The stench of urine was so thick it made me nauseus. My stomach grumbled, “Let’s go!” but my feet kept on. My grade and my life depended on it! Graduation was weeks away and I had waited till the last minute to complete my community service credits. I couldn’t blow it off, or I wouldn’t walk. Somehow I managed to talk the Shadyville Nursing Home Director into letting me be her sidekick for a couple of weeks. So here I was in Oldville to do my time. Little did I know I was in for a lot more than just credits, when I met Sara Sue James.
Sara was confined to a wheel chair. Her favorite spot was the garden, as she called it. It was really just a lobby with one big green tree in the corner, and that was plastic, but she loved it! That was where I first met her.
She was talking with another resident as I walked in. The doors swung open and quickly closed again.
Sara looking at her friend said, “That was probably our only chance Gladys to get out of this place!”
I couldn’t help but laugh and when I did Sara hollered at me. “Hey you giggly child, get over her!”
Obediently I stopped.
“Did you drive here?” she fussed at me.
“Uh, yeah.” I said.
“Well, you just get in that car of yours and drive to the Dairy Queen and get me a parfait, so’s I can eat it her in the garden.”
“What garden?” I stuttered.
“This garden fool! Can’t you see the tree!”
Just then Mrs. Reynolds’s the Activity Director rescued me. “Now now Sara Sue. Don’t scare off our new volunteer…not just yet.”
Mrs. Reynolds’s explained to me that Sara, once an avid gardener, had been an Alzheimer’s patient for sometime now. “Not only is she confined to a wheel chair not remembering anything of her past, but she is stuck in this lonely building day after day.”
As she walked me through, each new wrinkled face seemed more lonely than the last and I couldn’t help but think that Sara’s mind must seem like a prison with all her precious memories locked deep inside past her reach.
Each day for a solid week I spent my afternoons with the residents of Shadyville. I’d spoon feed some and chase others who tried to escape, but mostly I sat in the garden with Sara. She never remembered me but always called me by some silly name.
One afternoon a minister came to perform the weekly service. As Sarah and I walked in I realized this was going to be unlike any church service I had ever been in. Some residents were wandering around while others rocked baby dolls. The men were arguing and the preacher looked very frazzled as he tried to get everyone’s attention. I thought he should just go on anyway, but that was when I realized somebody had walked away with his notes!
Sara spoke up. “Tell that man we don’t want to hear that dang-blasted new high falootney music! We want to hear ‘In the Garden!’ ”
And all the residents began to sing, “I walked through the garden alone…”
As the days went by I found myself racing to Shadyville, parfait at my side, excited to see Sara and wondering what she would call me that day.
“Well if it isn’t the Ice Cream man!” she’d holler.
I’d talk to her for hours in the garden telling her all my dreams and secrets, hoping she would remember one shred of her past she could share with me. I wondered what her life had been like, but always she remembered nothing. The gleam in her eye though and the sass in her voice always told me everything would be all right.
On my last day I was early hoping to spend extra time with Sara. As I pulled up I saw the ambulance and I raced in, my heart pounding. “Not Sara Sue. Not yet…I wasn’t ready.” But Mrs. Reynolds met me at the door.
“I’m sorry honey but Sara died earlier this morning…but she left you something.”
And with that Mrs. Reynolds pulled a small book out of a bag and said, “It was strange but she remembered your name and said ‘Please give this to Sam…she’s been dying to know. Tell her I finally remembered’”
And looking at a pretty garden on the cover I read these words…”My Life-Sara Sue James”.
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