“You know, nursing homes have a fragrance all their own.” Zach said quietly to the small group of teens as they walked down the shiny buffed hallway.
“Fragrance? Aqua Velva, chocolate cake- that’s fragrance. This is…” the boy wrinkled his nose in the air, “stench.”
“Jason! Keep your voice down. Someone might hear you.” One of the girls whispered.
“I thought hearing was the first thing to go? Anyway, they all know it stinks in here- the ones that can still smell, that is.” Jason smirked.
“Alright, let’s cool it. I was referring to the clean smell of disinfectant and fresh floor wax. The meeting room is just around this corner.”
When Zach took on the role of youth group leader he knew there would be kids with problems, but Jason was especially troubled. Only three when his father was killed in Vietnam, his mother never remarried which left him without a close male role model. Zach prayed it wasn't too late.
As they entered the small meeting area Zach began the introductions.
“And this is Shirley York.”
“I lost my husband in world war two.” She offered unsolicited.
“And last but not least is Mr. Stewart. He lost his legs and an eye serving our country overseas.” Everyone noticed the man’s gaunt chest swell with pride. Then he smiled and saluted the group of young visitors.
Jason whispered to a girl next to him, “That explains the eye patch. I thought maybe everyone else missed the ‘Dress like a Pirate Day’ memo.”
She shot him a look of disgust and moved away.
“We have a new visitor with us today.” Zach put his hand on Jason’s shoulder. “This is Jason Parker. He and his mother Elizabeth started coming to our church a couple of months ago.”
“Hello, Jason.” The residents welcomed him.
Embarrassed, Jason stared at the floor.
Suddenly Mr. Stewart spun his wheelchair and set off down one of the intersecting hallways.
“What’s wrong with Mr. Stewart?” someone asked.
“I don’t know. Amanda, you pass out the song sheets and get the singing started. I’ll go check on him.” Zach followed as the man disappeared around a corner.
After a few minutes Zach came to where Jason was sitting- alone. “Mister Stewart wants to see you.”
“What? Why me? I didn’t do anything.” Jason said defensively.
“I know that, but I think you should hear what he has to say.”
“Do I have to?”
“No, but I really think you will want to. Trust me on this. Ok?” Zach pleaded.
As they reached the old man’s doorway Jason could tell he had been weeping. His face and t-shirt were wet.
“Jason, this is Mr. Stewart and he has something he wants to tell you.” Jason reluctantly shook the man’s trembling hand.
“Please, sit down, son.” The man pointed to a worn turquoise vinyl chair and Jason sat on the edge, not sure what to expect.
“Zachary told me about your father.” He continued. “I wanted to be sure before I said anything, but it is very obvious how much you favor him. I knew your father in the war. We served together.” He began to weep again, sobs breaking his sentences. “He… your dad… saved… my life. The day he… died… he carried me… on his back, almost a half a mile to safety, after I was hit. The whole way he talked to me. He talked about… you…and your mother and how… he couldn’t wait to see you again. Then he told me about God and heaven and… salvation. He prayed with me, just before…. going back down that hill… after another wounded soldier. He… never came back.” The old man buried his face in his thin hands, again losing control of his emotions.
Jason sat, stunned and silent.
After a few moments Mr. Stewart regained enough composure to wheel himself to a small nightstand beside his bed. Out of a drawer he withdrew a small brown box.
“I don’t have any family.” Mr. Stewart said as he handed it to Jason. “I want you to have this. It’s my purple heart medal. It’s all I own now. If it wasn’t for your father I would not only be dead but in hell.”
“That was fifteen years ago.” Jason concluded his story to the class of teenagers. “Now, who wants to join me at the nursing home today after church?”
He smiled as nearly every hand went up.
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