I remember ‘Radio Bob’, as we lovingly nicknamed him, walking Route 272 in Willow Street all day long. He carried with him his trusty battery powered radio, listening to the weather, and happily gave anyone who would listen the weather report. Whenever I went grocery shopping with my mom every Thursday evening at Weis Markets in Kendig Square, we would see him walking.
As I grew up, I occassionally passed him walking along the busy highway while I whizzed by in my car. I never failed to smile when I saw him. My mom and I always wondered how he managed to not get hit along the thoroughfare, but he never did.
The other week, on my way to visit my boy, I saw him. But this time, it was in Mountville. It threw me off for a minute, but there was ‘Radio Bob’, walking along a Mountville sidewalk with radio in hand. Tears sprung to my eyes as I realized that he must have been moved from his group home in Willow Street. I began to wonder what happened, and if he was even happy here in Mountville after all those years in Willow Street.
Last night I got to find out.
I went out to dinner with my boy at George’s Restaurant in Mountville. The waitress sat us down in the second to last booth against the wall. I looked up, and there he was. ‘Radio Bob’ was chowing on some spaghetti and he looked up at me and said “HELLO!” The entire night I don’t believe he remembered me, but I had never forgotten him. Even after all those years, I remembered his real name, and the three of us struck up a conversation throughout our dinner in separate booths.
Towards the end of our meals, he told us that his group home had been closed in Willow Street for sanitation issues, but that his sister in law had found him a new home here in Mountville. He admitted that he missed the people of Willow Street. A lady who worked at the Willow Street Citgo used to pick him up and take him to the Willow Street restaurant, and I can remember countless others who would check in on him to make sure all was well.
He shared with us that he had gotten to go to a Reading Phillies game and ate hotdogs with the others at his group home, and that while the Turkey Hill was a bit far to walk, he did enjoy it here. It was different, but it worked. He told us he ate here about once a week for his treat out.
We all discussed our mutual love for Chicken and Waffles, and we quickly harassed the staff to put it back on the specials menu. It was agreed that we would meet back there for a special Chicken and Waffles dinner when George’s came through for us.
‘Radio Bob’ was getting ready to pick up his tab, but I stopped him and told him we would take care of it this time. I could tell he was doing the math in his head, wondering if he had enough. What I didn’t realize was that he was trying to decide if he had enough money for ice cream. The waitress came over, and I told her to put his bill, and his ice cream, on our tab. She wasn’t quite certain if they had chocolate syrup, but she said she would check. A few minutes later, she arrived with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, topped with chocolate syrup and whipped cream. His face lit up. My boy and I smiled knowingly at each other, happy that he was content in his new hometown, and knowing he would get a special treat this week because he didn’t have to spend his money on tonight’s dinner.
Right now, thanks for a great recommendation from Aaron’s Books, I am reading ‘The Soloist’ by Steve Lopez. A recent movie came out featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Jaime Fox which is based on Lopez’ book, a true story. The basic premise of the story is about a schizophrenic musician whose dream was ruined by his mental illness, and how Lopez comes to help him and try and re-create his lost dreams. When I ran into ‘Radio Bob’ last night, I couldn’t help but think, wow, what amazing timing.
My heart has been so opened to the destructive capacities of the mental health system, and how it has failed many, but also how many have been helped through expanded services. I could see that ‘Radio Bob’ had been failed by it in Willow Street, but thankfully he was in a new, safe place where he could get proper care in Mountville. When I was in high school, I volunteered with our special education classroom, and I also took a missions trip to Camp Echoing Hills in Ohio to help with an adult handicapped camp for a week. My home church had Friendship Community residents attend our services every week, and between all those experiences, my eyes were opened to mental illness.
I believe in divine timing, not coincidence. I have always felt that God puts things, people, and circumstances in our path at a certain time, for a specific reason and purpose. I just happen to be reading, and to be inspired by this passionate book about mental illness, and then I run into an old acquiantence who lives with it everyday. Timing, what for?
As a widow though, divine timing has been one of the most difficult things to embrace. The why and understanding of what happened. Why did it have to happen when we were so young, when we had only been married one and a half years? There is divine timing in that, somewhere. Just like last night, and many times before, I have seen life come together in a beautiful synchronization, often not knowing the purpose, yet I still believe.
I’m looking forward to chicken and waffles soon with our friend, and the divine timing that has made that happen.