As director of activities, it was my duty to provide games and prizes, cake and ice cream, stories and songs, entertainment and all things fun. There were visiting preachers, hairdressers, comedians and musicians and I was the gal who booked all the fun. So I was pretty much loved by all, even Jim.
In all fairness, it pleased Jim that I carried a lighter and provided him and the other resident smokers with their favorite activity of all. A couple of times a day, we closed ourselves into the smoker’s lounge and puffed away. It was perfectly legal and acceptable back then and a favorite activity of many. And as we performed said activity we would tell stories, sing songs, play games and reminisce.
Janine, the bingo queen loved to talk. She spoke often of her Mr. and what a generous and loving husband he’d been. I was Lila’s old roommate from far back in her memories.. We were a couple of party girls and would compete for the attention of the most handsome guy at the dance. According to her, I got the looker and she settled for the other fella. She was a loveable woman with coke bottle glasses that made her look like Mr. Magoo. One day we assembled bird seed balls and Lila proclaimed them unfit for consumption. I turned to see her grinning face covered in peanut butter and bird seed. Mary just wanted to go home to her kitchen and bake pies. Howard enjoyed a cigar and a game of checkers. John smoked a pipe and was quite the gentleman. Ray did not leave his room without a bow tie, combed hair and shined loafers. Suze seemed sweet so I gave her a handful of roses. She proceeded to slap me about the face and arms with the bouquet. Guess she preferred daisies.
Each day I asked for stories. The same folks contributed. Jim never spoke. With the exception of the phrase, “Baby girl, got a light?”
One day he arrived as we were sharing stories.. He sat and held out his cig. I lit it and someone began to speak. I was truly shocked when I heard Jim say “you want a story?” His face was inches from mine. At first I was thrilled that I had reached him. He was responding to me! And then he shared his tale. Goosebumps formed on my arms and the hairs stood on end. I was speechless and fascinated.
“When I was a boy down home, I was playing at the water’s edge alone. A group of white men came along and dragged me into the water. They held me under until I thought my lungs would burst. I was afraid and I was sure I was going to die. They tortured me for a while until they grew bored with the activity and left me. I was wet and scared out of my wits. But, I was alive. I ran home and told my uncles. They rode away on their horses and were gone some time. When they returned they said the men would not bother me again.
“Baby girl,” he said, “if you were to head down to this little town in Georgia and found your way to the old homestead and took a peek down the well…. The law looked for those fellas who played at drownin’ me , but they never did find them. Not to this day. Not that I know. Now, can I get a light?”
I don’t know if Jim shared a memory or made up a story to scare me. I always believed it happened. For one thing, silent Jim was as peaceful as a lamb until the male aides joined forces to give him a shower. He surely did not care for showers.