I first met him at the monthly potluck.
He was pleasant and affable, willing to engage in social conversation at the drop of a hat. My first impression of him was one of warmth and friendliness. I could tell in just talking to him for a few minutes that this was someone with whom I could be a friend.
Bob was his name. It was scrawled on the name tag that we all got as we came in and was stuck on the front of his shirt. He sat in his mobility chair at the end of the table and talked amicably with other residents who had gathered in the clubhouse of our condo complex. Many of them had been living there longer than I had and apparently knew him well; friendly, good-natured and quick with a laugh.
Soon we were all invited up to the counter to fill our dishes with lasagna, salad, scalloped potatoes, chicken; the usual fare brought to potlucks. One of the ladies brought a heaping plate of food to an appreciative Bob who had stayed in his chair at the end of the table.
As I sat and ate my pile of food, I couldn’t help but steal a glance or two over at Bob from time to time as he ate. He was the life of the party, talking and laughing with others at his table. It struck me that here was this guy; who obviously had lots of mobility problems, (with all the difficulties that brings into everyday life), who appeared to be well into his eighties, probably lots aches and pain along the way, sitting with a group of people and seemingly having the time of his life.
At the end of the evening, as the gathering was breaking up, Bob looked over in my direction and slowly guided his chair over to me. With a big smile on his face he shook my hand and warmly told me how pleased he was to have met me. With that, Bob turned around and made his way out of the room in his chair, waving and smiling at everyone as he went.
I later found out from neighbors that Bob once made his living touring the country as a member of a band, was ninety-two years old and lived alone two doors down from me.
As the days went by, I would occasionally step outside my front door to see Bob sitting in his parked car under his carport, driver’s door open, laboring to exit the vehicle.
“Just got back from my daughter’s”. He would say. Or “Just got back from the store.”
He would smile broadly and thank me profusely as I helped him retrieve his walker from the back seat of his car and help him towards his front door.
On these occasions, I would be struck again by his cheerful manner and friendly attitude in spite of the physical burden he was living with. A couple of times I knocked on his door and sat with him as he watched golf on TV and regaled me with tales of his adventures as a member of a touring band.
I came to like Bob and started considering him a good friend. Whenever we saw each other out our front doors, getting the mail or putting out garbage, we would spend several minutes chatting. He would always have a big smile on his face as he leaned over his walker.
Then the ambulance visits came.
Falls in the night. Stumbles in the bedroom. Followed by 911 calls and overnight stays in the hospital.
One afternoon I returned home to find an ambulance and firetruck sitting in front of Bob’s condo. Lights were flashing everywhere and a crowd of residents huddled close by with looks of worry and concern on their faces. A few minutes later medical personnel wheeled a smiling and waving Bob out of his condo and into the ambulance.
“Just a little fall.” He said. “Going to get checked out. Be back tomorrow.”
A few weeks later I noticed a strange vehicle sitting in front of Bob’s place and the front door of the condo wide open. I walked over and poked my head in, knocking on the door. A younger couple was busy sweeping and scrubbing the place. Bob had been moved to an assisted living center his daughter and her husband explained. His condo would be put up for sale soon.
My heart sank. I knew how much Bob loved living there and how he enjoyed interacting with all the other residents at the potlucks and the card games. This would be devastating. I dreaded going to visit him for the first time and wondered what I could say or do that might cheer him up.
A week later I stood with trepidation outside the door of Bob’s room at the assisted living center and knocked. I heard his familiar voice. “Come in.”
His face burst into a wide grin when he saw me walk in and he waved his arms in delight. “Len, Len, come in.” I’m so glad to see you.”
He was sitting in a recliner with his feet up and the TV turned to a golf game. “Pull up that chair and sit. I’m so glad to see you.”
His face was beaming and his eyes were wide with delight as he told me how happy he was in his new home. The food was very good and the staff was so friendly and helpful.