All Stories, General Fiction, Short Fiction

Week 358: The Pursuit of Meaningful Longevity, Tales For the New Year and an Elevating Saturday Special

Welcome to a new year. Today is 8 January, an interesting date due to the odd mix of persons born on it. For example, Elvis, Stephen Hawking, David Bowie and Larry Storch were all born on this date. Elvis would be eighty-seven (thus still possible to “sight” at southern Piggly Wiggly buying peanut butter and bananas, if you are crazy); Mr. Hawking would mark his eightieth. and Bowie would be seventy-five. Alas all are gone, but we still have Larry Storch (dear God please let him live at least til this post airs, please, please). Yes, we still have “Corporal Agarn” from F-Troop. Mr. Storch turns ninety-nine today, and has outlived the others mentioned by a considerable margin of years even though he was (and by a long way) born first. 

As far as I am concerned, Larry Storch can go on to become the longest lived human since the Bible. Anyone familiar with sit-coms in the sixties and seventies has seen his face dozens of times, for he was a frequent guest star during that era; aside from his stint on F-Troop he appeared on all the variety shows as well as a mobster on Gilligan’s Island. You can’t go a week of watching MeTV without seeing Mr. Storch at least once (he did a dramatic turn on Mannix just the other day). But it seems odd to me that of the four, Agarn should live on and on and on. And on and on.

This situation, coupled with Michael Nesmith’s sad passing that reduced “The Monkees” to “The Monkee,” got me thinking in a weird and twisted way. And a weird and twisted theory, one founded in a highly speculative manner, one perhaps suited to fit this post, took shape in my mind. It goes: Of any group of four (or more) men bound by one common circumstance, the least exalted of the group will survive the others. It explains much. Zeppo was the last Marx brother to die. The dude who filled in after Curly retired was the last Stooge to expire, and though some might argue that Peter Tork should be the final Monkee, I say it was a coin flip between him and Mickey, for Davy and Mike were, perhaps, more recognizable. If this theory wasn’t as faulty as it is in marginally bad taste, I’d say that if you can get a line somewhere, bet the ranch that Ringo will be a “Paul bearer.” And now that I’ve said it, it lies there, smoldering, just waiting for the perfect time to come back at me.

Fortunately, my theory applies only to men. This of course stems from the bald fact that there is nothing in this world harder for the gods to kill than an old lady. Still, it will be interesting to see who will be the last Spice Girl standing.

This introduction was composed on 30 December. And right here there was a present tense part that mentioned Betty White’s remarkable longevity as a human being and in show business. Well, when you are dealing in a certain age group, you deal with a time of life that is most definitely day to day. So, as fate would have it Betty passed on 31 December. Still, you can’t really call that a tragedy–for making it to ninety-nine and still active in a world that is not overly kind to ninety-nine year old people is a stunning achievement. Also, the event has placed me on a Larry Storch vigil, for I now check his status everyday–I make sure that his is hasn’t shifted to was on Wikipedia.

So I salute Betty and double pray to God that Larry Storch cruises into ninety-nine doing whatever he still likes to do most.

I do not make resolutions because I know I will forget them the instant I write them on sticky pads and attach them to the wall behind my desk. But if I did make resolutions and could keep just one, I’d resolve to improve my segue into the week’s stories when doing the Saturday Wrap. Sadly, I cannot think of a graceful method of doing so. These words should stand as evidence for that ongoing situation.

But hope springs eternal. And you gotta grab the bull by the horns and send him up the flag pole to see who salutes the cliche. Anyway, that’s as good a segue as I can come up with. Pure gibbersih that I hope doesn’t detract from this week’s line of stories that opened the new year.

And what a first week it was; fittingly, it opened with a legendary writer (the author of today’s special) who appeared for a staggering 150th time, as well as a fourth appearance of another good friend of the site and three debut contributors.

We had, I believe, fifteen choices to run as Tom Sheehan’s 150th this past Monday. But we settled on Your Walk Westward, Toward Sunset. Although there’s certainly a bluesy aspect to the piece, it also serves to bolster the concepts of perseverance and hope for the future. And we aren’t done with Tom today, for after this wrap, his elegiac tribute When Your Time Comes, Be Lucky will run as a Saturday Special. It is not exactly a story, but was much too good for us to reject.

Longtime site friend, Susan DeFelice made her 2022 site debut with her fourth LS outing, To Anacortes. I happen to live very close to the place she describes in this story and I can tell you that she nailed it. It’s silver and gray bleakness, as well as some of the many unfortunate souls who live at, or are just passing through that town.

Ralph Hipps introduced the readership to his Uncle on Wednesday. This beautifully presented tale of a ne’er do well relation is fresh even though the concept is an old one. There’s always a touch of elusive sadness within the chaos of a life strangely lived when this sort of thing is done correctly, and Ralph certainly struck this one perfectly.

Thursday brought the debut of Daniel Roy Connelley, who gave us Bikbratu. I confess that I do not always understand everything I read, but even when slightly confused I know an enjoyable and well conceived piece when I see one. It took me three readings to fully gain what I consider an understanding of the story. And each reading gave me something new to consider.

Friday came with an important question that harkens back to the meaning of All. Matt Zandstra asks the reader Has Your Universe Been Hacked? And proceeds to tell you just how that such a thing is possible. The piece never flags in its fun and creative energy. And as it goes with all our authors, we hope to see more from Mark in the future.

Now it is my pleasure to introduce Tom with the Saturday Special, thus rescuing the first third of this post from certain doom. 

Leila

***

Tom.

When Your Time Comes, Be Lucky by Tom Sheehan

When she walked down the hall at the nursing home, balm, serenity and comfort followed her like an aura was loose on the premises. Beth Sheehan was the old-time nurse, talented, resourceful, responsive and, most of all, deeply compassionate. In her whites she was the personification of nursing, the most compassionate woman I’ve ever known.

I was her husband. I saw her iron her whites religiously. She went to work without a wrinkle, came home spent but content, and wrinkled.

For more than thirty years I had seen her work, first as a head nurse of a Massachusetts General Hospital Neurological Unit, as a Visiting Nurse on the rounds in some capricious neighborhoods, as a hospice nurse attending on those nearing the end, and then as manager of an Alzheimer’s unit at a local nursing home. Without doubt, she reigned as the essence of nursing.

Her one hundred year-old mother for a spell lived two floors below her Alzheimer’s unit. She could see her mother every day, on the way in or the way out of the facility. It was not providential placement; it was selectivity. Beth put it on the line for her patients… and for her mother. It was all love and dedication, and a whole lot of capability in the mix. She was one hell of a nurse, and the doctors she dealt with were well aware of what she brought with her. Rarely dod a caste barrier exist between her as a nurse and a doctor as the final word on patient care.

Her Alzheimer’s patients, whether they knew her name today or not, recognized some kind of charity at hand for them. Generally it was a pain-free promise for them, a night of comfort, a decent sleep, or a day without a gnawing pain at work. That was one of her persistent goals, to make a patient’s last days, or those quite troublesome days, pass easier. Often that was the most demanding kind of work. There was no room for hurry or callousness or dispassion, as the territory cannot allow it. Who of us knows, in the tortured or confused mind of such patients, what touch is kindest or most temperate. If it seems always a secret, someone like Beth Sheehan must come closest to knowing the innards of such a life. Her beloved father Henry passed through it on his way elsewhere. Her mother also passed through those moments of darkness. I knew the light in Beth’s eyes when she told me her mother said, “Have you still got the key to the house?” That old connection was illustrious, and somehow eternal.

Families of patients  recognized Beth, and what she was about. The accolades were continuous and endless; the heart-felt expressions of thanks often bite down into the soul of the reader. Often that was me. The letters and cards that came to her in such testimony all crossed my desk, and I knew the history behind all of them.

Since the beginning she wanted to be a nurse. That was formed in her soul at the outset. It had to be. It came to fruition at Mercy Hospital School of Nursing in Portland, Maine, under the hand and direction of a nun, Sister Consuela, a distant relative. Sister Consuela, too, was a woman of grace and understanding, of kindness and compassion, bearing the heart of a nurse.

Beth’s career was formed there, benefited there, leaped from there in 1964. Sister Consuela’s hand still touched her at the end. She called often to check on her student who more than fifty years ago passed on to the world. I found startling similarities in their voiced opinions of this life and all that surrounds us. They have a sharing, and I can feel it.

Compassion begins in a number of places, in the psyche or out of it. When Beth came home at night, a load still on her back, and bounced the day’s events off my soul, she could get to me in a hurry… and you know right where she stood. “We have a 101-year-old woman on my floor and she is so cute!” Right off the bat she got me. What an introduction to someone I’d never know, but who was known, fully well, by my wife. Some days it really got to me. How could she do it? I couldn’t, not on a bet; I’m just not made that way. But there was something special, a calling, a devotion, an understanding of a place in life, in this short and sometimes curt existence, that pervaded her. I am never sure if it carried her or she carried it, they are so intertwined, so interdependent.

I should have known all of this from the beginning, but I guess it’s best to come to knowledge slowly and surely, and took it all in, did not miss a step. In more than forty years with her, she had used her nursing profession to make herself completely open to her three children and all their friends. Her approach to their problems and worries, their situations in life, fell easily at the beginning into the network of a clinical approach. I’ve seen young friends and pals of our children come to her with problems they could not deal with otherwise, or thought they could not, not at home or anywhere else. They could get her ear in a hurry; and they could trust her, not only with the secrecy but also the resolution in many cases.

One might call it trust, or devotion, or compassion, or any name from out of Roget’s Thesaurus, but I called it Beth. There was a uniqueness here that came from the heart, the training, the whole experience of her life. If my situation some time comes to needing a nurse, I hope I get one like her. There were simple bywords of her care and her outlook on those who surround her: they shall go their way with dignity, and will be as pain-free as I can possibly make them, the Lord willing His way through my hands

If your situation ever demands the comforting hand of a nurse, I hope you are lucky enough to find one like Beth. You’ll know she’s around. Your family will know she’s around. Other support personnel will know she’s around. And if I had the wherewithal, I would know too. I could trace it all out for you, right from the beginning in the heart of the most compassionate woman I have ever known.

And I believe she was sent to us from elsewhere… and was taken back when her due was done.

Tom Sheehan

5 thoughts on “Week 358: The Pursuit of Meaningful Longevity, Tales For the New Year and an Elevating Saturday Special”

  1. Hi Leila / Tom.
    First off Tom – That is a stunning tribute!!!

    Leila, you made me think about ‘The Who’. Keith was the maddest and maybe Ox was the quietest on stage but anyone who could come up with ‘Boris The Spider’ had some character.
    We are left with Pete and Roger who may have lived longer but for them to die in as much a spectacular way as their band-mates, by fuck will they need to come up with something.
    Keith died ironically by overdosing on something that was prescribed for addiction.
    And Ox – Well that is as Rock N’ Roll as you could get!!

    Brilliant post as usual and here’s to all the ninety-nine year olds seeing in one other year. I just hope any of the British ones send the paedos mum’s telegram back to her with a ‘Stick it up your arse’ message – They would only be thought of as being quirky!!!!
    Hugh

    Like

  2. Forgot about the Who in my theory. For me Moon was the definitive rock star. He edges Lemmy because it takes special talent to pass out on stage due to taking a livestock trank and still live– well, for awhile.
    LA

    Like

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