His name was Lucien Sebastian Coltrain. Every time I visited my grandmother at the Shady Spot Rest Home, I saw him sitting in front of the window, safely fastened in his wheelchair. He would sit there for hours and hours, just looking. Sometimes, his expression was almost like he was seeing something for the first time or maybe he thought he might be seeing it for the last time.
So many of the residents never had any visitors, at least not to my knowledge so I tried to make a little time for those special residents. I hoped someone would do the same for my grandmother.
When it was time for my grandmother’s afternoon nap, I walked toward him. He turned, looked at me and returned my smile with a big toothless grin. His face and arms bore old age liver spots and purple skin tears that are so common when you’re old. I wasn’t sure how old he was but he looked to be in his early to mid-nineties.
Before I could say anything, he said “I have stories to tell. Oh my, do I have stories to tell.”
I introduced myself and told him that I would love to hear some of his stories. “Oh my,” he said. “Where do I begin?”
He looked out the window and said “well, I was what you’d call “The Caretaker of The Great Carnival.”
I had been to carnivals, and circuses and fairs and I thought I had the gist of what a caretaker did. It was basically little more than a glorified janitor but I let him continue. After all, what he did and what he saw were different stories.
As he continued, he chuckled and said “oh my. There was this strange, diminutive little fellow named Hobbs who used to come around to look after the elephants. He wasn’t a big talker unless he happened to be talking to Josie, who was his favorite elephant. I never got a response from him when I spoke and when he looked at me, he looked like he was looking right through me. Oh my. I don’t think he liked me very much.”
I hoped he didn’t think I was being flip when I said “was Hobbs was the caretaker of the great elephants?” He let out a hearty laugh and said “oh my. Yes, I guess you could call him that.” He became rather pensive and I asked if he was alright.
“I was just thinking,” he said. “Oh my. Poor old Hobbs fell under Josie one day and was crushed. I remember thinking ‘not only did I never get to say goodbye, I never even got to say hello to him’. Oh my.”
He continued and said “now, Maribel Odom is somebody you want to know about. She was the tallest woman I had ever seen in my life. She was always bedecked with layers and layers of necklaces, you know, sort of like the ones you get at the Mardi Gras. She wore these long false eyelashes and I would guess that she had prettied up her face with at least a pound of make-up. But, oh my. She was a real sweetheart.”
“I could always count on seeing her strolling around like she was the queen of Sheba. She would walk up to a crowd of people and start telling dirty jokes. She didn’t care if anyone listened and she didn’t care if anyone was offended. She just blurted them out. I’ll tell you my favorite one, if you like.”
“Please do,” I said.
He smiled and said “it goes something like this. A guy named Pete was in a bar, trying to drink his sorrow away after his girlfriend broke up with him. He tried everything to get her to come back to him. He even had her name tattooed on his private part but she wouldn’t come back so he took to the drink.”
He winked as he continued. “He decided to go to the ‘let loose’ room to empty his ‘valve.’ While he was standing there, a tall dark gentleman walked in and whipped out his bit. Pete glanced over his way and couldn’t help but notice the letters W and Y were tattooed on his bit. ‘So,’ he said. ‘You used to have a girlfriend named Wendy too’? The tall dark gentlemen smiled and said ‘no man. Mine says welcome to Jamaica. Have a nice day’. Oh my, Maribel could tell some jokes and her curse words could make sailors sound like amateurs.”
We both laughed out loud and he apologized if he had offended my sensitivities. I told him that my sensitivities or lack of, might be akin to Maribel’s. He looked at me, grinned and said “oh my.”
I had an idea that I was going to be hearing those words a lot as he continued to tell me his stories and I also had an idea that Lucien had a good sense of humor and was most likely smarter than anyone imagined.
He seemed to tire suddenly and begged forgiveness when he motioned for the nurse to come wheel him back to his room. I asked him if I could come hear some more of his stories and he said “oh my, yes. I have stories to tell.” His voice trailed off as he was wheeled away but I heard him repeat, “oh my. I have stories to tell.”
To be continued____________