So you want to know the weirdest story I ever heard? Well, I heard it from my friend, Cora. Cora is a geriatrician, you know - an old people’s doctor. She never thought she could do it, but she did, and it’s all because of this one guy she had as a patient in a nursing home where she was an aide a long time ago. He was brought to the home way back in May of 2007. The whole thing was very mysterious. He was an “anonymous patient” and he requested her, by name, to be his personal and permanent aide.
The nursing home had supplied care to quite a few famous old folks who wanted to be anonymous so Cora figured the guy must have been a well-known celebrity in his time, a writer, or actor or something from another era - someone she wouldn’t have heard of. They told her to call him Mr. Smith, so that’s how she addressed him, but Mr. Smith didn’t even talk to her for the first three months. He was silent and cranky, just staring out at her, frowning and glaring at her with these scary blue eyes. He had wild hair that went everyplace, like a madman, and a big beard. It was pretty intimidating.
He’d tell her “thank you” now and then but he didn’t give her even a “good morning” or “good-night.” He was pretty darn surly. But he was harmless enough.
He needed help to get from his bed to his wheelchair. Being tall and lanky, she thought it would take two aides to move him around, but he was able to stand a bit. She was lucky that he could manage the toilet on his own. It was always a good thing when they could do that - yuck. Plus he yelled at her if she tried to give him a shower. He was fierce about all that private stuff which was just fine with her. She’d worked with plenty of old guys who got off on her washing their backs (and more) and was pretty sick of it.
Through the summer, Mr.Smith and Cora worked out a system. She had always been good with the cantankerous ones. She actually liked working with old people. And I guess he finally felt comfortable with her, because on her birthday, Mr. Smith said his first real words. There was a tiny bouquet pinned to her uniform that the other aides had given to her to celebrate. He noticed it and asked why it was there.
Cora tried not to act surprised at the question and told him she had just turned twenty-two. He gave her a smile and his eyes went a bit dreamy, then he said, “Twenty-two. Oh to be twenty-two again… or maybe not,” and he shook his head. “I didn’t live my life as well as I might have.”
“What would you do differently?” she asked him. “Do you have any advice for me?”
He only grunted, a sort of half-laugh, and said, “I am not a person one should ask advice of.”
But that started them talking a little bit. She asked him about his life and he told her that he had grown up in England. She had already guessed that, of course, based upon his accent. He described his home life and said his parents hadn’t been wealthy. The war was tough on them and he had been shipped off to the country when he was twelve years old because there were bombs pouring down on London.
“I suppose it must have been really scary for a little kid.”
“Indeed, it was. But I wished I was old enough to go fight as well.”
“Just a little guy can’t go fight.” Cora shook her head. “Was it nice in the country… safe, I mean?”
“The city children were ill treated by the locals. I went to school there but I made it my habit to shut up and do whatever chores I was assigned and otherwise keep to myself. I walked around in sort of a dreamworld, imagining stories. I read whatever I could find and I learned about nature.”
He told her that he taught himself to carve and build, all on his own. And he learned to move around the forest. He did it with such stealth that he could sneak up on animals. Of course, that helped him to sneak up on the bullies as well and he could overhear the nasty plans they were making.
He said that he pushed himself by approaching the most dangerous snakes and wildlife and, before long, he could move faster and fight harder than any boys in the local area. They left him alone. He figured it was because they thought him a bit insane.
Cora liked all of Mr. Smith’s reminiscing. It was certainly better than his cranky silences and she said he was actually quite interesting. She wondered if he had been a writer prior to his stint in the nursing home so she looked him up. She found a bunch of writers with the name “Peter Smith,” but none of them were him.