The Young College Lady and the Old Gentleman

T

Update 5/28/17

AM in her Own Words

I am going to preface this with a note that this story isn’t a continuation of the last. This one is one that has been on my mind for the past 1.5 months.

I grew up in a community that was fortunate to never be in need of really anything. I was always fed and had clean clothes. I was never forced to go to school unless my mom could tell I was blatantly faking (disadvantage of having a mom as a doctor I guess).

I have always had a heart to help those who weren’t as lucky, because no one chooses the family they were born into. This past year I’ve been a volunteer tutor for a program in Oxford, Mississippi called Leapfrog. We have contact with some of the underprivileged “at risk” kids in need of tutoring.  Our most important task is to tell them they matter and are loved.

A little girl, we’ll call her Sally, hasn’t been as lucky as I.  She didn’t have loving parents or clean clothes. She was never told she mattered. We all realized that the first time we saw her walk in the classroom in Walker County, Alabama, where Leapfrog visited on an average of three times a week.

Sally acted out almost crying out “pay attention to me!!” One of the last weeks of Leapfrog our director sat us down and gave us the horrific backstory about Sally. She was one of seven children living in half a trailer. The trailer was so old it had split in half and they had a tarp to keep the two parts connected.

Her parents have been arrested multiple times for transporting meth to and from Walker County, AL. She and her six siblings have been in foster care numerous times just this year. Leapfrog has called CPS  (Child Protective Services)  3 times during the month of April and May. All I could think to myself was WOW. I was speechless.

I found myself getting upset because I complain about the most ridiculous things like having a smaller room than my little sister. I have parents who work so we can live extremely comfortably, and never have to worry about anything.

My parents tell me they love me every day, and make sure that I believe them when they tell me.

I think it was at that moment that it dawned on me we might be the only ones who care about Sally and her well-being. I was the only one in the room who had experience with the foster system, so I explained it to the best of my ability to those around me.

I was mad. How could someone whose JOB is to make sure kids are taken care of, let these seven children continue to live with these awful parents in squalid conditions not fit for humans?

These parents who send their kids to school with two black eyes and blurred vision.  What is CPS waiting for, one of those blows to the head to cause a detached retina and permanent loss of sight?

These parents who send their kids to school soaked in urine and covered in vomit.

These parents who send their kids to school with ribs showing and stomachs growling because they haven’t been given food for two days.

I was mad and then sad. I was sad because Sally and her six siblings aren’t the only ones CPS is failing.

I went home that afternoon and thought how can I help? What can I do to make sure that these kids like Sally have people who love them and want to be around them?

Two foster kids lived with us when I was in high school. Since then I’ve always been drawn to wanting to help others as a career. I am a rising senior in college so I am constantly thinking of jobs I want to do after I graduate. I am currently doing a non-profit internship, but I find myself still thinking of those kids like Sally.

Maybe that day wasn’t so random. Maybe it was God’s way of saying that I wasn’t done with the foster system in high school. Maybe it was a way to make me pay attention to what my heart wanted to do when I graduate

Am I meant to open my home to these kids like Sally?  All I know is I want to help people without spending the day in a job I consider not to be worthwhile.. I want to be hands on.

This story will have an update as I left most of it with just maybes. Here’s hoping I find out what I want to do before I graduate.  I think I know.

Update 3/15/17

Normally going to the doctor is not a delightful day, but this was a great day.  Why?  I got to meet  A. M.

She’s related to one of the doctors in the practice where I go, and there she was in the hallway.

I didn’t mean to scare the living daylights out of her, but she looked like she knew who I was, so I said, “Do you know who I am?”

She did.

I didn’t want it to sound like if you don’t know who I am, you will be ex-communicated from the building, and never allowed in again.

I might have made a better impression if I had not called her by the name of one of her sisters. She let me escape that misnomer with a minimum amount of embarrassment.  Bless her heart.

My wife and I had been called from the waiting room, and were on the way to that 4’x6’ room they always put you in. I only had time to talk to A. M. a few seconds.

She was so soft spoken, I imagined it had been much the same as in the story below when she conversed with the old gentleman.

And yes, I did find out that she thought of the old gentleman often, and would truly love to see him again.

Can you imagine though, starting out the afternoon on the way to a dull doctor’s appointment, well, that’s not exactly true, my doctor is not dull. (oh,  you get what I mean).

Like we get there, and my doctor has got to elevate the conversation a whole heap to match the fact that I met A. M.  Well actually my doctor does elevate the conversation a great deal. (oh, you know what I mean.)

And of course when my doctor was finished (she asks so many questions, I’m writing a book to provide all the answers), A. M. was gone.

I was disappointed that I missed A. M. on the second go round. I should have told my doctor she was not the most important person on this day. Well my doctor is important, but (oh, you know what I mean).

Just goes to show you, you  never know what might be waitin’ around the bend as Charles Kuralt used to say.

And on this day A. M. was waitin’ around the bend.

This was my lucky day, almost made me forget I had to see my doctor today. Well, I did want to see my doctor today, but (oh, you know what I mean).

I am thankful my doctor won’t read this. There might be one or two things she possibly could misinterpret.

Update 1/16/17

The lady has been identified. Go to the comments to find out.

It would be nice if the old gentleman comes forward. I doubt he is on social media, but perhaps his daughter is.

Original Story 1/15/17

As a writer I like to have the whole scenario, what happened and the people involved. There comes a once in a while that doesn’t happen. My first inclination is to toss it out and move on. I can’t do that with this story.

What am I missing? I can’t use these people’s names, so I will have to fictionalize. What shall I call her? They say she is a ray of sunshine in the morning, not at dawn, but when she is home from college, and finally decides to get up at a more reasonable hour.  I will call her AM. The old gentleman I will call Bud.  I know, I know, they are not very good names, but hey, I’m the one writing this story.

Why do I deem this story to be so important? It’s the inner actions of people. Maybe that doesn’t sound like there is much gravity involved here. There are millions of interactions a day, maybe millions of millions.

Sure, with people who are in the same universe, in the same generation, maybe two successive generations. What about 20-21 and 89-90?

Impossible you say. With about a 70 year age gap, they don’t even speak the same language, the same English.  Their vernacular, their colloquialisms don’t match.

It was a doctor’s office. I won’t disclose what kind. The young lady had a medical problem that had been corrected. The gentleman was there for whatever, but still involving the same type doctors she had.  That’s an anomaly right there. She was too young to be in the office of a doctor of that type, but here she was.

The old gentleman sat across the waiting room from her, then he got up, went to the bathroom, and when he returned to the waiting room, he sat down right beside her. Here is an old man sitting beside her. She wasn’t afraid. She didn’t think it was creepy. She thought he had not had much luck striking up a conversation and decided to try her side of the room, specifically her.

Although his hearing was not good, my guess is that he saw her reading a “National Geographic” from across the room, and he liked “National Geographic” which provided a beginning point.

Still there was the age difference, enough to frighten them beyond trying to communicate. But someone broke the ice. I don’t remember which one of them.

Let AM in her own words tell where the commonality was, because she speaks with such enthusiasm.   “We both liked “National Geographic” documentaries, the majority of HGTV shows like “Flip or Flop” and “House Hunters”, “Blue Bloods”, and cooking shows. We both loved “Chopped” specifically.”

That provided a basis for launching a conversation that lasted a full hour until one of them was called back to see the doctor.

Did that young lady realize what she had done in striking up a conversation? The importance of what she had done? At the time I doubt it. Maybe later on when she was driving home and had time to think about it.

Here was an old gentleman whose wife had died earlier last year (2016, for they met on Veterans’ Day) and may not have had that many people to talk to.  He had a daughter, but daughters at their age are out earning a living, and she didn’t have too much time to drop by his house for a chit-chat.

In my time the age of the old was in the seventies. For some reason now it has reached 80 plus. What is the age of the old, the very old?

The age of the old has many facets, none of which any of us wish to endure.

People stop talking to you. They seem to think everyone of your age has some sort of dementia, and your communication skills and brain have all taken a turn for the worse, if they are present at all.

You are a non-entity to be ignored.

In a room full of people, nobody sees you, you are invisible.

Your advice is no longer needed, in fact you would do everybody a favor by just shutting up.

You are to remain silent because you might be an embarrassment for the people you are related to if you speak.

Get the picture? I could dreadfully continue, revealing the frailties of relationships, the breakdowns that occur, simply because an age threshold has been reached.

But this remarkable young lady would have none of that, would break the barrier that exists between the very young and the very old.

I had mentioned he had been in World War II, but  had not mentioned that he had not completed his college before he left for service, came back to get his degree, and was employed in a business with so many vicissitudes concerning whether he would be working or not working.  Finally when the company was no more, he had to look for a new place to work, which by that time was an age factor for him, but not quite the very old age factor.

He grew up in a time that was not easy. The Great Depression in his very young days. He might not have remembered that much about it, but even if he had, he still might not have wanted to discuss it. How many men in WWII would never talk about it when they returned home? He would only talk about what he did in the war, not the reality of death around him.

Here again let’s explore AM’s words. At the very end of what she says, she realizes that her “hardships” are not really hardships when compared to his. “He worked at a steel mill until the company was liquidated and he had to find other work. He talked about the hardships growing up and fighting in a war and it put into perspective how I tend to dramatize my SO called hardships.” How many young people would not minimize what they had gone through in comparison to real hardships? I’ve known enough of them to know they would not selfishly do it.

So we have here one young lady, one courageous young lady, ignoring the old age paradigm to ignore this person, do not talk to this person, this person is not here, you only see a mirage of a person, and he is not real.

We have this young lady who provided a lonely old gentleman without his wife now, words which he understood, because between them there was no age gap, only two people who had come to meet under unusual circumstances, who held a conversation of equals.

Any onlookers probably thought it was a peculiar relationship, one they would certainly not have themselves, but they fail to realize this young lady was much wiser than they were, that she understood life much beyond their years. Frankly, I don’t think she cared what they thought, even considering their glances askew.

Is there a moral to this story? Choose whatever one you wish. I choose the graciousness of a young lady that saw a human being, even though to some he was invisible, and gave him comfort on this day, comfort that he will remember until his last day on this earth.

Considering his age, his last day may not be that distant. I doubt anyone else even takes the time, even takes the time to give him the time of day. But he doesn’t need that, he had that moment, that hour he was not due to have, because a young lady took the time to talk to him.

I don’t know this young lady, never have met her. When I see how some of the youth act today, I am concerned, but sometimes, just sometimes, there is someone who comes along with a heart, and makes a difference.

I know this is not important to the outside world, the two of them meeting, and it will not be recorded in history, but sometimes history does not record a very significant event of two people in a happenstance meeting in a doctor’s office.

I cannot sum up better what took place than AM.  “In the short hour that he and I talked we discussed favorite TV shows, to what I want to do in life, to him losing his wife this past May. It was truly an honor sitting and talking to him that day. If I have to go back, fingers crossed I don’t, I hope he walks in and we can continue talking…………………………

Some of my readers will say I have put this young lady on a pedestal she does not deserve for such a simple act.  You are not as old as I and others are. Obviously you are not old enough to be reading this, so my advice to you would be to stop reading this right now.

4 comments

  • What a lovely and warm writing about relationships. This sounds like our granddaughter, Anne Merrick…is it? If so, a proud grandmother of mine or of someone! Well written, others should read this and emulate her.

  • I am AM’s Poppy and ****** dad. AM knows a key to life–life can be made simple, not complicated. Having to remember where you are and who you are with before you act makes life complicated. Only having to remember who you are makes life simple. You served an important purpose for AM–you are now part of her experience of how people react. She is learning that we are all alike, including you and her. You helped build her confidence that people are kind and gentle. That will strengthen her resolve to reach out to people. I believe you saw in her the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:20-21).

    • Such a wonderful comment.

      A writer would like to think he has an influence on people’s lives. That’s not really the case. Now and then a great story comes along, and he is fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to write it.

      I have deleted your daughter’s name at her request.