Leroy Johnson has written books in the past, but they never tapped into the creative portion of his personality. They were textbooks, written in structured format as teaching tools computer programming language.
The novel he recently completed, however, was a labour of love that is as far from computer programming as one can get. Galloping Away grew from the seed of an idea he’s been nurturing for around 10 years and tells the story of a young girl, modeled loosely after his daughter, who works to earn the money to buy the horse her parents won’t buy for her.
“It’s about secrets,” Leroy says in an almost teasing fashion. He’s not going to give much more away.
Finishing a novel, he says, takes a lot of persistence and dedication, especially when living with the effects of a stroke, which six years ago limited Leroy’s mobility and led him to his current home at The Village of University Gates in Waterloo.
“It’s a lot of work,” Leroy says, when asked about the writing process, and the hardest part, he admits, is sticking with it. “You’ve got to have a target and you’ve got to keep going.”
He’s grateful to have had the help of a young nursing student who studied in Conestoga College’s Living Classroom, just down the hall from Leroy. Some 18 months ago, Ayman Aldin, decided to learn more from the residents of the village by becoming a volunteer. He was paired with Leroy, who he soon discovered was in the process of completing a novel, though he faced challenges with his ability to type and communicate with the publisher.
Ayman was more than happy to help and Leroy says he couldn’t have finished the project without Ayman’s assistance. “I tried to get him to put his name on the book,” Leroy says, “but he wouldn’t; he’s a little bashful.”
Ayman jokes that it was a steep learning curve and now, if he ever chooses to write his own book in the future, he knows the publishing process pretty well.
His time with Leroy and the other residents as both a volunteer and a student has reshaped Ayman’s view of what it means to grow old. Despite the health changes that followed his stroke, for example, Leroy was still able to pursue his dream of publishing a novel. Ayman finds inspiration in that.
Some make the mistake of assuming people who are living in long-term care or retirement settings don’t have much to offer the world around them, Ayman says, but his time at University Gates with Leroy has challenged these misguided thoughts.
“You learn very, very quickly the more you interact with each resident that they’ve lived very long, fulfilled lives they have so many stories and adventures that they are willing to share with you,” Ayman says, “and that has been true with every resident I have met.”
Leroy managed to put the stories and adventures down on paper, and Ayman was proud to have been a small part of the process.