Saturday, October 21, 2006

October 12, 1910

“October 12, 1910 – how old does that make me, Dave?” Larry Green would ask me with such regularity that the question is forever tied to any memories of him. My answer that he was seventy or thereabouts, depending on when the question was posed, was always met with his amused surprise, his hands going to his head, and the uttering of “whoa!” followed by soft laughter at the ridiculousness that such a thing had come to pass.

In 1979 I'd been working at the Duplex Nursing Home in Boston for about half a year when Larry came to me, this time not with a question but with an urgent bulletin. Full of apparent anxiety, he told me, "No one came to get my Dad's tray." The tray part I understood; the lunchtime meals were distributed on trays to each resident. The Dad part I couldn't fathom, as Larry's father had long since died. I followed him down the corridor. Larry never walked very fast, but he always did so with a great deal of purpose to his steps though his feet barely left the floor. He led me to a room which was shared by two residents, one of whom was Walter McGeorge. And there sat Walter McGeorge, with his finished lunch tray in front of him on his little table. "Hi Dad, " Larry said to Walter. Walter seemed to be smiling two different smiles simultaneously. One was directed at Larry as an acknowledgement; the other was aimed at me, and seemed to be saying, "It's all right, we'll just let him think I'm his father, it's no bother at all."

Larry was in a remarkable state. He thought anyone who encountered him with a smile was an old friend. He'd remembered his life into something far easier than it actually had been. He'd worked on a coal wharf, had six children, and never enough money. However he'd say he had two children. He wasn't really forgetting any – if you'd name them, he'd acknowledge them as his. But the math always came out to be two for him. It was just easier that way. The easy, sauntering pace he was living life at now, became, in his mind, the way it always had been. This was all of a piece with him not knowing how old he’d grown.

After I stopped working at the nursing home in the early eighties, I continued to see Larry and everyone else. I left Massachusetts in 1984, but continued to visit. When the home closed in ‘87 I continued to see Larry for two more years until he died. On my last visit to him I was accompanied by my daughter, then aged two. He took obvious delight in her being there and our last exchange had Larry, with complete generosity, insisting that his bicycle should be given to Norabelle. Full of heartfelt belief he said, “It’s up in the attic, you can get it, it’s hers.” Though it was a bicycle he’d probably not seen since some time around Prohibition, he knew it was still in the attic of a house he may not have been in since that time either. As his years were running out, Larry was always home.

- David Greenberger