What To Do With Christmas Cookies
Still can’t believe the experiences I have in my life. Yesterday’s was no exception. I had an extra tin of Christmas cookies I’d made and didn’t know what to do with them so I asked a new friend who happens to be the activities director at the Tennessee State Veterans Home if she had anyone who could use a little holiday cheer. She did.
So I drove an hour on the dark roads of Tennessee in rain and fog and spoke on the phone to my son the whole way there. All of which only added to the experience. When I arrived I was surprised to see the halls and common areas decked out with beautiful Christmas trees, garland, and ornaments. There were carolers singing for the residents in the “mess hall”. Everyone, and I mean every single person I met who worked there had a smile for me, kind words, and humor.
My new friend took me to meet a woman, her name was also Jean, a WWII Army nurse, to give her the cookies. We had a nice sweet chat. I smiled inside when she said, “What’s the catch? I’m going to have to think about this.” She was a bit confused but gracious and kind. We then proceeded to tour the entire home and I got to meet many residents including another WWII Vet, 102 years old!! He had the most beautiful blue eyes!! Everyone was so kind but there were 2 things that stood out most to me — 1) everyone I spoke to had an incredible sense of humor no matter their level of cognitive capacity, and 2) when asked how their dinner was, 100% replied that it was delicious! I’m not exactly sure why I was so surprised at these things but I was.
With each person I met I wanted to know their story and since that was not possible I imagined their stories in my head while I was there, on my drive back, and this morning as I thought about them. One gentleman wheelchair bound, I am certain was in a lead capacity. He seemed like a strong general to me even sitting in his wheelchair. I could just tell by the way he talked to me. And his gestures as he spoke. His hair was perfect and his sense of humor was spot on and refined. Jean, the woman I gave the cookies to, has no visitors. Which is probably the reason my friend chose her to give the cookies to. I imagined her as one of the nurses in one of my all-time favorite books, And If I Perish, by Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee, the story of frontline US Army Nurses in WWII. Another gentleman, Joe, was quite the character. He even kissed the back of my hand when I met him. We chatted quite a bit and my friend, one of the care givers, and I all learned that he used to teach Karate. He even taught his daughter who is a black belt. I imagined him in Viet Nam. I also imagined he’d been through more than most people could imagine. He was very interesting and quite sharp. He told me he likes everyone. But that most people are a**holes. I laughed out loud at that. Another woman we met in the hallway wore the most beautiful Christmas sweater that one of the care givers bought for her. She told us all about the heart monitor she was getting and how she might be able to get out of her wheelchair and walk more once she gets the monitor. I imagined her many years ago as a very sharp nurse or doctor giving precise orders and being well-respected. Another woman we met had her nails painted beautifully. She told me she has them done all the time because there really isn’t anything else to do. She had a massive portrait of her children above her bed, probably about 60 years old. It was stunning. I asked her if everyone says her daughter looks like her and she replied, “Oh yes!” I was taken to another room with two gentlemen clearly only a short while away from moving on to the next life, with M.A.S.H. playing on the television! They could barely talk but they were so kind to me and polite.
Everyone was polite. I don’t know if it was because I met all the polite ones, or if it was because I am in Tennessee where everyone is polite, or if I was among Veterans who were taught to be polite from a very young age.
One of the last people I met was a caregiver helping a gentleman they call Colonel eat his dinner. She kept getting him to sit up straight so I could see his huge turquoise blue eyes. The caregiver had the loveliest personality and disposition. I asked her about her work schedule and she went on to tell me about her youngest daughter, 8 years old with so much energy. She said she gets home from her 12-hour shift at 730p and her daughter has 2 more hours of excitement about her day that she wants her mom to know all about. We laughed so much about that. I could totally picture the scene she described.
I felt so privileged to be able to visit. I left thinking about my life and how fortunate I am that I live in a country with so much freedom. That I have a son who actually wants to talk to me on the phone, and a daughter who cares deeply about the suffering in this world. That people are kind even after 102 years of dealing with a**holes. And that they still have their sense of humor. And that there are people who are willing and able to do the hard work of caring for our Vets when no one else can.
I can’t wait to go back. And I will go back. To visit Jean. Maybe I’ll take her Valentine cookies next time. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll realize there is no catch. Merry Christmas, everyone!