I have a good friend. His name is Glynn. He is 91.
Glynn was born and raised here in Montgomery County in a little town called Pintlala. Pintlala is a Creek Indian name of some significance, but I have know idea what it is. My friend built his first home when he and Opal first married for about $16,000.00 (he paid cash for it). He lived in, what is now, an historic area of Montgomery and worked for Alabama Power Company for 46 years. He retired a while back and shortly thereafter, his wife, Opal was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.
This is where we began our incredible journey together.
I was once a part of a ministry whose focus it was to visit elderly people. I met Opal and many others like her at this one particular nursing home in 2001 or 2. She was, by this time, in the full throws of her unique exit from this realm and I knew it. My mother's mother died from this same painful stripping of her own physical identity.
Like my grandmother, Opal would have moments of complete bewilderment. At other times, she would act with what appeared to be total recognition. She would stop what she was doing and with a straight face she would look at me and say this funny thing she always said to me -- "You're cute. Where did you come from? I like you!" Opal stole my heart.
Opal stole my heart and she hung in there for a few more years, but she got weaker until ultimately succumbing to her tireless stalker. As sad as this left all of us, that is not really the reason I reflect on their story. No. The reason I am telling you this is because I am convinced that Glynn was sent into my life to assist in my becoming who I really am. I will do my best to explain:
At this period in my life, I was heavily involved in the Christian church. My decision to volunteer to sit with senior citizens was a direct result of losing all my grandparents before I ever got to really know them. My closest grandparent was my father's mother, MeMa. She thought I was the best thing that was ever created and she meant it. She told everybody. Everybody. MeMa stole my heart.
From then on, I have always had a compassion towards sweet little elderly ladies, and I met Glynn only because of my affection for Opal. He was not involved in and had never been a part of any church even though Opal was a formerly active member now residing in a nursing home. Since I didn't know anything about him, my first impression of Glynn was that he was just madly, madly, madly in love with his wife.
I am in tears as I write.
Picture this: It was the most beautiful sight I have ever personally observed between two of their generation -- he bent down and he gently placed the peppermint in her mouth. Then he kissed her and said,"I'm right here baby." I was glued to the experience. And if this had only been a one time event, it would have still stayed with me forever. But this was to become for me, the highlight of every single visit, every single Friday morning.
See, Glynn would leave from home each morning around 6:30, and on his way to the nursing home, he would stop and pick up two sausage biscuits for their breakfast. He was always on time and always knew exactly what his wife's treatment plan was for the day. He was known there, and you can be certain that every nurse in the place knew him and knew that they had to be on their toes when he came around.
He respectfully ensured that those things he could no longer do for his beloved were performed as well as they could be for her by someone else. He was diligent. He was specific. He made sure everything was just right. This I observed.
This I observed in awe and wonder; silently treasuring each tender act in my ever swelling heart. This man did not believe as I believed. This man did not perform the expected ceremonial acts of religious service that I was taught were required -- you know what I mean -- all those things we were required to do that proved we were not one of "them." This man, was stealing my heart by just being Glynn. He was acting in love at every moment. He is real, and he has never once pretended in my presence.
Since Opal's death, Glynn and I have continued to get together every Friday morning. He quickly decided to stop driving because the only reason he really had for it was to get back and forth from the nursing home. So I would pick him up, and we would drive the route he knew so well only to stop at the Hardee's restaurant famous for providing all those tasty biscuits they ate all those special years. For a few months, we would continue on towards the nursing home. This was because the cemetery was also in the vicinity. It was always tough on him. It tore me to pieces. So... after a little while more, we just returned to his home when we were done with breakfast.
Now, Hardee's restaurants in Alabama are famous for early morning philosophy, refined over years of repetition. What a bonus this turned out to be for me! In the process of visiting this same place for so long, there began a gathering that we became a regular part of. Glynn already knew a couple of these sages, but one in particular was special. Raymond worked for Glynn for nearly 40 years at the power company. After a rocky start to their relationship, they became life-long friends. It was something to watch as they repeated all those stories about "the days." This just made Friday mornings sweeter for them, and it was beginning to affect me.
There were about 8 of us in all. I say "us" because I was 40 then and I was the "kid," but they let me in anyway. They even eventually began to look forward (or so it seemed to me) to hearing what I had to say. These wise ones wanted to listen to my stories?
They listened to my stories, I listened to theirs, and they stole my heart.
This became our ritual and our tribute to Opal. This continued every Friday possible until Glynn decided to move into an assisted living home across town two years ago. He has to use a walker now. He is a diabetic and suffers from a symptom that robs him of feeling in his legs. He only feels tingling, and it makes him nervous that he might fall.
These days it takes a miracle to get him out of that place he calls home, and today I got a miracle. After he watched me "tweaking" his computer (our new ritual) for about an hour while we discussed the latest news stories, he said, "I was hoping we could get out for a bit today." I said, "Where to, Man?" We then proceeded to load up, and we went for a little ride up the road, had lunch and laughed. We laughed. We spoke of Opal. His eyes misted just like they always do when he mentions her precious name... but we laughed. Boy, did we laugh today.
I know that I have said that all days are gifts to me. It's true. At the same time, I will have to confess to you that Friday is the one day that I look forward to over every other day. I look forward to it for all the same reasons we all love Fridays. I am famous in these parts for the exuberant TGIFs I throw everywhere, at everyone... it's just that now, since Glynn popped in, I know that my Fridays are serving a higher purpose.
I am beginning to realize who I really am, and the absolute beauty of that statement hit me today as I watched Glynn laugh... thanks, Glynn. I want to call you grandpa so bad...
Peace to you, true love for you, divine thoughts about you. -- jb