Monday, December 20, 2010

It's Toddy-time Daddo!

Returning from my morning walk, I would often see him sitting alone on the little porch of his apartment. He would sometimes wave and smile as I passed. One brisk day in September, dark rain clouds were gathering, so I called out to him that I thought it might rain today. He cupped his hand to his ear to let me know he could no longer make out words from that distance, so I moved closer to his chair and repeated myself. His happy smile and sparkling eyes told me that he was grateful that I had taken a moment to speak with him. Thereafter, I often stopped to chat with him.
Christmas at Jane's
This elderly man with his gnarled hands and silver gray hair sitting on his porch watching the world go by, was often my only contact with another person. I had recently moved back to my hometown after living in a large city in another state for more than twenty-five years. The new business I brought with me was operated from my home, so my workdays began before dawn and ended only when I became exhausted.  Socializing was not on my list of priorities. After more than ten years of making many sacrifices and working two jobs, I was newly divorced and grieving over the loss of the life I had worked so hard to achieve.  I poured my shattered heart and broken spirit into my work. It was my sanctuary.
I had no way of knowing that the man with whom I sometimes stopped to visit had owned many successful businesses, including the 7-up Bottling Company in his younger days. Those facts were only revealed to me over the course of many visits as he recounted his favorite memories of his long life. He loved to tell me about his children and grandchildren, who called him "Daddo." He would often tell me about his elegant mother, whom he adored. He was born in 1909 in a house only blocks from his apartment. During the course of the next five years, I became an honorary member of his family. We spent many holidays and birthdays together.

When he was feeling up to the journey, we would have a lunch date. I would often walk over with a glass of wine to sit with him on the porch and listen to him share his memories as twilight descended. He enjoyed telling me of the cocktail hours at the Country Club and the Hurstleigh Club in days gone by.  

Guy S. Carr driving with his father. circa 1924
When the sun was shining and the air was sweet with spring flowers, I would sometimes take him for a ride in the countryside. As I followed his lead turning down this road or that, he would share his memories as we drove along. "See those stone steps leading to nothing but a yard? There used to be a grand hotel there called the 'Austin Springs'. My parents stayed there on their honeymoon in 1904. It burned to the ground a long time ago." As we were driving across a small bridge one day, he told me "We used to ford this stream in a surrey when my Mother and a servant would take us for a picnic and we would spend the whole day beside the lake." On another trip he told me "This is the same path the wagon trail followed. I remember playing in the ruts it left when my brothers and I were little boys. The pony express came through here too." He remembered the first car that anyone in our town owned. He shared his memories of the lumber yard his family owned and of caring for their mules that delivered ice and coal to homes. As we drove through some of the older parts of our town, he pointed to what is now a garage. "That was a stable. When people didn't have cars, there was a stable near the house where they kept their horse."
A few times, he called me to come to help him. Older people often fall because their sense of balance and legs don't work the way they once did. When he fell, his delicate skin would tear so easily. I would bandage his wounds, which sometimes required an emergency room visit. Through these events, he became more determined than ever that no one should know how fragile he had become. He always asked me not to tell anyone. That's why he would often wear a long-sleeved shirt in July. He desperately wanted to maintain his independence and remain in his home.

In the hours before his death, I was there with his daughter at his bedside. Our last goodbyes were like all the others. He shared his wisdom and gave his love unconditionally. A relationship that began with what I thought was a good deed on my part rewarded me with a dear friend whom I will never forget and a borrowed family that I respect and admire so much. My dear friend taught me many life lessons and about running a business. He shared his firsthand account of our area's history like no other could, for he had lived here for a century. I was truly blessed to have his friendship.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Treasures in the Attic

Children growing up in the middle of the twentieth century didn't have lots of toys and games like today's children. My sister and I had bikes, a tiny record player, puzzles, coloring books, and a swing set in the yard.

My parents are hard-working, very conservative, reserved people who do not believe fun is a priority. It was unlikely, given this type of environment, that my sister and I would ever be exposed to any cultural activities such as ballet classes or music lessons.

The course of our lives changed dramatically when I was in sixth grade. We moved into a large three-story house that once belonged to a professor at the local college. It was on a tree-lined street with lots of other kids our age to play with. The yard was large, with rolling hills and lots of trees to climb. It was often the meeting place for kids and dogs of all sizes and shapes.

We loved our new house with its hardwood floors and a happy kitchen with lots of windows. Our new bedroom was on the third floor with an adjacent large playroom, which remained mostly empty.

In the bedroom we shared, there was a small hidden door. The door opened into a large dark, dusty attic where the previous owners had left behind old books and records, which became our favorite toys. The records were the thick 33 1/3 gramophone RPM type from the 1930s and early 1940s. These records and books were amazing treasures that carried our young imaginations far away.

We soon made friends with a girl in the neighborhood who had taken ballet classes. She taught us a few ballet steps and allowed us to dress up in her old dance costumes. We thought we were so beautiful as we were gliding across the floor of our empty playroom to the music of Swan Lake and Autumn Leaves.

I've always been grateful for those childhood experiences, which opened new doors for me and allowed me to appreciate classical music and ballet. I also developed a great love for classic literature while reading those left behind stacks of books such as "Gone with the Wind" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" over and over again. Those forgotten treasures in the attic revealed a world I might never have discovered if we had not moved into that interesting old house.