Holiday memory: A brief acquaintance, a lasting memory
December 20, 2002
In August 1970, a man I met in the play “Mr. Roberts” came into Tahoe-Carson Radiology where I worked part time. I had seen him around Carson occasionally, and we would always nod and say hello.
He asked if his X-rays could be sent to a doctor in San Francisco and I assured him they could. After he left, Dr. Veverka said, “Maizie, your friend is in a bad way. I don’t think he’ll make it.”
A week later, he gave me the address for the X-rays and said they were keeping him in the San Francisco hospital.
There had been an early snow in the mountains that looked like powdered sugar had been sprinkled on them and he laughed and said he missed the mountains.
I called some of the guys who had been in the play and asked them to send him cards and letters, figuring he would like to hear from them.
Later, on Dec. 23, the phone rang and I answered it. He was calling from San Francisco and said, “Maizie, I wanted wish you a Merry Christmas. I’m not lucid all the time, and I wanted to thank you for having those cards and letters sent to me.” He asked me about Carson-Tahoe Hospital, for he wanted to be closer to his family. I assured him that the people were great and I thought he would be comfortable there. When he hung up, the tears came … for someone so ill to remember me was such a gift. And at Christmas, too.
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The middle of January, he returned to Carson City. He’d lost 90 pounds, so while I was saddened, I wasn’t shocked when I saw him again.
Part of my job was to run X-rays back and forth to the hospital, so I’d stop in to visit. I made sure he had a paper (the Nevada Appeal furnished papers for the patients), got his glasses tightened (bless Dr. Van Patten) and just talk about anything. He had been in the Navy in World War II and had been on the North Atlantic convoys.
He would say, “I love hearing your laugh,” or “I like seeing you smile,” and, sometimes, it was enough to just hold his hand.
One day, late in February, he asked me, “How long will this last? I am so tired.” And I had to answer I didn’t know.
In March, they told me that his time was short. When I went in, the nurse met me at his door and said, “He’s in a coma, he won’t recognize you,” but as soon as I saw him, he said, “Maizie.” That was all, just my name, but he did know I was there. Two days later he died. I went outside and wept and thought to myself, “Thank you.”
I didn’t go to his funeral, for I didn’t know his family and felt like an interloper. It wasn’t until 10 or 15 years later that I thought I would like to go see where he was buried, so, one day I took off from work and drove to the Gardnerville cemetery.
As I drove in and looked at all the graves, I thought, “Where do I start?” I drove to the back of the cemetery, got out and looked around, wondering what to do.
Just then, a bird, perched in a tall pine tree, started to sing, and I walked over in that direction to listen. When I got there, I looked down and there was his grave, right at my feet. Was it an omen … coincidence? I’ll never know.
Now, whenever I see a dusting of powdered sugar snow on the eastern slopes, I think of him and of the best Christmas gift of all … friendship. Merry Christmas, Jim!
(Jim Wallace died the morning of March 7, 1971. He is buried next to a large pine tree where the birds still sing their beautiful songs.)