Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Out & About • Patrick Lacombe | Happy times

I’d like to tell you a story about one of the happiest times in my life. It was a time when I learned a lot about elderly and handicapped folks. The term “physically challenged” was not around yet, so I hope not to offend anybody.
After leaving the Army, I didn’t know what career path I wanted to pursue. I moved to Lafayette, La., to search for a job. I picked up the local paper and saw an ad for a new apartment complex that had just opened. They were looking for a security person and an efficiency apartment was included. I thought this was perfect. I would have a free place to live and would work security at night leaving my days free to look for a job.


I walked into the office, filled out the employment application, and met the Director who explained my duties and interviewed me. She explained that this was an apartment complex for elderly and/or handicapped. I was to be on call from the time the office closed to the next morning when it opened. I would also have to work weekends until they could find a part time person to relieve me. She then offered the job to me and I accepted. The pay was modest but the room and utilities were free. It seemed like a good deal and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.
The first week was very quiet with no calls for emergencies or lockouts. The complex had 120 outside units situated on 26 acres with majestic 200 plus year old live oaks and a 2-acre fishing pond. The main building where I lived had 50 efficiency apartments plus the admin offices and dining hall. There was also a small store and a hairdresser down the hall. It was comparable to an assisted living facility but without the services of qualified medical staff. A few months later, I took a CPR class in case an emergency came up, which of course seemed likely to happen given the age and conditions of the residents.
I spent my first week searching for a job to no avail. I stopped in to see the director and told her I had no prospects yet. She told me they needed someone to maintain the grounds, so I took the job. It barely paid over minimum wage, but I would not have to commute to work so I decided to try it. Now I was spending 24 hours a day at the complex and was meeting the residents. They learned to trust me and I formed some lasting friendships and developed a love for these wonderful people in their golden years. The complex was located behind a not so nice area of town with a high crime rate. I had decided that I would not let anybody hurt “my old people,” and not much later, I was put to the test.
It was 4:30 A.M. when my phone rang. I answered and I heard one of my female residents screaming. I could hear banging in the background.
It was Marie, one of my elderly friends. “Someone’s breaking in my door!” she shouted.
I called the police while I pulled my boots on and then ran outside to her building. I could see a man trying to kick her door in. I ran to the side of the building and holding my long flashlight like a pistol, I yelled at him to freeze. It was  dark where I was standing and he thought I was the police and the flashlight was a gun. He stopped and I told him to get on the ground. Again, he complied and I remained in the dark area. After what seemed like an hour, but was only seconds, he got up and started towards me. I raised the heavy light ready to hit him. Just then, I heard a car behind me and an officer ran past me and ordered the guy to the ground at gunpoint. He was arrested and I knocked on Marie’s door to tell her it was over and console her.
I had many good experiences there and learned a lot about people. I had to work Thanksgiving and Christmas that year, but I had more food to eat than I could handle. The residents that cooked brought plates of food and desserts to me because they knew I couldn’t go home.
Over the years, I would go back to visit my friends, but each trip I would learn some of them had passed on. I would feel sad for a while, but realized they were in Heaven and I will see them again. I just remember them and the “happy times” we had together. God bless y’all and have a great week!