They only help who they want. They don't deserve a star. Unprofessional and unconcerned about the people their suppose to help. And the other reviews are them or friends trying to make them look good. Need to hire a whole new staff.
Almost buried treasures.
24 billion computers in the world and not a single one will ever carry the story of Lois, the 91 year-old award-winning poet, prairie woman and mother of ten. The ranch is gone, the children are gone and her binders of rhymes on the living room shelf will soon be tossed in the dumpster behind her one bedroom apartment, as forgotten as the unclaimed plastic box of her cremated remains.
People, like icebergs on a slow melt, are not always what they seem. White and pale for years on the surface, they conceal so many layers of translucent centuries-buried colors, rarely seen by a disinterested mankind. Like pages of a novel dissolved away by the waves, the iceberg and its colors will soon be no more.
And no one will know any different.
I had done her a favor.
Lois had lost most of her sight in her old age and told me she was tired of pouring watery canned julienne carrots over her pasta. Her tiny food pantry was mostly proceeds from the food bank and she could no longer tell the difference between a label of vegetables over one of marinara. I’d printed out stickers in 48point Helvetica bold and finally arrived to organize her pantry so that she could now tell the difference with a flashlight and the large magnifying glass she kept within easy grasp at the window sill.
She offered me toast and marmalade as a thank you which I declined mostly because I didn’t have the heart nor stomach to eat French’s mustard on a slice of bread. Mental note for a return visit: refrigerator labels.
While I needed to soon return to my regular post at the senior center outreach for which I’d left a note “Back in 45 minutes,” I didn’t know at the time it would be at least two hours before my return.
Walking behind her in her walker toward the sofa for a brief chat before leaving was tedious until I noticed the many white notebooks on the shelf, labeled Olivia, Jenny and the names of many others. Inquiring, she invited me to take the volume Christopher home for the weekend knowing I was also a writer and much less of a poet. “I think you’ll like that one, Don.” She went on to explain she wrote poetry as a young woman and had been published more times than she could remember. Many of her poems had become greeting cards for Hallmark and before that, smaller card companies across the U.S. and abroad. The bookends bracing her impressive collection were trophies for writing and poetry whose engravings had blurred and tarnished over the many years since she lost her sight and could only rub to read, which she’d done probably thousands of times since.
We talked of many things, including the ten children for which her binders were named, her little house on the prairie, the brevity of her fame before losing her sight, and her enduring fondness for capturing inspirational moments in her prose. So immersed in her colorful stories of the past, I finally looked at my phone to see the time had come and gone to return to my post. We said our goodbyes and it was my Friday, so I took Christopher and headed back to the office to pack up and enjoy my three day weekend.
“The saddest story in all of history will always be the one which went undiscovered and untold to no person nor pen and was buried alive eternally in an old soul.”
These were the words that came to me while I sat on my bed and had coffee with Christopher for three hours that Friday evening. Reading the poems and prose, I didn’t cry even once. It was probably a half dozen times or more. The richness and antiquity of the words of that 91 year old prairie woman melted my soul, imagining that someday, with no one to claim them, the orphaned binders Christopher, Olivia, Jenny and the seven others might end up in a dirty dumpster and a landfill, and probably very soon.
It was the weekend, and the days when I take care of my own aged mother .
Though 35 years Lois’ junior, I wondered what stories I will have missed of my own family history if I didn’t take the opportunity that weekend to have a chat with her on the sofa that rainy afternoon. I primed the pump with a few nostalgic recollections of our family and we had a few laughs as she played solitaire on her Kindle. I could tell I’d begun to brew something more. Her game slowed as small oral vignettes of her own family history emerged piecemeal and at random until she was telling me complete stories of times growing up in Storm Lake, Iowa on the farm. Each story she told seemed to revive another she’d perhaps never told another. The kids she played with in the church across the street and the scolding of the pastor for playing hide and seek among the pews. The memories of her parents and aunts and great grandparents were flowing in alternating waves of sadness and laughter. Though they weren’t poetic, they were the stories of her life, and by distant relation, those I valued as my own.
Each of us has a story to tell. But in these electronic days, few take the time to listen in the way stories should be told. Indeed, storytelling, the old fashioned way that families passed on their histories, values and expectations to the next generation, is a lost art.
And out of 24 billion computers in the world, only a handful will find it important to pass on the stories of people who will otherwise soon be buried with them undiscovered and untold forever.
It was Monday morning again, and my day to return to the low income senior center where my outreach first introduced me to Lois and her many children. With Christopher tucked neatly under my arm, and a handful of refrigerator labels, I arrived, closed up, and affixed a note on the door.
It read “Back in 2 hours.”
There are so many older Americans whose fame was never counted by measures of celebrity, celluloid or column inches in fabulous magazines, but whose life stories are noteworthy nonetheless. And I have found that the aged ones who have never sought an audience for them, sometimes have the most engaging of all to tell.
Especially if you will take the time, ask, and then sit back with a coffee and some mustard toast, and listen.
And bring your computer.
Don Miller #mygivingstory
Review from #MyGivingStory
Tragedy begins at home.
Paris is burning, but Megan is on the bus home from her second job at 2am and hardly knows today’s world news. She’s thinking about what she can make for three school lunches that need to head out the door in a few hours, how she will pay her overdue rent and if she can get just three hour’s sleep before leaving to her other job.
Important things are happening in the world tonight.
I know John has been up most of the night not because he’s a night owl, but because he’s an 81 year old vet whose gas was shut off last week. He’s cold and can’t get a warm meal until next week sometime when his $700 check arrives to pay the bill, the rent and a ride to the food bank to pick up leftovers others have donated.
Important things are happening in the world tonight.
And here I sit in shiny black shoes and a borrowed suit at 430am at my office, because I know they’re awake and they are the important things and because I think I’ve crafted a plan that might help their tragedies.
Important things are happening in the world tonight.
I’m always in the office at this time of the morning. It’s quiet and I’m alone to think about these important things. I’m not generally wearing a suit and shiny shoes, but tonight I will be at an event with over 400 people who need to hear about what’s important.
I honestly don’t care about winning, but I do care about the possibilities it may bring to our little non-profit in old Henderson and how, if translated correctly, some important people tonight might pause and hear about people like Megan and John and 10,000 more like them. And maybe they’ll give a dollar to help.
Our agency, HopeLink of Southern Nevada, was nominated for Outstanding Non-Profit of 2015 and the winner will be announced this evening over a gourmet dinner in a room full of suits at a luxury hotel. Win or lose, all nominees will win something for the people they serve every day. A voice.
People don’t like sad stories, but sad stories can move the right people to do the right things to help make fewer sad stories. I believe that’s important.
So I’ll sit there for a few hours, maybe win, likely not, but I’ll have the captive ears of a privileged few who need to know the important things that are happening in this world, right here at home.
And taking off this suit and uncomfortable shoes, I can sleep well tonight, knowing I went to bat for the tragedies which begin at home and end with charity.
Review from #MyGivingStory
All he wanted was a photograph.
I took his picture, but he may never get the one he wants most of all.
I always leave my door open when I’m on site at the senior center twice a week. I set up shop there to meet low income senior citizens and try to engage with them to show them the kinds of services I can offer free of charge. Ways to save on utility bills, plans for having food when the money runs out before the month does, budgeting help, how to escape from being prey to the payday loan companies and so many other services that can make a meager fixed income go much further and last much longer.
This generation of senior citizens are a unique breed. They are the aging baby boomers and what I consider the last of the moral few. They grew up with the idea that you should always work hard, scrimp and save, pay your bills and be willing to sacrifice if you can’t. They grew up without computers or computer education and today know very little about how to navigate most things younger people do from their phones in an instant.
And, sadly, they are a generation of lost people. There are no large scale wars that unite them as a group. Their children were born in the “me” generation of self-centeredness and permissiveness and who, for the most part, have found keeping generational ties unimportant. As a result and more often than not, they abandon the older generation as if it is somehow the respectful thing to do. Today’s seniors are also a generation first to experience the insufficiency of social security income to buy the retirement they had hoped. What are so errantly called the Golden Years are truly as thin and flimsy as aluminum foil.
I work the saddest shift at the non-profit charity I chose to join a year ago today.
My open door policy, however, seems to make it a little easier for these needy but ashamed old people to be willing to break the ice. Like rescue dogs beaten down from years of abuse, they often are afraid to make the first contact. Fortunately, I’m pretty good at that and regularly seek out and engage many solo seniors who have had nobody to talk with for years. Their lifetime friends are either six feet under or six hundred miles away and they don’t have money for milk much less travel in these Aluminum Years.
Again, I made the first move.
For three weeks, he’d passed by while I was in what they called the Library at the senior center. It’s not much of a library, really. It has a cache of donated old books and magazines piled neatly as if they were new editions. Nobody is fooled by the name of the room which doubles for bingo on Tuesday afternoons where winners receive rolls of toilet paper as prizes.
I never heard him coming down the hall and mostly only got a glimpse of his profile as he would pass through the light streaming in the doorway so many times before. Each trip, he always turned his head and proceeded at a steady pace as if on a conveyor belt to nowhere.
It took some coaxing. I got up from the computer and stood by the door so that the chance meeting might be a little easier for him if it was to happen at all. He was far down the corridor, head down and without direction. But he must have heard me or seen my friendly gesture somehow, for as I sat back down, he was right there at the door, seemingly in reciprocation.
“Hey there!,” I spoke loudly as most of the people around here are hard of hearing or not used to being selected for a conversation.
He looked up and through the doorway. As he came closer, I could see great depth in the crevasses in his face and his long, black feeble shadow met me long before he did.
“How’s it going on this beautiful day?”
He looked around as if perhaps I was addressing another, more important passerby. I introduced myself and my reason for being here and asked the same of him.
“I’m Al, and I just need a photograph.”
I invited him to sit awhile and tell me about this photograph he wanted.
At first, he wasn’t well spoken but when he did, his long grey beard moved in synchronicity with each syllable. Obviously anxious at the thought of talking with a complete stranger and worse, having a need to present to one, he chose his words very carefully.
Al hadn’t seen his three kids in some time. It had been years for two, perhaps a decade more for the oldest. He knows he must have grandchildren by now and wonders if one of them might be an Albert or Alan or Allison…named in his memory as if he were already dead and gone. It’s not likely. After his wife died in ’84, the kids moved him to this senior living community in the desert where he’d “have a really fun time with all the people his age and the games and the bingo” and all that list of lies he was told as he managed the last $700 of his savings as a deposit when he signed.
He was all of 81 now, and in addition to winning a roll of toilet paper now and then, he spends holidays, birthdays and anniversaries alone except when he can get a ride to the library or the cemetery where his wife was laid to rest 30 years earlier. To make best use of the ride and the welcomed time away, he goes grave to grave to pull weeds, straighten dirty plastic flowers and talks to all the horizontal people mostly his age and older. Except of course Sally, his wife, who only made it a half century before a drunk in a pickup truck ended their marriage and for some reason, the only real connection to the children and family.
Today, he was missing them and wondering about their well-being. He had their addresses on some scraps of paper he pulled from his wallet as I offered him a cold bottle of water. There were no phone numbers, just penciled addresses which had blurred illegible after so many years in his wallet next to what looked like high school pictures.
Al hadn’t had a picture taken of him since he could remember.
We talked of his history and my own in extended groups of topics from fishing to art to puppies. I’d come to discover he was quite a well-rounded man of experience who had evidently cared so much for his wife and children when he was a younger man that his kindness had been taken as weakness and his family had exhausted most of his time and assets before he was shipped out to the desert to wither and die with the hundreds more just like him. As he became more comfortable, we even talked about death itself and speculated how each of us might eventually kick our respective buckets.
I didn’t share it with him but by the look of his frail, taut face and thin weathered body, he was sure to die of starvation if something wasn’t done soon. I told him we have a food pantry I bring every Thursday morning and suggested he be first in line with a couple very large bags. It was the first smile he had given me all morning.
I used that smile as an opportunity to fill him in on some things I thought we could do to help his situation and stretch his $718 monthly social security income and $14 in food stamps. That brought the second smile of the morning. I was on a roll and thought I might go for three and asked him to sit back against the wall as I used my IPhone to do for him what he’d come for.
He obliged, licked his fingers and briefly ran them through the few hairs on his head, straightening his beard in what was obviously his own idiosyncratic method for many, many years. I laughed as he did his little routine and told him my beard would never be as long as his but surely as grey. And the instant he laughed, I snapped the picture and showed him how great he looked in it.
I’d have easily guessed he had not seen himself in a mirror for what might have been years the way he held my phone and gazed at his own image. His last picture was at the DMV four years prior. He had aged quickly in four years. Very quickly.
“Wow, you look very different from your ID picture, Al.”
“I kinda guessed I might. A lot has changed in four years.”
Al shared with me had been diagnosed with inoperable colon cancer 3 years prior and at the last visit to his doctor, was told he probably wouldn’t make it to Thanksgiving.
Al wanted a final picture of himself that could be displayed on his own grave wherever he might be buried like the many horizontal friends before him. It wasn’t likely that his family would make the trip to see dad and grampa before he passed but if so, he wanted them to see the man he’d become just in case someday they became curious about what happened to old Al.
He said he could never figure out what he’d done wrong for them to not contact him again and hoped this picture of April 7th, 2015 might be different enough from how they knew him years before and that even from the grave, he might get a second chance to show them how much he had thought about them over the years and hoped they’d made lots of babies, perhaps one named Al.
I printed the picture and presented it to him for the fourth smile of the morning. I don’t think he had had mustered four smiles in a morning for as many years.
With our work done…or perhaps just begun…he got up and shook my hand and thanked me for having stood in the doorway an hour ago.
And as he left through the sunlight of that same doorway, I extended an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner at my house with my own three kids.
The fifth smile.
I took another picture.
Review from #MyGivingStory