Iced Tea Chat: I Like Peaches And Books...

I was busy in the kitchen this morning and decided to pare and slice three wrinkly looking peaches.  I know those peaches were perfectly good for eating even if they weren't pretty, but John will not touch a fruit that looks even a bit past it's prime.  He also won't touch my homemade jelly voluntarily, either.  But that's his own little food prejudice   Anyway, back to the peaches.   

As I stood there paring the peaches and planning out the cobbler I meant to make with them, I thought about how much I like peaches...and that's when I heard a slight echo in my mind from my past.  A quavering voice saying "I LIKE peaches!"   It was the voice of Miss Willette... 

I don't often talk of the people I met while working in the nursing home, but there were many over the course of the five or so years I worked there who touched me deeply and in the future you'll likely get to  meet a few as I share those memories.  I started out in the office  as an assistant to the nursing and administrative departments and became activity director and then social services director.  I was happiest in the role of social worker, but it was also the most difficult job.  

Miss Willette was nothing but a name on a census of patients handed to me daily for nearly two years but one night after I'd been made social worker for the facility, I saw her name in a dream over and over again.  The next day I was determined I'd go see  who Miss Willette was.  

There was good reason why I'd never met her.  I'd been involved with the active patients, the ones who had some mobility and who got out of their rooms daily to socialize but Miss Willette was bed bound.  Aids fed her and bathed her and dressed her and tended to her in her room day in and day out.  She wasn't part of the groups in the cafeteria or who came to the office, who went to the day rooms to sit and converse with others, or who crowded around the nurse's station to chat to the nurses.  She was solely dependent upon whoever came into the room to tend to her or her roommate.

I was still fairly new at my job and was working my way through the facility attempting to meet and assess the needs of 100 patients so I hadn't yet had a chance to meet her.  The goal was to do a monthly assessment on patients but when I took the job, many charts were three or four months behind and I'd been working through the backlog alphabetically and hadn't yet come across Miss Willette's chart.  However, after my dream I felt compelled to go see just who Willette J was.

She was drawn into a near fetal position from muscle degeneration.  Physical therapists were not common to the nursing homes in those days (they are now thank goodness in many of the better facilities).  She was covered with oozing sores that were being treated with little response to the medications used.  The doctors had tested her for allergies and looked at side effects of medications with no clue to what caused the painful looking rash.  She was tiny and white haired and I expected absolutely nothing when I walked in the room and saw her.  Her eyes were bright blue and shone at me.  

"Well come on in!" she said heartily, and I was much surprised because I'd really expected diminished mental capacity given the state of her body.    But the state of her mind was not the state of her body.  True she suffered short term memory loss.  She couldn't tell you what she'd had for breakfast that day but she recognized faces, and her long term memory was fully functional.  I soon learned that she was a lovely funny lady, who loved to eat and what she loved best was when they put peaches on the menu.  "Did you come to see me?"   

I assured her I was indeed there to visit with her.  I explained who I was and that I hadn't had the opportunity to meet her.  "Well I'm real glad to see you...Now tell me are you married?  Do you have children?"  I was supposed to interview her so to speak to find out about her past life and how she felt at present but this woman interviewed me for a good thirty minutes, until I heard a page calling me to the front office.  I thanked her for a pleasant visit and she asked eagerly if I'd stop by to visit with her again.  I assured her I would.

I went by again the next morning, as I passed her room after clocking in and it happened to be time for breakfast.  "Oh  come in!  Did you come to feed me breakfast this morning?"  I had not but I felt it was my duty to help when I saw a task needed doing (all staff had been encouraged in this) and so I pulled up a chair and began to feed her.   As I did, she and I talked of this and that and after she'd been fed, I wiped her face clean and told her the aide would be in shortly to remove her tray.  "Well I sure enjoyed that!  Why don't you come on back at lunch time and visit with me again?"  I laughed and told her I'd do my best.

From that point on a visit with Miss Willette was part of my daily routine.  Some weeks, I visited with her at her meal times and fed her.  Some days I was unable to leave my work tasks to do so but I did  at least a stop by her room either on my way down the hall to my office or on my way out in the evening.  

She told me of her life before whatever illness had caused her body to crumble.  She'd lived in the North Georgia foothills and she and her husband had a little cottage on a bit of land.  "We raised apples...I wanted to raise peaches but they are hard to grow in that area.  I sure did want peaches though;  I like peaches!"  She had a son but hadn't seen or heard from him in years.  That was a common enough situation in my time in the nursing home.  So many of the residents there had family outside the facility who seldom or never visited.  Some had been estranged due to hard things in their lives, and some were sent to the facility from a long distance away in the state and travel was uncommon for many.  I do not know why Willette never saw her son.  

Willette enjoyed what company came her way, even if it was only staff or her roommate's family members.  And she enjoyed her meals.  All food was pureed for her needs but she got a variety of things on her plate and she enjoyed everything.  She never did tell me she didn't like something.  She just opened her mouth and waited for food to be placed in it.  But I soon discovered that when she had peaches, the woman would wax poetic over them.   As she said "I LIKE peaches!" and she meant it.

Willette's roommate was a misery. I don't say that meanly.  This woman cried constantly.  She cried over everything.  She cried and cried and cried and I think she even cried in her sleep.  The sheets of her bed were wet with her tears and the floor beside her bed, too.  She was fully mobile and fully cognizant but she cried.   She had been placed as Miss Willette's roommate because every other patient she'd been put into a room with complained and did so loudly until she was removed.  Miss Willette never complained of her roommate.  Indeed, she never complained of anything at all, not even the miserable state of her own body.  She truly was the 'cheerful heart' sort and I never heard her say a single unkind thing.

But even the nicest people reach their limits at time.  I was in the room with her one morning when the roommate began to wail loudly that she had to go to the bathroom.  The woman was perfectly capable of getting up and going herself.  There was a restroom in the room where she could go, not even 10 feet from her bed, but she lay on the bed crying and whining (yes she whined and I confess that is one thing that grates on my nerves immediately) loudly that she had to go to the bathroom over and over again.  I'd asked if I might assist her but she'd refused my help because she said she had to wait for the aide.  She went on and on loudly whining.  

Miss Willette and I gave up the attempt to even carry on our small bit of conversation that morning and I was saying that I'd visit with her later but  Miss Willette interrupted me and  in sheer frustration said loudly "Oh shut up and go sh-t!"   The roommate was so shocked that she stopped crying momentarily and actually sat up on her bed.  "She'll just go right back to crying but honestly I've heard enough!" Miss Willette told me.  At that moment an aide walked into the room to help the roommate and I took my leave, but I couldn't help but laugh once I was down the hall.

I visited with Miss Willette most days until I left that job.  She died just days after I left.   

I was, by the time, I left the place, a bit shell shocked.   A nursing home is truly a home to those who live there and the residents and staff usually form attachments because the staff is there more often than visitors. A nursing home  is a living place but death visits there more frequently than it does in the average household.  I said goodbye to so many people during my days working there that I lost count of  them all.  But a few people  just remain firmly implanted in my memory, alive and living yet,  like cavalier old James and Miss Willette.  They were, for a time, my people and part of my day to day life and I remember them fondly. 

There were a few people who just weren't likeable, like Miss Willette's crying roommate, but no one in that nursing home went unnoticed.  They might have been harder to love but needs were met all the same and to my knowledge only one patient was mistreated.  Our administrator would dismiss someone in a heartbeat if any type of mistreatment was suspected and residents and staff all knew full well that was the case.  It made the residents feel safe in expressing any grievance and it made the  staff members keep a close eye and ear out for any hint that something might be wrong.

I was so blessed to work where I did.  I saw the deep caring of the staff for the patients. We didn't each one of us become close to every resident but it's safe to say that of all the people who worked in the facility where I worked, there was some attachment with a patient  or patients who were adopted family members of sorts.  There were patients who celebrated holidays with staff members in their homes.  Staff who were not paid high wages often paid for clothing needs for 'their' patients.  Some visited the patients when they were in the hospital and welcomed them back when they returned to the nursing  home.  And it wasn't just nurses aides or nurses in our facility, it was office workers and cafeteria and housekeeping and laundry staff who all adopted someone and met their needs for social interaction as well as sharing their small earnings to help cover their physical needs and became an advocate for them.  

Speaking of peaches, which is how this whole chat got started this week, the peach trees that were planted across the road from us were pushed up this summer.  They had peaches on them but they did not harvest that fruit.  I had written in 2011 that there were peach trees being planted on that property once more and shared that one of my first memories with Granny was of going into the peach orchard and picking peaches with her one hot summer afternoon.  I mentioned how itchy I found peach fuzz and peach leaves but I didn't share the unique aroma of a fruit orchard with windfall fruits rotting and fermenting on the ground mixed with the acrid green smell of the fresh peaches as they fell into our hands.   I don't know what will go in that field next year, but I assume they will plant something there.   

The removal of the peach trees has taken weeks  and the burning has as well.   I'll miss coming out of my driveway in spring and seeing miles of peach blossoms in spring and I'll miss the glory of seeing ripe fruit hanging on the branches.  I'll miss hearing the singing and chatter of workers as they pruned and later harvested the fruit.  I'll miss the burnished look of the leaves on the trees come fall.  I doubt they will plant peaches there again in my life time, but you never know.

Years ago I followed a blog by a young woman whose name was Mia.  She shared an Upside Down Cobbler recipe that was out of this world good and became my go to recipe for making Peach Cobbler.  I lost my copy of it along the way but could for a long while still pull up her blog and make cobbler.  Then she closed the blog to the public.  Boo!  I missed my recipe.  I found a copy of it on another recipe site and I've posted it to my Blue House Journal recipes.  By all means, if you've got fresh peaches give this recipe a try.  It's really good!

I'll have to share one more recipe with you all, also on my blog and that is a pie called Peaches and Cream Pie.  I've never made this one with anything but canned peaches, but it's more like a cake than a pie in my opinion but it's absolutely yummy whatever you want to call it.

Well I shall stop sharing recipes now but I guess it's evident that like Miss Willette, I like peaches!

Katie surprised me earlier this week with the gift of the first of the Bridgerton books, The Duke and I by Julia Quinn, which was the basis of the first season of the show.  I've already read books four and five and while it doesn't bother me to read them out of sequence Katie wants to read them in order, so we will get the other three and she can read them in order.  In the meantime, I'll just pass along the ones I've gotten so far to her as I read them.

Katie and I don't often share books, but now and then we do.   When she was at home, I read all of the Harry Potter books right after she'd read them.   Her oldest brother signed up to get each new release at the earliest date and would have them delivered to her so she has the full set.  I really enjoyed them and could hardly put them down, heavy as they were.    Later Katie introduced me to author Cindy Bonner and her series based on genealogy she'd done for her family lines.   And it was Katie who recommended to me to watch the Bridgerton program on Netflix after I'd introduced her to Downton Abby.  

Do you know what author I've been thinking of lately?  Victoria Holt.  I read her book, Shivering Sands, long ago, either during a school break for summer or during the winter holidays.  Not sure what season it was, but I remember I dug it out of a big paper bag of books that Granny's sister had brought to her.  Aunt Caroline and her daughters were all great readers too and they'd acquire lots of used paper back books from heaven knows where and then set them aside to bring up to Granny who'd share them with Mama.   

For the longest time Mama, Granny and I swapped books between us.  I was so hungry to read, I'd read whatever I could get my hands on, and so I came to know Victoria Holt, Emilie Loring, Grace Livingston Hill and Barbara Cartland among others.  I read a bevy of Harlequin romances too.  That was back when it was quite safe to let a fairly impressionable young girl read romance novels.  I'd be very hesitant to let any of my granddaughters read some of what passes for romances these days!  In fact, I say quite sincerely that those books dubbed romances today aren't romances at all.  They are something a good deal dingier and more questionable.   Back in my youth, romance was still romantic and what followed next was marriage and then all the other things.  At least where reading was concerned!

For the most part though, I've been a lone reader.  I discovered Elizabeth Goudge my senior year of high school.  I still remember picking up the volume, City of Bells and reading the line where Grandfather was speaking to Jocelyn of how a decision sometimes comes to be made...Well it was all I required at that time.  A chance opening to a page that I found lifechanging at that moment and brought to me an  author who remains a warm and wise friend even after 44 years of reading.   I shall never understand why so few have ever heard of her or read her books.  

I had picked up the book The Housewife by Dorothy Canfield Fisher and must confess that I am very ambivalent about it.  I did enjoy it.  I didn't especially like the characters.  One was far too strong willed and one far too weak.   In the end, balance was found but the way in which it was achieved ultimately would be controversial in any era.   But I will say I found myself unwilling to put it down.  I shall look for more of her books.  I've just finished reading Understood Betsy once again and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I think Fisher makes a pretty good argument for less formal education methods in the book and also points out how the adults about the home affect the development of the children within it.   That business about adults in the home is also a theme in The Homemaker.  

It's something John and I discussed not long ago.  I did rather well in school but I could have done better had anyone paid the least attention to my strengths and weaknesses.   I was a strong reader and so history and literature and such were a breeze.  I was likely well ahead of many of my classmates and some adults I knew and I'm not bragging when I say that.  But in math, I got bogged down and confused and really needed to progress far more slowly than the class progressed.  All these years later my math failures bother me no end.  That's why I took up Pre-Algebra I and II books a couple of years ago and worked my way through them.  I mean to move on to Algebra if I can find similar work books to the ones John purchased for me.  I want to knock that failure of mine square on the head.   Working at my own pace, reviewing and going over a lesson more than once, realizing that there are firm rules to follow thanks to Pre-Algebra...I think I can pass it now, but no teacher had time to stop and help me catch up back in the day.

John noted when JD was in 6th grade that he really couldn't read.   Now JD is a very smart person.  Like scary smart.   But he just barely read at 12.  The answer for John and his wife were to place JD in a private school where he was in smaller classes and got more attention from the teachers who were teaching him.  For them it was the right answer.  JD took off like a rocket and graduated with high marks in all subjects and a more varied set of subjects than a public school education would have allotted him.   When his dad and I met, I helped him find authors he enjoyed reading.  It was I who introduced all the children to books that held their interest and to this day, all of them enjoy reading and encourage their own children to read.

Granny was my encourager where reading was concerned and was also the reason why I was so advanced in reading.  She bought all sorts of books and encouraged us children to touch them, look through them, read them.  She bought books from Life about other countries, both the geography of them and the social studies of them.  She bought sets of Readers Digest Condensed books of all the classics both adult and children's books.  She got sets of all the current popular novels and nothing was off limits.  If we displayed an interest in it, we were allowed to read it, take it home to read through and bring back.  Over the years I borrowed many and many of her books and because of her influence I was well grounded in good literature as well as those romance novelists I mentioned earlier.

Her attitude was far different than what I met at home.  Mama had a few books which remained neatly on the shelves and were routinely dusted.  It wasn't until I was in my teens that Mama began to actively read.  She did it, she said, to show me how it felt to have somebody sitting around with their nose in a book all the time.  Obviously I wasn't nearly as irritated by it as she'd been and she got hooked and left me alone, lol!

Well I suppose I should wind up.  I enjoyed chatting with you today.   Talk to you again soon!


Angela said...

Oh what a lovely chat! I spent about 3 years working in a nursing home too and have a few favorites I well remember. Mrs Ford was so funny! Ricky was early 20s, had CP, was completely dependent, and his speech not always understandable but he was pure sunshine! If I ever questioned the value of any human life, Ricky taught me how valuable all life is. He cheered me every time I saw him. He was happier than most able bodied people I knew. Oh and a good peach! Or a good book!

Anne said...

I too can remember being desperate to read as a child. Our "library" consisted of one book of my mother's, the life story of Helen Keller, which I read many times, and a few books of my father's which were all about hunting man- eaters in India. I also read them many times. There was nothing else.

I look back now and wonder why I didn't develop a relationship with a library, it was about 12 blocks away, but I was an deeply anxious child and could not get organized enough to do that. Like you, I read years above my peers, and excelled in English and history.

Luckily, I reached adulthood and gained some control over my own life and started plowing my way through the world's books. I'm 72 and still read for hours each day, most weeks I go through 2 to 3 books, and the dust on the shelves can just sit there. :D

terricheney said...

Thank you Angela! Those who've worked there will understand very well how close we can become and how fond of the patients we got.

Anne, I visited my school library twice a day: once every morning to return books borrowed the afternoon before and choose what I'd read while at school that day and then again in the afternoon to pick up a book or two to read at home that evening! But public library trips were unheard of until Mama suddenly took us there as teens. I've no clue why we didn't go prior to that but we kids LOVED it and were very grateful for the opportunity to get reading material.

Donna said...

Loved this post about your days at the nursing home and your visits with Miss Willette. It's wonderful that the residents were well looked after and had special friends. My daughter worked in an independent living center in Venice FL and it must have cost a bundle to stay there. While visiting my daughter, I did some volunteer work and found it very rewarding.

To quote Thomas Jefferson, "I cannot live without books". I cannot imagine not reading. The Urban Farmer has also been an avid reader all his life. Sadly his macular degeneration limits his reading time but there are always audio books. From your description, I think the Farmer's math skills were about the same as yours. All of us have our strengths an weaknesses. I guess I would choose reading over math! ha!

Your peach recipes made me hungry so I made a peach smoothie for supper. It was quite tasty!

sparky136 said...

One of my favorite memories is of the book mobile in the summer. It would park at the elementary school once a week and we could walk there to get library books. We lived a 1/4 mile from the school. I also read through our set of encyclopedias. I learned so much doing that. I really appreciated my parents for buying those. We didn’t have a lot of extra money for books.

terricheney said...

Donna, I was very fortunate to work in such a good facility and will say that the majority of the facilities owned by the corporation were as good or even better. It was a good place to work and I have never viewed nursing homes as quite the horror that so many seem to feel they are having seen that there were so many good ones out there.

Sparky, I too read the encyclopedias. We had two sets, one that was my dad's when he was in high school which his parents passed on to him and then a set of World Books which my own parents bought for us three. Nowadays a set of encyclopedias is hardly needed but back then it was truly the one sure way to gain knowledge.