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Inside looking out: If only …

This is a story of hope.

There was nothing unusual on that Saturday morning at the Green Valley Nursing Home. Nurses scurried about doing what they do to help the residents get through another day. Bedpans were refreshed. Bed linens were changed. Medicines of every kind were given and after loading up the wheelchairs and being handed their canes, the white-haired men and women, or the GV Q-Tips, as they were affectionately called, were rolled and assisted into the public areas of the home. Some waited for family visitors to come; others looked out the big window hoping to see somebody they might remember walking toward the front door.

A man came in about 9:30. He was dressed in a bright yellow flowered shirt and brown shorts that were pulled up just above his belly. He wore black socks stretched to his knees. They were tucked into a pair of white tennis sneakers.

You could tell there was something peculiar about him. It appeared as if he had stumbled into the wrong place. Every resident, even Mrs. Mason who had been bedridden for a month, lifted her eyes toward him. The man said nothing as he stood in the center of the dining area. The nurses paid no attention as they went about their business. All of a sudden, he waved his right arm above his head in a circle and golden crystals fluttered like butterflies from his fingertips.

And then it began.

All at once, the GV Q-Tips looked a good 50 years younger. All together they rose from their wheelchairs, dropped their canes and marched toward the front door where another remarkable thing was about to happen. Johnny Wilson, a resident for 10 years, was given the honor. He stepped in front of the line and opened the door into a world of unimaginable possibilities.

With a collective gasp of joy, one by one, they walked out into their memories of yesterdays. Jack hurried to the edge of a lake and picked up his old Shakespeare fishing rod. With a strong-armed cast, he flung his bait into the lily pads where he remembered Big Bubba the bass lay in the weeds just below the surface of the shimmering water.

Linda Collins shuffled to her favorite park bench where her husband, Peter, sat. She looked down at his handsome face and jet-black hair, the same picture of him she had kept in her mind for the past 18 years, a time before cancer had ravaged his body, leaving him frail and weak until he finally succumbed one day while they held each other’s hands at his bedside.

“Hello, my love!” he shouted. “I’ve been waiting for you. We’ve been given this day to do whatever we want.” She reached for his hand, the one she had held when he had taken his last breath.

“Let’s take lunch and walk the trail to the top of the lookout where we could see the whole valley below,” she said with a touch of excitement in her voice.

“I thought you would want to do that,” said Peter. He reached under the bench and lifted a picnic basket. Hand in hand they headed down the familiar trail, but this time, wildflowers of brilliant blues, oranges and reds welcomed them along their walk and songbirds danced in the tree tops singing their tunes of approval.

All around the land, the people of Green Valley Nursing Home, now free of their wrinkled skin and bony bodies, were enjoying themselves. Joe Harper grabbed Janet Edwards’ hand and together they ran up to the Flaming Star roller coaster they used to ride on summer nights in Olympic Park. They sped down the first turn, raising their arms to the sky and screaming like two kids who were on their first ever ride.

Bill Baxter sat in his candy apple red Pontiac Firebird and turned the key. The engine roared. He stepped on the gas and off he went with tires smoking and the song “Born to be Wild” blasting through the car speakers. Some states away, Don Driscoll hopped on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He jumped on the throttle and took off into the Arizona desert. Mary Martin put on her old ice skates in Vermont. She moved gracefully across Pine Tree Pond and jumped into a double spin before coming down into a perfect landing.

Sally Alston baked a blueberry pie in her old kitchen. Manny Rodriguez stepped up to the plate with his boomer bat in hand at a softball game. Helen Thompson cooked his favorite meal, homemade chicken soup for her son, Randall, who two years later would be killed in a car crash. Tony Biletto and his wife, Sandra, danced around their living room to the doo-wop songs of the ’50s.

The hours slipped away and as the emerging night sky loomed across the horizon, the residents made their way back to Green Valley’s front door. Contrary to what one might expect, there were no tears, not even a frown. A portrait of satisfaction was painted across each of their faces.

Johnny Wilson had led the troops into their day of youth and freedom. Now he stepped up and opened the door. With a slight hesitation, they walked in and just like that, they were old and wrinkled again and back in their beds and their wheelchairs. The nurses hustled about as if nothing unusual had happened.

Sometime around 11 p.m., Mary lifted her head from her pillow. She looked over to Helen with whom she shared a room. Her mouth opened to speak, but she waited a second for Helen, who did the same.

“What a day!” they said together. With that, Mary and Helen fell asleep and like all the residents of Green Valley, they dreamed of the moment they’d be called back home, returning to the things they loved.

Rich Strack can be reached at richiesadie11@gmail.com.