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Senior Center Provides More Than Meals

It seems that the older a person gets, the more they cherish their time here on earth. The “millennials” of the current era, of which I am a part, seem to place little value on where they’ve been and what they’ve done.

Having lived in seven states myself, the idea of “home” is a foreign concept, but one that I have always longed for and hope to find one day.

Rural towns, however, seem to provide that “home town feel” in a way that most big cities cannot. A trip to Linden’s Senior Citizen Center, off of Main Street right next to Linden High School, provided me with a different perspective on “home” and what that means to a small community.

Kathryn Friday, County Extension Coordinator with Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES), accompanied me on my first of three trips to the center. She introduced me to Margie Vice and a few others.

Vice runs the center Monday through Friday with the help of nurses and other seniors who serve the meal each day. For a donation of $1.25, each person can eat a nutritional meal with a cup of tea or some coffee. Even if the 35 to 40 people who come regularly cannot provide a donation, they will be fed, Vice said. “I love it!” she said as she described her seven plus years working at the center.

Though Vice may organize the meals and run the center, senior Betty Aydelott seems to be the leader among her peers. Before the noon meal is served, Aydelott bangs a gavel against a table and makes her daily announcements. Whether its introducing a visitor or reminding folks of community events, she makes announcements and then leads the group in callisthenic exercises before everyone grabs their daily lunch.

After everyone has been served, she told me about the exercises she leads. These exercises, which include a series of movements that trigger almost every muscle in the body, are part of several initiatives of the Alabama State Plan on Aging issued by the governor. Aydelott assured me they focus on daily exercise. “We’re the healthiest bunch they’ve got,” she says.

While people continue to eat their lunch of vegetables, bread and meat, Aydelott introduced me to the group. I spoke briefly, explaining where I am from, why I am here, and what I am going to do as a Living Democracy student in Linden. Afterward, I walk around and get to know some of the folks better.

It seems that the friendship the center provides runs deeper than a weekly chat for many of these seniors. The center is housed in the old Linden High School cafeteria. One lady points to the high school, telling me that that’s where she went to school,  and several others say the same. Many of the seniors who frequent the center have known each other for years, if not from childhood. That kind of friendship, the daily meal and fellowship, center patrons told me, help motivate them to get up and get going.

The center is place where stories and memories are shared freely. When I asked for stories of the good life in Linden, I got tales of a girl riding the train from Illinois to Pensacola by herself at the age of 6 and about teen dances in the back of city hall. I heard about a couple who started “going steady” in the 9 grade and have now been married for 62 years and about childhood pranks.

It’s about a different world than the one we live in today. A world where the only rule was “be home before dark.” A world where everyone paid 25¢ to go see the movies on a Saturday night because “there was nothing else to do.”

In this modern age of technology and fast-paced lifestyles, stories of the past should be both welcomed and cherished. The daily news may focus on the negative and painful side of life. But, as we grow old, the hard times won’t be first and foremost in our minds. Perhaps I’ll tell my grandkids of the time I got my first iPod or my first smartphone or when I had to speed down old country roads because I was late for curfew.

If I can hope for one thing, it is to someday share these memories with the ones I’ve known for years. Perhaps that is too much to ask for in this cosmopolitan world, but it is a hope I will hold on to. The seniors of Linden are a testament to putting down roots in a town. These men and women have lived long and fruitful lives, and it is a joy to them that they can share the journey with one another.