It had been two years since I stepped inside of an assisted living environment. My grandmother had spent a few years in one near Albany until she passed away, and my aunt passed in hospice my senior year of high school.
These facilities made me depressed for obvious reasons. Hearing dementia patients crying for help from their children who aren’t there, being confused for others’ relatives and the smell of hand soap still traumatizes me to this day.
But a couple weekends ago, one man provided a different outlook on this sad, sad stage of life. Meet 106-year-old Ralph Jarvis, resident of Meadowbrook Nursing Home on Prospect Avenue.
As a community service event for my fraternity, we spent a few hours playing board games, coloring and talking with the residents. Some were, well, out of it. But I placed myself at a table with two individuals: Ralph and a woman named Ann. I tried being polite by saying things such as “Ann, that’s a very beautiful name. It fits you well.” We worked on a 50-piece puzzle until Ralph started dominating the conversation. I didn’t mind.
He began talking about the farm he grew up on in Keeseville, placing emphasis on his work ethic: waking up to milk the cows, going to school and then coming home to study his school books. This conversation quickly put me as the focus when Ralph asked me where I went to school and what my major was, followed by the question “What are you guys doing here anyway?”
“Because we enjoy spending time talking to people like you, Ralph,” I explained to him. He retorted with “Usually guys like you spend your Saturday trying to get a girl.” I took the compliment but also expressed my sincere interest in him.
I guess the reason I gravitated to Ralph so much was because he reminded me of my own grandfather, somebody to just shoot the breeze with. Because I was only 5 years old when my grandfather passed, I wasn’t able to take advantage of the wisdom he had to offer. When I met Ralph, I couldn’t help but extract every bit of information about him I could.
My generation doesn’t take advantage of the wisdom older generations have to share with us. Instead, they stick to their preferred methods of communication: Facebook, texting and Snapchat. People like Ralph are often forgotten about. Not only did he have a lot of knowledge, but he provided me with a plethora of information about the North Country that a Google search probably wouldn’t be able to yield.
We could all learn something from Ralph, not only his wisdom but also his positivity. Ralph’s wife is no longer with us, and he hates making his children visit him at the nursing home. But he says he makes the best out of each day and feels as though he has lived a satisfying life.
As I held back the tears, I was reluctant to leave. I had formed such a strong relationship with a total stranger in less than two hours. One of my fraternity brothers waited for me to say my goodbyes to Ralph. I assured him that I would come back to visit another weekend to talk more about cars, golf and dancing.
Ralph and I will both be waiting for the snow to finally melt. And when it does, I will be at the Bluff Point Golf Course, one of Ralph’s favorite places to golf. Though he can’t be with me, I will swing away — swing away for Ralph.
Email Chris Burek at firstname.lastname@example.org