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James R. Stout

The Old Folks

            The first person that I remember living in one was my Great-Grandmother Parker. She was my Grandfather’s mother. The place she lived? Well, the proper term at the time was “Nursing Home”. But that’s not the term we used. No, we called it “The Old Folks Home”. I have memories of my Great-Grandmother from when she still lived in her home that was built in 1912 by my Great-Grandfather. The house is still there and has been lovingly restored by a cousin’s family. It’s a showplace now. I remember visiting Great-Grandma (that’s what she preferred to be called) and spending time in that house with her. I didn’t understand it then, but she had what I came to associate with “old people” as a tendency to want to hold the hands and feel the arms of her grand- children. My mother told me it was probably for two reasons. First, Great-Grandma wanted to feel the vibrancy of youth again. Secondly, it was her way of checking us over to make sure we were healthy. It was something that I just came to expect when we would visit her.

            Some of my earliest memories are of visiting with her in that house. She was already 77 years-old by the time I was born. For her day and time, that certainly qualified her to be an “old folk”. Today, not so much. I’ve mentioned in other posts that my father was in a bad car accident when I was only 4 months old and how he spent two years in a V.A. Hospital. Well, when I was about 9 months-old I became ill. It seems that I had a problem with being anemic. Mom had her hands full and then some. She was working for $50 a week as a secretary and paying a lady $35 a week to watch my two sisters and I. The doctor told Mom it was imperative that I be given my prescription medicine on time and properly. My Grandmother was concerned that the lady watching us kids wouldn’t do that. So, she asked my Mother if I could come and live with Grandma and Grandpa until I was better. It was extremely difficult for my Mom to do that, but she knew that I would be better cared for. So, I went to live at the farm with my grandparents. The farm itself adjoined my Great-Grandparent’s place and that old house where Great-Grandma lived. Given my Grandparents were also helping my Great-Grandma daily, I bonded with all three of them at a young age.

            I would live there for nearly a year and then I spent a great deal of time with them after that. I wasn’t in school yet and I would spend weeks at a time with them. My sisters were both in school by the time I was 3 years-old and they were watched after school by a neighbor lady. Well, she did get paid for watching them. I have early memories from about the age of 3 years-old that today make me feel loved. Grandpa worked his farm during the day. He might be out on the tractor, chopping wood, tending his cattle, or any number of chores required on a farm. My Grandma and I would go over to Great-Grandma’s house about 4 every afternoon. Grandma would do some cleaning of the old house and then prepare dinner for the four of us. I would spend a lot of time sitting in my Great-Grandma’s lap in front of the fireplace in her rocking chair. She taught me to sing songs like “Jesus Loves Me” and “Zacchaeus Was A Wee Little Man”. It would be just getting dark outside when we would hear the familiar sounds of Grandpa’s 1953 Allis-Chalmers tractor coming up the road. Grandpa had finished in the fields for the day. We would all sit down for dinner and I would listen as Grandpa told Grandma about his day and she would in turn do the same. Great-Grandma would chime in with tales of her aches and pains and how things used to be. Years later I became enchanted with a song by John Denver called “Grandma’s Feather Bed”. Some of the lyrics reminded me of those early days of mine at the farm. After dinner, Grandpa would bank the fire for Great-Grandma to stay warm during the night while Grandma cleaned the dishes. Many times, I would ride in my Grandpa’s lap on the tractor for the ½ mile or so to their house. He would let me steer (or so I believed) and then I would climb down from the tractor in front of my grandparent’s house so that Grandpa could take the tractor up to the barn. A barn that is still there as is the house. Grandma would get me ready for bed and both of them would come in my room to say goodnight and hear my bedtime prayer. It was a great time in my life.

            About the time I turned 6 Great-Grandma went to live in the “old folk’s home” in Crockett, Texas. I was in school by then and life had settled down a lot with my parent’s situation. Dad had a right leg 2 inches shorter than his left leg, had to wear a built-up shoe, but at least he no longer had to wear the brace or walk with crutches. He was back to work full-time. Our little family would go spend one weekend a month at the farm with my grandparents as well as special occasions such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Homecoming at the old church, and other such events. We always went to see Great-Grandma on Saturday morning in Crockett. She would be sitting-up in her bed just waiting for us. She would wrap her paper-thin skinned hands, covered with age spots and bent with arthritis, around our arms and it seemed she would hold on for dear life. Perhaps so. I didn’t mind at all. All of my life I have seemed to have a certain affinity with “old folks”. Now that I’m getting pretty darned close to being one, I think that’s a good thing! I remember the long corridor with green tiled flooring that echoed throughout the building as we made our way to her room. And there she would be sitting-up in the bed with pillows stacked behind her, smiling from ear to ear, trying hard to focus in on our faces through impossibly thick glasses. We would spend about an hour with her and I’m sure that I must have been a fidgety little boy. She was probably worn-out by the time we left!

            My last memory of Great-Grandma was on Christmas Day of 1966. It was my favorite Christmas growing-up for many reasons. After breakfast we got ready and made the drive to Crockett to see her. She seemed to be pretty tired that morning. Well, she was 88 by then! She must have known her time was short. I’m about to tell something that I haven’t told my other cousins on that side of the family. Why? Because I always felt that it might make them feel bad. I don’t believe that to be the case anymore. I think perhaps they would understand given how much more time I spent with Great-Grandma than they did. That morning we were all standing-up to leave and Great-Grandma said to everyone that they should go, but she wanted to speak to me alone. Nobody probably thought much about that. They probably thought she was just old. Well, they all left the room and then she looked at me and patted the side of the bed by her and asked me to sit down. I was an 11-year-old boy by then and full of life. She was near the end of her life. I sat down, and she took my hand in her hand and looked me right in the eyes and said, “Randy, you’ve always been my favorite.” Even though I was a kid and didn’t understand a lot of things then, I knew this was something special. It made me feel loved to know that I was her favorite. She told me to be a good boy (sometimes I was and sometimes . . .), to study hard, to mind my Mom and Dad, and to love Jesus. I told her that I would. For the most part, I think I have done those things. We won’t talk about some of the things that I did when I was a teenager! I gave her a hug and we said goodbye. She passed away 3 days later. I remember going to the funeral and watching my Grandfather as he held his hat in his hands and for the only time in my life, I saw tears in his eyes. He had lost his Mama. We would lose Grandpa 4 months later when a sudden and fierce heart attack reunited him with his mother.

            Earlier this year things kind of came full circle. Only this time I spent time feeding my mother who was too weak to hold a fork or spoon. She was dying, and I knew it. I thought about that day 52 years before. Mom passed at the age of 88, just like Great-Grandma did. This will be the first Christmas of my life spent without my mother. But it’s OK. She’s with Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, her siblings, and Great-Grandma now in Heaven. I’m not sad. Well, maybe a little. I do miss her. I’m blessed though. Blessed to have had such wonderful parents, grandparents, and a Great-Grandma. Blessed to have wonderful memories. Blessed to now be the “old folk” to my 5 granddaughters. And, blessed to know that I will one day rejoin my loved ones in Heaven. BUT NOT YET! To steal some lyrics from an Elvis Presley song, “Gotta lotta livin’ to do.” This Christmas, spend time with your loved ones if at all possible. Make some wonderful memories. Love life, love the life you have, love the babies and by all means, love the “old folks”.

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