THE DAMP WIND seemed to blow right through Old Cal as he made his way to the front entrance of the nursing home. He shook the snow off his long coat and rubbed his hands together vigorously to get them warm.
Old Cal came to visit his life-long friend George. He had mixed emotions whenever he came to visit. He craved the companionship and the shared memories, but it also made him realize that the time would come when he would end up there himself; his “last stop on the way to eternity,” he would always say.
George had grown more frail since Cal saw him last; walked just a bit slower and his back bent forward just a bit more than last time. The two of them walked to the dining room, talking about their departed wives and the emptiness they felt.
“I’m getting old, Cal, and I’m afraid,” George confessed.
“Afraid of dying?”
“Mainly afraid that you’ll walk in to my room one day and I won’t recognize you,” George said, his eyes reflecting his deep pain. “It happened to John McDonald in the room next door, you know. Happened just like that,” he said as he tried to snap his fingers. Old Cal said that was his fear too. Alzheimer’s is an awful disease for those who are left behind.
“When it happens to you, you won’t realize that it’s happening,” Cal said. “But I’ll tell you right here and now, George, that I will still be coming and I will try to help you remember all the good times.”
Until that day comes, Old Cal promised to visit more often and stay longer so that they could keep those memories alive. George pulled out a deck of cards, like he’d been doing for the past three years.
“I don’t really mind dying,” George finally said. “I know where I’m going. But I hate the thought of losing my mind. Now that Phoebe is gone, all that I’ve got left are the memories, and once I lose them, what is left?”
The grandfather clock chimed 4 o’clock and, as routine would have it, Cal and George both stood up at the same time. They gave each other a long hug. It was a quiet, male celebration of friendship.
“See you next week. Same time,” Cal said.
“I won’t forget,” George said, convincing himself.
Keith Knight is interim editor of the Anglican Journal.