I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. Something sad, I suppose. Old people, feeble-bodied and weak-minded, sitting listlessly around a bleak room, lonely and depressed. I figured they would all be sickly and incoherent. I’m not sure why I thought this way, but I suppose I had heard so many stories about the sadness of nursing homes from my in-laws that I expected the senior center I visited today to be the same.
It is part of the nursing program I’m in, a community service type of assignment. We spent some time with seniors today and we’ll go spend some time in an elementary school in a couple weeks. While I was looking forward to the elementary school (a little) I was sort of dreading today. So imagine my surprise, just ten minutes into my visit, when I thought to myself “this is awesome”.
The people I met were upbeat and energetic people. The woman I spent most of the day with, Wilma, was easily one of the most effervescent, witty, quick, charming people I’ve ever met. Her hands moved quickly with her crochet needle, her eyes easily picked up the mistake I made when she was trying to teach me, she had comebacks for every taunt thrown her way in record time. She is 86 years old. Her and another lady, who is 90 and proclaims that she is healthy as a horse, made easy jokes towards one of the only men at the center. They are both widowed but they don’t want “an old man”. Wilma was married for 57 years and her husband passed six years ago. She told me that they were very close and had he been alive she wouldn’t have been out at the center, but that it’s helped her a lot. It keeps her from looking at four walls all the time.
Wilma enjoyed me being her pet today and I didn’t want to leave her side even though the room was full of older people, all in their own groups, all full of hearty laughter. I laughed so much today that I felt my cheeks starting to hurt. Wilma reminded me of my grandmother, my father’s mother, who was quick like her, feisty, and would give those big, toothy, loud laughs when something amused her. I tried my hand at crocheting on a loom, and admired all of their handiwork, beautiful hats, scarves, blankets, afghans, quilts. All made with ancient hands and carefully stored away to be sold at a craft fair to raise money for the senior center. I told myself that I would be there and purchase Wilma’s Christmas quilt.
Every time my eyes met someone else’s I gave them a genuine smile and received one in return. Here were folks who had spent most of their lives, if not all, in North Georgia and spent their days at the same center with the same people and I could just feel a current shift by my presence. They were happy to see me. They wanted to tell me their stories, and hear mine. They were pleased to hear I was in nursing school and that I was a Christian. They were not stingy with common affection, touching my arm, patting my shoulder. They talked about the children at the local school where they sometimes go to read books with the first graders. They are proud of those children, praising their intelligence, as if they were their own. They would like Faith, I think, with her quiet manner and polite ways. They would like James, with his charming smile and his crinkly eyes.
It was time for me to go, it came by too quickly. I went to get my purse and had the director sign my paper saying that I had indeed spent time there, and as I walked back to Miss Wilma to say goodbye, I saw dismay in her eyes.
“Are you leaving, honey?” she asked.
“I am,” I replied with some sadness. “But I’d like to come back and see you again. May I?”
And she smiled and pulled me into a hug and kissed my cheek, said that of course I could, and then told me goodbye and that she loved me.