Six men were sitting at the table in the Day Room, as they call it, at the Whitehall Rest Home. They were playing poker and they had a newcomer in their midst. It was Bill, a retired farmer, 73, who was the youngest in the group and the target of needling by the other men, all of whom were natives of the big city surrounding the fancy home. Bill was a stranger in their midst and he really didn’t fit in. But there was nothing they could do about it. So they needled him.
Whitehall had all the amenities one could ask for and Bill had had a hard time getting used to it. He had lived frugally all his life on a farm both before and after his wife, Nancy, had died. He still missed her, especially her chicken and dumplings and her carrot cake dessert.
Bill was brought to Whitehall by his children when he couldn’t handle the farm anymore. His children all had good jobs and nice families in the city and they were too busy to take care of him. They felt Whitehall would be right for Bill so they chipped in every month to pay for his room and board. It was quite a sum but they gladly paid it. He had been a good father and tried his best despite difficult circumstances. A small farm is not usually a place a man can make a lot of money.
None of Bill's children had an interest in the farm. All of them had found a way to graduate from college with scholarships, loans and part-time work. Occasionally Bill would sell a cow and chip in if some extraordinary expense arose.
Following graduation, the children came, one by one, to the city and settled down. At last count they had combined to make Bill a grandfather 15 times. He remembered all of his grandchildren’s names and hoped some day he would have more names to remember.
Although Bill was an oddity at Whitehall, being a farmer and all, he found living there was better than living with one of his children. Given the choice, however, he’d prefer to have been back on his farm but he knew he was too old to manage the property, never mind cook and take care of himself. So he sold his cows and chickens, the house and his 40 acres, and made the trek to the big city.
He lived for awhile with one of his sons and his family but it simply didn’t work out. He felt he was in the way. Bill was a farmer through and through and his son was now an urbanite, busy with work and had a family to raise. So the Whitehall Rest Home turned out to be the next best place for Bill to be if he could no longer be a farmer.
At the card game that day, however, the other players were really giving Bill the business about coming from a farm. And Bill, as usual, accepted the kidding with good humor. He always got along with his cows and chickens. And he did his best to get along with the people at Whitehall. He felt that even if these men had worked in offices all their lives, they were in a way quite a bit like livestock. Just a higher grade. Handle them carefully and they shouldn’t be too much trouble. Usually that was true.
The card players really enjoyed kidding Bill about the outhouse that was still on the property when he sold it. There had been no indoor plumbing when Bill had been reared on the same farm and the outhouse was part of his growing up. He answered all the men's questions about going to the bathroom in the middle of winter but the men found the whole idea to be a hardship they could not have put up with. They wondered how Bill put up with it for so long before having a toilet installed in the house, something he did when he married Nancy and she had the first of their eight children.
Finally, while waiting for another man to play his cards, Bill told the men that while having a toilet in the house was convenient, it had been expensive to install and maintain. He said not once did he or his father or his grandfather, all of whom had grown up on the farm, ever have to call a plumber to fix the outhouse. He said the family, over the years, saved quite a bit of money that way. But he wanted his children to grow up with indoor plumbing so he took the necessary steps. He sold two cows and that paid for the toilet, shower and bathtub. His wife was very happy, although she herself had grown up on another farm down the road with a bigger outhouse.
The other men started to laugh again but then quieted down and concentrated on their cards. They were intelligent men, after all, who realized they had just heard one man’s truth and although it was far different from their own, they had to respect Bill for his. After that, Bill had no trouble fitting in at the card table for the last three years of his life. Those years passed quickly and Bill was a pretty good card player at the end.
When Bill died, the other five men left his seat at the table empty for a long time. Then a new fellow moved in. Like Bill, he suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. But he was from the city so the card players couldn’t ask him to enlighten them about life on a farm or some other place foreign to them. The new man was a nice fellow but they wished he had a drawl like Bill's.
Bill’s tales about life on a farm with an outhouse seemed to make the end of life getting closer and closer a little easier for the men to live with. His drawl had been a big help as well.
The card players realized that some day only one of them would be left at the table playing cards with the new fellows who would move in. It would be easier, they agreed, if one of the new fellows had lived on a farm and had wonderful tales to tell.