I arrive in the Alzheimer’s long-term-care unit at 11:00. I have brought my guitar, my mother's musty old Book of Common Prayer, and the Bible that was given to my husband years ago, when he was confirmed in the Methodist Church. I am on a mission.
There used to be one room here, with a hexagonal nurses' station in the center. The high cost of long-term care has caused the nursing home corporation to look for new ways to make up the expense. Half the nursing station and two halls have been devoted to rehabilitation. A dividing wall has been constructed in the Day room to cut the hexagon in half. Half the nursing station is in the rehabilitation section, and half of it is in the Alzheimer's section. In both halves of the hexagon, the nurses’ station is sectioned off from the Day room by a counter. I must lift a plastic cover on the wall outside and press a button to get into the Alzheimer's unit. This temporarily unlocks the door.
The first thing I see is little Mrs. Amick, leading her gray-headed Lester towards his hall. We nod quiet greetings to each other. He is the patient, and she is his wife. She lives 50 miles south, but visits Lester almost every morning and stays until she has fed him his lunch.
My father, all six feet, two hundred plus pounds of him, has his back to me. He is dressed in somebody else's plaid pajama bottoms and a teeny little gray tee shirt, which barely stretches across his chest. He faces the TV and a group of people who are seated in armchairs up against the wall. I call to him, "Dad. Dad! Hello! I'm over here." He hears me and says "Jessie?" to the TV, and then to the wall, before he turns all the way around and sees me.
Others, sitting by the wall in front of the TV, see me, too. There is brown Ms. Harriet, with her hopeful smile and her French braids, sitting on a rolling brown easy chair that is patched with duct tape. She never speaks, and though she is sitting today, she usually walks around and around in circles. When I come to sing with Dad, she looks into my face with her questioning smile, and I want to answer her question, which is frustrating, because I don't know what it is. She has grasped the arm of another lady's chair, and is trying to roll herself closer to this other woman.
I collected Dad and took him to his room. Entering his room is like entering another world. The Day Room is institutional. My father's room is a sanctuary. The light is soft. He has posters on his walls. His bed is made up by one of the Britthaven employees with a patchwork quilt. I have adjusted his radio to a classical and baroque music station and taped the dial so that it is not easy to switch. Soft music is always playing. Letters, postcards, photos, and personal tributes from his friends are tacked above his bed.
I have come on this day to try something I haven't tried yet. When I was growing up, Dad taught me that God was a crutch. He taught me that only weak people use the crutch of God and that he expected me to be stronger than that. But neither he nor I knew then what kind of curve balls God would send our way. Nowadays, when I have to leave my father in the care of others, I need to believe that God will take care of him.
I have come today to try to say some prayers with Dad, for his protection and his peace of mind. I am hoping that my father will understand. I am hoping for divine assistance. I sit on his bed after showing him that my mother’s maiden name is embossed in gold letters on the cover of this 1928 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. He stands like a big six-year-old while I read a Morning Prayer for the Family. My father listens with an indecipherable look on his face.
Then I open my husband's Bible to the 23rd Psalm and start to read it. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want...” Suddenly my father starts to recite while I read. His words are ungarbled enough for me to know he memorized it some really long time ago.
When we finish with the prayers, I give him a shower, change him into his very own best jeans and t-shirt, and we go out into the Day Room to sing and play music with the others. They are all still there. I turn off the TV, find a seat, and start to play "Home on the Range" and “Down In the Valley.” A formerly reluctant singer starts to sing with us in a painfully high voice. She is singing the real words. At times she sings to a faster rhythm as though she is racing to beat the rest of us to the end of the song. Dad and I look at each other and count a small victory.
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Tommy's section of the site, the following pages
are also related to Jesse and Tommy:
Blurred Time "The Sleeper": the aftermath of Jesse and Bobbie's car accident
Mike Craver's "Visiting Tommy"
Roots of the Red Clay Ramblers:
Fuzzy Mountain String Band: Jesse's mom, Bobbie, recorded with Rambler Bill Hicks and others
Hollow Rock String Band: Tommy and Bobbie Thompson named this band for their community
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February 17, 2000