"The Man Across the Hall"
When I released from the hospital following my hip surgury, I
entered the Crestwood Demior Nursing Home to convalesce.
I am single, and live alone, and I needed someone to care for
me, and being familar with the nursing home from when my
father and mother were residents there, I knew I would get
good care, and I would also meet some interesting people
during my recuperation period.
I arranged to have a television set brought to my room. Other
than that there was a bed, a small chest of drawers and a
recliner. Since I was only going to be there for a month and
a half, there was no reason to put up photographs like the
older residents, most of whom would live out their lives there.
Across the hall was a big, heavy set man. I had seen him
shuffling up and down the hallway with his walker. His name
was Gerald Burnside. I thought I would introduce myself to
him, so I guided my wheelchair across the hall and knocked
on the door.
"Who's there?" the man asked in a gruff voice.
"John Barber," I replied, thinking that I had picked a bad time.
"I"m your new neighbor from across the hall.
The old man nodded and ran his hand over his bald head.
"Since your here, come in and tell me your story."
I guided my wheelchair into the room. "How are you doing
"I've certainly been better," Burnside snapped. "What brings
"I'm just here for a month or so while I recover from hip surgury."
"You're lucky," the old man said bitterly. "I've been sent here
I thought I had picked the wrong person to get acquainted
with, although I knew that when some people get old, they
say whatever is on their mind.
"What do you do for a living?" he asked.
"I'm a farmer," I replied. "When I learned I would need surgury,
I sold my cattle and rented the ground out to a young farmer."
"Farming ain't a very good business to be in there days,"
Burnside said. "When I farmed, it was much easier to make
a living. Nowdays, with the price of fuel, the cost of
machineru and parts, it's tough to keep one's head above
There was a knock at the door. An Attractive blond lady
clad in black slacks and a white blouse announced they were
going to play bingo in a few minutes. Burnside nodded his
head, sat there for a few seconds, then he began to rock
back and forth in his recliner and eventually hoisted himself
to his feet.
"I like to play bingo," he said. "Do you want to come along?"
"Sure," I said, "you lead the way."
I followed Burnside down the hallway where serveral Victorian
painting hung. We entered a large room where a number of the
residents were already seated. He found a seat in the corner
of the room and sat down. I guided my wheelchair beside as
another man, also using a walker, joined us.
Burnside and I sat at the same table for meals and bingo for
the remained of my stay. I learned that he had retired from
the farm some twenty years earlier. He was ninty five years
old, and had been married twice. Twelve years into his first
marriage, his wife, Sara was diagnosed with cancer and died
four months later. Two yeara later, he met Evelyn, the woman
who would become his second wife. Evelyn lived in the
retirment center a few blocks from the home, but rarely
came to visit. I was told the old man had been a demanding
and strict parent and husband, almost a tyrant. I don't know
how he treated them, but it was a rarity for any of them to
visit the old man.
Besides playing bingo, there were exercise and therapy
sessions, volleyball. stoey hour, musical programs, worship
services and birthday parties for the residents who were
celebrating a birthday duuring the month, along with ice
cream socials and special programs that were presented
Burnside and I took in about everything the home had to
offer. I grew to like the old man, even though he was
convinced that his wife had put him there because she was
having an affair. One day, during dinner, he started talking
about her affair in his booming voice. The nurses assured
him that it was't true, that it was just his imagination.
With my daily therapy sessions, within two weeks, I was
able to to get around using a walker. I spent an hour a
day walking up and down the hallway.
I was during the third week of my stay that Burnside's
wife suffered a massive stroke and died.My sister, who
lived nearby, agreed to take me to the funeral. I assured
her I could get around without much difficulty.
I had no trouble getting into the chuch since there were
no steps to manuver. Burnside's eight children were all
there, and there didn't seem to be any bad blood between
them but looks can be deceptive. Two of the grandchildren
gave eulogys. At offatory time, several more of his
grandchildren placed roses upon the coffin. Flowers lined
the front of the alter, and it was a nice ceremony. After
the services, my sister drove my back to the nursing
Halloween was a few days later. We went to the dining
room where the residents were given a mask or a costume
to put on. Burnside was a ghost, I was a skeleton. The
school children came in costume and entertained with some
spooky songs, then shook hands with the residents. We
were served cupcakes that either had a skeleton, a black
cat, a wotch or a pumpkin on each piece.
When the festivities were over, Burnside got up to go back
to his room, but slipped and fell hard against a table. The
nurses helped him up and put him in a wheelchair. The
old man assured them that he was alright. They took him
to his room where he told them he would like ti go to bed,
which is where he rained for the rest of the day and night.
Burnside didn't want to play bingo the following day. He
spent most of the day in bed. I went to play bingo, and
later the local auxillary were there to present a sing-a-long
on the piano and the organ. There was a little grey haired
lady whose husband, a one armed man who was in the
Trapshooters Hall of Fame, was keeping time to the music,
and her fingers were playing an invisable pianom which
she had played in her younger days.
After the sing-a-long, I stopped in to see Burnside. He was
sitting on his recliner, snoring loudly. I noticed that he had
a large bruise on his forhead and on the back of his neck.
With all the aches and pains of old age, it was no wonder
he didn't want to do anything.
The doctor informed me that my hip was healing quite well,
and I could probably leave the nursing home in another
week or so. when dad and mon where there, dad lived for
two years before passing away from congestive heart
failure. My mother's stay lasted another two years.
After three days, Burnside got back into his usual routine
of taking in as many acrivities as he could. He declined
the use of the wheelchair in favor of the walker. He joked
and told stories. I was certain that with the bruises that
had, he was still hurting, but he was a tough old man.
One day, while eating dinner, Burnside said, "Barber is
going home soon. He's lucky. I have to stay here until they
carry me to the cemetary."
Ahushed silence fell over the room. Finally of buddy of his
said, "that won't happen Gerald. You're too damn mean and
ornery to die."
Laughter fill the room."I don't think I'm quite that mean,"
Burnside chuckled. "I suppose you all think I'm mean enough
to trick God into letting me into heaven."
"You will probably find a way," I said.
Once again laughter resounded across the dining room.
Everyone seemed to like the old man. Once one got past
the rough exterior, he man was infectious.
More than a month had passed since I had entered the
home, and since I was able to get around pretty well even
without my walker, the doctor informed me I could go home.
I called my sister who suggested I stay with her and her
husband for a few day until I was sure I could get around
alright on the farm. I agreed since there were a number of
steo to my house.
While I waited for my sister to arrive, I went across the
hall to Burnside's room. The old man was siting in his
recliner with his eyes closed. Thinking he was asleep, I
rapped lightly on the door. The old man open his eyes and
raised his head.
"Thought you were going to leave without saying goodby,"
the man said in his gruff voice.
"i've already thanked the nurses for the care they gave me,"
I said. "Thought I'd better stop in and see how my favorite
bingo companion is doing."
"I'm doing fine," Burnside replied. "Is someone coming to
"My sister will be here directly."
The old man took his glasses off and rubed his eyes. "Most
people don't come to say goodby. They just up and die."
I chuckled. "I don't intend to do that for some time."
Burnside looked down at the floor. "If you get out this way,
stop in and see me." He fumbled with the rosary in his hand.
"That is, if I'm still here."
My sister was standing in the dorway of Burnside's room.
"I'll stop and see you sometime. Maybe you and I can
play bingo or cards." I shook the old man's hand. "You
behave yourself, Gerald."
"Oh, gee whiz," the old man chuckled,"That ain't no fun."