When I was about ten years old my mother began a career as a Nurse's Aide. She started in nursing homes and the first job was in Florida. Than particular one was made up of several cottages which were connected by cement walkways.
It was summertime and I had to go to work with mama because there was no school and we couldn't afford a babysitter. I didn't like the idea one bit and would've much rather been playing cowboys or army, but I had no choice.
Sometimes I would just follow mama around while she did her work checking temperatures, emptying bedpans, and doing any number of tasks. She smiled a lot and was very kind and cheerful with the folks in the nursing home and she made sure that I was smiling, too.
Often mama would come up with things for me to do in order to occupy my time and also to be helpful. She would say, "Take this newspaper to Mr. Thompson's room and read to him." Or, "Go down to Mrs. Reed's room and see if she'd like for you to read something from the Bible." Once, when I was being especially cranky, mama said, "Now you straighten up and go right over there in front of cottage number two and you just jump up and down and act like a monkey! You just be as silly as you can!"
Well, I made it through that summer and went back to school and mama went back to work without me. The following Easter I had to go to work with her again and she had a plan that did not sit well with me at all.
The bunny suit she made for me had ears at least a foot tall and a cotton tail as big as a cantaloupe! She declared I looked adorable, but I didn't feel very good about it.
She filled an Easter basket with colored eggs and I had to hop from cottage to cottage singing, "Here comes Peter Cottontail, hoppin' down the bunny trail!." All her co-workers clapped and laughed and agreed with mama that little Duffy was simply as cute as could be. There is a large, framed, photograph of me in that bunny suit and if you look closely you will see that little Duffy is not pleased. I smiled in front the residents that day, but mama could not get me to smile for the photographer.
All that is well and good, but something else happened that day which was quite remarkable. There was am old fellow named Pete who lived there. He was sitting on the front porch of cottage number one, in his wheelchair. I hopped up the steps and gave him an Easter egg. He grinned as my mother helped him crack and peel the egg. I went into the cottage to visit other folks who lived there. I came back outside and was hopping down the steps to the walkway when Pete said, "I'll have another, thank you."
Now this would not have been such a big deal except that Pete had not uttered a word in the five years that he'd been in that nursing home! Not a word had he spoken, and now, as clear and plain as day, he'd said, "I'll have another, thank you." Everyone, mama especially, was astounded. When she asked him why he'd not spoken before this, he just said he'd had nothing to say! I gave the old man another egg.
One day, when mama was in her eighties, I was standing in her kitchen doorway. She was sitting at the table eating a bowl of icecream. She looked at me and said, "Who's that man standing in my fireplace!?" We all knew she'd been slipping lately, but this was a heart-breaker. A short while later mama became a resident at Augusta Nursing and Rehabilitation. She passed away there, one day in 2006. She thought it was 1941. She was sixteen years young, picking up shells on the beach in Galveston. I didn't tell her any different. I'd just reach down to the floor, the sandy beach, pick up an imaginary shell, and drop it into her hand. One day, the last day, she held out her small hand and I touched it gently. She looked at her palm, smiled a little, and said, "I really love Periwinkles." I said, "Me too, mama."
Here it is almost fifty years after that little Easter episode and I don't wear a bunny suit, but I still entertain in the nursing homes and retirement centers a few times a month. I play my guitar and blow my harmonica. "You are my sunshine...." and, sometimes, I jump up and down and act like a monkey.
When I was ten years, I disagreed with her, but looking back, I think mama was pretty smart and I'm sure she knew what she was doing when she insisted that I wear that silly bunny suit.