Torrential rain pelted the ground as our truck slid and swayed over a rutted road that was thick with slick mud. Tossed to and fro, we descended the steep hill. I feared we would slide into a deep ravine on our left, but my husband drove us safely to the bottom as Uncle Hobert, sitting between us, slumped in his seat. Unable to navigate the incline, the ambulance driver had agreed to meet us on level land at the foot of the hill.
Seeing the ambulance outline, barely visible in the heavy gray rain, I was relieved. Everything would be all right. A few minutes later, the EMTs loaded my frail uncle into the ambulance and raised the head of the gurney so he could see us as we followed.
Just before Uncle Hobert was lifted out of our vehicle, he looked up the hill toward his home of many years. Then, he wept unashamedly. I was still teaching at a local college, so I understood little of what it meant to leave one's home for the last time. On that dismal afternoon, my uncle knew he would never again see his modest stucco house, his wind-whipped hill, his swaying pine trees and his daffodils, whose bulbs once again lay dormant in the cold ground. That day ended one phase of his life and launched the final chapter. I could not then understand how his heart ached, for young people have no idea what old age is like. They must wait until they arrive there.
Time passed and Uncle Hobert lingered on the exit ramp of life in a nursing home. My husband and I visited him on weekends. The director of his final home on earth was a woman who mothered the residents. Most staff members were local workers from Ripley or adjacent rural areas. There was little employee turnover, and I knew Uncle Hobert's caregivers were kind to him.
Bill and I lived in Nitro at the time, which was too far away for us to visit often. I had my uncle moved to another facility closer to our home. He hated it and asked to return Eldercare in Ripley. I immediately set about to have him transferred, and when he was wheeled into the Eldercare lobby, the administrator met him at the door, kissed him on the forehead, and told him his same room was waiting for him. I think she knew he would return.
My uncle had a roommate, Mr. Waybright, as I recall. Unlike Uncle Hobert, he was able to walk the halls. My uncle eventually believed Mr. Waybright was his father, my Grandfather Frame, who had been dead for many years. The more my uncle lost weight and the more emaciated he looked, the more my mother and I worried. As we fretted, my uncle seemed to be happy. Mother Nature had worked her magic. She had transported him on wings of mercy all the way back to his lime-green days of youth.
One afternoon, I asked him if he missed his stucco home on his windswept hill. Smiling, he said, "No, that's a good place if you have someone with you, but it's no place to be if you're all alone." A nursing home is usually a place of last resort, but for my uncle, it provided contentment. He was never all alone again.
When he still lived on this land, I visited him. A college student then, I sometimes sat in lawn chair and wrote in a journal to fulfill a class assignment. One sunny morning, I wrote about Virginia Woolf's ability to view life from afar, where she could view the miniature fast-moving cycles of life that we miss as we get bogged down in everyday details. My Uncle Hobert said, "Dolly, one day, you will live on this land, and this will be a good place for you to write." It is.
Contact writer Dolly Withrow at ritew...@aol.com.