Tallahassee—The hospital volunteers luncheon was well attended. In the dining room were white-haired beauties who donate their time to suffering strangers without expecting anything in return.
These are saints. They visit those undergoing chemo. They smile at the downtrodden. They hold the hands of the infirm.
And they are always on the job.
The buffet was fried chicken, potato salad, and string beans. Flower arrangements lined the tables. The entertainment was me.
I had been running ahead of schedule. So, before the luncheon I found myself wandering Tallahassee, admiring the local sites.
I had forgotten how pretty it was. The Spanish moss in the oaks is like something from a postcard. It’s hard to believe I used to dislike this town.
It’s a long story. I’ll give you the short version.
I lived in Tally for a hot minute. And by this I mean for a couple weeks. I rented an apartment not far from Florida State University, and I planned to attend.
A little about my boyhood education:
I was a high-school dropout. I quit school because of reasons that don’t make much sense now. Later in life, I completed my education as a grown man.
I felt pretty ashamed about this for a long time.
After I finished community college, I applied and got accepted to FSU, and I was over the moon. I bought curtains for my new apartment. Scented candles. Throw rugs.
But my excitement was short lived. As it happened, I had not been accepted. A clerical error had been made.
I was formally rejected a few days before classes started. And on that disappointing day, I sat in my truck watching teenagers scurry to class, and I felt like the world’s biggest flunky.
I’ll never forget seeing a teenage boy on a skateboard who wore pajamas. He was on his way to class. It was cruel irony. I was a grown man with a tucked-in shirt, completely unqualified to share a textbook with a kid who wore pajamas to class.
The boy waved at me. I waved at him.
But it’s funny how life works. Because that night I stayed up late in my dank apartment, working on what would become my one of first columns.
I suppose I needed to keep my hands busy. Or maybe just I needed to prove that I wasn’t an illiterate fool.
I removed my typewriter from its case. I wrote, edited, re-edited it, and re-re-edited until three in the morning. Then, I wadded up what I’d written, trashed it, and wallowed in self-pity.
I didn’t realize I’d just written what would eventually launch the most fun period of my life. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself.
The next morning, I ate ice cream for breakfast. Why not? I was a loser. Losers can eat ice cream for breakfast.
I was embarrassed. No. Embarrassment doesn’t even begin to describe it. I was pathetic.
What’s worse, the students in my apartment building were gearing up for the school day. Kids were opening and slamming doors. Hurried footsteps boomed across the ceiling.
And the thirty-year-old flunky was sitting on a chair in the breezeway, eating from a Ben and Jerry’s carton. Chunky Monkey was the flavor.
A few days later, my friend Lyle came to help me pack my things. My wife and I loaded the sofa on the truck. And I tucked tail and left Tallahassee.
And I tried to put it behind me.
But getting back to the luncheon. So there I was, driving through old neighborhoods. And something happened to me. I let go of a grudge. One I should’ve never had in the first place.
I ate lunch at a South American joint. I visited the park. I stopped by my old apartment building. I picked up a copy of the Democrat and checked the baseball box scores.
By the time I arrived at the volunteers luncheon, I was in such a good mood I looked like a man with new dentures.
I took the small stage to tell stories before a crowd of white-haired women. I did my best to entertain them, I even sang a song.
When I finished, someone sent me home with boxes of fried chicken. I also got several kisses from ladies who had the audacity to call me a “writer.”
One elderly woman hugged me tight enough to break my ribs. She whispered in my ear.
“You know,” she said, “during your speech, I couldn’t help but think about something, I wanted to share it with you.”
She let her blue eyes meet mine.
“Baby,” she said, “I am grateful for unanswered prayers, and you should be too.”
She hugged me. She kissed my forehead.
Like I said. These white-haired beauties are always on the job.