Life in The Old-Folk’s Home

I recently went for a two week stay in respite for my wife in a furnished apartment at Carlton in Davis. Carlton is a big chain of old-folk’s assisted living facilities on the west coast of the U.S. It’s expensive as hell, but the dinners are better. Or so I’m told.

Dinners are important, as are lunch and breakfast, since most of what you do here is eat.

There’s also movies. exercise classes, activities, and all kinds of stuff, if that’s what floats your boat. But if staying alive isn’t your raison de etra, maybe you’d rather try something else.

Probably the most important thing they do here is help you get up. From falls.  At least it’s been the most important for me. I’ve fallen, probably, seven times since getting here four days ago. Not once hurt–knock on wood–thanks, probably, to Judo training back when I was in college. Of all the classes I ever took, that was the most valuable. Saved me from a fight more than once, made me confident, and saved my life at least twice.

The first life-saver may not have been that bad. I was trying to cross highway fifty on foot in a snowstorm one day. There was a little market on the other side, and I wanted a bite to eat. What I had never noticed before was the fact that people coming out of the side street and wanting to go left on the highway would be looking over their shoulder and accelerating as they used the center lane to get into the heavy traffic going toward the Stateline attractions of the day. Unfortunately, I had taken advantage of a break in the westbound traffic to locate myself in perfect position to be hit by anyone doing just that. What I had thought to be a safe place to await an opportunity to complete the crossing was anything but.

So I was motivated to take a small break in the traffic to get across. I sprinted at the first chance.

Unfortunately, that was precisely when I stumbled. I caught my foot on something, and fell forward right in front of an oncoming car. There was no way he could have stopped short of me. So I did a forward running roll right in front of this tourist up for a day of skiing just before he got to the slopes. Right through a puddle.

He didn’t even have time to honk.

I came out of the roll still running, and I assume he was duelly impressed by how tough the locals must be.

I did, however, get soaking wet. But it might have been much worse. As it was, though, I wasn’t even hit. If the train had touched me, though, I would not be in the old-folk’s home today.

My wife and I were on holiday in Spain, heading north to the French Alps. The small village of Besiers, in France, has a very nice cathedral of which you have a good view as you enter town on the  highway from the south. But when you pull off the road at the bottom of the little incline having the view, the scene is blocked by the railway.

Now, I am very comfortable around trains. My hometown, Dunsmuir, was a terminal back in the day. My father was a train dispatcher. My friend, Eddie Fisher, and I used to walk the tracks about five miles to start fishing every day of the summer, I worked on the railroad as a freight brakeman to put myself through college.

As we rolled to a stop, a passenger train sped past. It was traveling much faster than I had ever seen a train move before. In my experience, the passing of a passenger train is a virtual guarantee of a quiet track for hours. So I shambled up onto the right-of-way to get a good picture.

But I hadn’t taken more than three shots when I was startled by the sound of a whistle. Instinctively, I jumped back. Unfortunately, that put me in the middle of the train’s track. He was about four hundred yards from me and coming fast. I had thought that I could see quite far down the tracks in both directions, but I had not figured in the speed of these trains.

It’s funny how some things can’t be forgotten. I remember every thought and action that took place in the next few seconds. First was an observation that the engine was bouncing vigorously left to right and the realization that French engine crews must have a very rough ride. I could imagine them holding onto their chairs not to be thrown to the floor. The engineer began blowing his horn in an alarmed, panicked, manner.

Then came the thought, “don’t look at the train, George, get off the track!” Having started in one direction, and visualizing what usually happens to the squirrel that loses his nerve and reverses course in front of the car at the last minute, I continued unabated, determined to make it in the direction I’d started. I dove over the steel track, thinking as I arched my back, “clear the rail.” Simultaneously the image of my body lying in pieces, cut in two by the train’s wheels pressing against the rail, flashed through my mind. I remembered frequent warnings of just such a fate befalling dead switchmen of old when I first got on with the railroad. The engineer continued to blare the horn. It was now only about twenty feet from me. Depending on where the horn was mounted, that could mean about a foot or two between me and the train.

As I landed on the same cinder ballast we use for roadbed in the U.S., I lost my glasses and scratched the lens on the camera. Other than that, I was unscathed. That judo class was well worth it. I lay still on the roadbed while the train roared past me, inches from my head. Despite the train being fifteen cars or so long, it only took a few seconds. If it had touched me, I would have definitely been killed.

Near death experiences. Most of them go unremarked. Only timing saves us from the fatal encounter on the freeway, but we are likely not to even notice. Likewise we may not see the snake at our feet. or realize just how close we had come in any of a number of close calls. When we do notice, though, a rare opportunity to evaluate your life occurs. Don’t waste it. During the aftermath, think about how you are spending the little time you have here.

Most of the people in the old-folk’s home would do something differently.

Even Those who don’t identify a distinct cause of their decline know it has come. All are old. Many have seen every war since WWII. Most don’t understand why WWII was the last declared war. Most are very conservative compared to me. Compared to anyone I know.

Life, for most, is about meals.

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5 Responses to Life in The Old-Folk’s Home

  1. Dallas Smith says:

    Nice blog George! Thanks for the reminder of the razor’s edge of life that we tread.

  2. Hank Raymond says:

    Sounds rather harrowing George!

  3. Diana Hamilton says:

    I enjoy your stories, George. Now, I’d better find a judo class!

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