“I believe you have a gentleman by the name of Max Gelders here. I wonder if I might visit with him for a little while?”
Ever since his name came up as an unlikely but possible reunion attendee, I have been waiting for someone’s first hand account of just what Max thinks of the situation and what his day to day life revolves around. All of the white knights, myself included, have come to his imaginary rescue from exile by suggesting everything from limousines to helicopters to bring him to Singer Island but no one seems to have “asked Max”. Family matters had put me in Miami on Easter Sunday morning so what better time to drive down to Homestead Manor Nursing Home?
The pleasant lady at the reception desk smiled and picked up the phone.
“Certainly, I’ll page him. -Max Gelders to the front desk – Max Gelders to the fron – wait a minute, I think I just saw him right around the corner!”
She was right. Standing at a nurse’s station counter, not twenty feet away, was a slightly stooped man with pen in hand and concentrating on filling out a form or application. He wore glasses, his hair was thinning and his casual dress seemed to fit in with what I expected.
“Who are you?” He said as he looked quizzically at me.
“Just a friend from the Palm Beach High class of “58” who had a little spare time. You don’t remember me?”
How could he remember me? He and I probably never exchanged a full sentence of conversation in our lives and now here I was, showing up in his world totally out of context.
“Give me a hint.” He said cocking his head to one side and adjusting the thick glasses that were his trademark as I remembered him.
“You sure are tall! Are you Earl Stewart?”
“No.” I grinned and shook my head.
I wasn’t playing a game with Max. Looking ahead, I honestly didn’t know what we could possibly talk about once he actually knew my name. I planned to spend a meaningful amount of time with him and this little version of conversational intrigue was probably going to be one of the high points of the day!
It actually didn’t take Max long to figure me out and he was emphatic in his insistence that “you tell everyone how quickly I remembered”!
I would be lying if I told you that the hour or so I spent with Max was fun. There is nothing about a nursing home that makes you want to stay longer. When we were kids we called them “old folk’s homes” but they’ve changed – now all the people in them are almost as young as I am. The fact that it was Easter Sunday meant that there was an unusual buzz of activity and I suspect that the staff had taken extra measures to dress up the decorum but what is it about a “sow’s ear”? What I did enjoy were the exchanges Max and I had about people and experiences we both knew/shared or, at least, could imagine. He and I sat for much of the time in the front waiting area and he seemed happy and very outgoing.
Excerpts from our conversation:
“Do you want to go to our reunion?”
“Maybe for 2 hours or so.”
“Why not longer?”
“Because I have to get back. I can’t stay out over night. At least I can’t stay out over night unless a member of the staff stays with me. All of the staff is female. I told them that would work out okay for me if ‘I could pick out the female’. Anyway they said ‘No!’.”
Dudley Barber or his wife would have to ride me up because Gail Prather is not going to the reunion and Louise Marcy lives in California and that’s too far to come. Maybe I’ll call Ray Bender. You know Connie Berry lives in Miami. Jim Anstis may be going, he has a long drive to get here.”
“I lost my bagging job at Publix when I came here. That’s how Dudley found me. He called the store where I worked. His daughter lives in Key Largo and they stop by to see me all the time. Here, let’s call Dudley now………”
He did call on his cell and insisted I leave a message. Dudley Barber and his wife along with the Anstis family have evidently gone out of their way to make Max’s life better with regular visits and keeping him connected. All of our classmates should take note: they have been doing this for a long time without photos or written accounts for Ruthie or Connie to post!
“Wait here, I’ll come back. I bought a lunch and it will get cold if I don’t eat it.”
Max disappeared for five or ten minutes. Thinking he may have forgotten I was there, I went looking and tracked him down in a small meeting room in another part of the building. While finishing his sandwich and french fries he continued;
“I hear Russo’s has a lot more stores now!”
“Do you go to the breakfast meetings – they’re on Forrest Hill Blvd., right?”
“Frank Madsen died, didn’t he?”
“Do you remember Reggie Hurley? He had the dry cleaning business in back of the cemetery across from the railroad tracks? He had junior high football on Thursday nights. Friday night was high school football. My father would take me to the games and I saw one of the Knowles play. I don’t remember his first name but Doug Knowles said he was his uncle. He was great! You should have played football! You’re tall enough. It was during a football game that my father found out I needed glasses. I couldn’t read the scoreboard. I remember Conniston. They were the Blue Devils. I used to be a Wildcat but now I’m a Tamecat!”
“They have a restaurant here in Homestead called the Royal Palm Café, that’s the name of our year book! They also have a Hibiscus St. and a Palm Beach Ave. I spent my whole life on Hibiscus St. in West Palm Beach!”
“I don’t know why I’m here? I’m talking to an attorney. They take all of my Social Security check and only leave me with $57 a month. I send $25 every month to Quattlebaum. It’s for a Jewish service. I’m going to be with my mother and father.”
It was only at this juncture that I recalled that Max was a Jew. Two things came to mind, first I fondly remembered that a classmate’s religion was never considered or spoken of on “the hill” and secondly, I was glad I hadn’t brought my Bible along to share with Max a few inspirational Easter readings from the book of Matthew on the evils of the Pharisees in the Temple.
Max had free access to go and come from the building and the last instructions he gave me as I left him in the parking lot was:
“Thanks for coming and don’t forget to tell everybody how quickly I figured out who you were!”
He was still carrying the worn brown leather briefcase that never left his side. It contains all his important papers and his treasured gift copy of the 1958 Royal Palm along with a short note from Ruthie Hall.
No one has ever told me the reason or diagnosis that put Max in Homestead Manor and I choose not to ask. He appears physically sound so I suspect someone just decided he needed help in his day-to-day decision making process. Please don’t get the wrong impression. Never during my visit with him did I feel like we were in some scene from Rain Man or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Max has a tendency to ramble but it’s not annoying. His mannerisms would not be out of the ordinary at any table at our reunion banquet and I certainly welcome the chance to see him again. He seemed very much in control but wanted desperately to get his feelings and remembrances expressed to me in what, we both knew, was so little time. I guess that’s the one thing we all share with Max – ……so little time………