As the director of Senior Services, Inc., in Winston-Salem, I often hear stories of independence, ingenuity and perseverance on the part of older adults, such as the story told to me by a Meals-on-Wheels volunteer about one of his feistiest recipients. Mrs. Taylor was a proud woman in her late 80’s with multiple health problems. A tiny woman, she was not at all steady on her feet and used a walker to maneuver around her small house. One day when the volunteer was delivering a hot lunch to her, Mrs. Taylor, standing with her walker in the middle of the living room and dressed in her nightdress and bathrobe, asked him to bring her a ladder from the garage so that she might change a light bulb in a ceiling fixture. The volunteer, picking up on the subtlety of Mrs. Taylor’s request, offered to retrieve the ladder and change the light bulb for her. Mrs. Taylor accepted the volunteer’s offer with well-rehearsed surprise and delight.
So it was with Mrs. Taylor in mind that I responded to a call from my 84-year-old father, Milton, one Sunday morning this past summer. Milton, having moved to Kernersville a year before to be closer to his grandchildren, telephoned me for directions to the airport in Greensboro. It seems that my father was going to look at some dachshund puppies and possibly buy one, and he was meeting the owners near the airport. For the previous six months, my father had been talking about getting a dog, but I was not quite sure how serious he was. That morning he had read an advertisement in the classified section of the Winston-Salem Journal placed by a couple that breeds dogs. In his telephone call to me that morning, my father was as eager to see these puppies as an eight year-old boy. Knowing my father’s driving skills and his sense of direction, neither of which have improved at all in the last 65 years, I told him that I would gladly drive him to the airport and that my elder daughter, Rachel, would come with us.
The dog breeders were waiting for us in a Suburban SUV in a parking lot near the airport. When Milton, Rachel and I arrived, three dachshund puppies in a large wicker basket greeted us, two males and one female. As we observed and played with the six-week-old puppies for a while, their owners described the puppies to us: the female puppy was “well behaved,” one of the male puppies was “laid back,” and the remaining male puppy had “personality.” I voted for the laid-back male, Rachel was rooting for the female puppy, and Milton fell for the one with personality, whom he subsequently named “Mike”. To this day, when he tells people how he came to purchase Mike, Milton says that Rachel and I picked him out.
Mike’s presence has transformed Milton’s life. Before Mike, the subjects of our daily conversations were often about my father’s arthritis or the results of his latest blood work; now the conversations center on whether Mike has been a “good boy” and whether he did a “number one” or a “number two” outside. Before Mike, my father’s daily trips consisted of going to the grocery store or to a medical appointment. Now he often ventures out to the pet superstore to buy Mike a new toy, a dog bed or a leash. My father turned 85 last week, and the remarkable thing is that he appears younger than he did a year ago. Taking Mike for a walk each day and bending down to pick him up or retrieve his food dish keeps Milton limber. And when Mike wakes him up in the morning by wagging his tail against the bedroom door, Milton has more than just himself to get out of bed for. Despite some chewed up furniture and the fact that Mike thinks his name is “No Biting!” Mike and Milton have become an awfully good pair.
Postscript: Milton lived at home with Mike until his death in December 2013. Mike is currently being spoiled elsewhere.
By Richard Gottlieb
President and CEO
Senior Services, Inc.