Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Everything is Beautiful!

I love to hear people's stories.  I'm mesmerized by the tales; how people met, where they fell in love, the great adventures of their lifetimes.  If I could, I'd spend hours in a museum's picture gallery - in particular - the historical sections, reading the captions or looking into the eyes of the settlers who came before me.  Perhaps this is why graveyards have always fascinated me as well.  There's usually information about the people buried there.  I'll read the details and sit amongst the markers, quietly considering the lives surrounding me.  We're not long upon this Earth, this I know for certain.

I've always gravitated towards senior citizens having worked as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) in a geriatric facility and later as a Patient Care Volunteer through Hospice.  There are too many lost memories wanting to be told; relived just one more time.  These thoughts get swallowed up in dark, still hallways where family members forget to record them or worse yet, forget they have someone waiting to ask.

Here's a memory I refuse to dismiss.  A story from my time as a CNA.

Alexandra*, when not at meals or resting in her room, sat every day alone on a bench against a wall.  She spoke to no one but always smiled and nodded when residents or aides went by.  She still had teeth, but not by much.  What little she had were broken and black.  Apparently she didn't seem to mind and honestly, neither did I.  Alex's smile made my day complete.

After working at the nursing home for several months and finding my pace, I discovered I had more time to sit and visit with Alex.  She was extremely shy at first.  The only way I could communicate with her was talking about my life; what I was doing from day to day, making for dinner, or silly stories from my past. 

Eventually I broke through.  She started sharing her life in bits and pieces.  Little stories at first, things which didn't bother her; however, I could see by the shadows in her eyes that her past was difficult.  When things got tough we'd start to sing the song, Everything is Beautiful, then we'd scratch each other's backs.  We only knew three or four of the lines yet we'd repeat them over and over again.  Aides or nurses would walk by, roll their eyes, and make us giggle just to sing it a wee bit louder.

One day, her sad story finally came out.  She had learned to trust me.  It was a story she held for over 80 years.  She finally let it go... 

Alexandra's story:

She lived on a homestead on the eastern Colorado plains.  Her mama and baby brother had taken a train east to visit relatives for the holidays.  Her papa took the wagon into Denver to pick them up at Union Station.  On their way back, a blizzard blew through.  The worst one in years.  It was believed that the wagon got stuck so her papa must have unhitched the horses and tried to pull them with her mama and brother on top.  It eventually became whiteout conditions.

By the time the storm blew past, a search party went out to find the lost group.  Alex waited at home with some of the women.  News had spread that the family was found dead three miles east of their homestead in a ravine.  The horses were gone.  Alex's papa was face down covered in snow but her mama and baby brother had their arms wrapped tight around each other frozen stiff.

The bodies were brought home and due to possible new storms and the need to get Alex back East to her relatives, the funerals were held the next day.

When I asked Alex how she managed through this horrible situation, she smiled.  She said, "Mama and Jimmy looked like angels.  They were still frozen solid together.  They were going to be buried that a'ways.  I'll never forget staring at mama's face in the candlelight and see'ng a tear on her cheek.  Well, now that I'm older, I know it was her defrost'ng a bit, but as a little girl, I figg'erd she was shedd'ng a tear for me and somehow that made me feel like she was miss'ng me already.  I felt I was gunna be ok, and I was. "

I let out a sigh and wiped my tears quickly away.  She started scratching my back, nodded, smiled her lovely, broken smile and let out a roaring chorus of, Everything is Beautiful.

*names have been changed for privacy purposes