Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gaffett's Town

Whenever we visit Dad at the nursing home, I come away discouraged. Oh don't get me wrong, the Veteran's Home is a nice facility and the staff are as nice as possible. We think Dad is getting excellent care there. But when all is said and done its still a nursing home and after a number of visits the place seems rather bleak to me. As we walk the halls and skirt the various vets in their wheelchairs and scurry past the open doors to the rooms that hold bed ridden elderly, I can't put out of my mind the elephant in the room. That elephant we all know is there lurking, but no one acknowledges its presence. That elephant that hangs over all the activities and daily routine. That unspoken elephant that says almost everyone has come there to die. For most, not all, but most of these folks this facility is their last stop before they die and move on. Even Dad remarks how almost every week they wheel someone out and then the next day a new person comes to occupy that room. Sort of like a train station where people wait, often not all that patiently, for their train. When the train stops they present their ticket and get on board and their seat at the station is taken by another traveler. I began to think along these lines and I remembered Captain Littlepage's sea story in Country of the Pointed Firs written by Sarah Jewett. In the book Capt. Littlepage spins his yarn about being shipwrecked on the coast of Greenland. While the survivors waited for rescue, Capt. Littlepage befriended another lost mariner and its from him the captain got his story called The Waiting Place. The man Gaffett told about his ship and crew being lost in the Artic, further north then any ship had ever sailed before and how they came upon this town. Gaffett went on to explain how the sailors were amazed to find an occupied town so far north and yet the people they saw on shore were - insubstantial. They were ghostly and flitted about. When a sailor would try to approach one of these souls they would vanish. Gaffett went on at great length about how they saw groups of these wraith-like people and individuals but were never able to speak to any of them. In the end they decided these creatures were neither living or dead. Gaffett told Captain Littlepage the strange town they had stumbled upon was a sort of waiting place between this world and the next. Capt. Littlepage was not at all sure about the weird town so high in the latitudes but as he grew older he wondered more and now in the book he repeated Gaffett's story, as if it might have been true. Who could say? I know the story's true. Gaffett town and the people in it are not far away in the Artic, they're just up the road in the "B" wing of the Veteran's Home.

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