Yesterday was a remarkable day for me. In that day I was able to freely wander the rooms, offices, storerooms, hallways, coolers, kitchens and so much more of a place and group of people who helped me grow and develop into who I am now. For 18 years, from 1977 to 1995, I worked at the Erie County Home in Alden, NY. I started there right after I graduated being pushed to a large degree by my Mother.
The push was firm but gentle. It was something I desperately needed at the time since I had no idea what I wanted to do in life. I knew that I should continue my education but I was not a jock nor brain so the paths open for me were few. I was quite rebellious and swore I would not take the SAT or ACT college placement exams so I didn’t and went to the local community college after taking a year off. In that year I worked up from a cleaner to dishroom leader and then the shipper/receiver. That was back in the day when employers could offer tuition assistance and I was fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of it.
I finished up that degree in 1983 with an Associate in Business and a load of extra courses since I was searching. I did all my course work at night and after the first year I went full-time while working full-time. How I fit the studying and partying in I don’t know, but I did and I almost got a 4.0 for the five years and 96 credit hours. Much of that can be credited to the people I worked with (Jessie, Irene, Vicky, Karen, Sue, Marlene, Mike, Jimmy, Howie, Donny, Mary and so many more) and my managers especially Maureen Murray and Greg Hall. I’m not sure what they saw in me but they certainly gave me the opportunities and knowledge to succeed and I became Greg’s assistant manager of the dietary department.
The work was challenging everyday feeding 600-700 residents three meals a day on a tight budget. We also had the challenge of finding employees at the time and we worked with a number of handicapped individuals. It could get frustrating, but it meant a lot to us to try to work together, help each other out and do the best we could for the residents of the nursing home since meals had such meaning to their daily routine. It was also our challenge to fit into this facility being non-union, non-government employees. Then we were a contract company ‘stealing’ union jobs from their people. Add to this the fact that the staff of the department before we came was quite aloof and didn’t work with the rest of the departments in the facility.
It took about 8 years, but finally our team was able to be a true part of the facility. By that time I was also working on my Business degree. I finished that up and then in 1987 went on for my Masters. During that I also was wed and had two great children. I also did all that schooling without one student loan nor debt! Sadly I wasn’t home enough to see them grow in their early years and the marriage fell apart shortly after I graduated and the contract we had with the nursing home was lost in a bid. Tough changes, but perhaps they were changes I needed to move me forward and help me to recognize what was meaningful in my life. I created another job with my advisors consulting company that I loved and I was able to become a father to my children more than I had in the past.
Since I left in 1995 the nursing home has undergone many more changes. The company that beat us in the bid was thrown out after a few months and the company I had worked with was brought back in and are still the food service provider. The county government decided about 10 years ago that they wanted out of the hospital business and then a couple of years later the gave the nursing home to the private, for-profit company that was running the hospital. This company decided to bring the Nursing Facility closer to the hospital so they built a beautiful new facility for the residents. The transition was completed last month and now the facility is about to get ‘mothballed’. Before that they decided to hold an auction of the buildings contents.
I attended the auction and it was quite bittersweet. Not much had changed in the 18 years since I was there and yet much had changed. In the halls I could still imagine dodging patients with large food carts. Often we helped them in their wheel chairs. Other time we joked around with them. I could hear Herbie Prior, a 80+ resident in his broken stroke speech calling ‘hey boy’ and saying ‘ah hell’ when he forgot something. Or there was ‘the professor’ who was confined to a wheel chair and sat at a table a bit like Steven Hawking unable to speak very well but in a crimped up way he held his pencil and paper and worked on mathematical computations all day. We taught Herbie Prior how to blow shot-guns with his pipe. We were in awe when we found out a resident of about 75 wasn’t BS’ing us about his playing harmonica with a pretty well-known musician in our area. It was amazing to see our resident, Grant Lee being picked up by John Valby to go to a bar, play and drink with “Dr Dirty”. He is even on some of Valby’s early albums.
Looking now at the time I see I have spent a bit of time on this and this is a good place to stop. I had intended on posting a beautiful poem I found on the wall of the ‘Homes’ library conference room but that will have to wait until tomorrow. For now I can go to bed and remember the day. Reflecting on the memories I know I’ll look at my sleeping wife and daughter and sigh thinking how luck I am. That is what brings meaning to life or should I say that is where I’m putting meaning into my life? I feel it is a bit of both and even more that creates the meaning for my life…