The two nurses walked down the hallway, the pattern of the low pile carpet forming a complicated series of swirls and diamonds in beige and green. Solid squares lined the sides, making a path alongside the wide wall guards that doubled as hand railings. The first nurse, a short woman with auburn hair swept up in a bun, led the way and pointed to the crafting room at the far corner of the old folk’s home.
“And over here is the activities room where we store all the craft supplies and have special events for anyone in this wing. You’ll see that the activities in this memory care addition are specialized for the type of resident we care for here. Have you supervised craft activities before, Mary?” Nurses Tammy and Mary walked into a room with four tables. On them were yarn, popsicle sticks, large cardboard letter shapes, rounded scissors and various other supplies.
A handful of people sat around the tables with jumbles of disorganized odds and ends in front of them.
“I usually assist,” replied Nurse Mary, “but I’ve led a couple of interesting projects at the senior daycare I worked for last year.” She looked around the room at the boxes of beads and bobbles, the racks of colored rolls of paper, and shelves of wicker baskets overflowing with material and ribbons. “This room is so colorful! Do all these supplies come from the budget or are they donated?” Mary ran her hands along a rack of ribbon in assorted shades. She rubbed the silk between her fingers, then looked back at the residents, smoothing a stray blond piece of hair back into her braid.
“We get some basic supplies through the office, but the majority are donated from family members and volunteers. That whole rack of ribbons over there? Those were donated from Beatrice’s daughter, Waneeta.” One of the women sitting at the table in front of Tammy looked up.
“Isn’t that right, Beatrice?” Tammy said, in a suddenly loud voice. Beatrice looked up at her, pursing her lips and furrowing her brow.
“What are you talking about?” Beatrice replied back, just as loudly. “What’s going on?”
She squinted through her glasses looking for the person who said her name.
“I was talking about Waneeta, your daughter. Isn’t it nice that she brings in all this ribbon for you to make pretty things with?” Tammy leaned closer to Beatrice and patted her shoulder.
“You have such a lovely daughter.”
“Oh yes, it’s a pretty dress that green with the thing on the water,” replied Beatrice with a wave of her hand, dismissing Tammy so that she could get back to her project. Tammy smiled and squeezed her shoulder.
“That’s looking beautiful, Beatrice,” she encouraged. “We’ll have to hang it up on the doorway after lunch.”
“Lunch?” said a man sitting at the opposite corner of the table with his legs crossed in a wheelchair. He had some glue and yarn in front of him, but he was leaning back in his chair with one hand in his lap and his head propped on the other hand, elbow resting on the arm of the wheelchair. When he spoke, he didn’t look at Tammy, but just kept staring straight forward.
“Yes, Richard,” Tammy answered. “Lunch is coming soon. You have to wait for the girls to get the plates set at the tables. Try not to pester the ladies too much until then, will ya?”
Tammy winked at Mary with a smile.
“Aghhh,” he said, squinting his eyes and then clearing the phlegm from his throat. “All they do is ask me to hand them things.” He sighed, but continued to sit there, waiting around in case his services were needed.
“Only because you’re so helpful, Richard.” Tammy walked closer to Mary and lowered her voice again. “So let me introduce you to the residents in this room. This is Beatrice, you got that already. She’s a bit abrupt, but has a heart of gold. She has dysphasia, but once you get used to her, you start to understand what she means. And that’s Richard. He’s a big old grump, but you can tell he really means well.” Tammy then leaned in closer, crossing her arms and subtly putting her hand up in front of her mouth. “His daughter says he has a heart of gold, but it’s buried underneath eighty years of stubborn jackass.”
Mary stifled a giggle and coughed to cover it up.
“So I guess he’s named Richard for a good reason?” Mary whispered back.
“You know it,” stated Tammy. “Some days he can be a real Dick. But he’s cooperative, so you just have to roll with it. We have a whole notebook of some of his phrases. We like to save them and use them on the Director when he pisses us off. My favorite is ‘screw off you namby-pamby dictator and just let me nap on the davenport.’ As a matter of fact, I think I used that one on my husband last weekend.” Mary chortled. Tammy smirked and looked around the room.
“Let’s see, who’s next? How about Alice and Kandi over there? They’re roommates. Practically inseparable. They do just about everything together. They both have pretty advanced Alzheimer’s so a lot of their habits are similar and sometimes it’s really cute to see one of them do something, and then see the other follow right behind her and undo it.”
Mary watched as Kandi used her finger to scoop a scattering of green glitter into a small pile and turn around to look for a container. Alice had just finished up spreading out a bit of red sequins into a single layer on a cutting board. She glanced over at Kandi’s pile of green glitter and started touching it. Kandi finally discovered a small Tupperware container on the table behind her and turned back around, saw Alice’s red sequins, and started gathering them together in a small pile.
“They keep each other busy all day long like that,” said Tammy with a sigh. “Oh, and whatever you do, don’t call Kandi anything else. It’s always just Kandi. Her official name on all her prescriptions is Katherine, but she hates that name. She’ll have a fit if you call her anything but Kandi.”
“Noted,” Mary said as she pulled a small notepad from the pocket of her nurse’s scrub and jotted it down. She looked up at the last person left in the room. She was a quiet woman, sitting at her own table and flipping through a 3-ring binder. There were some stickers and sheet protectors around her, but she mostly just sat and smiled at the book in front of her. “Who’s that?”
“That’s Agnes,” Tammy said with a soft smile. “She’s our local deltiologist.”
“A what?” asked Mary.
“Someone who collects postcards. She gets one every day, and it goes in that binder on the next empty page. She spends most days looking at it, until she’s ready for a nap or a meal. Other than her evening sitcoms in the common room, she usually just re-reads her postcards. Her speech isn’t so great either, but she can talk a little. One of us usually reads her postcard out loud to everyone when it comes in the mail, and later helps to put it in the binder.”
“Who do the postcards come from?” asked Mary.
“Oh, her daughter arranges the whole thing. It’s really pretty interesting—” Tammy’s words were cut off by a beeping noise in the hallway. “Shoot. I’ll be right back. I have to go see who is trying to go out on the patio alone.” She walked out of the room swiftly and left Mary with the crafting group. Mary walked around the tables and looked at the various crafts that had been completed and left on the table.
“This is lovely, do you know who made this one, Beatrice?” Mary held up a paper plate that had been decorated with leaves and glitter and turned it around in her hands, showing it to the woman. Beatrice looked at it over top of her glasses and grimaced. She reached out and touched the glitter, then took the plate into her own hands and turned it over to the back, then over again to the front.
“Pretty. Leaves, and light.” She waved her hand over it, trying to find the words she wanted to say. Finally, she just smiled at Mary, put the plate back in Mary’s hands and nodded. She went back to the supplies in front of her and picked up a few pieces of ribbon, staring at them as if deciding which one was the right one.
“What about you, Richard?” Mary tried again. “Do you like this? It’s always pretty when the leaves turn in the fall. This would be pretty to hang on the wall out by the TV, don’t you think?”
Richard shifted in his chair, and crossed his legs the other way. He looked at the table, grabbed a bottle of glue, and slid it down to Mary without looking at her.
“Here. Needs more glitter.” Mary smiled and starting sorting through the glitter bottles in front of her. She glanced over her shoulder at Alice and Kandi and thought, I guess I won’t be using any green glitter or red sequins. Agnes glanced at her from her table and smiled. “What do you think, Agnes? What color glitter should I use?” Agnes looked at the bottles Mary was holding.
“Ooh. That’s nice,” she said, pointing to the orange. “Everett loved orange.”
“Orange it is, then,” Mary said as she unscrewed the lid for the orange. She poured a little bit of glue onto her finger, and spread a thin bit on the tips of the leaves that stuck out around the edge of the plate, and then sprinkled a bit of orange glitter on it. She was just scooping up the leftover glitter when Tammy walked back in.
“Sorry about that. Door alarm. Have to make sure someone checks to make sure no one is going on the patio alone.” She looked down at the glitter on the table. “Oh don’t worry. Leave that there. Alice and Kandi will take care of it after lunch.”
“You have mail, Agnes!” Mary called across the common room. A few heads turned and one of the residents tiptoed their wheelchair over from the doorway toward the couch in the middle of the room.
Mary’s first morning on the memory care shift had gone well. The other nurses were welcoming and generally happy, and breakfast time had given her a chance to bond a little more with Richard, who decided that he didn’t like applesauce today.
“I don’t like applesauce, either,” she had told him. “Why take a perfectly good fruit and smash it? It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Now peaches, those are perfect for pies. They’re much softer than apples and a whole lot sweeter. Why don’t they smash peaches instead? Seems like those were created just for smashing up, don’t you think?”
Richard had huffed at her, not wanting to agree to anything. The more she complained about apples, the more he seemed to want to disagree with her. Eventually, her reverse psychology had won out and he had grabbed the bowl of applesauce and fed himself in spite of her. Now, she was handing out mail to the residents, helping open letters and read them where needed. Mary saved the postcard addressed to Agnes for last, and everyone’s eyes followed her as she walked over to sit next to Agnes on the couch. Agnes closed her binder and looked at Mary as she sat. The postcard came with a colorful photo on the front showing a large waterfall with a rainbow of colors glowing through the water, printed on thick linen paper with weathered edges. The title above the picture read “Night View, American Falls of Niagara from Luna Island”.
Mary handed it to Agnes, who ran her fingers along the card from left to right, feeling the bumpiness of the paper and admiring the chromatic image. The room was quiet, and those who were not paying attention previously were now turning their heads to watch Agnes. Mary glanced up and looked around the room, amazed at how something that held such little text could hold the entire room in preoccupation.
Agnes turned the card over and ran a thumb over the stamp at the top right. Mary’s eyebrows creased as she looked at the card. Something she saw didn’t seem to match. She looked up at the other nurses who had come down the hallway and paused. They all seemed entranced as well, but they all had their eyes on Agnes and didn’t see the questioning look on Mary’s face. She looked back down at the card, waiting to see if Agnes was ready to read it yet.
“This is a good one,” said Agnes. Her fingers followed the words, as she silently followed them from top to bottom with her eyes. Laugh wrinkles deepened at the corners of her face as she looked over at Mary. “You read it nice and loud now, so everyone can hear.” Agnes patted her knee. “Go ahead,” she said to Mary.
“Ok, here we go,” Mary started. The postcard had a little less than a paragraph in small faded woman’s handwriting and didn’t start with the word ‘Dear,’ but went straight into the greeting.
Today we celebrated 16 years of bliss, and we spent it at Niagara Falls. It was cold, but the falls were magnificent! Coffee or Tea is the 16 year gift for anniversaries, so we spent the morning at a tiny coffee shop on the corner of Main Street, canoodling in a corner booth until the management told us to get a room. Driving back home tonight after we ride the Maid of the Mist. What a wonderful day to be alive! Truly blessed, Nessie
Mary held up the front of the card so that others could see the picture, and more than one person let out a sigh, and someone said “Oooooh”. Agnes was obviously proud and grinned from ear to ear.
“What a beautiful note, Agnes. This is definitely a keeper! Should we put it in your book?” Mary asked. Agnes took the postcard back and stared at it for a while, touching parts of the photo. She gently shook her head. Another nurse came over to Mary, carrying a load of laundry.
“She usually likes to look at it for a while on the couch. When she’s ready to put it in the book, she’ll get up and go to the craft room, and one of us will help her staple it into the sheet protector to keep it in the right order.”
“In order?” Mary asked.
“You don’t know?” the other nurse replied. Mary shook her head. “Oh, it’s a special story. One of us will tell you before dinner. Ok?” Mary nodded and got up to leave Agnes with her new postcard, which didn’t look so new at all. She found it curious that the stamp on it looked so new, and the handwriting looked as if years of sunlight had faded it. The copyright date in the corner on the postcard said 1950, but it had just come in today’s mail with a fresh postmark from Bliss, NY. Fresh ink was used to write Agnes’s current address. There was quite a bit of this story missing, and Mary was curious to find out more.
Mary went about her duties, helping other residents and doing the odd task. There was plenty to keep her busy, and gradually she stopped thinking about the postcard.
By mid-afternoon, Agnes had become tired, and Mary saw her walking with her postcard binder to her room. She’d been told that Agnes needed assistance getting in and out of bed, so she followed Agnes to check on her. She tapped lightly on the door of the private room.
“Hi Agnes, do you need any help? Were you wanting to take a nap before dinner?”
Agnes was standing by her low double drawer dresser, setting the binder in a space that looked like it was reserved just for her cards. She looked up at Mary and gave a single dreamy nod.
Mary helped her sit on the bed and take her shoes off. Agnes rolled away from Mary onto the pillow and by the time Mary had finished tucking her in and closing the blinds, the tired woman was already snoring.
Mary stood for a moment and smiled, wishing she had such an easy time falling asleep. Then she turned to walk out the door and spotted the binder of postcards. Curiosity being the troublemaker that it was, Mary couldn’t resist opening the binder to glance at the assortment of cards Agnes had collected. She hadn’t planned to look at them as long as she did, but she got caught up in the writing and the story that was written in swirly faded handwriting before her.
Front: Artist rendering of Hotel Commodore, New York
Back: Today is the first day of my first trip alone as a grown up! I spent my first money on this postcard at the train station. I’m going to rent a bike and tour the town after I get checked in. I’m so excited to begin my adventure!
Front: Skyview drawing of United Nations Headquarters, New York
Back: Had a great breakfast at the diner next to the hotel and I’m going to visit the Statue of Liberty today. Miss you! Love, Nessie
P.S. Ran my bike into a man on way to post office yesterday.
So glad he wasn’t mad!
(scrawled along the edge of the card: Don’t forget his name is Everett)
Front: Black and white photo of Statue of Liberty
Back: Had breakfast at diner again. Everett offered to share a tour of Ellis Island with me so I don’t have to go alone. He will make a great pen pal after this trip!
Love meeting new people, Nessie
Front: Color drawing of Statue of Liberty with The Liberty Prayer
Back: Tour yesterday was amazing! Learned so much, and have made a great friend. Will miss him when I go back home. Today we go walk the Liberty State park. Will get more postcards there! Thinking of you, Nessie
The cards continued, each of them with a fresh outlook on life and an optimism that only new love could bestow. Reading was infectious, especially when Mary jaded by love stories on the TV. She wondered if it stayed that way throughout, so she flipped closer to the middle.
Front: Black/white drawing of woman in a large hat, with poem titled “The Value of a Smile” by George W. Cooper
Back: Found a penny on the ground today. That’s good luck! Saving it to show Everett when he visits today! Love, Nessie
Front: Painting of a covered bridge in Vermont
Back: Woke up this morning after an amazing dream! I think something special is going to happen tonight. Everett said he has a surprise for me. Life is glorious!
Front: Hand colored photo of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire
Back: Still floating on air after Everett’s proposal! I can’t wait to be his Mrs and call him my Mister! We are already making an invitation list and picking out invitations. Probably postcards. Ha ha! Blessings, Nessie
Every postcard was full of love and happiness. Mary looked again at the postmark on the
stamp, dark black ink making a stark contrast to the faded handwriting on the left side of the card. The postmark came from Bliss, NY every time. The irony wasn’t lost on Mary. She flipped more pages.
Front: Sepia photo of Marilyn Monroe’s face smiling
Back: Today marks the first day of my second trimester. I’m so glad I stopped throwing up. I can’t wait to meet this little one who finds ways to show me every day they are excited to be alive! Everett is nearly done building the cradle. With hope, Nessie
It seemed like no matter what postcard she read, she couldn’t help but smile from the words. While flipping a few more pages and glancing at the pretty photos and prints on the cards, she heard someone clear their throat beside her. It was Tammy coming in for her shift.
“I see you got caught up by the postcard saga, too.” Mary froze. It was a serious infraction to invade a resident’s privacy, and to be rummaging through Agnes’s binder could get her fired on the spot. She tried to think of an explanation, but none came. To her relief, Tammy’s face softened. “You aren’t the first one. Don’t worry. We’re all infatuated with it. It’s the highlight of our day, to be honest.” Mary glanced back at the book before closing it.
“Oh, that’s one of my favorites,” said Tammy.
“This one,” she said, pointing to one with a cartoon-style drawing on the front of it. The drawing was of a man and a woman, with the man asking ‘Do you like Kipling?’ The woman on the card replied, ‘I don’t know, you naughty boy, I’ve never kippled!’
“I don’t get it it,” said Mary.
“Neither did the woman in the postcard,” said Tammy. “But you need to get back out there and help straighten up the mess in the common room. Richard’s being a Dick again.”
Later, before Mary left to go home, she stopped Tammy to ask her if she had time to tell her about the postcards. Tammy explained that the postcards being sent from “Nessie” were actually written by Agnes back when she was younger and went by the name “Nessie”. The postcards initially started because she had taken a trip after graduation and started out writing postcards to her family back home, but never mailed them because she wasn’t sure if the cards would make it back before she did. The postcards she wrote during that trip documented the first moments that she met Everett, and when she returned home, she had decided to keep them for herself instead of giving them away. She collected postcards from all over, hoarding them away for journaling instead of using a diary like other girls.
As Agnes aged, having married and raised her daughter, Nora, then retired, she learned she had Alzheimer’s. She did her best to manage, but after her husband’s passing, her health became worse and her daughter cared for her. Nora had found the collection of cards stored in her Mother’s closet and used them as conversation starters and memory practice with her Mom.
For the past five years, Agnes had come to live in the memory care unit and her daughter wasn’t able to visit as often, so she began mailing the cards to her mother every day as a way to remind her mother of the happiness that filled her life.
“Does her daughter live in Bliss, NY?” asked Mary. “I noticed the postmarks are always from there.”
“No,” replied Tammy with a grin. “Agnes never called it Marriage. She always referred to it as bliss. So Nora decided to send the postcards first to the postman in Bliss, NY and asked him to postmark them before mailing them forward to Agnes.”
“That’s so poetic!” gushed Mary while Tammy nodded in agreement. “I didn’t even know the post office would do that.”
“They do, but this is definitely a special situation. Nessie’s postcards have become quite famous with the Bliss post office. Occasionally Nora gets postcard from them, thanking her for sharing the greatest romance saga they’ve ever read.”