Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Fateful Errand

Over the past two weeks, I've had many kids in the house.

All are offspring of dear friends of ours.  We're pretty honored that we've earned this deepest measure of trust.

Last week, I had 4 boys in addition to my own two.  That's a grand total of 6 boys, ages 2 to 11.

The 4 boys all have names that begin with the letter "J", and the kids thought it was just hysterical when I got tongue-tied 100 times a day.  We had lots of fun; it was a pleasure to have them in our home. 

But I was one tired mama by bedtime each night. 

And on Tuesday of this week, I was able to bring two more boys of another friend to have them spend this week with us.  Ages 11 months and 3 years.   It's been a while since we've had a baby in the house, and I am LOVING the snuggles I'm getting from this little guy.

But wow.  We've gone through a lot of groceries these past two weeks.

And with so many children, I've deferred going to the grocery story with my entourage.

But this morning, we ran out of diapers.  And milk.  And green veggies for the baby to eat.

I realized this only moments before Chris had to leave for work.  I wanted to go to the store alone.   I presented my case.

"Well, can you go there and be back in 15 minutes?" he asked as he sliced a banana over his bowl of cereal, knowing the depth of my desperation to have a few minutes out of the house.

The store is 5 minutes away.   Could I gather the items I needed from the store shelves and check out in 5 minutes? 

You betcha.

I grabbed my keys, slipped my shoes over my freshly painted toenails, and was out the door.  It was 9:52.  I had to be back in the car and heading home by 10:02. 

Driving on the curvy road to the store, I repeated out loud the things I needed and the order in which I would get them, according to the store's layout. 


"Baby food green beans!"

"Paper towels!"



And that's when I saw him.

The old man in the blue shirt.

Flailing on his back.

Laying in the grass, about 15 feet from the road.

I hit the brakes and jerked my car to the shoulder of the highway, turning on the hazard lights as I shoved the gearshift into "park". 

"Sir?" I called loudly as I slammed my car door and ran toward him, the stiff, sun-scorched grass dragging across my toenail polish, ripping it off in shreds, cutting into my ankles.

"SIR?"  I neared him as he struggled to sit up.  His little white dog wrapped her leash around his left arm.  She gave a soft bark as I reached my hand for his back.

He groaned at my touch.  Soft tufts of his hair, disrupted by his fall, blew in funny wisps on his head. 

He was sitting up now, his eyes bewildered and downcast.  Confused and afraid.

"Oh, sir.  Bless your heart.  Are you in pain?" I asked as I unwound the leash from his arm. 

"My, my," he stammered.  "I.  Well?  My heavens.  I was just walking Fluffy here and I suppose I had a stumble!" he replied as he turned his face to look up at mine.

A well-known "mom trick" is to plaster a big, fake smile on your face when your kid bites it on the concrete sidewalk.  To coo, "It's OK!  You're OK!  Yay!" as blood spurts from their knees and elbows, promising Spiderman and Elmo band-aids as you guide their wailing selves back inside the house.

Involuntarily, at that moment on the side of the highway, I had slipped on my "mommy injury face".  His green eyes met with my brown ones and my big, toothy grin.  "Now, now," I said soothingly.  "Before we try to lift you to your feet, are you hurting?  Do you have pain in your neck or back?" 

"No,"  he said.  "But how's a smiley little girl like you gonna lift up an old man like me?" 

"I might be small, but I'm mighty," I joked, silently wondering how I was going to pull it off.

I stood in front of him, spreading my feet wide in preparation of hoisting him to his.  Looking down at the ground, I gave myself an eye roll for my stellar choice in footwear.   Three-inch wedge sandals are just the perfect thing for emergency roadside assistance.  I grasped both of his hands in mine.  His hands, with their papery, age-spotted skin--just like my Meme's.

I gently tugged at the man but quickly realized I wouldn't be able to get him up.

Just then, cars began to stop as they spotted us. My neighbor was one of them.  He ran to the old man and I, hoisting my friend up from beneath his armpits.  I merely made eye contact with the man.  And I smiled.  I figured that was my job now.

My neighbor and I put our arms around the man and led him up to the road. Tim gently took Fluffly's leash from the man's hand. 

"Do you live near here, sir?" I asked.  "Is there anyone at home waiting for you, expecting you?"

"Yes," he said.  "My wife."

Just then, a beautiful lady with fear scrawled across her face emerged from a white car parked near mine.  Her reading glasses were perched on the bridge of her nose and her hands trembled with the adrenaline rush. 

"Honey!  THERE you are!  I've been driving around looking all over for you!  You've never gone this far from home before!  And I just saw these cars parked here on the side of the road with their flashers on and..."

She noticed the way we were supporting him and inhaled sharply. 

"Did you FALL?"

The woman looked at Tim and I and explained.  "He has dementia.  He's never gone this far from home.  Oh my, oh my.  I guess I can't let him out of my sight any more."

Shame weighed down the old man's shoulders.  "What a mess I've caused today.  I'm so sorry."

"Oh, no, no!  You are just fine!  You've cause no trouble at all.  Just a little stumble," Tim and I reassured.  

The emotion started to rise in my throat as I saw the story of this couple's life flash in their eyes.  And the new chapter they now faced.  The dementia.  The wandering.  His loss of freedom.  Her concern for their future.  I wanted to embrace them both and take care of them.  I hurt for them.  I thought of my Momma Merle, her dementia, the way she forgot who I was, forgot who she was.  I thought of my Daddy, stricken with a brain tumor that made him unable to drive or care for himself.  His loss of freedom.  The beginning of his end.  Thinking of the way my grandpa, Papa Pete, died, fallen in his yard, with no one to help him up, left to endure the cold night of his death.  Alone.

Giving my new old friend a gentle pat on the back, I hurried back to my car.   I barely shut the door before the tears came.  Through my clouded vision I looked at the clock.  10:02.

I thanked God for the gift of letting me be present for this moment.  For the errand He sent me on, not to do something for myself, but to offer myself to another.  For letting me be of some help--even if it was only to provide a toothy grin--to that dear old man in his moment of need.  For God's knowledge of how I needed to grieve a little more for my own grandparents, for my Daddy.

I drove home without the groceries but with so much more.  My heart remains heavy, heavy, heavy for that couple.  But it's brimming with the privilege of serving strangers, even in such an obscure way.

And, anyway.  I did make it to the grocery store later, my entourage in tow.


Sarah said...

It always amazes me how God can put us right where we need to be. I shouldn't be amazed by it, but I am. Every time. There was one time that I was "running late" and ended up being "placed" (as you were today) to help a teenage girl as she tried to throw herself into on coming traffic. If I hadn't been late, I wouldn't have been there. If you hadn't gone for groceries, you wouldn't have been there. I'm tellin' ya', it gets me every time.

Ginny said...

Oh Sarah! That is amazing! We're all part of a bigger, unseen Story, aren't we?

Thank you for sharing.

Unknown said...

Wow! That was so beautiful Ginny! I've been sitting here drinking my coffee and crying. Sweet memories of our family gatherings at MamaMerle and PapaPetes house came flooding back...times I wll always cherish. Thanks for a great reminder of what life is all about....serving God and others. You are a blessing to me sweet cousin!!

Anjie Fitch said...

Love it! You are such a precious person : ) and you wouldn't have wanted to miss out on an entourage at the store! Thanks again for watching my boys last week.....and pets this week!

Sarah Brooks said...

Thanks for sharing Ginny! That was an amazing story!

Unknown said...

Beautiful! God is so amazing! Crying into my cereal:)

Unknown said...

I'm sure that God allowed you to be the answer to that gentleman's prayer! And his wife's prayer, too!

la femme rose said...

Ginny, God did want you there. I cannot think of anything that man needed more than a kind, understanding, soothing, and helpful soul to guide him and make him feel "human." I read through your essay, being able to relate to so much of what you described. You'll recall that blog piece I wrote about my grandfather titled "My Guy." He was a very bright man who got dementia in his later days. It was hard to see him be able to process complex thoughts and fully understand what I was saying while simultaneously expressing confusion about whether or not his wife (already deceased) was still living. Your essay moved me to tears- in a very peaceful and fulfilling way. You're a talented writer! I am glad you made it to the store with the children. They must be so much fun! But, it does look somewhat like that Lucy movie "Yours, Mine, and Ours" (she and Henry Fonda raise 19 kids) when you all travel to the grocery store together!

Ginny said...

Thank you all for your comments.

@Katie: yes, I thought of Mama Merle and Papa Pete endlessly yesterday. Dreamt of them last night. Oh how I miss them.

@Anjie - you're welcome, beautiful friend.

@Sarah - Thank you!

@Julie W.- thank you. Sorry about your cereal. :) And I never thought of it that way (being an answer to their prayers).

@Julie C. - I will never forget that post you wrote about your grandfather. Your photos of him really touched me. Thank you for your kind words. I haven't seen that Lucy movie...but 19 kids?! I am barely scratching the surface!!

Erin Southwell said...

Oh that just breaks my heart, but so amazing that God placed you there at that moment. I am so glad he has a wife who loves and cares for him.

Linda G. G. said...

What a treat to discover your blog.
I looked it up again just to say I made the quinoa, chicken, kale soup recipe I found yesterday and it's fab. Then I found this story. Thank you.
Each of us has a story, or should, and how interesting it is when a stranger shares with you and no longer seems a stranger. (I also hit the Chopin you-tubes last night, sometimes we need some new direction)

Ginny said...

Dear Linda, Thank you for your precious words. They mean so much to me. And yes--everyone has a story. I often wish I could ask everyone I come across on a daily basis to share theirs with me.

Thank you,

Caneel said...

How in the world did I miss this wonderful post until you shared it again today? Crying, my friend. I'm so glad you were there that day. Love you.

Mary said...

I missed this the first time around. We've been going through dementia with my mil for several years. She is now confined to a wheel chair and often doesn't know who I am when I visit. She lived with us for 2+ years and it was REALLY HARD to take care of her. Being a caregiver is HARD HARD HARD. But it was even more difficult to admit her to a nursing home. I go to tears when I remember how very physically strong she used to be, when I run my fingers over the beautifully crocheted blankets she made, and remembering the day I first met her. Her six boys, aged 17-24 at the time, were playing football and they got into a brotherly scuffle. She looked around, picked up a branch the size of my FOREARM, set her shoulders and walked out to knock some heads!!! I didn't know then how those shoulders would help me!
Beautiful story! Thanks for sharing again!!