I was driving around, looking for the nursing home. I drove back roads until I got lost among a tangle of red dirt highways. I called my friend Randall for directions since his grandmother lives at the retirement facility.
“It’s easy to find,” said Randall. “Just roll down your window and follow the Elvis music.”
I eventually came to a rural place with a screened-in porch and a few old guys reclining out front, doing their part in reducing the gnat population.
The nurse was expecting me. She buzzed me in, gave me a name tag, pointed me to the cafeteria, and told me the cafe was serving BLTs today.
“But don’t eat the sweet potato fries,” the nurse said. “They’re a little freezer burnt.”
I was immediately confronted with a cafeteria full of blue hair, hearing aids, short-sleeved plaid shirts, and pearl earrings. In other words, Heaven.
“More like heaven’s waiting room,” remarked one old timer.
I have long been afflicted with what my mother calls “geriatric-itis.” My life’s ambition is to become an old man.
Mama used to take me to visit my granddaddy’s nursing home as a boy. Upon entering, I would toddle into the “hearth room” toward the wheelchairs that were parked around a console television broadcasting “Gunsmoke.”
I would introduce myself with my famous line: “Can you tell me a story?”
Mama says the old folks would gather around me like chickens around a junebug. It was only a matter of time before they began fighting over who got to fuzz my hair.
So I got my BLT and sat beside an old man with a bald head, and his wife, who wore a sweater even though it was hotter than Hades outside.
I gave the greeting. I asked for a story.
The old man laughed while eating from his ice cream cup. “Kinda story you wanna hear?”
His wife chimed in. “Tell him how we met.”
His wife’s name was Orla. You can trust a woman named Orla.
“Well, I met Orla at a family reunion. We’re technically cousins, you see. We figured it out once, we’re fifth or sixth cousins, or something like that.”
They both laughed.
The old man went on. “When I first fell in love with her, I went to my daddy to tell about the whole thing. I said, ‘Daddy, is it okay to kiss my fifth cousin?’
He said, ‘Son, if the first four didn’t bother you, I say go for it.’”
Orla said, “We’ve been teased a lot about it, but it ain’t fair. Here in Georgia if you marry your cousin they call you a hillbilly. But you do it in England, they call you royals.”
I was then introduced to a man named Verlin. He wore creased polyester trousers with scuffed Merrells, an Army cap, and snuff tucked in his lower lip. The nurses look the other way on the snuff.
He was a Vietnam vet and a blue-collar man. His hearing aids were turned up so loud he could hear radio broadcasts coming from Chattanooga.
I asked him to tell me a story.
“Well, my mama was a social worker, long time ago, she helped place orphans all over the state. She told me once about this kid who was abandoned at birth, someone left the baby at a Catholic church with the priest. So my mother adopted him and named him Verlin.”
Next I met Michael. But everyone calls him Mickey, or worse.
“Was a race car driver in a previous life. Started ‘cause dad used to soup up cars when he and his brother ran liquor for bootleggers.
“But then I went and found the Lord, I became a preacher, my daddy tole me, ‘Son, just ‘cause you’s a preacher don’t mean you can’t have fast wheels.’
“Tell you one thing, I was never late to preach nobody’s funeral.”
Lastly, I met Loretta, a slight woman with Coke-bottle glasses and a pageboy haircut of pure white.
“You want a story?” she replied.
“Hmmm. Well, nobody wants to hear an old widow talk. Are you sure you want a story from me?”
I nodded again.
“Well, now let me see. I remember one time at this theater, this young man was sitting in the theater with some’a his friends. Place was almost full, and along came these pretty girls, carrying their popcorn, looking for a place to sit in the crowded room. But there were no seats.
“So the young man and all four’a his friends stood and gave up their chairs to the girls like gentlemen.
“That’s how boys were back then. You know, decent. Them boys watched the movie from the back of the house. They stood the whole time. That’s the kinda fella that young man was.”
I asked her how long ago this story happened.
“Well, let me think. Woulda been near ‘bout sixty-five years ago, because after that movie was over I married him.”
May we always cherish our elders.
Peggy ALEXANDER - June 30, 2021 6:49 am
Yes honor your elders. You will never be sorry. 👵👨🏻🦳
Deborah Blount - June 30, 2021 7:57 am
Wonderful story Sean! I also have a bad case of geriatric-itis.I am 62 years old, but was always with my great grandparents as a child. They were in their 80s when I was little. That was my favorite question for them. “Tell me a story.”. They never disappointed me.
Keith - June 30, 2021 8:47 am
I’m a huge fan of my Great grand father… long pasted.. I asked him one time what the worlds greatest accomplishment was in his life time and he said he was amazed that they could pick someone up from a ship in the middle of the ocean, I kinda figure he watched folks die on the way over…
Joan moore - June 30, 2021 10:40 am
Oh how I wish you could have met my grandparents, you could have written a book! Love all of your stories!
Deb - June 30, 2021 10:48 am
Thanks Sean! I love reading your entries at the start of my day. Inspiring! As I was reading, I was able to picture it all in my head. You are a fabulous writer!
JB - June 30, 2021 11:30 am
I always enjoyed my elders so much I went to work in retirement homes for twenty-five years. Loved most every minute of it. This is why.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - June 30, 2021 11:33 am
Suzanne Turton - June 30, 2021 12:12 pm
Love this. I worked in a nursing home while a nursing student at Clemson. I adored all of the residents. I learned to shave men there. Told my dad I could shave him if he ever needed. He said, ”Let’s hope I never need you to…” Ha! My sweet parents met at a square dance at the Oconee State Park in Mountain Reat, SC on the 4th of July…been married 60 years.
Steve McCaleb - June 30, 2021 12:19 pm
Being an old fart ain’t easy in this country. Nobody’s interested in anything you have to say because….well, you’re old. You’re not good-looking, you can’t possibly know anything because some guy named Harry Truman was president when you were born, and you have no idea who some caterwauling young heifer named Billie Eyelash is. Whew, I feel better all ready. Time for a big horn of Geritol (there’s your Lawerence Welk reference) and a long nap. I won’t disclose how old I actually am but here’s a couple of hints: My social security number is 4….and I have scars on my left hip inflicted by a mad brontosaurus. Writing this has wore me out. Last one out turn off the lights…please.
eliza - July 1, 2021 11:20 am
Steve, you are awesome!
Sandi. - June 30, 2021 12:22 pm
Old folks are some of the most valuable, unique, colorful gems in the jeweler’s treasure box, and should be prized as such.
Hawk - June 30, 2021 12:52 pm
The schematics of the wheel is in the minds of our elderly. Great literary creations are locked away in their mind vaults (just ask them for the combination). Their work ethic is measured by the thickness of their calluses and the depth of their wrinkles caused by years of selfless housework. The joys and heartaches of love is the scar tissue on their hearts. Ask them. They will share it all. You may need to prod to get to the depth of the heartaches.
Lou - June 30, 2021 12:57 pm
One day several years ago, my Moma suddenly stated- this day in 1946 I met your father. It took several weeks of Q&A to get all the details. I wrote it all up and gave copies to my children so they would have it. Moma was great for stories. She left us last year…..
Bob E - June 30, 2021 1:06 pm
It is different now isn’t it? (I’m 78)
May (many) people become civilized and proper again.
God bless those who have retained old desirable values.
Melene - June 30, 2021 1:11 pm
Thanks for this reminder. My 80 year old mother in law has been staying with us for over a month after being released from the hospital. My Father in law died a few days after she started staying with us. It hasn’t been easy at times, but we are loving her and respecting her and listening to her stories, many of them for the ??th time. God is good, all the time.
Jan - June 30, 2021 1:29 pm
Sean, you are an expert on getting the best stories from everyone you meet. Thank you for sharing.
Rhonda - June 30, 2021 1:40 pm
My mother was a pretty woman. Always a little vain.
My sister and I gave her a bday party in the nursing home on Honeysuckle Road in Dothan once.
We drove down from Birmingham where we lived to see her twice a month.
I remember I beat my sister there on the day of of the party. My mother spent 2 hours getting ready. She was worried sick my sister would wear “cotton casual” as put it, to the party.
I’ll never forget it. I had to go outside and get a good belly laugh..
Nancy Hutcheson - June 30, 2021 2:16 pm
You know, you never ever think you’ll join their ranks…old people, that is. But time has a way of sneaking up on you, and before you know it, you’re one of them.
Suellen - June 30, 2021 2:38 pm
I could listen to these stories all day. I suffer from geriatricitis too. When a young teenager while all my friends were going swimming and to the movies I was volunteering at the nursing home ostensibly to bring some joy to them but I got so much more out of it than they did. It was so sad to see how many of them never got visitors. Which reminds me now that this pandemic is lightening up maybe I need to start doing that again.
Liz - June 30, 2021 9:17 pm
Suellen, you are an angel. I know because I am one of those old folks. 😱🤗 So, yes, please start visiting again. 👏🏻🙏🏻💖
Christina - June 30, 2021 3:19 pm
Old folks and their stories, treasures if we cherish them. Thanks Sean
Terri - June 30, 2021 3:22 pm
“Tell me a story”. Your desire to listen and learn enriches your readers. God bless you.
Dianne D. DeVore - June 30, 2021 4:40 pm
What a wonderful and heartwarming story today. I’ve always loved stories from older people, and now I am one of those, and I tell my stories when asked. Thank you for always pointing out the value of the older people.
Deanna Cignetti - June 30, 2021 5:09 pm
My died diet 3 weeks shy of his 96th birthday. Oh, the stories he could tell.
Linda Moon - June 30, 2021 6:03 pm
Elvis. I was too young back in the day to be an Elvis fan. My older church-going-Youth Leader brother wouldn’t have let his little sister be a fan. Now, I prefer Robert Allen Zimmerman. He’s made me feel better about Knocking on Heaven’s Door. Thank you for cherishing the old folks, Sean. I bet they LOVED telling you their stories. You wanna hear one of mine? It’s simply this: I don’t think of myself as an “elder”….yet. And I’ve been to 13 Bob Dylan concerts! I’ll find all those playlists and send you some stories about My Guy and me and Bob Dylan.
Terri - June 30, 2021 8:34 pm
Thanks for telling us a story.
Jewel - June 30, 2021 9:07 pm
Bless you Shawn for the memories you bring us & the memories you bring back. May we never forget
Jewel - June 30, 2021 9:12 pm
Bless you Sean, for the memories you bring us & the memories you bring back to us. Aside from love, memories are the most precious thing we have. Thank you for giving me new ones & helping me find the ones I had lost. Bittersweet blessings mean the most.
Liz - June 30, 2021 9:20 pm
Sean, darlin….since I am one o’them, all I can sy about this story is 💖💖💖💖💖💖💖🤗
MAM - June 30, 2021 11:17 pm
Cherish your elders and their stories. I wish I had heard more of my dad’s stories before he died when I was only 28 and that was 50 years ago.
Susan Wold - July 1, 2021 12:39 pm
Thank you for those. I wish I had more stories of my grandparents but time got away from me and they were gone. No do overs. I sure do cherish the ones I have though!
BJean - July 2, 2021 5:36 pm
Oh the stories we could tell!
Frances D Lester - July 2, 2021 8:14 pm
Mamas, please teach your children to tell stories! Listen to them and they will learn to listen, too! My two oldest grandchildren, who lived close by when they were young, are wonderful storytellers ! One of the best things about visiting with my siblings and cousins is sharing our stories! (We are all old now!)
You will never run out of something to write!
Kathy - July 5, 2021 4:41 pm
Vermin sounds like my dad. Except he was in WW II.
Bill Harris - July 9, 2021 3:44 pm
Thank you Sean