, my grandparents have earned their position on a pedestal and have, in my mind, lived rich, yet quietly respectful lives.

    I also find this fascinating because my mom has been journaling our family's life since I was in grade school. I'm not exactly sure when she started, but I know it chronicles from at least that far back because I remember entries from when I was in activities and my whereabouts and outings with friends during the mid 80s. These books, when she started were just a personal project for her, but have come to mean so much more because of my father's diagnosis with dementia in 2000 and his passing last year. To be able to read about him and tell stories to my children and to REMEMBER is the greatest gift my mom is giving us. And when she passes, we will be able to remember her and all she has given our family.

    Lastly, I would love to be able to do this for my own children some day. They know me as 'mommy'.. and I currently stay at home with them. One of my four year olds recently asked me what I did before I was a mommy and it was nice to recall the years in my life before I had children and to be able to share that with them. Once they are all in school full-time, I will return to a career and more of a life outside of our home. As our children gain more independence, I notice myself gaining some of my old self back too. Being a mom is such a HUGE part of me and something I (even in days of denial) always wanted...but it's only part of me. I want them to know the 'whole' me and be able to connect with my thoughts, emotions, adventures and share that with their children and their children's children, once I'm physically gone.

    You are doing a wonderful act for this gentlemen in just listening to him, but I hope it goes above and beyond and you do get to type his story for him. I'm sure he is lonely. But more than lonely, he doesn't want to be forgotten. You are the avenue he needs. Embrace it!

    --sahm

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  2. That is wonderful that you have that chronology, sahm. And there is a way you can do it for your kids NOW - in little ways - even though you are stressed with little ones and have NO time - I know, I've been there. What I do each year is write each of my sons a letter on their birthdays. I tell about the year we had - what happened (good and bad)... everything from world events to the milestones in their lives to the milestones in MY life. I seal them and at some point will give the letters to them - or perhaps create a book. It's not journaling every day, but it's the best I can do for now.

    And I truly get where you are coming from as far as the "whole" you. I stayed at home for nearly seven years, and though I knew it was for the best at the time, a part of me yearned to work - just for me. I truly think I'm a better mom when I am working, and you should not feel selfish for wanting to "have it all", as they say. This is a precious time for you, but trust me, there are many, many more to come.

    Thank you for your words of encouragement!

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  3. I read with interest of your exchange with the man in the wheelchair. When you told him about your IPod it reminded me of the effects music can have.

    It was in the 90's and I was a c/w dance instructor and had a following of dancers. We would give demo's at schools, nursing homes, parades, etc.

    One Demo. comes to mind. We came to a nursing home. I set up my music system with large speakers. The employees brought people out to the common area and most as I recall were in wheel chairs. It was a sad sight to behole. The people just sat there looking lifeless. No smiles, heads bowed and appeared to either sleeping or bored out of their minds.

    I put the music on and watched in amazement. The heads started to come up, feet started to tap to the music, hands started to clap. We started dancing to "Boot Scootin Boogie" by Brooks and Dunn and these old people, who just a few moments before appeared to be sleeping really came to life.

    The power of music is unbelievable.

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  5. I love this. And if you get to write it, I want a copy. =)
    I really do think there's something to this, Amy. Even short stories could change kids' opinions. I know just hearing the history of Ellis Island and "Lady Liberty," the amount of opportunities my generation has is just overwhelming (let alone our children's generation!). And I don't even know any of my ancestors who traveled by boat to get here.
    The other half of my ancestors WERE here - so much for documentation on their lives.
    Having any paragraphs reflecting history of our grandparents would be priceless.

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  6. i enjoy reading your writing as much for the beauty of the words as for the story you tell.

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