Did you know that Friends Across the Ages has an official theme song? I bet you didn't (probably because I never told you). I have to give Allison credit for introducing me to this wonderful song some years ago...
My Grandfather, whom I never met, was a doctor. A real old-fashioned one who treated whole families, like you’d see in a black-and-white movie. His name was Isidore Brill, but people called him “Doc”. Yes, he made house calls; even delivered babies, before they had specialists to do that. In his hometown of Champaign, Illinois, he was well known. And if you couldn’t afford to pay him, well, that was all right, you paid him when you could...
I encourage our volunteers to get outside their comfort zone, because that's where real growth can take place. I know for me, visiting the nursing home for the first time (18 years ago) was one of the biggest steps outside my comfort zone I ever took, and it changed my life forever. Getting out of your comfort zone can also be a big thrill. That's why people climb mountains and skydive. So what about our friends at the nursing home? Are they "too old" to get out of their comfort zone?
“Children learn more from what is CAUGHT than what is TAUGHT”, or so they say. Teach your children constantly with your actions, not words. I’ve kept that in mind as I’ve raised my kids, on the lookout for opportunities as they arise. Surprisingly, I’ve gotten more out of it than the kids...
It’s another Sunday afternoon at the nursing home. My friend Dee is waiting for me at the entrance, bouncing her birdlike frame from foot to foot, impatient for the cigarettes I promised to bring. Newport 100s, as always. I got you a present, she says, handing me a trash bag as I slip her the contraband cigarettes. Inside is cafeteria booty: two sodas, a Nutrigrain bar and a plastic fruit cup. Her wizened, nearly toothless face looks at me with expectation. Will you use it? I hope you can use it.
In nearly 18 years of hanging around the nursing home, Allison and I have had a few opportunities to practice that first line of the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”. But ugh, how difficult sometimes! I told you a few months ago about the day my nursing home friend Dan disappeared, and nobody would even tell me if he was dead or alive...
Christmas is a time when many of us get together with family and celebrate. However, around this time of year we also experience some sadness, as we think about past Christmas’s with family and friends who are no longer with us. Today I am missing my good friend Bill Farris, who died last December.
Thursday, October 1st, 2015. I'm angry. I probably shouldn't write angry. I've lost my friend Dan. I don't know where he is. I don't even have a picture of Dan, or I'd put him on a milk carton. I first met Dan over 10 years ago, when he used to drive his giant 1970s car (more like a boat) over to the nursing home to visit his wife Nellie. He used to visit her daily, and would always stop to chat with me in the halls, and we became good friends.
One of my mom’s best stories tells of a time when she was in Grad School at the University of Florida. She lived in an apartment with two roommates who had nothing in common. One of them had made some pepper steak with noodles and left it in the refrigerator, intending to eat it the next day. But by the next day, all the pieces of pepper steak had vanished, and nothing was left but the noodles.
As I sit down to write this, I have just come from another funeral. Steve and I go to a lot of funerals—it sort of comes with the territory of volunteering at a nursing home. However, this particular funeral was not for someone we met through the nursing home, but rather for a former neighbor of ours—who later did spend some time in an assisted living facility. Her name was Else, and she was this tiny, sweet little German lady.
About 10 years ago, an article appeared in The Gainesville Sun focusing on Steve Blay and his work with Friends Across the Ages. A few days later, a lady named Ruth Hazen called. She was a member of another Gainesville area nursing home volunteer group called the Nursing Home Volunteer Auxiliary, and she was wondering if there was some way we could combine our efforts...
There is a resident named Marie that yells every obscenity in the book at me every time she sees me. She even knows my name. Whenever she sees me she starts out, “Steve, get your %^&$#@ @#% and furthermore #$%^#%^ $%^ $% #&$# % ^&$# %^&$@” and every other word cannot be repeated here due to standards of decency. I have no idea what I did to her to deserve that.
Gainesville lost a real treasure last week, a 94 year old man by the name of James Gainey. Mr. Gainey lived in east Gainesville for many many years, in a house across from Lincoln Middle School. He told me he built that house with his bare hands, right down to laying the concrete blocks one on top of the other.
Did I ever tell you about the time I saved Parklands Nursing Center $500,000? The date was May 2nd, 2004, and Parklands was actually called the “Alachua Nursing Center” back then. I went to ANC with a box of Ritz Crackers that day, for a resident named Elijah Brown. He hadn’t been doing very well. I think he was 90 years old – he was slowing down and not eating well, and I wanted to fatten him up a bit.
I Hate Epics. You know, those movies that seem to go on forever...Apocalypse Now, Gladiator, Gone With the Wind. Wake me up when it’s over. Funny thing is, that's what I've been telling people for years. Then when I thought about it, two of my favorite movies are epics.
We recently lost a resident at Parklands named Ada Thurston, and I was thinking about her today. Ada was shameless – if she loved you, she was going to let the world know. Every time I would see her, the first thing she would shout was, “I LOVVVVVVVE YOU!” And she wouldn’t stop there. She would take my hand and kiss it, and say “I missed you so much!”
The phone rang last night and the callerID said “James King”. I hadn’t the slightest idea who that was. But when Allison answered and the voice said, “This is Jimmy from Claxton”, I think we both knew immediately the reason for the call. My friend Hugh had died, a couple months short of his 94th birthday. I met him the very first day I went to the nursing home, over 12 years ago now. He was the sole remaining resident that I had known from the very beginning.
I used to work with a guy named Joe Moseley at Barr Systems here in Gainesville. Joe was the most well-liked person at Barr. I think it was because he always made everybody feel good about themselves, and made them feel important too. One of the many secrets in his bag of tricks was this: he called everybody by a nickname.