Monday, September 23, 2013

The Rooster Crowed

The first time I met John Dickey, he made me nervous.  Wheelchair-bound, he sat at the fringe of nursing home residents while a group of us college students sang hymns with them.  He was a large man with a full head of white hair, but he was missing both legs, from diabetes as I later discovered.  His long fingers looked strong, but they trembled from Parkinson's disease.

When we finished our songs, I made myself speak to him.

"Nice to meet you, young lady."  His gruff voice did not match his smile.  "I hope you'll come back."

I did go back.  Mr. Dickey soon discovered I knew how to type and asked me to come to his room.  I hadn't been inside nursing homes before.  The odor of disinfectant trying to disguise even less pleasant odors made my stomach queasy.

Unlike most of the residents, Mr. Dickey had a private room.  His walls were covered with photographs of his children and grandchildren, pictures they'd drawn, and one small piece of white cardboard with neatly printed letters:

Mortal I know I am, short lived;
And yet, whenever
I watch the multitude of swirling stars
then I no longer tread this earth,
but rise to feast with God,
And enjoy the food of the immortals.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Did you ever hear a dead rooster crow?
Did you ever see a live rooster that didn't crow?
When equated to the human specie these facts mean
When a man quits bragging, people lose interest in him.

Mr. Dickey turned out to be a writer; these were just two of his poems.  He was working on two novels, he said.  One described his days in the Marine Corps just after World War I, and the other was a romance about two teenagers.  A clean one, he assured me.  He showed me his yellow legal pads with pages and pages of his shaky script.  Because of the Parkinson's, he had to put the pen in one hand and hold it with the other to at least partially steady it.

"No one can read my writing," he said mournfully.  "Can you?"

I worked part-time for a radiologist.  Mr. Dickey's handwriting was no problem for me to read.

"Could you type my stories?  I'll pay you."  He no longer seemed big and gruff.  He reminded me of a small, hopeful child.

Every Friday afternoon for two years I went to his room and typed on his electric typewriter, using messy carbon paper to make an extra copy of his manuscripts.  Through his writing I learned what a noble and generous person I'd met.  At first the arrangement was for our mutual benefit--very quickly we became friends, too.

Mr. Dickey dreamed of publishing his books, but unfortunately he died before that could happen.  He will never know how much I learned from his sense of humor and his example of perseverance.  He taught me the power of hope.

I wish I'd thought to thank him, but I didn't know until it was too late that we shared the same writing dream.

So, Mr. Dickey, this crow's for you!

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