Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wise Old Manor

I have a cousin who keeps up with the whole distaff side of my family. Mother had 11 very procreative siblings, so Glenver has her work cut out for her. When the rare calls come from Cousin Glenver, I always assume it will be bad news: someone in the sprawling family was in a wreck, has a bad disease, got a divorce, got arrested or died. So when the call came week-before-last, I felt nervous because my closest cousin, the one I grew up with as a brother, has been quite ill and I assumed and feared the worst. But here is what Glenver said, “Danny Boy, that wise old man y’all think so much of is in Hillsboro Manor.” He is the one I often write about in this column. He is not a relative, but, somehow, Glenver knows how close he is to my family. She gave me directions to that nursing home in rural Southwest Arkansas and Jacque and I packed some goodies and went over there for Thanksgiving.

When we walked into the cluttered lobby of Hillsboro Manor, we were greeted warmly by a green-clad barrel of a woman with a nametag reading “Juanita, Head.” I didn’t know whether her name was Head Juanita or whether she was the Head of the Manor. I softly mentioned that ambiguity to my wife but she didn’t smile.

“Who are y’all here to see, Sugar?” she said to my wife, giving me a very substantial cold shoulder, perhaps having heard my witticism. My wife mentioned our friend’s name and she said, “Because of the nice weather—ain’t it been nice, though, Lordy I don’t remember such a warm Thanksgiving, do y’all—he’s out yonder on the back gazebo reading and scribbling.” She directed us past a card table with fall decorations, crepe paper turkeys and half-a-dozen wrinkled donuts, through a hallway lined with both ambling and rolling elderly whose remarks covered a great range and mixture of emotions. One lady thought I was her preacher. You’ve seen one bald head you’ve seen them all.

When Juanita unlocked the secure side door, we walked out onto a nice paved path and wound around until we found our friend reading a book entitled “I Acted From Principle,” and taking notes in a Big Chief tablet. He rose immediately when he saw Mrs. Ford and bowed in a courtly fashion. He shook my hand and said, “Dan, how good of y’all to come. Please be seated.”

“What are you reading?” I asked. “It’s a book of journal entries by a surgeon with the Trans-Mississippi Department of the CSA, published by University of Arkansas Press. He was a successful doctor in St. Louis but when the Federals took all his possessions, stripped his home of everything and exiled his family, he joined the Rebels down in Arkansas. Dr. William McPheeters acted on principle and that is a message for you, Dr. and Mrs. Ford. You must maintain the courage to act on principle, no matter what. This place is not too bad. They bring me milk shakes every afternoon!”

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