In the mid-1980’s, a couple years removed from drug rehab myself, I secured an opportunity to be a treatment aide on the drug rehab floor that I had got sober on. Talbot Hall, Saint Anthony’s Hospital, 1986.
My role was to help supervise teenage alcoholic and drug addicts trying to get sober in a rehab facility that housed up to thirty minors. I was given the opportunity take their vitals in the morning, participate in their group therapy sessions, and pack them up in vans for AA meetings around the city of Columbus. It was glorious. It was the kind of things that I had been blessed with a few years prior and I was grateful to be able to give it back to others.
One of the beauties of that opportunity was the team I worked with. At any given time on a shift, there were two treatment aids and two nurses. I worked the second shift. The treatment aide that I worked with regularly was a former East High School and Florida A&M college basketball player named Bob Martin.
Fun Fact: Bob is written about in Wil Haygood’s book Tigerland. A beautiful, historical review of East Columbus in the 60’s when East High School won the state basketball and baseball championships in the year that MLK was murdered.
The nurses were Sister Wilma Ross and Bunny McCord. Wilma, Bunny, Bob, and Kenny. That was our team. If you know what it is like to work in the mental health profession (especially in a facility of semi long-term rehabilitation) you know the team you work with is family. But, I guess most jobs are like that. I have a Talbot Hall family, a record store family, a church family, and a Roosevelt family.
At the treatment facility, the kids had final lights out between nine and ten. This is when the fun began for our staff. Five nights a week, Sister Wilma, Bunny, Bob and I played spades together. And as you might know if you play cards with a regular card partner, it is bonding. Bunny and Sister Wilma were regular spades partners. Bob and I were regular spades partners. We knew each other’s tendencies like the back of our hand. He knew when I was holding so he could go alone with a crappy hand. He was the king of bluffing and swag before it was a word.
In those card games we were able to let the air out of the tension accumulated during the day. Kids were withdrawing, kids were being admitted without understanding what was happening, kids were feisty. Each day was an exercise of staying on your toes and keeping the madness therapeutic. Our therapy was a game of spades. Sister Wilma and Bunny were a joy to compete with each night. We built lifelong friendships. We laughed a lot. The thing that’s fascinating to me is I was there about a year. One year. But, those people are lifelong friends of mine.
Bob Martin is a special story. A few years prior, when I was arrested and taken to that rehab center, Bob was on staff. A long story here, but let’s just say I was supposed to spend 33 days in the treatment center (5 detox, 28 treatment). I spent forty. Thirty days into the treatment stay, on Thanksgiving break, somebody snuck LSD into the treatment center. Me and several others did that LSD. It’s a story for another time, but that was not a fun day. As much as an alcoholic or drug addict might crave the fix; doing that in the confines of a treatment facility that is trying to help you get your life straight is not rewarding. The worst part about that day was that we went to an AA meeting.
The man that influenced me the most influenced in the treatment facility was one of the chaperones that night. Bob Martin. I remember sitting in that AA meeting stoned out of my mind and thinking of how offensive it was to have done this. It was a spit in the face of the trust and the love Bob had offered me the past month. Blessedly enough, the last time I did drugs or alcohol was in that treatment facility that day. November 30, 1982. So, when I say there is a great affinity for my spades partner when I worked on staff and that partner was Bob Martin, it goes deep.
What About Now
Recently I got to thinking about them and I reached out to all of them. I was 20 to 30 years their junior and to be honest I wasn’t even sure if Bunny and Sister Wilma were still living. I googled Sister Wilma, and I came up with what is linked here, an article written in 2019 about her life. I saw that the article was published by the convent that she moved to years ago. I called the number at the top of the webpage and somebody immediately answered the phone. I asked if Sister Wilma Ross was still in residency there. The receptionist said she was and to hold on and she would connect me to her.
I googled an article at 8 AM. I read the article, and called the number at 8:15 AM. By 8:16 AM I was on the phone with the lovely Sister Wilma.
Just as bubbly and beautiful as I remember her. 86 years young. She immediately reminisced the same things I just wrote about. How much fun it was to play cards, laugh, and be of service. She told me she prays every day for all of us, including every kid that came through that facility almost four decades ago.
As some of you who might be reading this know, I opened The Roosevelt Coffeehouse in 2015. The landlords have a Bible study in the back on Wednesdays. In 2018 I was in the front of the shop and I saw a really tall, handsome, older, black man in the Bible study. I went back and sure enough it was Bob Martin. A man I hadn’t seen in two or three decades. He was as handsome as beautiful as I remembered him. And like I said the bond of a spades partner never goes away. Catching up was easy. The hug was easy. Love permeated our time talking. Again, recently, I called him the same day I called Sister Wilma. He is in seventies now, pastoring a church, and told me he loves to teach the word of God. I’m grateful for this man and his calm, sweet demeanor that showed me what humble and cool looks like partnered together.
Because Sister Wilma said Bunny was in a nursing facility or a Catholic home of some kind on the east side of Columbus, I went googling. After several numbers I came across did not work, I tried another one and as it dialed it showed up in my contacts. Her number had never changed! Bunny is 88 years old. She sounded like she was ready to run around the block right now. She has glaucoma and is virtually blind at this juncture of her life. She coincidentally lives in the Catholic retreat center that I was required to attend for a day when I got hired to work on the staff at Talbot Hall in 1986. You tell me there is no God and I will tell you you are incorrect. As a friend of mine used to say, “that’s not odd, that’s God”.
It took a minute for Bunny to register who I was because she misheard my name as Steve. But once she realized who I was her memories came flooding back. She was tiny and drove this crazy big station wagon. She went on to remind me that she had seven kids and with her and her husband all nine would fit in that old Pontiac station wagon. Bunny moved like the energizer bunny. Bunny had a V-8 in that old station wagon and I remember how fast she drove on the way home as I followed her as part of my drive home. She reminded me of a time when a couple of us had some fun with her on the way home and blocked her on the freeway so she couldn’t take off. She pushed through us anyway because her car was so stinking fast with that big old engine. Bunny remained a nurse in the alcoholic unit at OSU East until she was 76 years old. As I close and think through this example of servanthood in every one of these individuals I am grateful for what they taught me.
It All Means Something
Remind yourself, people will come and go, but some people will remain forever. Even if they were not around very long. Don’t underestimate the value of every relationship you create. What I appreciate most about this reflection is to think about how I am better when I surround myself with better people.
What I appreciate most about this reflection is to think about how I am better when I surround myself with better people.
I am humbled as I reflect on the lives of these three people. Every part of their life is a testimony of service to others. A nun, a pastor, a lifelong nurse; may my servanthood reflect a sliver of theirs.
Beautiful Kenny! Thanks for sharing something insightful and positive! Know you are continuing to inspire others and more importantly you are loving and laughing with others. While making them feel seen and heard. What a gift!