Down the block, there is a small ALF (assisted living facility) which probably holds no more than 15 beds. It's been there all the time we've lived here. And it's on the route I regularly walk by with Boomer.
Over the years, I have seen so many elderly and disabled people sitting under the small front awning, looking out at the circular drive and brick street, smoking cigarettes or just staring out at the real world. And I always greet them, when passing by, with a "Good morning!" or "Hello!" and sometimes I get a response and sometimes I don't.
Over the years, I've met a few residents. Sometimes, they are remarkable people. I remember, one elderly woman who always came out to pet Boomer and told me her many stories of working with a traveling circus as a animal trainer in the olden days... fascinating stuff. And another, an old man who loved to call Boomer "Smiley" and always had a joke to share or two. And yet another, younger disabled man who loved petting Boomer as he mourned the dog he used to own. But always, the residents, always they strike me as sad, lonely people, abandoned at that ALF, sitting under that awning, just passing the time away until, you know, nursing home, hospice and/or death...
And these residents come and go. And I often wonder, where exactly they go.... and sadly, know, it's probably not good....
These past few months, there's been a new resident, a very ancient old man sitting at the end of the driveway, on a tree stump. And I mean, he looks ancient, I'd guess nearing 100 years old. So frail, so very, very frail. With white hair and huge ears. And, though mobile, he has aphasia -- or if not aphasia, some other form of speech disorder. I say this, because I see him making familiar gestures, so similar to gestures that Bob makes. And I also, I've noticed he doesn't really speak, but seems to communicate mostly in gestures and an occasional word. I always see him making a gesture (two fingers to the lips and a motion mimicking smoking a cigarette) and in that way, he asks passersby for a cigarette. And I have seen, at least one fellow (who I believe is homeless) stop and give him a cigarette, pretty much on a daily basis.
He has made that gesture to me, the smoking gesture, more than once. But, when I see him, I am walking the dog, so basically the only thing in my pocket are poop bags and the house keys. I don't even have a dime with me to give him to send to him to the corner store. But I always take time to tell him "good morning" or "hello" and "how are you?" and make some comment about the weather or such and wish him a "nice day" and "take care" and he always smiles at me with his big toothless grin.
Tonight, as I was walking Boomer on our "last go around" of the day, I saw the old man sitting on his tree stump at the end of the driveway. And the old man stood up and waited for us to pass by.
And I greeted him, as usual, but he put out his hand, as if to tell me to stop.
So I stopped,
And then he gestured, a very familiar gesture, one that Bob does all the time: first, he put his hand on his heart and patted it. And then he gracefully swept his hand toward me. Then he clasped my hand firmly in his hand. Then he brought my hand to his lips and kissed it. Then he gave me that huge toothless grin.
It about broke my heart and it touched my heart. And made me, strangely, happy and sad at the same time. And I realize what a sad, lonely, cruel place this world can be...
But, I tell you, when we get some extra cash around here, I think I'm going buy that guy a whole darn carton of cigarettes from the corner store!