Back in April and May, as I was settling in at Covenant Woods, I had hopes of crossing Woodruff Farm Road in my wheelchair and going to Publix. But for most of the day, Woodruff Farm Road’s four lanes carry a steady stream of traffic. And Piggly-Wiggly is just down the asphalt path. A supermarket, after all, is a supermarket is a supermarket. Why make a wild dash to Publix when I can take a leisurely stroll – so to speak – to Piggly-Wiggly.
But Tuesday at dinner Katherine said she had seen Eddie heading to Publix in her wheelchair earlier. Wednesday, Eddie was getting her mail when I went to get mine. Before I could say a word she reprimanded me for going to Publix.
“I’ve thought about it, but I’ve never gone over there,” I told her.
“When we were coming back on the bus, I saw you going down the driveway. Where were you going? You didn’t go out on the road, did you?”
“No. I go down to the end of the driveway and turn around. I’m not foolish. Besides, I heard you went to Publix yesterday.”
“Yeah, but when I go to Publix, I go down service road by the old K-Mart. Then it’s a straight shot across. I just wait for a break in the traffic and go.”
“Well, that’s my plan, too. I just haven’t done it yet.”
If Eddie can do it, I can do it. And Sunday morning, I did. At eight o’clock there isn’t much traffic, so crossing the road wasn’t a challenge, and I had no intention to buy anything. Like the chicken, the only reason I crossed the road was to get to the other side. But it turned out to be a rewarding little jaunt. A man got off his bicycle near the entrance to the Publix parking lot as I was coming across the street. I said “good morning.” He said “good morning” and kept talking. He looked to be in his mid-seventies.
“It’s a beautiful day, and I’ve never felt better in my life,” he said.
He’d had a stroke about three years ago and nearly died, he said. He was overweight and out of shape at the time, but since then he’s been working on correcting those problems. He asked me if I lived at Covenant Woods. I said I did.
“You know Terry? He’s a maintenance man over there.”
“The little guy? He’s kind of hunched over?”
“That’s him,” the man said. “He’s the guy who stayed with me and made sure I got help. He probably saved my life. If you see him, tell him Jerry said hello.”
Apparently Terry drew the short straw and had to work on Labor Day, and he was pitching garbage when I made my morning trip around the grounds. I told him what Jerry had said.
“I’ve been here nine years,” Terry said. “And I’ve been in a lot of those situations. I don’t remember each of them.”
“He doesn’t live here. He was out riding his bicycle when I was on my way to Publix.”
George thought for a minute. “You say his name is Jerry?”
“I think that’s what he said.”
He thought a little more. “Oh, now I remember,” Terrysaid. “It was at the flea market. He almost didn’t make it. He asked me to take him to the hospital. I said, ‘No way. If you go into cardiac arrest I won’t know what to do.’ I called 911 instead, and stayed with him until the EMTs got there.
“Thanks for telling me,” Terry said. “It’s nice to hear that he’s taking care of himself and doing so well.”
Talking to Jerry lifted my spirits, and Terry was delighted to get an update on Jerry’s health. For not buying anything, I came back from Publix with quite a lot.
The best thing about being in a wheelchair is discovering how anxious people are to help. The worst thing about being in a wheelchair is discovering how anxious people are to help. A couple weeks ago some of us went to an organ concert at the River Center. Annie was the staff person for the outing, and she brought along her daughter Chelsea, who is in high school.
When we got there, Catherine, a ninety-one year old resident who been to the River Center many times, began directing me to the seating area for the handicapped. Catherine delivered the directions curtly and with the expectation that they would be followed without question. She pointed to a space, told me to pull into it and she plopped in the seat next to it. The next time I saw Annie, she told me Chelsea had watched Catherine telling me what to do and wondered if she was my girlfriend.
Friday a small group of us went up to Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. I was able to wander around on my own for the first two hours. But after lunch, the place was so crowded I thought it best to fall in behind Evelyn and Richard and let them run interference for me. Evelyn is a kind and caring woman except when she’s demanding and controlling. Besides telling me to go here and go there, and to go faster or to go slower, she reached for the wheelchair’s controls a couple times as if I was incapable of guiding it properly. I told Annie if Chelsea had been along on this trip she would have thought Evelyn was my mother-in-law.
On the bus, heading back to Columbus, Evelyn asked Richard for the time. That was followed by thirty seconds of confused, frustrated conversation that I couldn’t make out. Then, loud enough for everyone to hear, Richard said, “Four thirteen. Four-One-Three-P-M-Eastern-Daylight-Time.”
“Thank you,” Evelyn said. “But you didn’t have to yell.”
I was sorely tempted, but all the admonishments Mom and Dad had delivered on gentlemanly behavior prevented me from yelling, “Oh yes he did.” Evelyn and I are still friends, although I will avoid her in crowded places from now on.
And the willingness of people to help those in a wheelchair is sometimes scary as hell. One day last week while I was out for my evening constitutional, I ran into Richie and William, Covenant Woods’ resident sots.
“Hey, you’re getting some exercise,” William said.
“I suppose my joystick finger is.”
“You ought to go swimming, that’s good exercise,” William said.
Covenant Woods has a small in-ground pool that is four feet deep, and William and Richie are there most afternoons.
“I could probably get in without too much problem,” I told him. “But I’d never be able to get out.”
“We’ll get you out,” Richie said.
Frightened by the prospect, I moseyed on. The next day, I was telling some people about the encounter, and Sue asked, “Did they say if they’d get out before or after they start drinking?”
“I didn’t know there was a before,” I told her.
“You’re probably right.”