June 20, 2013
I drove up to the familiar house, parked up on the curb, opened the gate, and walked up to the door. I knocked but could see Frank was sitting alone in the front room. He started to get up and so I opened up the screen door. "Please don't get up", I stated. "Wow, Lyle, it is so good to see you", he said. "It is good to see you too, my friend", I returned.
I walked across the room and sat as close as I could to him. The TV was on and I could tell his confusion of trying to hear me over it, so I grabbed the remote and turned it down as I could tell Frank was confused on what to do. You see, Frank has Alzheimers. I was here not just to see my old friend....but to perform a duty. Something that a good friend should....must do. To tell him of the passing of one of his closest friends in life. It was my job...my duty because I was one of the links of the bond of their friendship. For once upon a time....not that long ago, the two were the very cornerstone of the diners counter.
When they made the movie, Jake's Truck Stop, they were such a key part of the flavor of the diner, that she actually finished off the documentary returning to their conversation at the counter. When the Bulletin wrote a story on the movie, they added a picture of that part of the movie as an example of what was to be seen in it.
I remember when Frank was first diagnosed with Alzheimers. Keith and I talked and Keith was so saddened by it. Then only a year of so later, Keith himself was diagnosed with the same disease. But Keith's advanced much faster.
Keith's wife, Marjorie, tried so hard to keep his mind occupied and working. She would daily give him a list of things that he was to do. He would drive in to Jake's for breakfast, go through his list and do his chores, and then stop back by for either lunch or dinner before driving back home. This kept him going....kept him alive for much longer.
Keith was a quiet man. He was more of a listener than a talker. I spent many a breakfast just sitting next to him eating. But when he did talk, he had something to say. He talked of his greatest loves....his family, his cars (Porsche and Jeep), and Hawaii. Those were his favorite topics. He was always open to your opinion on a subject as long as you were open to his. Everyone enjoyed being around Keith. When the girls saw him coming in the door, they were shouting the order into the kitchen so that it was in front of him shortly after he sat.
We watched as the disease took it's toll on him. His conversations would repeat themselves or he would forget where he parked his car or what car that he was driving. Once, I was playing poker in the back room when he came back and told me that he could not find the key to his car. I sent a couple of crew members around looking for them. His wife called me on the phone to ask me if I would help. I left the table and walked out to his car. Their were the keys in the door lock where he had left them when he locked it up.
Then came the day that they stopped him driving. Marjorie called me to let me know that he had not come home yet. A couple of us began looking in the parts of town that he was sent to. My spot was Safeway. I drove around and around the lot. I could not find him or his car. I drove the roads surrounding it and came back to the lot and made some more passes. She called me to let me know that he had arrived home. She asked where he was and he said, "Safeway". He had no groceries and he had been gone all day. She had no idea where he had been and he obviously did not either.
Marjorie called me one day asking if I knew a vet who might be interested in being a companion for Keith. She was thinking of someone who was alone and could stay in a room by their house and keep him occupied during the times that she could not.
Another Frank entered his life. Frank Spernak was a rather new member of the Band of Brothers who was looking for something to do in his retirement. He did not need a home but was willing to stop in and see Keith from time to time and hang out with him. Frank became close to Keith and would bring him to the meetings. Sometimes Keith's days were better than others.
Recently, I was just about to head out on a trip with Judy when Frank called me. Keith had wandered and had gotten lost by his house. He had been brought into the hospital and had become agitated and was placed in the psychiatric ward. He could not be visited there and I told Frank that I would be willing to try with him when I returned if he wanted.
A couple of days after my return, I was up at the hospital helping to dedicate the flag there to the area veterans when I ran into Marjorie at the door. She said that Keith was put in a room. I grabbed my buddy, Zin and we went up together to see him. They had him in a tent, his arms tied down with mitts on his hands to protect himself....from himself. She woke him up and told him that I was there. I leaned over to talk with him. His voice was a mumble but I think he told me that he did not know where he was. I talked with him for a couple of minutes but then his doctor showed up so Zin and I backed away.
We ran into his daughter, Lee, on the main floor as we were leaving. She told us of how Keith had loved the blues and so she had put some of his music to playing next to his bed and it had actually calmed him down. She said his foot started to tap with the beat. I told her that I had connections with some blues players in town and would she like me to contact them to see if they would play for him. She thought it was a great idea.
As we walked out to the car, Zin could tell that it weighed heavy on my mind. "You OK, Brother?", he asked. I assured him that I was.
I called Toni (one of our waitstaff) and asked her to see if her husband, Richard would be willing and she was sure that he would....but we both decided that it would be better to wait as he was probably going to be placed in Hospice on Monday.
Monday came and right after the meeting, I received a call from Marjorie. Keith was placed in Hospice and was given less than two days. I asked her if their was a particular type of blues that Keith liked and she said, "Anything with harmonica". So, I called Richard and asked him if he had any blues friends that played that Instrument. He said that their was a new guy in town that he had just met. He told me that he would call me back. Within 15 minutes, he had set it all up and agreed to meet me at Hospice at 5 that evening.
Richard met me in the parking lot and a fellow pulled in just as we were talking. Richard introduced me to Steve. I took note of his Hawaiian shirt and quipped that that was all that I wore also. He had moved here from the islands. He had moved back to the mainland to take care of his mother. He said that when he had heard of Keith, he knew that he needed to play as he had just watched his own mom leave through Hospice. Richard told us that he had played for dignitaries and had even done a wedding for a Hells Angel but he had never sent anyone home. I smiled and patted him on the back. "Then let's go do just that.", I said.
We walked into the room and the two musicians set up next to one another. They told us that they had only played a couple of tunes together before at the Northside but they would do their best. Just as soon as they started, however, it was as if they were joined at the hip. The blues flowed smooth and they blended like two guys who had played together all of their lives. Steve had a case full of harmonicas and I was so impressed by his expertise. He would swap pieces in mid song and not lose a beat.
Keith's son stood by the door, Keith was in his bed with his dog laying across his legs, Marjorie and Lee sat on the couch and we all listened as the two men crooned. It was incredible.
I videoed a small amount and tried to take a picture of the two but it was too dark. Then, I remembered that my camera had the ability to stitch pictures so I set it up for a panoramic shot. I started off at Keith and took a shot, then lined up to include the blues players at the other end. I checked the end result on the camera and what I saw made me stop and stare. I knew that their was no more pictures that needed to be taken. The image just spoke to me. So, I put my camera up and just experienced the moment.
From my corner of the room, I watched the interactions. Keith, his dog, his wife, his kids, and the two guys playing the blues.....Sending Keith home. I watched Keith's labored breathing and actually wondered if we were going to see him pass before we left.
Zin showed up and joined me in my corner. My good friend had known Keith but was there for me just as much.....I knew that.
Lee asked the men if they knew 'Amazing Grace'. With Richard leading out, they played that song like I have never heard it played before. The entire room began singing along to that all so familiar tune.
Amazing Grace.....How sweet the sound.....That saved a wretch like me....I once was lost...But now I am found....Was blind but now I see
I see...I see....I see....I remembered the shot in the camera and my eyes welled up with tears as I took in the scene in front of me. My knees began to buckle a bit so I leaned against the wall behind me for support.
After that song, we all knew that nothing else could be sung. It was so special. We left and Zin walked with me out to the car. "You OK", he asked. "No", I croaked, "But I will be. You know, we just sent Keith home". Zin gave me a hug. We both headed down to Jake's for our Monday night poker.
Marjorie called me the next morning. Keith had passed away 4 hours later. She thanked me for bringing the guys down and told me how special that it had been for her and the family. She said that she felt that Kieth could hear the music and I agreed. I had felt the same as I stood in the room the day before.
But the vision will not leave me and I will be reminded of that special time every time I look at that photo. This is what I saw.....I call it, "Sending Keith Home".