Eddie, Marion’s nephew, is a towering, husky man in his 40’s with thick brown hair and a neatly trimmed moustache. His deep, baritone voice is accented with the same Kentucky twang as his Uncle Marion’s voice. I had arranged to meet Eddie, his wife Sandy, and the couple’s 12-year-old son Blake, during their visit to see Marion, a demented World War II veteran. Marion is a resident of the Eisenhower unit, the same hospital ward that cares for my father, a Korean War veteran with Alzheimer’s disease.
Eddie and I take a seat in the cedar gazebo underneath the steel flagpole in front of Thomson Hood Veterans Center; the U.S. and Kentucky flags wave steadily in the light wind.
Using a more complex video camera that I have purchased since interviewing Gwen, Marion’s wife, and Marion, I ask Eddie about his relationship with Marion (For Marion’s story, see “Medical Aide Man” in Stories by our Users).
“Uncle Marion played a big part in our lives, my brother Gerald and me,” Eddie says as he settles in. “Dad was killed when I was 7 weeks old, and Marion’s been the father figure in our lives. Mom never remarried. She’s Marion’s sister, Louise, and he was a big help to Mom. I was born and raised in the same county as them (Gwen and Marion). We lived there our whole life, just as they did. Our homes were close to each other.”
Eddie looks down as though reflecting on Marion’s influence in the fatherless boy’s life.
“He was a big inspiration,” he says. “He’s a good teacher, common sense stuff. Uncle Marion was an educator in many ways because he’d seen things we’d never seen during his military experiences overseas. It would have been hard on me not to have someone like Marion growing up. He always spent time with us. He took time to teach us things.”
Eddie glances at me and laughs as he says, “He always loved his music; something we didn’t take an interest in and got fussed at for. In fact, his whole family got together and had big parties. They would sing and play Friday night and Saturday night.
Eddie says we don’t realize the lessons that mentors, like his Uncle Marion, teach us until we’re grown and use the knowledge.
“I always knew he was near, and if there was something I didn’t know how to do, he always helped me,” Eddie says. “I could work my problems out with Uncle Marion. When you’re in the world without a father, there’s always a problem.”
The wind starts to pick up, and the majestic oak tree behind the gazebo sways in the wind. I hear the bolts on the rope that secures the flags bounce periodically against the flagpole.
“You come to visit people with dementia at the nursing home and you never know if it’s going to be a bad day or a good day,” Eddie continues. “And it’s those lucky moments, if you only get a minute when they become the people they used to be, that makes it all worthwhile to come and visit them.”
Eddie chuckles and thinks for a moment before he says, “Uncle Marion loved to tell stories. You never knew what he was going to talk about. It could be something humorous or something serious, anything from playing practical jokes on brothers and sisters to digging graves for neighbors who had died. He liked to tell us scary stories, too, and when you’re a child, you love that sort of thing.”
Eddie says that his uncle could weave a riveting tale when he talked about how he would walk a long way to make gasoline out of crude oil.
“That was back during the Depression days when you couldn’t buy and do as easily as we do today. He’d talk about coming home at night and how wildcats would follow him. Uncle Marion could hear them growling while they stalked him through the woods. For me, that was better than the Walt Disney show on Sunday night.”
Eddie gazes into the distance and speaks reflectively as the leaves rustle in the breeze.
“I miss sitting out under a shade tree and hearing Uncle Marion say ‘remember the story of ...’ That’s the good thing about the visits here—if you can just get that one minute of them coming back and being who they were.
“And you know you really miss it. You miss it all. You wish you could just—I don’t know—click your heels or something and make it all go back to those times, but it’s an impossible feat. It’s not God’s plan, I guess. We have to go with the flow.”
I ask Eddie to talk about helping Gwen and Marion when dementia entered their lives.
He tells me that he owns two businesses and has to travel often, so he never knew if he was going to be home or away from home.
“When Uncle Marion started having a lot of his problems, it was a God-send situation; it seemed it was meant to be that I was there,” he says. “It seemed every time something was bad, he had fallen or whatever, I was close. When people do what they have done for me in my life, then it really makes it nice to be able to do something back for them when an opportunity comes along. It’s your way of paying them back.”
I ask if Eddie attended church with Marion and Gwen, and he nods his head.
“Mom kept us in church when Dad died. We all attended the First Church of the Nazarene there in Monticello. Today you have husbands and wives that don’t even worship at the same church. When I began dating the girl who is my wife today, we dated about four years, and I attended church with her. Of course, my belief is that a family that stays together needs to worship together, so she and I worshipped together. Mom got to a point where she wasn’t able to attend church, but Uncle Marion and Aunt Gwen stayed faithful till he got to a point where he couldn’t go. Aunt Gwen still attends on a regular basis.”
Eddie says he is a life-long member of the Church of the Nazarene. He became a Christian there and it has played a big part in the family’s lives.
Eddie describes Gwen and Marion’s relationship.
“Uncle Marion and Aunt Gwen had a good marriage and they lived a very civilized marriage. They set a great example for me. Aunt Gwen, she was a loyal wife and Uncle Marion was a good husband. They weren’t in a situation where one ran around on the other, and Uncle Marion wasn’t a drinker. You get a lot of influence from people like that. You get older and you sit and watch people who have been married five times, and you think, ‘Man, what’s the problem?’ And then you realize, maybe they didn’t have an Uncle Marion, or an Aunt Gwen.”
Sitting on the bench across from Eddie in the gazebo, I can hear the flags flapping in the brisk wind. I hope I can get the camera low enough to shoot up at Eddie and also frame the flags in a section of the wooden beams that support the roof of the gazebo. After a few minutes of experimenting with various angles, I finally discover one that simultaneously captures Eddie, a brilliant blue sky and the ensigns of the U.S. and the state of Kentucky.
Now I ask Eddie about Marion’s wartime experience and ask him to look away from the camera.
“Uncle Marion reminisced a lot about the military,” Eddie says as I crouched beside the camera, standing only inches above the gazebo floor. “Even today, if you go up there and see him, if he’s having a good day he will talk about the war years, and even speak some French and German. When we were kids, he would tell us what it meant, so we always enjoyed the language lessons.
Eddie says that he knows his uncle saw some terrible things when he worked as a medic during the war, and that he talked about battles he was in and soldiers being hurt in combat.
“Nobody can imagine the courage that it took for Uncle Marion and all the others to leave close-knit families, travel thousands of miles, and then deal with the gruesome duties placed upon them,” Eddie says. “Uncle Marion took pride in the things he did for his country.”
* * *
We move to Marion’s room where Sandy and Blake are visiting. I set up my camera and film a few scenes from the family visit. Eddie sits on the bed with Marion, who is wearing black tennis shoes.
Eddie asks him where he got the fancy shoes, and Marion tells him, “They put anything from roller skates to ice skates on me. That-a-way they can roll me around easier. I didn’t get out of the house last night—I haven’t been outta the house in three weeks.”
Sandy comes over to Marion, places her hands on his knees and loudly asks, “Do you think Blake has grown any?”
Marion peers at the boy and says, “Is this Blake? By golly, he has sure grown.”
He shakes hands with a smiling Blake, and he asks the 12-year-old boy, “Comment allez-vous, comrade? Combien d’heures travaillez-vous aujourd’hui?” Eddie laughs while Marion quizzes his son in French, and probably remembers many similar conversations between Marion and himself.
Marion asks Gwen for a cup to act as a spittoon for the tobacco he is chewing. Occasionally one of the residents wanders in to see what’s going on. Marion asks one tall, silent veteran, “How ya doin’ today, big fella?”
Addressing everyone sitting around his bed, Marion announces, “All you people sittin’ in those plush chairs ought to go out and sit in a cedar bush where the chiggers is. They make you itch where you don’t wanna scratch.” Marion’s eyes twinkle as he shares a toothless cackle with us.
Staring in the direction of the veteran, he adds, “Ain’t that right, big boy? You ever had chiggers on you? Has anyone seen my mammy and pappy today?”
I move the camera to frame only Eddie and Marion.
“I been feeling pretty good for the past three or four days now,” Marion tells his nephew. “I felt good yesterday, and wanted to get out, but I was afraid to--‘fraid I’d get pneumonia. They bring my meals to me anyway. They treat me like I was a king!”
Eddie chuckles and asks Marion, “That’s what you always wanted, wasn’t it—to be treated like a king?”
“Well, I’m satisfied with how they treat me,” Marion replies.
I ask Eddie to describe his favorite memory as a child.
“Uncle Marion had an old truck. What people did back then was they’d buy a new truck and not get rid of their old truck. Lot’s of times they’d park them and they’d run down. Why, he had one that had been parked for some time and he gave it to us kids, my brother and me. We got it out and worked it over and got it to running. That’s how we learned to drive.”
I move around to get a different camera angle on Eddie. The filming doesn’t seem to bother Eddie’s concentration.
“We made us some roads on the back side of the mountain. Grandpa, Marion’s father, and Marion would take us up in those mountains and teach us to drive. We were about 11 or 12 years old. They would put us in that truck and show us how to start it, and if we would tear it up, they would show us how to fix it. That’s probably the best memory I had growing up; learning how to drive that old truck and Uncle Marion teaching us how to fix it. All the kids in the neighborhood would come and ride that flat bed truck with us through the mountains. Of course, we’d drive it until we run it out of gas. We’d come down and swipe gas from the lawnmower or wherever we could find gas and take it up to the truck so we could start it back up.”
I shift the camera to a position behind Eddie’s left shoulder, which gives me an interesting angle of Eddie and Marion beneath the fluorescent light over Marion’s hospital-type bed. Marion spits tobacco juice into a white Styrofoam cup.
I ask Eddie how growing up with Marion affected raising his only child, Blake.
“We live in a busier world now than it was then, a much busier world,” he says. “At any rate, there are a lot of the same things that have gone into raising my own son. Blake came along, and I’ve found myself doing the same sort of things that Uncle Marion did with me. A couple of weeks ago Blake and I were out making trails for him to ride his four-wheeler, and a lot of those memories with Uncle Marion came back.”
Eddie suddenly becomes silent. Marion slumps down on the bed with his eyes closed, still clutching the foam spittoon.
Eddie’s voice started to quiver and his eyes filled with tears as he fixes his gaze on the floor.
“And, oh, you appreciate it,” he says. “You get out and you do stuff like that with your own son–you just appreciate the things he did.” Eddie nods slightly in Marion’s direction as he struggles to say those last few words through the tears. It is though Eddie knows he will break down completely if he beholds the man who is, for all practical purposes, his father. Eddie lowers his head and begins to weep. I turn off my camera.
To learn more about the Eisenhower Unit, please read my Blog and “Stories by our Users” entries listed below:
Reveille/August 15-January 1 (Blog)
Bricks of a Different Color-January 4 (Blog)
A Show of Love-January 10 (Blog)
Moving Day-January 13 (Blog)
Introductions-January 18 (Blog)
Sharing Our Grief-January 22 (Blog)
Love Stories-January 25(Blog)
Trashman-January 29 (Blog)
Holiday Gatherings-February 2 (Blog)
A Conversation About Alzheimer's-February 6 (Blog)
Nursing Dementia-February 8 (Blog)
A Dementia Care Philosophy-February 9 (Blog)
Ministering Demented Veterans-February 12 (Blog)
In The Shadow-February 17 (Blog)
A Gallant Vessel-February 17(Stories by our Users)
Memorial Day-February 19 (Stories by our Users)
Medical Aide Man-February 20 (Stories by our Users)
Baby Sister Savannah-February 23 (Stories by our Users)