Hilma was a little spit-fire. Everything made her angry. She stomped around the ward using her cane as a handy weapon, waving it in a threatening manner at anyone who displeased her. She made so many phone calls to the health department (reporting all her perceived complaints) that the health department actually phoned the nurses’ station to ask if we couldn’t please keep her off the phone! As a “last straw” attack on the staff, she would stop briefly to interrupt a nurse’s activities, spitting her words like so many darts, “No wonder you work in a nursing home!” She would have been a very depressing addition to a full workload day, if she hadn’t been so amusing in her cantankerous ways. Eventually, she became too much to handle and was transferred to the confused ward.
Here, she had a new head nurse to deal with. And they got along famously! Ardelle seemed to know just what Hilma needed. “Hilma, will you help me?” She handed Hilma a little ice-cream pail of soapy water. “I need you to wipe off the tables in the day room.” Hilma proceeded immediately to the task, pushing in between the wheelchairs, grumbling all the while. “You’d think people could leave the table when they finish eating....!” When she completed one task, she reported to Ardelle for her next assignment. Amazing!
Another resident on the confused floor, Marie, had been an Avon lady. She remained a serene, aristocratic lady, with one, annoying to her table-mates, exception. If she saw something she wanted, she just helped herself, off her neighbor’s plate as well as her own. Her neighbors regularly swatted her offending hand. But, Marie never seemed ruffled or angered by this. She simply replied, every time, in a most gracious voice, “I’m so sorry, I did not mean to disturb you.”
Wally had an alarming habit of ending up on the floor. The first few times the staff found him, they dutifully filled out the accident report on his “fall.” Then somebody connected the dots and realized it was his lifelong occupation as a carpet layer in operation. Wally wasn’t falling. He was down on hands and knees on purpose, measuring for new carpet!
One day, as I helped with feeding, I sat beside Wally, who kept nodding off between bites. “Wake up, Wally. Chew!” He would raise his drooping head just enough to look at me out of the corner of his sleepy eyes, give me a rather flirty grin, swallow and open for another spoonful.
Across the table, dear old Pastor Collins managed to feed himself, his usual glowing smile intact through every mouthful. His constant companion, a large-print Bible, lay open alongside his plate. How much he was reading, and how much was memory was a guess, as it was often in use upside down. As he ate and “read,” his body swayed back and forth the way Jewish men do in synagogue.
“Pastor Collins,” I said, waiting for Wally, again, “What’s the Good News, today?”
He looked up at me with his skinny, wrinkled face creased with smiling. His thin, aged voice cracked, but he spoke with remarkable power, “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so!”
In my mind, I sang the next line, “Little ones to Him belong; they are weak, but He is strong.” What more needed to be said? The first song most Christian mothers teach to their children conveyed the heart of all the Gospel, and that core gift of faith remained strong, bearing fruit even into old age.
The meal finished, Pastor Collins tucked his Bible under one arm and made his rather shaky rounds of the dayroom. As he always did at the end of every meal, he placed his hand in blessing on the head of each resident in the dayroom, and then, “off duty,” he proceeded down the hall to his room for a nap.
(written for a Writing Challenge assignment by Edy T Johnson)