Mad and sad – these vets get ready to move on.
By Brandon HENSLEY
Soon, there won’t be any more vinegar to worry about.
Sure, the four men who sat at one of the window tables in the Twelve Oaks dining hall solved that problem not too long ago. According to Jim Davidson, the bottle was under attack, with its amount of vinegar mysteriously less and less whenever they sat down to a meal.
The solution was simple: They got a label maker and slapped a small white strip of paper to the bottle that read, “4 Vets 1 Table.”
“We were having our trouble keeping the vinegar,” Davidson said. “So we put that sign on there and that takes care of that. They leave us alone.”
Not that Davidson really wants any person to stay away. Too many have left Twelve Oaks lodge, anyway, including those at his table, his war buddies.
The four of them – Davidson, John Neilan, Bill Hughes and Victor Freymuth –had at least a year together on the Twelve Oaks campus (Neilan was the newcomer having arrived a little more than a year ago) and having served in World War II bonded them.
Davidson was in the Army, Neilan the Air Force, Hughes the Marines and Freymuth the Navy. Neilan said that commonality bonded them here, as they spent their days eating at their table and their nights in another room playing their favorite card game, Wizard.
Now it’s just Davidson and Neilan. The other two left earlier this month, packing up for other retirement homes before the doors of Twelve Oaks close for good at the end of the month, due to the company be.group’s decision to sell the place.
Davidson’s hair on the side and back of head was matted down, giving the impression he made his way over to the dining table after a nap. But he talked fast, and with spirit.
“I am so fed up with this place I don’t even want to talk about it,” he said. But then of course, he went on.
“I had to go to the post office and get a change of address form,” he continued. “At this age, you don’t want to do stuff like this. It’s just one thing after another.”
Some of the words the 91-year-old Davidson uses to describe what he thinks be.group is doing: greedy, cruel, thoughtless, thankless.
The truth is, though, he’s only so mad because he’ll miss the place. He wanted to stay here until he died.
“You get what you pay for and this place is heaven on earth compared to other places I’ve lived,” he said.
Davidson sits across the table from Neilan and, on the subject of moving, they’re also on opposite ends. A picture was taken recently of Neilan holding a sign that said “Save Our Home” in a protest outside be.group’s offices.
Neilan was putting on a face then because when asked if he’ll miss Twelve Oaks, he simply said, “No.”
“Did you say no?” Davidson asked, surprised. “Why not?”
“It’s way too expensive,” replied Neilan, whose voice registers somewhere between Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit” and Billy Bob Thornton’s character in “Slingblade.”
Neilan, 90, has done a lot of things and been to a lot of places. He grew up in Pittsburgh, went to the local university there but ended up getting his doctorate in municipal engineering from Harvard. He’s owned three different furniture stores. He moved to Southern California in the 1980s, and four of his six children ended up working for JPL, three of whom still do.
He said his money from savings, Social Security and military benefits barely cut it when it comes to paying his monthly Twelve Oaks dues of over $4,000. When he heard be.group’s decision, he wasn’t bothered.
“I was thankful for having an excuse for getting out of here,” he said.
So Neilan will go to Solheim Luthern Home on Halloween. Hughes is at Belmont Village in Burbank. Freymuth is up in Ventura. Those decisions were based on proximity to their families.
Davidson is going to Royal Oaks in Duarte next week. He just as likely would have stayed with any one of his tablemates. Neilan’s oldest daughter recently came over from the east coast and packed all four of them in a van and went around trying to see if it was possible the friends could stay together.
It was not to be. Davidson, who taught music education for 40 years, said Royal Oaks will be fine. It has more acres than Twelve Oaks and includes a pool. But it won’t be the same.
“Life isn’t perks,” he said with watery eyes. “It’s relationships. That’s my life. So I’ve got to start all over again, get to know those people. Well if I didn’t care, I wouldn’t get to know them. But I do care.”
Whether or not Davidson will have another bottle of vinegar to share remains to be seen. The taste in his mouth as he walks away from Twelve Oaks, though, is bittersweet.