Nursing home visitor spreads special magic

December 13, 1992|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

FREDERICK -- Charley Anders bounds into Jim Eby's room at the Citizens Nursing Home of Frederick County and finds Mr. Eby lying in bed, looking ashen and not a bit good.

But within minutes Mr. Anders has his old friend Mr. Eby sitting up, laughing and telling stories about when he used to go trout fishing and catch more than his limit and drop the extras down his waders so the warden wouldn't notice.

That's the magic of Mr. Anders. He's a whirlwind of goodwill who, at age 85, swirls into nursing homes and visits as many as 200 residents a day, almost always leaving them cheerier.

"I'm one of these guys who likes to talk to people," Mr. Anders says. "People are my hobby.

"I used to go shopping with my wife, and I'd get talking to someone. She'd be waiting for me and finally she'd say: 'You know, Dad, you're nothing but an old gasbag.' "

Mr. Anders is a hard-working, big-hearted, small-town fellow. He grew up in a log house outside Thurmont and now lives in Thurmont proper, about 12 miles north of Frederick.

After raising goldfish 51 years for Hunting Creek Fisheries -- never once taking a vacation, -- he retired in 1973. Four years later he spent 31 days in the Frederick hospital for surgery and treatment of bladder cancer.

"You can think a lot of thoughts when you lay in bed for 31 days," Mr. Anders says.

"People came in to see me, some of them I didn't even know. But I was glad to see them. And I said if I ever get out of here, I'm going to do the same thing."

After regaining his strength he returned to visit nurses and patients. Then he started visiting people he knew in nursing homes.

"But when you get in there you always see someone else you want to talk to," Mr. Anders says.

So he began visiting people he didn't know, and soon he was visiting as many as six Frederick nursing homes a day, usually once a week, sometimes more.

He persuaded the women who play bingo at the Thurmont senior center to bake cookies so he could give them away. At Christmastime, he collects gifts -- about 350 last year -- for his nursing home residents.

He also plays Santa Claus at Thurmont's two popular family restaurants, the Cozy and the Mountain Gate. Instead of getting paid, he asks the owners to con

tribute gifts that he gives away.

But it's not the gifts that cheer the residents. It is Mr. Anders' special way of relating to people who are bedridden or in wheelchairs.

"I've learned over the years if you ask them how they're feeling, or tell them it's really cold out there today, you might get one word out of them," he says.

"But you say something like: 'Now when you were young, I'll bet you had a boyfriend, and I'll bet he came to pick you up in a horse and buggy.' You ask them the right kind of question, and it peps them up."

Mr. Eby doesn't look good when Mr. Anders, who has known him since World War I, pops in.

Asked his age, he says: "I'll be 83 in March -- if I live that long."

But Mr. Anders gets the blood pumping through Mr. Eby's arteries again.

The two men tell fish stories and get talking about their wives; Mr. Eby's died in 1985 after 54 years of marriage; Mr. Anders' in 1989 after 59 years.

They're remembering how they met their wives. Mr. Eby gets the prize because on his first date, he says, he kissed his future wife. Mr. Anders' face lights up: A kiss on the first date?

"That started it," Mr. Eby says. "We were hooked, from that day on."

Finally, Mr. Anders says he's got to go.

"Now, Jim," he says sternly, "I'll probably see you tomorrow. When I do, I want to see you in your wheelchair out in the hall."

Mr. Eby says he'll try. But tomorrow is never guaranteed, especially in nursing homes.

Mr. Anders says he can't count the number of people he's visited in the past 14 years who have died.

"I come in and see a bed all made up, and I ask: Where's Mrs. and-so? And they tell me: She passed away last night.

"You feel sad. And you miss them, because you get attached to these people. They're some of the loveliest people in the world.

"But I know the next time I come in I'm going to find another patient in that room. And that's somebody new I can talk to."

Mr. Anders says that he knows he's going to die sometime, too. But he doesn't worry about that, he says.

He's a church-going Christian, who has performed good works enough for a lifetime. But there's still life left in Charley Anders.

"That old rocking chair might be there waiting for me," he says. "But I want to keep going. Yes, indeedy."

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