“When the world says, ‘Give up’
Hope whispers, ‘Try one more time.'”
Remember when Wednesdays were my geezer days, reserved for doctors’ appointments and geezer errands, strawberry salads at Aubrey’s, and competitive crosswording with Gmamma and DooDaddy? Well, nowadays every day is geezer day, and last week, it was a Very Geezer Tuesday.
Since Gmamma died, DooDaddy has joined the ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out) for their weekly lunch at the Chick-fil-A in Homberg. You’ll remember that my pride & joy Mac Bower helped open that restaurant and was duly impressed with its superior operations. Chick-fil-A is the cream of fast-food restaurants. When Mac later visited the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, he said with awe, “Volkswagen is the Chick-fil-A of automobile manufacturing.” High praise, indeed. But I digress …
Tuesday at noon, I stop smack in the middle of the road just outside the double drive-through lanes and bustle DooDaddy out of the car, onto his walker, over the curb and into the restaurant. I don’t walk him all the way to the ROMEOs private dining room, because that would make it weird. Anyhow, the geezers nosh on chicken sandwiches and waffle fries (I believe Alex Harkness has the soup) and discuss current events and politics. Allie Harmon is a vocal Hillary fan, which blows DooDaddy’s mind. GrandBud Albers is sporting a new orange hat, a gift from firstborn daughter Louise. And DooDaddy gets all caught up on all the latest geezer gossip. These men are a who’s who of Old Knoxville – retired businessmen, bankers, physicians, movers & shakers – rivaled only by Tommy Schumpert’s Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club at the Fountain City Hardee’s.
The ROMEOs are the lucky ones, some are still driving or have their own drivers. They live at home. Some still have wives. And their dignity.
Exactly one hour later, I turn into the Chick tires squealing, trying to make it at 1 on the dot. The Doo is already standing out on the curb on his walker in the broiling sun. I wave frantically as I loop around the building and circumvent the still teeming double drive-through lanes. It’s like the pickup line at Sequoyah Elementary and wanting to make sure your kid sees you and knows you’re there.
We head back to The Home, but with a stop at The Other Side to see Dad’s pal Ron, who has been exiled there due to a near-choking incident. You’ll remember Ron from a previous Geezer Story. We find him parked in his wheelchair in his tiny room on the 4th floor and squeeze ourselves in for a visit. I sit on the bed cross-legged just as I did in countless visits to DooDaddy during his various convalescences after strokes and seizures. The staff still remembers DooDaddy and when David Owens, the physical therapist, comes for Ron, they have Old Home Week.
“Just two more minutes?” I ask David, since we’ve only just arrived.
“Sure, we’ll come back in a bit. Visits are great for lifting the spirits.” he replies with a twinkle. The man is truly a saint. God bless him for the work he does at Shannondale, rehabbing, spreading joy, giving hope and restoring dignity.
We can barely hear Ron, because his voice is merely a whisper now. His eyes are black from his recent near asphyxiation. I see with horror that there is a big wedge of cornbread (thankfully untouched) on his lunch tray. Dad warned him about that damn cornbread. And taking smaller bites.
“I can’t wait to get outta here,” Ron murmurs, as I wipe the steady stream of drool from the corner of his mouth.
DooDaddy is silent, because he knows that Ron is probably not getting out.
“The Bad Boys are coming to visit you today,” DooDaddy offers, in reference to the notorious breakfast bunch of geezer rebels.
“Good, I’d like that,” Ron replies.
I can tell being here makes my father uncomfortable and sad. It’s depressing as hell. Ron tells us his family has all been in to see him, because they thought he was about to “croak.” He’s making grim jokes about his progressively debilitating condition. I hug him and gently kiss his balding head as we leave. Dad is already backing out of the room.
Still, I can’t help but be moved by Ron’s courageous determination. He is quietly optimistic, although he can barely swallow and has refused a feeding tube. He’s coming back to the retirement community and his friends, or he’s gonna die trying. No in between. No lonely limbo among the wheelchair zombies. This Bad Boy is badass.
As we make our way back to the elevator, the lobby is full of these immobilized geezers. It is story hour. The TV is on, but the sound is off, as a nice lady reads aloud in a Romper Room voice. Some folks doze. Some listen intently as if their very lives depended on it. Ron is wheeled down to “take” therapy. DooDaddy and I head back to his apartment, where Gmamma’s chair sits empty.