An old memory surfaced the other day as I walked the halls of the retirement home, my day job that’s actually a night job. The old ghost goes like this: I was eight, maybe ten years old, and walking through a drug store in Cottonwood with my mom. An elderly man shuffled along the pain-killer row, his head and neck bent down, his feet unsteady in his orthopedic shoes. From some mysterious place, a surge of compassion washed over me and I begged God to let me help old people one day. I’m not sure where that came from, but a little over a decade after finding I didn’t want to go where my Design degree tried to lead me (and after forgetting my strange plea in the drug store), I found myself working in a Retirement Resort to pay the bills until I figured out where to go next.
Late into the night when my duties slow, I pen novels at that desk now–someday I may write about the retirement place. Here are a few of the greatest hits from the grandparent generation.
A few weeks ago, a resident called me, concerned about an alarm in his Apt. I checked my pager and Teltron panel—my link to resident emergencies, medical and smoke—silence on my end. I’ve been working there 17 years—“alarms” can mean anything.
The first thing I noticed when I entered his Apt. was his fabulous collection of art supplies—there’s something about seeing a living room stuffed with easels and canvases—you know a working artist still has things to say about life. The second thing I noticed was that all familiar beep you don’t fully appreciate until you become a parent—I smiled, weighing my words. “It’s your TV,” I told him. “The beeps are to censor swear words.” He thought that was strange—probably because he’s an artist who thinks the world needs to hear a little more of life, but I was just thankful for the good laugh we had before I left.
Hattie (*code name*) was one of my favorites. She owned a bird named Sweetie. To be perfectly honest, I’m not a fan of caged birds; they have wings—they should fly. But my job is to take care of the residents and I grew to love Sweetie. One late night while immersed in a book—before I decided to put them down and write my own—Hattie called in a panic. Sweetie had escaped her cage and was flying around her Apt. in a fury. She had damaged her wing. I hurried down the hall and called my husband because unlike me, he’s a fan of caged birds and talked me through the process of doctoring Sweetie’s wing—once I caught her. Instead of chasing her down, I just waited until she landed on her own, then Hattie helped hold her still while I slathered her wing in something goopy (I don’t remember what). Hattie’s last few years were difficult ones for her; she was locked in her own cage of illness, but Sweetie was her faithful companion. If Hattie needed to leave for the day, she clutched Sweetie’s cage to her side like a purse full of treasure. Sweetie sang to Hattie, bringing her comfort through many anxiety-ridden days.
Like I said, I could complete a book with my experiences with retirees, but the catalyst for my writing career began with Bessie (*code name*). Bessie had developed Alzheimer’s disease, going from clarity one day to mental nightmare the next, rapidly declining from what has to be one of the worst diseases to haunt mankind.
She got to where she couldn’t dress herself or ask for a glass of water, but that same mysterious force that prompted my childhood prayer simmered inside Bessie as one last gift. She couldn’t form a complete sentence, or remember the right words for anything except one—a bible verse. Many if I remember correctly, but the one she gave me in her sweet chirping voice came the very night an idea for my first book nestled inside me:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11.
This THE DAY my artistic fingers starting itching like crazy for an outlet.
Ten years later, the experiences with Bessie and my Grandpa (Dementia) inspired a short story now published in an anthology praised by a few of the most respected Authors of faith. The interesting thing about that is it’s a novel categorized as speculative fiction—the genre described by our traditional friends as the most “out there” and “unbelievable” of all genres. It is “out there”, but when you put all the pieces together—a retirement home, two people who have lost their minds, a caged bird who sang to her lady, the spontaneous prayer of a child and a genre thought to be for only those “weird” people—God can work with anything and anyone, and seems to have a preference for telling His most powerful stories from the least expected places. Maybe because the logical part of the world has forgotten that truths, no matter the magic that touches it, can’t be caged.