Richard Banks hobbled down the footpath for a daily inspection of his mail box. It was a ritual he’d performed since retiring from his work as a mechanic. He was noted around the district as one who could fix anything mechanical farmers possessed and some of their equipment had long since run out of service options as those products had ceased production for one reason or another.
He’d been christened Richard, but farmers knew him as Richie many not even aware he had a surname. The district he served was a river valley surrounded by mountains but rarely was blessed with abundant rains like coastal plains on the other side of the mountains to the east so the riverbed was mostly a series of water holes in strategic places farmers trucked their water supplies from hoping against hope rains would eventually come to keep their undernourished stock and a few crops going to keep families alive. But on the occasional years when rains did come, they were abundant enough to make the river a raging torrent sweeping crops and cattle with it on the way to the coast and further adding to the grinding poverty these farmers lived in. It was not surprising that children born to these unfortunate farmers would flee the district as soon as they were able to seek a better life in more fertile areas. Those who remained were too tired or undernourished to try their luck elsewhere.
Richie’s father had been a mechanic before him. While not having had the advantage of a technical mechanical education he had a natural talent for fixing things and making replacement parts that defied logic but worked. He scorned qualified mechanics who occasionally surfaced in the valley to service new equipment farmers would buy in years when the rains came to provide them with sufficient income from lush pastures that followed rains, but most farmers would store money from those good years earned to see them through years of drought ahead and rely on their man in the village to keep old equipment working. These city mechanics would back away from dealing with old equipment they knew there’d be no current parts to service and laughed when they observed Richie’s father Jack manufacturing the required part with his ancient equipment.
There’d been a time in pioneer days when the climate had been more favorable, and a village had grown with sufficient shops and houses to support needs of a prosperous community. But all that remained now was a run-down store to serve needs of a community and it served as bank, post office, fuel station and groceries store. A few of the houses still had people of retirement age living there in deteriorating homes and other houses and shops unoccupied were slowly being overtaken by weeds and showing signs of disrepair.
Richie had observed the slow disintegration of his village along with his brothers and sisters in childhood and he was the only one who’d remained out of his family. They’d all come together for funerals of his mother and father looking prosperous and they’d tried to talk Richie into joining them away from this dismal atmosphere. But Richie knew he’d miss the comradery of farmers in the district. They were his family in good and bad times, and he hardly knew his brothers and sisters any more with their prosperity and acquired sophistication. He had nothing in common with them now.
There was a time when he’d get occasional mail and now there was nothing for him to find in that box each day. One of his brothers had offered to get a TV for him to entertain him but consulting with the store run by old Mrs. James realized the signal was too poor to be of use. Richie was not disappointed as he enjoyed his radio programs now, he couldn’t work on farm machinery because of tremor in his hands. His friends from surrounding farms still visited him when they came to the store for supplies or fuel, and he listened to their tales of regret he was now unable to fix their equipment being pensioned off at last and rotting in sheds through non-use.
One day Richie was surprised to see a large luxurious car park in front of his home and a young woman made her way down the pathway. Richie sat in his rocking chair watching her approach. She came up to the veranda and approached him smiling while he studied her. No one he knew. What was she here for?
“Hi, I’m your youngest sister’s daughter Samantha Uncle. Don’t you remember me?”
Richie shook his head. There had been one occasion a long time ago when his sister had visited with her family, but they were children. and this was a grown woman. No matter how he tried he could not fathom which of those children it was at the time. His siblings did visit from the various cities they now lived in once a year but without their families. He glanced beyond her as he saw someone else getting out of the car. It was a man, and he was carrying a small case. He approached quickly and joined Samantha.
“Uncle this is my husband Benjamin Smart and he’s a doctor. The family have been concerned about your deteriorating health and Ben has come to check you over and see what we can do to help you enjoy better health. Can we go inside and find a convenient place for Ben to check you over?”
At first Richie resented the intrusion into his private life. He had all he needed with the farmer folk calling in when they could to chat with him and his friend at the store who had little to do during most of the day welcomed his frequent visits. Then he thought of the tremors that were becoming more pronounced now and wondered if this man would be able to help with a better quality of life for him. So, he nodded and got up slowly to move inside.
Dr Benjamin Smart gave Richie a thorough examination and Richie quizzed him with every examination procedure to try and understand what was resulting from this examination. Dr Smart parried questions skillfully, until the end of this examination and then spoke.
“Can I call you Richard?”
“Well ageing does bring with it some issues we can manage but not fix. But we certainly can give you a better quality of life than now you’re experiencing Richard.”
Samantha took over the conversation from her husband now. “Uncle the family would like you to move down to the city where we live. It’s a nice city on the coast where you have the most pleasant ocean views and lots of people your age who we know you’d love to have conversations with each day. There is so much to do there, and we are better able to deal with your health needs to improve your quality of life. We are hoping you let us do that.”
The shock of this proposition bought Richie to his feet. Move away from his friends and this district he loved? Never! But with initial shock over he sat down to think. He’d been feeling increasingly unwell and farmers visits were not regular enough to help him in the event of an emergency. There was no one who’d be there to help in such an emergency. He’d not thought about that before. He listened quietly as the doctor outlined all the things that needed to be done to restore his health and suddenly, he could see the reason why his family was concerned. Tears formed in his eyes. He was old, alone, and vulnerable. Having a solution to his increasing health issues suddenly seemed attractive though he was fearful of moving to a place where nothing and no one would be familiar.
Samantha was a nurse and empathetic to patients who were vulnerable. Even though she did not know this uncle personally her heart went out to him. He was family! She moved over and put her arm around him. Richie wept at this personal touch and nestled into her embrace involuntarily.
In a hoarse voice filled with emotion when he regained his composure he spoke. “What do you want me to do?”
Samantha spoke soothingly. “I know this is hard uncle. My mother wants you to stay with her while we run more tests at my husband’s medical center. Then when those tests have been completed, we’d move you to a nice furnished apartment in a retirement resort with a wonderful view of the ocean. There are lots of people there your age and they love to talk. We know you like fixing things, and they have hobby shops there where we know you’d spent a lot of happy times. It just so happens we know there is an apartment that will become available on New Year’s Day. I suggest we take it one step at a time. First come with us to my mother’s place and let’s do the tests. We’ll show you the retirement village and see if you’d be happy there.”
Richie’s mood was alternating between anxiety and anticipation now. It would be nice to see his sister again. But he glanced at himself in the mirror and his heart sank. He was unkept with shabby clothes. Who’d want to keep a man like him in this place they were describing?
“I don’t have money to buy this retirement apartment Samantha and I can’t stay at your mother’s place for a long time. That would not be fair. No one would want to buy this village house or anything else in this village. You saw what it was like when you drove in. So, I’ll come and let you run those tests as I want to see my sister and family members but the only practical thing to do afterward is come back here.”
Samantha smiled. “Our family has appreciated all you’ve done in your productive live to support the poor people in this area uncle and we all decided to pay for the apartment and monthly fees. Your family is doing this on behalf of the farming community you served so selflessly over the years. It would be a grateful gift to you the family wants to do. Just walk away from this falling down house and come with us please. Don’t worry about your appearance. I saw you looking in the mirror. The first stop when we get to the city will be to buy you clothes you can be proud of and clean you up. Just walk with us to the car and leave this mess behind you. We want you to come!”
Richie got up and without a look behind him he walked slowly to the car assisted by his niece. There was joy in the home as his sister welcomed him and fussed over him while they bought a wardrobe of clothes at the mall. Richie was in culture shock at the luxury of city living and reveled in the loving embrace of his family. His health improved over the next few weeks under treatment, and he was in awe of the ocean walks each day. Christmas was celebrated with all his siblings and their families in attendance. He could not recall any time in his life when he’d been happier. He loved the retirement village inspection and gladly agreed to move to his family’s delight. As New Year’s Day was a holiday, he was permitted to move in a few days early with refurbishments complete and loved the fellowship, food, and hobby choices of the village.
On New Year’s Day mid-morning the phone in his kitchen rang and he hastened to pick it up. It was the Administration Centre.
“Mr Banks we’d like to have you come to the administration office as there’s something we need to have you do for us today.”
Richie was glad that the medication he was on now had modified his hand tremors and he was able to operate the electric buggy the family had purchased for him. He quickly put on his new sports clothes, so he’d be presentable at the office and was used to the abundant water supply to have daily showers and sported a shaven face. He looked good for his age now. He sped to the office and parked the buggy in assigned parking area walking slowly to the office. He went up to the young lady manning the inquiry desk.
“Hi, my name is Richard Banks from unit 421. You called to say there was something I needed to attend to at the office.”
The young lady consulted a pile of notes on her countertop and smiled. “Come with me Mr. Banks.” Richie followed her down the aisle and they entered a reception room filled with people and tables. It was his family and they were ready to party.
“Happy New Year Richard! We’re so glad you decided to take up our offer and join us for our first celebration together. May this year be a happy and prosperous one for you.”
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