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by Melissa Martin
10/27/2011 / Short Stories
Sandy enjoyed her job at the Fairview Nursing Home in Cumberland, Kentucky. Many of her coworkers complained about the duties of a nurses-aide but Sandy liked taking care of elderly people. Every resident had a story and every story was unique.
Frank, in room 105, was the youngest of thirteen children. His father committed suicide during the Depression of 1920 and his mother raised the children alone. "We ate flour biscuits and water-gravy three times a day!" Frank reminisced.
Esther, a former elementary teacher and somewhat senile patient, often tried to form a classroom and insisted the residents obey her rules. "I'll stand you in a corner!" she shouted as their wheelchairs rolled away.
Lilly crocheted for hours. She talked lovingly about her childhood memories on the farm. "I could milk those cows as good as the men," she proudly exclaimed as she chattered on and on.
Billy complained from morning to night. "My coffee is too cold! My eggs are too hot! Turn the heat up, turn the air on!" Billy had not received a visitor in the five years Sandy had worked at the facility. Sandy made sure she gave him cards on his birthday and holidays.
Martha, her favorite resident, was unusual. A vase of freshly cut daisies adorned her dresser daily. She was a preacher's wife for fifty years. Alzheimer's disease claimed her short-term memory but she would ramble about the good ole days to any listening ear. Martha quoted Bible verses by the hour and sang gospel songs continuously. "Praise the Lord for Sandy!" Martha would shout as Sandy cleaned her room. When Reverend Pullman preached a sermon in the dining room on Sunday mornings, Martha repeatedly asked for prayer for Sandy. "Pray for my friend Sandy. She needs to be washed in the blood of the lamb!" Sandy, no longer embarrassed by the request, would wink at Rev. Pullman.
Martha insisted on feeding the birds daily. "God's creatures need me!" she proclaimed. Sandy purchased the birdseed herself and wheeled Martha outside in all four seasons. "Praise the Lord!" Martha shouted as Sandy pushed her wheelchair.
Sandy despised religion before Martha came to the nursing home. Raising three children as a single mother proved to be a heavy load. Sandy did not forget the tongue-wagers and do-gooders in the church who testified on Sunday but refused to help pay for groceries to feed her children on Monday. Sandy wanted no part of stingy religion. Yet, some things Martha said made sense to her.
Sandy noticed that Martha praised God no matter how badly she felt. The arthritis crippled her fingers and diabetes gave her an amputated leg but she always spoke encouraging words to others. Martha received cards and letters weekly from people she helped while serving in her church. "My old friends are droppin' like flies, but I know they're in heaven and I'll be there soon!" Martha laughed as her eyes glimmered and her jerky hand stroked the tattered Bible.
When Sandy arrived at work after her vacation on Monday, she found out that Martha had slipped into a coma. She sat by Martha's bed and gently stroked her weathered hand.
The day of the funeral was sunny and warm. A cool breeze teased the leaves on the trees. The birds chirped in harmony. Bouquets of white and yellow daisies decorated the room. Sandy leaned over the casket and gently kissed Martha's cheek.
Within a few days Sandy found another resident occupying Martha's former room. Ethel, the opposite of Martha, gripped and grumbled about everything. Sandy smiled as she pushed Ethel's wheelchair to the Sunday service with Reverend Pullman. "I want to tell you a story about a lady named Martha," Sandy exclaimed as she hugged Ethel.
Melissa writes about the God and human connection and condition.
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