Bill is asleep in his twin sized bed, covered in a thin light blue blanket. When I flipped on the light it startled him. He peeked above the blanket. His hair is pure white and messy. He remembered my face and the tall brown boots I was wearing. He asked about them. He asked about them three more times before I left. The 75 year old, Schenectady, New York, native has been in the Albany County Nursing home for four years and can’t understand why.
Born to Sally “Sadie” Dixon on September 14, 1933 at the Belleview Hospital in Schenectady, Bill has seen his mother married to four different men, three of which walked out on him and his mom, he was sent to Burke, New York, to work on his aunt and uncles farm, joined the army, and has been married four times himself. He can only recall two of his wives names.
The memory of growing up in Schenectady during General Electrics booming years evades his memory. To him Schenectady was “just busy.” Bill went to junior high school at Van Corlear and then onto Mount Pleasant high school. He was a self-proclaimed average student, his favorite subject was the arts, he didn’t play sports, and his best friend was an Italian boy named Tony. Once he mentions Tony’s name, he remembers they use to play baseball. Tony was better then him.
His Aunt Katherine and Uncle Lawrence took him into their home for a few years. Burke, New York was only miles from Canada. On clear days, Bill remembers walking out onto the porch and seeing the St. Lawrence river. His smile tells me he misses those days. Bill remembers their farm. It was large and beautiful, there were a lot of cattle, and he spent his days working. His smile vanished.
“Uncle L worked my ass off!” said Bill.
Once Sally married her fourth husband, Raymond C. Smith, Bill moved back home. This is the only husband Bill liked. The family moved into a brown and white two story house on 5th Street in Schenectady. It was only a two bedroom house. Sally had one room and Raymond had the other.
“They had separate rooms because mom was starting to get fat,” said Bill, “They couldn’t fit in the same bed. I had my own room in the basement.”
After a few years Bill went back up to Burke, New York and attended the Adirondack School of Commerce. He graduated from their one year business program and then moved back to Schenectady. When he got home, the Korean War had just started. Instead of being drafted, Bill volunteered for a two year commitment with the Army. He was put on a bus and wound up in Fort Dix, New Jersey. He was processed in and then sent across the country to Fort Ord, California. When he starts talking about California, he sits up from his bed. He’s wearing a green sweater and a nametag around his neck. This tag allows him a little more freedom then the other decaying residents.
“I loved the west coast,” said Bill, “The oceans, the weather, San Francisco. The east coast stinks.”
Bill boarded a ship and left California. He spent the next year and a half at a base outside of Frankfurt, Germany. Since he learned to type at the Adirondack School of Commerce, the Army put him in personnel. His job was easy and he was good at it. He traveled to England, Switzerland, Finland, and Scotland. Scotland was his favorite because that’s where his mother was from.
He came back to Schenectady and met his first wife Pat. They had three boys; Jeff, Tim, and Freddy. They moved around from Peabody, and Boston Massachusetts then eventually back to New York. Pat filed for divorce and Bill can’t remember why.
Bill stops the interview.
“I don’t want to do this anymore,” said Bill, “it’s bringing back bad memories.”
He lays back down in his bed and closes his eyes. He tells me he is tired. His room is adorned with four American flags, a lighthouse calendar, a dream catcher, three certificates of recognition, family photos, a valentines day gift from his wife, and a nursing home event calendar. I asked him if he’s going to go to bingo tonight. No response. He was asleep.
There are seven packs of gummy bears on his shelve. He used to love gummy bears. Whenever he went to the store, he would always buy them. He woke up when I opened up a bag. He told me to take them home with me. I don’t think he likes gummy bears anymore.
At the end of his bed there is a brown recliner chair and next to it is a Vanity Fair magazine. Bill bookmarked a page with a dirty napkin. I opened up to the page and it’s a Versace advertisement. The model is tan, wearing a short beige dress, and heels. I put the napkin back in place and put the magazine on the floor. He fell back asleep.
I woke him up and told him I was going to leave. Bill didn’t lift his head off the pillow but he smiled at me. I asked him if he knew why he was at the nursing home.
“No. Why?” asked Bill.
“Do you know what Alzheimer’s is?” I responded.
“No. What is it?”
“It’s a disease that deteriorates your memory.”
“That’s what they say I have?”
“Well, that’s probably true…What memory?”
Bill and I both laughed. He’s always had the same sense of humor. I leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“What day is it?” asked Bill.
“Saturday,” I said.
“Shut off the light.”