My Friend Al, part two

Because of his age and physical condition, it was hard to get Al to make any changes. He had been told he had six months to live a year or so before. During one visit it was clear that he was very ill, and he made arrangements to be taken to the V. A. hospital in Biloxi. This turned out to be a very fortunate event, because he never returned to the home in which he was staying. I went by and picked up all of his things (of course some things were missing) and brought them to him in a new room in the V. A. facility for long term care. I felt so much better that he was in a facility that was clean, with medical professionals around, and that was free of charge because of his military service. His health visibly improved. My visits, however, were fewer and farther between due to the distance.

Al’s throat condition left him unable to eat as far as the doctors were concerned. But can you imagine never being able to eat again? Neither could Al. There was still enough of a rebellious streak in him that he he had a drawer full of peanuts, candy bars, cough medicine, and alka seltzer. In addition, he had the freedom to leave the facility on day trips, and I would take him on errands … and he would always want something to eat. During that time a visit with Al was quite an adventure. We would go to Dillards where he would attempt to buy some clothes that were comfortable for him to wear. Evidently he did well in his earlier life and was used to going in to see a clothier, requesting a certain size, having the pants hemmed to a certain length … none of this off the rack stuff! So I let him and the salespeople work it out. Occasionally I would step in …like once when a salesman talked him into buying something more expensive than the one he preferred. I let him know that the guy was trying to take him.

We had a lot of fun at the cell phone kiosk as well. Al was convinced that his phone was no good, didn’t hold a charge, and he couldn’t hear it. He was aware that at every visit I made I took his cell phone first thing and turned the volume back up- but to him, the thing just didn’t work. The truth was that there is so much concrete and rebar in that V. A. hospital that very little signal could get in. That was the major problem. That, and the volume buttons on the side that he unwittingly would hold down while talking on the phone.

Once his health deteriorated I was able to bring him things he needed … including the brands he liked. I remember one time that I brought a generic brand of something from the store. He said, “Now you’re just going to be like everyone else.  You think you know better what I need than I do. That generic stuff doesn’t work!” So I never made that mistake again!

Al loved his siblings and talked to them often. He filled my ears with the stories of their growing up, and how life was very different among all of them. Sometime during our friendship his closest sibling passed away – a brother that lived in Colorado. He loved his sisters but his kind of wild life did not make for good conversation to his God-fearing sisters, so they were not as close for a long time. Yet it was one of his sisters who brought us together. One could tell that he was fond of them and loved them much. He regretted his time away from the Lord … and them.

Since his living arrangements were free, and he had a small retirement income, Al had the ability to spend some money. Having little opportunity to visit stores, he was a mark for the mail order business. Every visit to his room found him on his bed with Haband, Heartland America, Carol Wright, and other catalogs of ‘stuff‘. I honestly don’t know how he was able to read the descriptions and fill out the forms, but the boxes of stuff were piled up in his corner. Once he ordered some books, not realizing he was signing up for a book club. He was going to receive a new shipment every month! Once alerted, he put a stop to that. He wanted to read, but found himself unable to read for very long at a time.

Because of his love of mail order, He got me started on a collection in which I never thought I’d be interested. And it was a collection that stretched all the way back to his adolescent years. I think I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.

Thanks for reading,

John

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