Doug Curlee | Editor at Large
Walking into a room of senior citizens has always triggered the same reaction for me.
I can’t help but wonder what stories might be behind those eyes — what life-changing events they have known that might have changed their lives, for better or worse.
The people who run Sunshine Retirement Communities thought much the same thing, which is why the company has started a program called “These Eyes Have Seen,” in an effort to capture and document those stories at the 21 facilities it runs in 10 states.
Sunrise Retirements CEO Luis Serrano decided to start compiling those stories for the company’s website and a Facebook page, both called These Eyes Have Seen.
As a child, and then a young man in Mississippi, Bill Goggin was a scholar who ended up being recognized by the city, the state, and ultimately as a Presidential Scholar — he wound up at Harvard College.
The Jan. 31 stop at Waterford Terrace Retirement Community in La Mesa yielded some rich material for the project.
“I never expected any of that,” Goggin said. “But I’m really glad it all happened.”
George Howell said he escaped death three times in his youth. First, a nearly fatal childhood battle with malaria, and then two incidents as a young sailor stationed in Washington, D.C.
“I almost got shot by a police officer for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a buddy and I almost got killed riding in a car driven by a driver we didn’t realize was blind drunk when he picked us up hitchhiking. He ended up rolling the car three times.”
Joann Livingston’s family homesteaded near Yuma, Arizona, and started growing things that weren’t normally grown in the desert — and wound up doing it so well the family was invited to Egypt by then-president Anwar Sadat, to show Egyptians how to do it.
The list includes Richard Lederer, a prolific author and longtime language columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, whose columns on language and the proper use of it made me a better writer over the years.
But possibly the most life-changing story — one that was all too common in the late 1950s and early 1960s — happened to Dr. David Eiser.
He was a young kid who was looking forward to his father renting a house at the seashore in New Jersey.
The family went to the rental office to sign the papers and pay the rent. When the rental agent asked them to fill out the formal application forms, Eiser’s father scratched out the word “church” from the question about where the family attended services, and substituted the word “synagogue.”
The rental agent saw that, and told the family he needed to go to the other office and make sure the house was ready for occupancy.
A few minutes later, he came back and apologized, saying, “I’m so sorry, that house has already been rented, and I didn’t know that. We don’t have another house open right now.”
The family left, and as they got into their car, David’s mother asked him if he knew what had happened there.
David said, “Well, they rented to someone else — it’s no big deal.” His mom said, “No, David that’s not what happened. What happened is that they won’t rent to Jews.”
It was a life lesson David Eiser never forgot.
Things like that make you realize that there are stories everyone should hear and learn from.
Things our seniors could teach us all, if only we listen.
That’s what These Eyes Have Seen is all about, obtaining and conserving the stories — good and bad — that life experiences can teach us.
If only we have eyes and ears to learn.
Which stories make the Sunshine Retirement Communities website will be determined by the company’s home office in Bend, Oregon, and the results won’t be known for several weeks yet.
But it’ll be worth looking at when it happens.
—Doug Curlee is Editor at Large. Reach him at email@example.com.