Alan Blackman’s eyes twinkle with a life well-lived and full of treasured memories. The former Brooklyn, NY native has lived in his home in San Francisco’s Castro district for the past 33 years.
Alan lives in a classic Victorian. Upon entering, I began climbing up the short, steep stairs leading up to the main living space – about 30 or so steps – and wondered how he would navigate those safely. Mitchell, a friend and neighbor who lives nearby and who escorted me into the building, pointed out the chair assist mechanism that was installed a number of years ago. He tells me this was Alan’s ticket to getting out of the house as of a year ago. Now, he says, he [Alan] cannot use this either anymore, so in a sense, he’s truly housebound and relies on the help of others including a caregiver from the VA, and Meals on Wheels.
With a Little Help from His Friends
How Alan came to Meals on Wheels has a lot to do with the care and love of the people around him.
A little over a year ago, Alan, who turned 95 this year, suffered a fall outside of his home, significantly impacting his mobility. Shortly after returning home, his friends and another neighbor helped him apply for home-delivered meals through Meals on Wheels.
“When Alan got back from rehab, I don’t know what we would have done without Meals on Wheels,” said Mitchell, whose day job as an adjunct professor at USF teaching precalculus keeps him busy during most afternoons. “If he had enough friends to pitch in and bring him food upstairs every day, that might have worked, but you know he might have been displaced and had to go somewhere else [like a nursing home] which would have been disastrous for him.”
The day that I met Alan, who recently turned 95 years old, he was watching a black & white Western film on his Mac. He is surrounded by many plushie toys including one he’s named “Ty Ty” – an interesting bird-shaped creature that makes him smile.
Mitchell met Alan through the NextDoor app. Alan’s computer wasn’t working and he was seeking help from the online community. Mitchell, responded, realizing that Alan lived less than a block away from him, and came over. He says when he entered Alan’s home, he noticed some unpaid bills on his table – including one for the phone and DSL service which he realized explained why the computer no longer worked.
“I got Alan on a new service,” Mitchell said. “I now help take care of a few bills for him.”
It’s not just the bills; Mitchell checks in on Alan regularly making sure he’s okay, his meals are put away, and overall, the house is in order.
Alan, at times, seems a little out-of-sorts. Mitchell believes this is due to short-term memory loss which he says started happening about 6 months ago. Despite all this, Alan’s eyes light up once I ask him about his travels overseas, which included being stationed in England and Germany while he was in the Army Signal Corps.
“Letters to Myself”
Something many people may not know about Alan is that he is a well-known lettering artist and calligrapher. After his military service, Alan moved to San Francisco in the late 60s working as a part-time postal employee and learning about “first-day covers” – newly released postal stamps that once mailed, are canceled and stamped by the post office with the phrase “First Day of Issue” and the date. Alan was fascinated with this, and combined with his artistic skills as a calligrapher, began designing his address on the envelopes to match the design of each new stamp. He sent these pieces of art to his son who was living in Berkley, California at the time, and then later, to himself.
Eventually, Alan amassed a huge collection of these – some 200 envelopes spanning 40 years of new stamps. The post office cancellations came from around the globe, mostly from the US, but also some from Canada and Great Britain. In 2015, this collection was on display at the Jewett Gallery located in the San Francisco main library of what is now home to the Asian Art Museum.
As I wrapped up my visit with Alan, I asked him how Meals on Wheels has helped him, and he replied “I’m very grateful for them. They [the meals] are delicious and varied.”
Alan receives 14 meals a week along with nutrition counseling services. Between that, help from the VA and his friend Mitchell, Alan appears comfortable in his home.
“To my surprise, I’m a very happy person. In fact, I’m the happiest person I know.” Alan beamed as we said goodbye.
Watch Alan’s interview: “Letters to Myself”