Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

January 26, 2003


A second intimate glimpse into the private life of an old war horse


          Warm responses from two old friends have encouraged me to offer this second installment of an intimate look at my private life in retirement.

            A little encouragement goes a long way with me. Back when I served as a pastor, I would gladly sing a solo if only one person requested it. I always sensed that dozens of other people felt the same way, so I had a clear mandate to sing.          

          The way I figure it, God gave us an imagination so we could use it. I use mine a lot to put a positive twist on life. So, when two people offer me encouragement, I imagine that 50 others thought about doing it, but like me, they are so old that the aches and pains of daily living quickly overrun their good intentions.

            Actually, I have not done much singing lately. In church, I just listened and reflected on the meaning of the songs. My wife kept insisting that I “mouth” the words so it would not appear that I was refusing to sing. I refused. There is too much pretense in the church already. I don’t want to add to the load.

            I love to sing the good old songs of Zion, but during much of November and December, I struggled with what the doctor called URI, upper respiratory infection.

Everybody else calls it “the crud.”

            “Crud” is a good word for this illness. When you have it, or it has you, people think you are “crude” because of all the uncontrollable coughing, spitting, and sputtering that makes your friends wish you had stayed in bed.

            My druggist was happy. He sold me four hundred dollars worth of antibiotics. When I gave him the order for my third round, he smiled and said, “Maybe this will do the trick.” I was sure my hope was greater than his was.

            Every Christmas for many years, I have been privileged to sing one of my favorite songs in church, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” But this Christmas no invitation to sing it came, and it was just as well, since I could not have sung it anyway.

            Still, not being able to sing “my song” saddened me. What had become an enjoyable tradition for me had ended. I comforted myself by remembering that all good things end eventually.

             My eyes filled with tears, though, when I thought about the hundreds of dear souls in Opelika who would have to endure Christmas without hearing me sing. What crushing disappointments people have to bear!

            My spirit was lifted only when I remembered the old adage, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.” I realized then that my old friends would survive. God is good.

            What took the place of singing for me during Christmas was gurgling. My wife joined me in a duet of gurgling. Every night, when most people were sleeping, we were gurgling. We got so good at it that we thought about auditioning for the Grand Ole Opry.

            It took us an hour to prepare for bed. As helpful as antibiotics are, they are not enough to beat the crud.

            We learned a long time ago that nothing helps breathing as much as Vicks VapoRub does. No other little seven-dollar blue jar offers as much: “Cough suppressant, nasal decongestant, and topical analgesic.” We rubbed that greasy stuff on our throats and chests, adding a smidgen under our noses.

            Next, we popped a cough drop in our mouths. We know that everybody says cough drops do no good, that they are a waste of money. But we like them.

            So we buy them by the barrel. They are cheaper when you buy them by the thousand. You get 47 per cent more “free” when you purchase a thousand and that is a good two weeks’ supply for us.

            The inexpensive brands work as well as any. We prefer “Medic,” with the menthol eucalyptus flavor. My friend Earl Ballard is an addict too. He likes another brand so much he recommends it to his friends. I tried his brand but to me it tastes like motor oil, so I went back to Medics.

            The final touch before crawling under the covers is to apply a nasal strip across the bridge of my nose. With a nose like mine, only the large strips will work. We prefer the clear “Breathe Right” strips.

            Adorned and beautified with VapoRub, cough drops, nasal strips, and even a squirt of nose spray sometimes, we are a remarkable sight. We don’t mind our strange appearance since the stuff seems to help us. We do hate that the use of it cuts down on the hugging and kissing that we have become accustomed to after sleeping together for half a century.

            Back to the gurgling. This takes place after we relax and begin to suck on those cough drops. Soon the silence is rudely interrupted by an ungodly combination of snoring and gurgling.

            Once that begins, if you are still awake, your chances of falling asleep are slim to none. The cough drop makes a rattling sound, much like the steel ball rattling around in a pinball machine.

            If you are already asleep, and the gurgling sound awakens you, your first thought is always the same, “My God, what is that?”

            One night when we were awake and doing the gurgling duet together, I almost killed Dean. I did not mean to. I simply said aloud, “No one ever told us getting old would be like this.” I felt Dean moving slightly but she made no response.

            The next morning she said, “You are going to kill me one of these nights. I knew last night that if I started laughing, I would choke to death. I nearly died trying to keep from laughing.”

            The remedy, of course, is ear plugs. Dean needs them more than I do for two reasons. One, my gurgling and snoring is louder than hers, and two, I am losing my hearing in my right ear. If I put my good ear on the pillow, I can hardly hear thunder.

            If you are not old yet, you may not realize how much you lose, as you get older. Old folks understand what I mean. Losing is a way of life for seniors.

            My loss is on my right side for some reason. My right knee hurts constantly, so I limp around like Walter Brennan in those old movies.

            My right thumb hurts worse than my left thumb. My right eye is getting weaker, and my right ear is failing me. I am beginning to think I must not be living right.

            So far, I have not lost my enthusiasm. I guess that will be the last thing I lose before I check out on that journey beyond.

            Until then, I offer this free advice to the younger generation: Laugh a lot; life is short. Enjoy it while you can.  The gurgling will begin sooner than you think. + + +