The Railroad Patient

My grandfather George moved to Finley in 1939 to farm. He tried to volunteer for WW2, but was told he was being assigned to work the railroad. This seemed like a stroke of luck to me. For him it held sadness and a missed opportunity for service and adventure.

I grew up on the family farm and my mother and sister still live there. My father was out of the picture since I was a toddler. If not for my grandparents I don’t know what would have become of us. They gave us a home, meals cooked from scratch and an example of what it’s like to stay together through your struggles.

In April 2003 we celebrated George’s 90th birthday. He was an active adventurous character and still walked 2 miles a day. We took him out for Mexican food because he still liked spicy food. By the next day we were all showing signs of food poisoning. Only those wise enough to avoid the bean dip escaped. I would normally complain about the eatery, but their bad bean dip tipped us off to something worse. We all got better and George stayed sick. After several doctor visits the bad news came in the form of stomach cancer. It was too large and they decided George could not handle surgery or Chemo. He was going to die.
My mom and sister worked full time and George started to need more help. Hospice stopped by frequently, but he needed a caregiver. He had always taken care of me. I moved home at the beginning of October and watched him shrink from healthy and fit to a rail frame.

His Hospice nurse Alice would sit with us once a day and he would talk about life on the railroad or back home in the Black Hills. Communication started to slow and he started slipping out of consciousness frequently. One day Alice came by and she was emotional and anxious. Her new patient was a similar aged man in Eltopia. He told Alice stories about working on the railroad. When he started work he could not afford a coat. They were putting in rail lines outside of Connell in the middle of winter. He told her a very nice man named Mr. Milligan collected coats and gave them to the workers. It made all the difference in keeping his job and surviving the winter. The only thing he wished he could do before he died was thank Mr. Milligan. Alice knew who Mr. Milligan was right away, but couldn’t say anything due to medical privacy.

She came over to get permission and George was slipping in and out of consciousness. He finally woke and she asked him if he gave coats to workers near Connell during the war. He did. She was able to thank him and tell the man in Eltopia.

At George’s service I retold this story. Alice was there in the back of the room weeping.



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Patricia Thackham Roberts

Patricia Roberts

Trish grew up in Finley and now lives in Spokane. She works in corporate America but teaches painting classes on the side. In her free time she writes quirky stories about her life, bikes great distances and takes road trips to odd little towns. She is fascinated with post-apocalyptic fiction and attributes this to growing up in the Tri-Cities.

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  • Shenoa Lawrence

    What an amazing story! Thanks for sharing it.