At dinner on Christmas Eve, Miss Eddie stopped by the table to talk to Isabelle, who had an infected toe. Eddie, being Eddie, was full of advice on how to care for the toe, what to tell the doctor, and how to handle the medical insurance. Eddie, as always, delivered the advice in the tone of an exasperated parent who doesn’t believe the child is capable of dealing with the situation. But she could also be very personable, and she was always looking for something to do and for an opportunity to help. Sometime Christmas day Eddie died of an apparent heart attack. Overweight and in a wheelchair, she had health problems, but she looked to be her normal, ornery self the night before. Her death was a shock. She was sixty-eight.
Three days later, Margie died. Many people here called her Granny, because, with her wrinkled face and wire-framed eyeglasses, she looked like Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies. Others called her the Preacher Woman. Where that came from is a mystery to me. There was no mention of preaching or church work in her obituary. Margie was eighty-two. She looked fifteen or twenty years older, at least. A couple of us were talking about Margie when Erris, who will turn 103 next month, went by with a spring in her step as she pushed her walker. If Margie and Erris were standing side-by-side, and you were told one was 102 and the other eighty-two, you would have assumed Erris was the younger one and said she looked darn good for eighty-two.
Johnny, the maintenance supervisor, was at home watching the NFL playoffs when he had a mild heart attack. James, one of Johnny’s supervisees, went to visit him in the hospital and reported that if orneriness is a sign of improving health, Johnny is well on his way to a full recovery.
“We were in his room talking, and all of a sudden, Johnny gets up. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked.
“ ‘Going to the bathroom.’
“ ‘Aren’t you supposed to use that plastic bottle?’
“ ‘Yeah, they don’t want me getting up.’
“ ‘What if they find out you’re getting up?’
“ ‘I won’t say anything if you don’t’ ”
Johnny is paying no more attention to the doctor’s medical advice than I paid to the advice he gave me the week before. Twice during that spate of cold weather, Johnny came by as I was wending my way through the parking lots and warned me about the cold. “We don’t want you to get frost bite,” he told me one afternoon. The wind was going right through me that day, and I was going to cut my jaunt short anyway, but it was sunny and in the low thirties. “Frost bite?” I thought. “Puh-leeze.” I made another lap around the building just to make a point.
Two days later, the thermometer was in the same place, but the wind had died down and the sun was glorious. On a surprisingly pleasant January day like this back in the 1950s, a lad would have walked out of Bethel Memorial School, felt the warmth of the sun, ripped off his jacket and run home, where his mother would have told him, “You’re going to catch your death of cold.” In the early weeks of 2014, on just such a day, that now somewhat older lad was wearing all the January accoutrements – winter jacket, cap, and gloves. “Don’t stay out here too long,” Johnny said when he spotted him. “You don’t want to catch a cold.”
Speaking of Bethel Memorial School: brother Jim and sister-in-law Susan made the trek from Birmingham Saturday, bringing with them a copy of Images of America: Bethel Park. On page 74 there is a picture of Memorial School. Just a portion of the Gardners’ house, the first house up from the school on South Park Road, is visible in the picture. Unfortunately, because of the angle, you can’t see the basement window through which brother Ed went on sister Barbara’s new sled a few decades ago.
Russ and Karen came over too, and we all went to Chef Lee’s for lunch. It was the best Saturday I’ve had in a long, long time. Although, I was all wet when we left the restaurant. The place was crowded, and as we were eating, a boy of five or six went running by and knocked my glass of water on to me.
Until six weeks ago, Ron’s nightly dinner consisted of a hamburger or a chicken sandwich, a glass of lemonade, a cup of coffee and a bowl of chocolate ice cream for dessert. On a good night he would eat three-fourths of the sandwich, take a sip or two of lemonade, drink most of the coffee and eat all the ice cream. On a bad night, he’d take two or three bites of his sandwich, hide the rest under his napkin and say to the server, “How ’bout some chocolate ice cream.”
One night he ordered an entrée and the three sides, cleaned his plate, and had a bowl of ice cream. He hasn’t ordered a hamburger or chicken sandwich since. He’s also started talking more and joking around, especially with Stacie, one of servers. One evening, Ron and Stacie were bantering when Lucy, the food service boss, came by.
“Miss Lucy,” Stacie said, “Ron gives me a terrible time every night.”
“I know,” Lucy said. “I pay him to.”
Ron glowed. I’ve never seen a bigger smile on his face. It was just a delightful moment. There was a dance here last week, and Ron danced with Stacie, Mae and several others. He’s now looking forward to the February dance.
“Seven ladies have already made me promise to dance with them,” he said.
I had suspected but did not know until last night that Ron, who is sixty-four, did not take regular high school classes. He was in special education, going to class in the mornings and working at Goodwill in the afternoons.