The elderly gentleman fiddled with the buttons on his sweater as his daughter drove him across town.
“Quit fussing with it, Dad. You look fine.”
“These lousy buttons are all crossed up. Why didn’t you let me wear the one with the zipper?”
“Because you spilled your breakfast on it, remember?”
Daisy knew that her octogenarian father had slipped since her mother passed away two years earlier, but he had always been so independent that making the decision to move him into a senior living center was one of the most difficult she ever had to make. In fact, she and her older brother, Grant, had already come to blows over the matter back during the holidays, since he had felt the change was actually long overdue.
George Gray had been one of the most respected architects in the state for over 40 years, and to think that a man with his analytical expertise and flair for modern structural design could suddenly have trouble starting the riding lawn mower or paying the electric bill was beyond Daisy’s understanding. But after making several trips to her father’s house to handle trivial matters like these, she had finally seen the need to at least check out the Red Valley facility as a possibility. Mr. Gray resisted initially, but then gave in when the daughter explained that they were only going to look the place over.
They were greeted at the front desk by a nice lady dressed in scrubs and a name tag. “Hi, Mr. Gray. My name’s Ms. Laura. We’ve been expecting you. Come on into the day room and meet some of our other folks.”
Daisy, in the meantime, wandered off to have a meeting with the facility director and one of the nurses on duty.
“George, that’s Joseph right over there by the window. Would you like to join him for a glass of tea?” George nodded, and then settled into the vacant chair next to the other man.
“Name’s Joseph. What’s yours?”
“I’m George. You know, you do look sort of familiar. Are you from around here?”
“Yep. Born and reared right here in town. Grew up over on Maple in a little house next to the school. Of course, they tore it down when they built the new football field, but that was the spot.”
“No kidding? Interesting coincidence. I grew up on Maple, too, just about a quarter-mile from the new bridge they put in over Crab Creek.”
“Oh, right. I remember the old bridge, though…the one made out of wood planks. My dad used to walk us down there after he got home from work in the summers, and let us fish for perch. I fell through a broken railing once, and darn near drowned.”
“Oh, man. I hope the water was up when that happened. You could sure crack your skull on the rocks down there, and most of the time the river wasn’t deep enough to keep ‘em covered.” They both laughed in agreement.
Ms. Laura went about her daily duties, but wandered over close to the older men occasionally to see how they were getting along, to listen to the conversation, and to see if their iced tea glasses needed to be refilled. On one occasion, the discussion had migrated to family pets.
“So, we had this little burro, right? Named him Sparky. Kind of cute and playful whenever our mom was around. But the minute she got out of sight, that little cuss turned into a monster. He would get a bite on the seat of my overalls and drag me all over that yard like a rag doll.”
“Well, that sounds about right. Our pony used to do the same thing to me. I’d climb on his back to ride around the yard, and that devil would make a bee line straight for the closest low-hanging tree to try and knock me off his back. Then I’d get in trouble with my folks for letting him tramp through the turnip greens.”
Another couple of memories came to life when both men talked about the summers of the 1950’s, when drag racing out on the abandoned county highway had been a regular Friday night event.
“You guys still doing okay over here? Can I bring you some chocolate cake or a piece of fresh watermelon?”
“No, I think we’re fine.”
“It’s a pretty lively conversation.”
“Well, we seem to have a lot of common history…so I suppose we’re re-living some of the old days.” George looked around. “Say, I hope we haven’t been getting too loud, and disturbing some of these other folks.”
Laura looked around the room. The other regulars were completely unfazed by the two men at the window. They were all either watching the old “Wagon Train” episode on the television, or napping in their chairs. “No, you’re not bothering anyone at all. Enjoy your visit.”
A few minutes later, Daisy came to fetch her father. “Say, Dad…hate to break up the party, but it’s time to go.”
“Oh, okay.” George turned to Joseph. “So, I guess we might get together for another visit sometime soon.”
“Yeah. Absolutely. Looking forward to it.”
They shook hands, and George and his daughter headed back to the car.
She checked his safety belt before putting the car in gear. “So, what did you think about that place?”
“Oh…I suppose if I ever get to where I can’t do for myself, it might not be a bad spot. That guy I was visiting with seemed to be pretty interesting, and he told some pretty funny stories about the old days. I mean, as long as there was someone like that to hang out with, I could probably adjust to living in a place like that.”
A concerned look came over the face of the driver. “Dad…that 'guy' …are you talking about Uncle Joseph?”
“Dad, that was Uncle Joseph. That’s your brother. Didn’t you recognize…didn’t you know?”
Her father offered no response…just a gaze out the window that suggested confusion.
Thirty minutes later, Daisy had returned her father to his own home on the far side of town. When she got back in her car, she made the phone call. “Hi, Grant. It’s Sis. We’ve got to make this happen…now.”