Count your blessings

It started out like most Mondays.  Kiss Sweetie good-bye, hop into the truck, get some gas and pull into the Help of Ojai lot.  As usual, it was cold and damp.  Not just outside, but inside Little House where the aging heating system can’t keep up with the drafts and takes its toll on the fragile ones toiling at their desks.

Eyeballing the bus manifest revealed a pretty full morning.  Most of the riders were regulars but a sprinkling of new names promised a welcome diversion.  My first pickup was Shirley, a spry 82-year-old and accomplished pianist living in a mobile home park.  “And you are?” Shirley said as I opened the automatic door and went to help her up the steps.  The reason Shirley asked who I am is not because she has memory problems.  She is blind.  Living alone, she and I have been bus pals for several years. No complainer she,  I look forward to her bus trips. Bright and bubbly, she makes me ashamed of what a whiner I can be.

We arrived before Kristy’s Nails opened.  I helped Shirley find the donut shop next door where she was warmly welcomed and offered the delicacies of the house while she waited for Kristy’s to begin its day.

Rarely do I get two clients going to Kristy’s on the same day.  But my next rider, Myrna, was headed there too.  A pedicure was in the offing as she can no longer personally handle that chore.  Arriving at St. Joseph’s I once again stared at the open area where majestic oaks once held sway.  Having been cut down before they could injure anyone, I’m anxiously awaiting some miracle that will accelerate the growth of the saplings planted a couple of years ago.  Maybe St. Joes is the right place for that miracle.

Myrna needed the lift to get aboard.  After setting her walker where neither she nor I could be impaled, we got to know each other a bit better.  “I’m 91 and my husband is 90.”  A cradle robber, I said.  “He had a stroke about eight months ago.  I live in the cottage over there and he is in the nursing building just across the road.”  Noting her English accent, she volunteered that she was born in England where she served in the RAF as an ambulance driver.  Visions of a Hemingway novel flashed through my head.

“I was worried last night and this morning that you might not be able to get this big bus and the lift into the parking lot at Kristy’s.  Didn’t want to cause you any inconvenience.  I assured Myrna that it was my solemn mission to get her nails done.

On to At Home in Ojai where I got my first wheelchair client of the day.  Margie, who professes to be at least older than my bus, arrived with an aide.  Fastening the chair in the catbird spot in the van, I asked if everything was OK.  I meant the positioning of the safety belt but Margie had a somewhat broader interpretation of my question.  “I’ve been better.”  All in all, a mild response for someone plagued by any number of old-age maladies.

Cliff was in the usual spot, leaning on his walker at the Gables.  Pushing 90 and one of the youngest pilots in World War Two, he had fallen a few months ago and was still trying to regain his old stamina.  A regular at Swanner PT, he works out a couple of times a week.  My hearing is not as good as it used to be and the squeaking and drafts of the old bus make it even harder to hear what my clients have to say.  Bless his heart, Cliff rattles on regardless of my ability to understand what he is saying.  My occasional uh-huh keeps him motivated.  Arriving at Swanner, Cliff, his cane and his walker descend from the bus and he offers his usual “Thanks so much.  I’ll call when I’m done.  Drive carefully and fasten your seatbelt.”

Toward noon I retrieved Shirley from Kristy’s and began what is affectionately known as the “lunch bunch” pickups.  Isabel, who at 94 is one of the most loving and ripest of my clients, sat down next to Shirley.  Able to climb the steps of the bus without assistance, Isabel suffers from extreme hearing loss.  Shirley, who is blind, spent the better part of two minutes trying to relate this fact to Isabel.  Having successfully communicated, Isabel both apologized for her hearing loss and offered her heartfelt sympathy for Jeanette’s blindness.  And so it went.

The bus was filled to capacity as we arrived at Help’s West Campus.  My clients clambered down the steps.  Each said thanks and wished me a Merry Christmas.  It already was.

15 Responses to “Count your blessings”

  1. 1 shed behar December 20, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Very appropriate for the season. You’re a good guy.



  2. 2 Andrew December 20, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Fred, your story is a gift, and reminds me of how callus our system of govt. has become regarding supporting such services, and how screwed up our priorities are in society. You are a scholar and a gentleman.



  3. 3 Peggy Russell December 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Thank you for continuing to be a driver – you are held in very high esteem, not only by your “clients” who take your bus, but also those of us who watch the Help of Ojai vans and say silent “thanks” that someone will take that on.
    Peggy Russell


  4. 4 Glenda King December 20, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Fred….great description of the morning. Thank you for sharing how important HELP of Ojai is to our rider clients. You are much appreciated by the riders and especially by ME.
    Blessings, Glenda


  5. 6 Sharon December 20, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    Happy Hanukkah! Looks like you give and get many blessings of the season and always. Thanks for everything you do.


  6. 7 mackay crampton December 20, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    Fred, you are my hero! Mackay


  7. 8 Myrna Cambianica December 20, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    what joys … you and ila, the story, the season

    cyber hugs and thanks


  8. 9 Maureen December 20, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Fred it is lovely to hear about the joy of human interaction, how good it must feel! And how good it feels to read about it!
    Love to you and Ila.


  9. 10 David December 21, 2011 at 6:59 am

    Wow. Working at the Help of Ojai seems like a great way to make a difference in people’s lives, and to meet chicks. It’s a win-win.


  10. 11 Linda J. Zane December 21, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Fred your day is inspiring and weirdly brought tears streaming down my face. I am wondering whether it is tears of “hormones” or tears of “admiration” or just tears of “frustration” over the government not doing more for the exceptional citizens in the USA who have so little.

    You are a wonderful man Fred Rothenberg…..from VP of BCBS to the best bus driver of Ojai. I am wondering which is the more impressive title.

    Wishing you and Ila a wonderful holiday season and a super duper 2012.


  11. 12 Bill Evenden December 22, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Fred, A great description of why 20+ of us look forward to being on the road each week.


  12. 13 David Des Laurier December 28, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    You have just stated in your articulate blog the reason why I drive a van for Help of Ojai, It is one of the most gratifying things I have done. Happy New Year to you and Ila!


  13. 14 Alice Witkowski December 30, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    I always cherish your comments..You made my day. Best to Ila. Happy and healthy New Year.

    Alice and Gary


  14. 15 kay January 16, 2012 at 11:24 am

    My favorite of your blogs. We need more people like you to help our seniors. What an experience for you & how good you must feel at the end of the day. Keep up the GREAT job.


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