Wednesday, January 30, 2008

All That Was Left

Irving Snell died within the first half year that I worked at the Duplex Nursing Home. By the time I met him in 1979 he'd outlived his wife and most of his other relatives. He had no children. He was unable to walk unassisted and was in pain. He was good humored, proud, somewhat private and ready to die. Irving shared a room with a man named George MacWilliams. After he died Walter McGeorge moved in as George's new roommate.

Outside of some clothing, Irving's possessions amounted to an envelope containing a handful of photographs. With no one to claim them they were being discarded, so I kept them. I saw them as a map of this man. It starts in the late 19th century, with points in the early 20th, and then a gap until the 1960s. The things he told me and these photos - that's all I ever knew of him, but my brief time spent with him feels somehow complete. The dying, yet vivid man I met was who he had become; the long-haired toddler, the strapping swashbuckler and the barbecuing retiree were all who he had been but no longer was. The mystery in these photos is compelling, but not nearly as rich as the presence of the man himself, no matter how profound
his decline.

(originally published in The Duplex Planet #153, 1999)


"I can't believe I'm so old. I don't feel 85, I feel about 50. That's an old age. I would never tell anyone how to live their life, you should never advise someone of what to do. I think they should make up their own minds not to be frivolous or running here and running there. I was advised and I was given good advice but I never took it. The trouble with me is that I was a headstrong kid that couldn't be talked to. You figure you know everything and don't want to be told anything. Some are lucky with chances and others pass them up, chances to benefit yourself.

"Eighty-five and I can't believe it. I never worked hard. I took fancy as they came. I'm not sorry, because I had a good time. I traveled a lot. I had no responsibilities. I never give advice. The advice you'd give them would probably go screwy. At my age I should keep my mouth shut and be a good listener. "

- Irving Snell

(originally published in The Duplex Planet #153, 1999)