Could it have ended any better? Perhaps, but when you adopt a little old man hitchhiking by the side of the road, a good ending is the most wonderful thing of all. He pulled me over by sheer force of will. His thumb extended, his blue eyes immediately boring a hole into my soul, and I was hooked.
“You’re late,” he said, while climbing up in. “I’ve been standing on the corner praying for an angel. What kept you?”
“I’m not sure. Where are you heading?”
“I need to get a prescription filled, I fell down the stairs last night. The emergency room wouldn’t give me them, because no one would give me a ride home. I’ll give you twenty bucks for the ride.”
“I’ll take you, and angels don’t accept money. It’s bad form.”
I was his chauffeur that day and for many days which followed. His son had stolen his money from savings, the title to his house, and all of his investment accounts. His family wanted his money, but not him, and he wasn’t dying fast enough. I learned his story, became angry, and when I get angry, I take action. I got him a pro-bono lawyer, hearing aids, and painted furniture in his garage, because that bastard of a son had stolen all his furniture, too.
I met the lawyer for the first time while we were painting furniture for his kitchen with a blue stain. He needed a table and chairs to have company over. The lawyer walked through the house, took the notes I had prepared for him, and said that his son was suing for custody of the old man. Bill exploded.
“I worked for a living starting at age 8. I picked up coal from the sluice fields and saved my family a winter’s worth of warm. I worked every day during the depression, and I don’t resent giving the money I earned to my mother. I saved 20% of every payday. I served in World War 2. I saved enough money to buy my sister a condo and move her from Pennsylvania. I manage my own bills. I have health care and I pay for it. I know what day it is and I know who is running for president. Why is he suing me for custody? He’s a thief and a pathological liar.”
“Any proof of that?” the lawyer asked.
Oh, there was plenty of proof. His son had a history of exploitation. It had soured Bill’s marriage. He had beaten his wife and baby son, so that they ran away. When the divorce went through, he was ordered to pay child support and paid absolutely nothing. His wife was so afraid, she went into hiding. Bill and his wife never saw their grandson again. That was one of the reason’s his wife gave up and died. She smoked and drank herself into her grave to cover the pain.
His son had tried to weasel himself back into the old man’s grace, had pretended he was sorry for all he had done. Bill believed that even his son deserved another chance. As soon as he moved in with Bill, the verbal abuse and pushing began. He coerced him into a nursing home, stealing everything he could.
He went to court to take the old man’s driver’s license. That’s when Bill checked out of the nursing home and went to his bank to find one dollar left as a balance. The bank refused to act on the theft of $75,000 dollars. That was the only thing his son got away with. I made sure of that.
I met with his investment banker, set up a lunch date and drove Bill there. His broker immediately acted to protect Bill’s money. I got a lawyer to fight the title change of Bill’s home, and he succeeded in regaining the title. Bill was protected now, and with the money from the sale of his house, he bought a condo near his sister’s. The only thing he asked was that she visit him once a day for lunch or dinner.
She called me and told me to find a nursing home, that she couldn’t stand her brother any more. Then she left on a vacation he had paid for. Nice?
We put the condo up for sale. I asked him where he wanted to go to live.
“The only place I’m welcome is your house, Gabby dear. Will your husband mind?”
My husband is saint. He didn’t even question my decision, although he might have questioned my sanity.
Bill lived with us until the age of 91. I took him on cruises, stayed with him when he was in the hospital. I drove him enough miles to drive across the United States. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner together. John Wayne movies were permanently etched into my memory.
The night he died, his bedroom had been flooded with golden light from the sunset. We watched The Quiet Man, who wasn’t very quiet. He dozed off and I snuck off for a moment’s rest. At three in the morning, I woke. Something was off. I went to check on Bill and he was awake and lucid.
“We had a good time, didn’t we, Gabby dear?”
“Oh, we raised some eyebrows. You’re my best friend, Bill.”
“Your husband only fusses when he’s worried about you, Gabby. No more tears over arguments, just tell him you love him.”
“I really did vote for a black man for president. Who would have thought an old racist like me would have had all his help come from people of different colors. Why did you help me, Gabby?”
“There was something you needed to learn, God wasn’t done with you.
“Have I learned it yet?”
“I feel strange. Will you say the Lord’s Prayer for me?”
I panicked. Then I sang the Prayer from Bernstein’s Mass. His face looked flushed.
“Gabby?” Pause. “Gabby? I’m forgiven.”