Joe, who as a transit dispatcher kept track of the busses in New York City, is having difficulty keeping track of his car these days. A few weeks ago, Joe locked his car but neglected to take the keys out of the lock. James spotted them the next morning as he was taking the trash out.
One day last week, as I was making my morning rounds, Joe was walking through the parking lot and said, “I can’t find my car.” He was looking in the row of cars along the sidewalk. I pointed to a car he had just past in the row by the woods and said, “Isn’t that it?”
“Oh, yeah,” Joe said. “I always park there so I won’t forget where I left the car.”
Wednesday, I took an early evening juant. In the parking lot behind the C building, Joe’s car sat right where he always parks it. The problem was the four-way flashers were flashing. I went back inside, found Joe’s number and gave him a call.
Thursday afternoon Joe called me.
“Tom, what’s up?” he said.
“I don’t know. You called me.”
“My machine says you called me.”
“Well, I called you last night,” I said, “and told you your flashers were on.”
“Oh, yeah. I really appreciate that. I just bought a new battery last week.”
I’ve mentioned that conversation to a few people, who said they’ve had the same experience with Joe. He is very diligent about checking his caller ID and returning all the calls he missed. And sometimes he returns calls he didn’t miss but has since forgotten.
Coach sat with us at dinner the other night. Coach was a darn good high school football coach.
“I coached here in Columbus and in Savannah for a few years and won a state championship there,” he said.
That got my attention. The football part interested me, but it was Savannah that made me sit up and listen. I told Coach all I knew about Savannah I had learned from John Berendt’s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and the movie it spawned.
“Well, I started coaching at Savannah in 1964,” Coach said. “When I interviewed for the job, the principal said, ‘There are three things you need to know about this city: It’s owned by the Jews, controlled by the Irish and enjoyed the most by the Negroes.’ I was there four years, and from what I could tell, he was right on all three counts.”
In the course of conversation, we discovered that we had moved into Covenant Woods within a week of each other. “Do you like it here,” he asked.
I gave him my standard answer. “There’s no doubt the body is ready for a place like this. But the mind isn’t. It’s taking some getting used to. Adjusting has been harder than I thought it would be, but I think I’m getting there.”
He looked at me as though he understood. Then I asked him if he liked it at Covenant Woods.
“I don’t have to stay here,” he said.
I have no idea what he meant by that, but I wonder if he’s about to exercise his option to live elsewhere.
When I got back to the room, I poked around on the web to see what I could find out about Coach. I knew he played college football at Auburn and he was interested in antiques, but not much else – opelikapepperellhistory.com to the rescue. In an article on the site dated December 31, 2005, I learned Coach was the Auburn captain in 1949 when the Tigers beat Alabama, 14-13, at Legion Field. Big stuff in this part of the country. Coach graduated in 1950, and that fall, his brother Jim matriculated at Auburn and went on to have an outstanding college football career.
“There was a Pyburn at Auburn for eight years and people thought he was stupid,” Coach said in the article.
At the time the article was written, Coach had a small shop in Salem, Alabama, where he restored and sold antiques. He was also involved, the article said, in the restoration of the Springer Opera House in Columbus.
“I like to take nothing and make something out of it,” he said in the article. “That’s what coaches do all the time.”
After finishing my dinner last night, I stopped at the table where Al, Isabel and Ralph were sitting. Isabel enjoys silliness and irony far more than the average Covenant Woods resident, and she’s got such a quick sense of humor, much quicker than the average eighty-seven-year-old. She enjoys listening to Al’s stories and keeps up a running commentary on them.
Al was talking about the pleasures of marijuana.
“Are you able to get good stuff?” Isabel asked.
“It’s hard. Sometimes they put chemicals in it, and you don’t know where it will take you.”
The more Al talked, however, the more convinced he became that a trip to the unknown wouldn’t be a bad thing.
“The doctors keep giving me pills,” he said. “I’ve got marinol, hydrocodone, Vicoden; I’ve got about twelve different types of pills. I’ve got pills for everything. Maybe I should put them all in some water, brew up a concoction and see where it takes me.”
“What if it doesn’t bring you back?” Isabel asked.
“So what?” Al said. “We all have to go sometime. Besides, no one cares about us old codgers.”
Isabel was visibly stung by the last part. At eighty-seven, she’s nearly as old a codger as Al. Then Sharnell, one of the servers, appeared. She’s barely out of her teens, but she has a ready smile and infinite patience with the codgers, geezers and fogeys of Covenant Woods.
“Sharnell,” I said, “do you care for these old codgers?”
“Of course,” she said, leaning over the back of Al’s chair to give him a hug. Then she went over to Isabel and hugged her.
“Do you really care about us old codgers?” Isabel asked.
“I care about all the residents,” Sharnell said and hugged Isabel again. Then she gave Ralph and me a hug, and our little group adjourned with smiles all around.
My Covenant Woods experience was enhanced this morning. I listened to a little of Morning Edition on WKSU, the Kent State radio station, via the web. “We can expect highs in the thirties, lows in the twenties, and rain or snow through Wednesday,” the WKSU announcer said. According to the Weather Channel, we can expect highs in the sixties or low seventies in Columbus.