After my grandmother’s estate was settled, my life went back to normal and the first thing I wanted to do was go visit with Lucien.
I was excited as I pulled into the Shady Spot Rest Home. After I went in, I walked by my grandmother’s room and gently touched the number 38 on the door. That had been her room for almost five years. There was a new resident there now and I wondered if maybe some of my grandmother’s spirit had been left behind.
Like I said, I’m a bit of a romantic about some things.
I walked to the sitting room, looking for Lucien. The familiar spot where he sat day after day, looking out the window was vacant. I was puzzled and walked toward the nurses’ station.
I saw Margaret and cheerfully said “hey Margaret. Where’s Mr. Lucien?” Margaret put her hand on my arm and said “honey, Mr. Lucien died last night and they took him away this morning.”
As my eyes filled with tears, the only thing I could get out was “but he had stories to tell. He had stories to tell.”
Margaret said “come with me.” She took my hand and led me down the hall. “This was Lucien’s room,” she said.
I just stood there for a minute, frozen like I had been hit with a blast of cold air. The walls were covered with posters of Carnivals, Circuses and Big Top events. Margaret handed me his scrapbook and said “I think he would want you to have this.”
I sat down on the side of his bed and started flipping through the pages. It was full of copies of newspaper clippings. The first one was about a man named Gilbert Hensley. He had been killed when an elephant repeatedly stomped on him. The date on the Kingsport, Tennessee newspaper was September 22nd, 1916.
The next clipping was about a woman named Mary Smithy, who had been arrested In Milwaukee, Wisconsin for lewd and lascivious behavior in the presence of children. The date on the article was October 3rd, 1923.
On July 26th, 1930 in Omaha, Nebraska, a young man was killed when the car he was riding in on a roller coaster, disengaged and sent him flying into the nearby woods. At the time of the article, his identity was unknown.
The next article was about a woman named Eva Gomez. She was a trapeze artist who had plummeted to her death on August 10, 2003 at the Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth, England.
To say I was confused would be an understatement. Margaret came back into the room and said “do you understand now?”
I told her I didn’t understand anything because nothing made any sense. “None of the names in these articles are the same as the names in Lucien’s stories. Did he really go to all of these places?”
Margaret smiled a sad smile and said “no honey.”
I asked what she meant and said “are you saying that Lucien was never the caretaker for the carnival?”
Margaret shook her head and said “no. He was the janitor here and he had been working here since he was a young man. I guess you could say he was the caretaker of the Shady Spot Rest Home.”
I was almost crestfallen and for a split second, I was glad that I had never told my grandmother about him.
She looked out the window, much like Lucien had always done and said “as a boy, his dream was to ‘run away with the circus’ but he had to work to help his family pay the bills.”
“You should have seen him,” she said. “He would pick up a chair and act like the sofa was a ferocious lion. He’d say ‘stand back ladies. I’ll protect you’.”
“He used to take one of the wheelchairs out and ride it down the hill as fast as it would go, pretending he was on a roller coaster.” She giggled when she said “more than once, that old chair won and would pitch Lucien out.” She shook her head and said “sometimes life plays dirty tricks on you.”
“When he was in his early forties, he was stricken with early onset Alzheimer’s and it invaded him with a vengeance. When the diagnosis was first given, he knew that his dream would never be realized so I guess he started creating his own memories about a career with the carnival.”
“He continued to work here as long as he could function in some way. He’d forget where the cleaning supplies were and when he found them, he couldn’t remember what they were for. It was such a pitiful sight.”
“When his family passed away, he had nobody but us so we took him in and gave him a room. The state took care of him financially and we took care of him physically.
“How long had he been here?” I asked. “I mean, I guess that he was in his mid-nineties, so he must have been here for a long time.”
Margaret looked surprised. She said “oh no, dear. He was sixty-four. The disease that took his youth.”
She shook her head and said “sometimes he would fall or wander down the street and get lost. One night he was hit by a car when he got loose. That’s when he became wheel-chair bound. We had to strap him in to keep him from trying to escape again. His body wore the marks of running into things but everything else that should have failed, was just fine. I had always heard that when that awful disease gets you, all the sickness goes to your brain and for some strange reason, the rest of your body is relatively healthy. It’s almost like a form of what they call brain reorganization but it was ultimately unsuccessful, at least for Lucien.”
She walked around the room, touching each poster and said “several years back, he started ordering these and we helped him hang them on his walls. Then he started collecting newspaper articles from the library and he’d carefully paste them into his scrapbook. After a while, I’m not sure he really understood why he was getting them but he would read them and then put them away.”
She let out a sigh and said “so you see, his dream never came true in reality but what a wonderful world he created in fantasy. All of those people became his family. They had stories and their stories became his stories.”
She smiled as she said “and oh my. He had stories to tell.”