Sunday, August 24, 2008

I was accused of being a Boy Scout!

Hello my Scouting friends:

The phone rang this morning (Saturday, 23 August) and when I answered a voice said "George, your Boy Scout Good Deed is known by everyone in this retirement facility." The fellow on the other end of the line had no knowledge that I had anything to do with scouting but felt that my behavior epitomized the public image of a Boy Scout doing his 'good deed.'

What happened was that when I parked my car near my office on Friday I spotted an elderly man leaning on a post office box looking at a map. I asked if I could help and he said he was looking for the Ace Lock Company. He needed a key made. He didn't look too steady on his feet so I said "You can't get there from here on foot. It is too confusing. Let me take you and I opened the car door. He gingerly got in and we took off. The shop was only four blocks away but I was not too sure he would have been able to make it. I waited while he had his key made and then took him back to the bus terminal, a block from my office. He told me that he was 94 years old and had terminal prostate cancer and was encumbered with a large pad but that he was determined to do everything he could for himself as long as he could. Nonetheless, he appreciated my offer of a ride and thanked me profusely. He asked my name and I told him.

My caller said at the dinner table that evening he asked the group if any one knew George Drake and found that several did. He told the story of our encounter. The story passed around the dining room and the consensus was that if I ever ran for City Council again I would have every vote in the place. What pleases me about this little anecdote is that if you do a good deed you are accused of being a Boy Scout. I hope Scouting can hold onto that reputation but on the other hand I hope doing good deeds is not limited to Boy Scouts.

Even before I joined the ranks of 'old folks' (78 qualifies me, doesn't it?) I used to engage older riders on the city bus in conversation. One day I asked a little old grey-haired woman sitting next to me how she had earned 'pin money' when she was a child. A smile crept across her face and she responded "I used to buy ponies from the Indians and break them to the saddle and then sell them. That was fun!" and it was obvious from her big smile that the memory of that enterprise really pleased her. Whenever I saw Floyd Chandler, well into his 90s, on the bus, usually sitting by himself, in a loud voice I would ask, "Floyd, is it true that there used to be a bear pit at the end of the road here?" and that was all he needed totell anyone who would listen about the bear pit and the amusement park thatused to be in the neighborhood. Folks riding the bus would stop their chatter and listen to him tell his stories. There's stories all around us if we would stop to listen. Maybe you have to prime the pump to get them going but everyone has stories. One time I asked a man obviously in his 80s or older what was the funniest thing that ever happened to him. He began to laugh and said that he was on the city police force when they got their first cars and within a day he crashed his at a street intersection into the other car purchased by the police department at the same time. So both new cars were now laid up for repairs and he and the other officer were back on foot patrol.

One time I was trying to be nice and was rudely brushed away. It was at Tikal, the incredible Mayan ruins in the Peten jungle of Guatemala. A group of visitors from the American Museum of Natural History was touring the grounds listening to an anthropologist who was responsible for some of he excavations. This was obviously a group of museum docents, donors, etc. as they all seemed to be elderly and well dressed. Some of the stone steps were over 8 inches high and very narrow. I was next to a woman probably into her 80s who seemed to be a bit unsure of herself going down that steep stairway. I offered her my arm to help steady her as she descended. She
literally snarled at me "If I want your help I will ask for it!" Others in her group looked aghast at her crude response to my offer but said nothing. I responded, "Lady, I think your mother just rolled over in her grave. She probably taught you manners when you were a little girl. What happened as you grew old?" Shocked silence. This woman was obviously a wealthy dowager, supporter of the museum, etc. and used to being kow-towed to. She glowered at me for a few moments and then, reaching out her hand for my arm said "You are right. I apologize. Thank you for your offer." The group applauded.

You don't gotta be afraid of old folks. Just talk to them.

More stories later.


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