5/07/2008

Mr. Mullane: His Story








"Everyone has a story to tell. Regardless if it’s some CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a homeless man in the street. Everyone has the story of his or her life to share with the world...if only the world would listen.”

That was a common refrain from my mother. I didn’t pay much attention to her when she said it or even try to figure out what it meant. As I grow older, I realize just how profound that statement truly is to me. It’s true. There are stories to be told by everyone in every facet of life. Some are not so pleasant. Others are profiles in courage. I’m going to share one of those stories that I have gained knowledge of over the years. I became enriched with the knowledge of this man upon hearing the story of his life. I’ll share others in the future.

In 2002, when I was still attending church, every Wednesday morning a group of us would get together to go to nursing homes and try to bring some joy in residents lives. It was not an easy task. It was something I did not look forward to for a number of reasons. The main reason is just the sheer magnitude of sadness that you saw in nursing homes. People left to wait on death because their children can no longer care for them. In some cases, they just want to be rid of them. To those people, I say, your day is coming.

There was one man in a wheelchair, at this one particular nursing home we visited quite often, who would not join in with the singing and games. He kept pretty much to himself. After we celebrated the 87th birthday of one particular resident, I brought some cake over to this gentleman in the wheelchair. I introduced myself and offered him the slice of cake. You would have thought I had offered him all the gold at Ft. Knox by his reaction. I was dumbfounded as to why he was parked away from everyone and stuck to himself. He told me “this place is for old people. I don’t know why my son put me here.” I was momentarily taken aback. But, his big grin told me this man was a quick study. Mr. Mullane, as he had introduced himself, said he just didn’t find much in common with any of the residents at the home. He just preferred staying to himself and collecting his thoughts. He carried on a little small talk and eventually Mr. Mullane got to telling me about himself.

Mr. Mullane was a WWII vet who was among the first troops to arrive at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. He said what he witnessed there gave him nightmares even to the present day of his life in the nursing home. Mr. Mullane said the scarecrows that actually walked that day, still walked in his nightmares decades later. The gas ovens, the stench of an unholy death throughout the camp brought him to the point of madness. In fact, the three years he fought in Europe and the horrors he witnessed, put him in a VA hospital for two years after the war was over. He had a good, patient and loving family that saw him through the tough times after the war was finally over.

After leaving the VA hospital, Mr. Mullane got a job with the U.S. Post Office in Carollton, MO where he worked from 1947 to his retirement party celebrating 50 years of employment with the post office in 1997. Mr. Mullane endured great hardships along the way in his life. He lost his oldest son to polio back in 1953. A house that he and his best friend had built with their own blood, sweat and tears burned to the ground seven years later in 1960. He and his family lost everything they had in the fire. His wife suffered from “forgetfulness” (a pause here…I’m just assuming Mrs. Mullane had Alzheimer's based on all that he told me). She eventually died from her “forgetfulness” in 1974. Mr. Mullane never remarried, although his surviving son and daughter encouraged him to. But, he said the love of his life was gone forever. There could never be anyone else for him.

He spent the remainder of his active years making sure his son and daughter got a college education. Both wanted him to live with one or the other. But, he would not hear of it. Mr. Mullane felt like he would be intruding on his children’s lives. He had insisted on living the remainder of his life in the home, far away from his daughter in Los Angeles, CA. His son still lived in Alabama. But, his son’s job had relocated him to Birmingham. He refused to leave to go up there. He said he liked it here on the gulf, even the hurricanes (I was hoping he was joking about that).

Mr. Mullane passed away at the ripe old age of 88 the day after Christmas last year. I went back every week after he related this story to me to see him and just talk (once a month in 2004), even after I stopped attending that particular church. He was a wonderful man and lived a life of hardships and sacrifice. Somehow, he persevered through it all. He was just one story in this journey we call life.

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