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Nursing Home Remembrances

By Elizabeth Foust

When you visit a friend or family member in a nursing home, do you ever see beyond the welcoming smile, the gray/white hair and the aches and pains? Do you ever wonder about the backgrounds of some of these people? Having spent most of my nursing career working with the geriatric population, I have learned how diverse and interesting people can be. Often pictures of people in their youth (bearing no resemblance of the present person) can give you a peak into their past. Few people fail to respond to questions about their past. They often have pictures and mementos to share with you. Spend a little time listening to an elder reaching back in their memory. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Through the years I have met so many wonderful people with fascinating stories. Can you imagine all the changes these people have seen growing in the early 1900's and 1920's? One very positive 90 something lady remembers living on the Cape while the Cape Cod Canal was being built. Her father would take the family out for a Sunday drive and park their car (she thought it was a Model T) on a high bank overlooking the canal to watch the progress and later the procession of ships go through. People still love to do that today, only now we have Visitor's Centers with all the amenities. She remembers as one of the highlights of her life, the installation of electricity and plumbing to her family home. She thought the electric lights were a great improvement over the flickering kerosene lamps. When asked about the differences in lifestyle for a young woman then and now, she said, "Girls today are allowed to do much more. We had to obey orders from our parents. I can still see my father standing in the doorway winding the clock, waiting for me to come home from my date. I wasn't allowed to date until I became 17, and even then had to be home at 9PM. That didn't leave us much time to get into trouble. " She married in 1918 and had 3 children, 16 grandchildren, 19 great grandchildren and 3 great great grandchildren. Her positive attitude lasted her all her life. She was one of the few people I knew who was happy staying in a nursing home. She stated that it had been her choice after she realized she could no longer keep up her home. She didn't want to be a burden on her children and was quite happy having someone else do the laundry, cleaning and doing all the cooking. "My advice to anyone contemplating a nursing home is to have a positive attitude. It's the only way!" she said.

Another caring gentlemen who was in his late 80's, had been a social worker for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Boston in the 1930's. He worked closely with the police investigating allegations of abused children. He was on-call night and day and would file his report to the court to help a judge make his decision. The majority of those cases involved poverty and alcohol abuse. He realized while this was still a problem today, now children from all walks of life are affected. He thought that today's permissive life styles, plus the easy access to guns and drugs were definite factors. "The only thing that hasn't changed about Social Workers, " he chuckled, "is that if you want to get rich, you're in the wrong business!"

A Dear old gentlemen with a strong Irish accent in his late 80's, had been in the Black and Tan War when he was 15 years old. At 17 years old he received a medal from Ireland similar to our Medal of Honor. A very amusing lady from Boston who expected her Martini every afternoon, and received it via a doctor's order, took dancing lessons in her high school years and danced with Ray Bolger! She went on to marry and liked to dance with her husband, while Mr. Bolger became a famous star in The Wizard of Oz. A memorable lady of 105 years wasn't as active as she would have liked and used a walker to get around to close areas and a wheelchair to get to the dining room and the in house beauty salon. She had only one eye, but was happy to still be able to read to see wide print romance novels. She sat in a sunny corner of her room reading and munching candy all afternoon. (That sounds like retirement to me!)

The nursing home I am presently working in has a Resident of the Month program. Each month a resident on each wing is selected to be the focal point of their floor. An area across from the nurse's station in full view holds pictures of the person taken through the years to the present, plus any pertinent info or articles that have been written about them. Family members are invited to participate and often do. It's amazing how surprised and pleased people are. This month's honoree is a gentleman who has been a resident we all know and love. He is a full-blooded Wampanoag Indian. He was also a star football player at his high school. He is a still handsome man in his 80's, but we were all bowled over by a picture of him in his 30's! He was movie star quality handsome. Move over George Clooney!

So. . .the next time you visit a nursing home or an assisted living facility, look around, notice the surroundings of your parents' friends. . . ask questions and get them to talk to you. You may be very pleasantly surprised!


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