The Bag Lady

Although he’s not on the payroll, Guy Templeton has the most important job of all at Shady Pines Retirement Home: giving his fellow residents a reason to go on living.

When an old person arrives, they see it for what it is: the end of the line.  The days of exotic vacations, going to house parties, and driving yourself to the store are over.  Fighting over the television, putting up with an obnoxious roommate, and choking down tapioca pudding until their time comes is all they figure they have to look forward to  now.

Guy doesn’t like being at Shady Pines any more than the next person, but he’s the ‘make the most out of what you’ve got’ type, so he’s made it his mission to make the place a little more fun, and the only way he knows how to do that is to tell a great story.

In his younger days, Guy was the king of storytelling.  His gift of gab is what landed him the prettiest girl in the county, helped him reach his monthly sales quota at the local Ford dealership, and got him out of a traffic ticket or two.  Now he uses his gift to make life seem a little less lonely and hopeless for the newbies.

They’re easy to spot.  They all come in with the same ‘My God, is this what my life has been reduced to?’ look on their face.  That’s when Guy jumps in.  Today is no exception.

“Hi there!  I’m Guy,” he says to a man he estimates to be around eighty-four years of age, two years Guy’s senior.

“I’m Harold,” Shady Pines newest resident says.

“Nice to meet you, Harold.   How about I show you around the place?”

“Okay,” Harold says, still hoping that this is all a bad dream.

“Then sit back in that wheelchair of yours and we’ll get going.”

Guy shows him all the sights – the commons room, the cafeteria where those still able to leave their rooms go to eat, and the locked doors where those too far gone with dementia are kept behind for safety reasons.

“Tell me something, Harold,” Guy says as he takes his new friend past the rooms of the other residents.  “You look like a guy I served with in World War II.  Were you ever over in Italy?”

“Afraid not.  My bad back kept me out of the service,” Harold says shamefully even though a medical condition is nothing to be ashamed about; something Harold’s going to have to learn now that he’s in a wheelchair and soils himself at least once a day.

“I thought maybe that’s why you couldn’t walk.  I shot the other guy.  I didn’t want to, of course, but he was so desperate to get home to his sweetheart, he figured that an injury was the only out.  He begged me day and night to shoot him in the arm.  ‘You need your arm’ I told him.  ‘How else are you going to hold your girl?’  So I shot him in the leg, not thinking that he might also want to dance with his girl.  Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!”

Harold isn’t sure if he should laugh as well, but he gets the feeling that Guy is full of a lot of stories, and listening to him will likely be a whole lot better than watching Wheel of Fortune, or whatever show wins out on any given night.  So he laughs a mighty laugh and then asks who the lady is in the room they just passed.

“Room 607?  Oh, that’s Wilma Reimel.  Don’t get your hopes up, loverboy.  She never talks to anyone.  She just sits in her room all days and reads.”

Guy is right about that.  Wilma doesn’t talk to anyone.  Not because she’s anti-social, but because she doesn’t have anything interesting to say.  She has no husband or children to speak of, no satisfying career from which she retired, and she certainly didn’t save anyone from the Nazis like Guy did.  Her claim to fame was figuring out how to braid floor mats out of torn pieces of garbage bags.  No one wants to hear her thoughts on the difference between ‘Glad’ garbage bags and ‘Hefty’ garbage bags.  But war stories?  People will eat those up all day.

Guy and Harold continue along with their tour, while Wilma flips through her Ladies Home Journal, looking at design ideas she’ll never implement, all the while wishing she had done something more exciting with her life when she had the chance.

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