Rockets experience the power of presence: Observations from Fall Appalachia 2018, Volume 2

Morning of Thursday: 9/13/18

I quietly climb out of my top bunk bed to not wake my roommates.  This is not a very successful effort as I end up waking up half my room, at least for the moment, as I use my flashlight to find my notebook and sweatshirt before I make my way to the back deck.  The sunrise is clearly visible today and a peaceful silence falls over all the early risers who are there to witness the beautiful mountain morning.

I have genuinely been waiting for this day since I found out that a nursing home was one of the sites that we would be visiting on our stay in Grainger County.  On the drive to Ridgeview Terrace of Life Care, I cannot help but notice the overabundance of small churches, mostly Baptist, on practically every other street corner.  I wonder why there are so many when the houses here are so few and far between.  There are also a few cemeteries, one of which has every tombstone adorned with bright flowers or other commemorative decorations.  I wonder if there was a recent celebration of life or if it is always kept that nice.

We pull into Ridgeview Terrace, sign in, and make our way to one of the common areas.  There are groups of older residents sitting around the tables.  Some are talking with each other while others are just watching “The Price is Right” while waiting for lunch to be served.  I scan the room and take the opportunity to slow down and engage in real conversation with a few women in the corner of the room near the television.

I soon realize that only one of the ladies at the table can stay engaged and hold a conversation, which makes me sad, but also gives me a chance to have one on one dialogue.  I introduce myself to Minnie.  She is a woman in her eighties with disheveled white hair and a personality so strong that it can take over the room quickly.  Minnie is confined to a wheelchair, but her mind knows no bounds.  While she is more than willing to talk with me, it is clear to see that she does still have moments of lapses in her short term memory, but this does not stop her.  She begins to take over the conversation, and I am able to simply sit and listen to her tell stories of her past and watch as she delights in passing on her wisdom to a young teenager.  She talks about how she thinks television is a waste of time and how she enjoys passing the days by reading her bible instead.

Soon, it is time for BINGO and Liz Huber takes the responsibility of running the game by calling out the numbers and making sure everyone can hear and understand.  She has a tremendous amount of patience, calling out the numbers multiple times, and allowing all the residents to check their cards before moving on.  I see Julia Brune helping and laughing with two of the women at her table who are totally invested in the game and dialed into the moment.  I help the woman beside Minnie, as she is struggling on her own and does not say anything the whole time.  When the game comes to an end, the residents earn a certain amount of “fun money” to spend in different rooms in the Center, according to how many spaces they covered during the course of the game.  Before the nurse comes around to check on my table and hand out the prizes, the woman who had not spoken the whole time, and only looked up from her cup of chocolate milk every few minutes, threw me for a loop when she stealthily covered up three extra spaces to win more money.  The nurse did not seem to notice as she handed out the prizes.  Minnie gives me the next surprise as she quietly transfers all her winnings to the third woman at the table and that woman quickly places Minnie’s fun money bills in her own chair.  I am amazed at the underground BINGO operation my new friends have going on at Ridgeview.  I find myself both impressed and amused at the incredible sequence of events.

After the game we have a little more time before we depart.  I talk with Minnie about my family and my goals and dreams.  When I tell her about my parents, siblings, and how I go to a Catholic school, she says, “You’ve got a great head start.”  I could not agree more with her, and I assure her that I intend to do the best that I can in my future and live my life to the fullest.  This satisfies her and as I am leaving she grabs ahold of my hand and says vehemently, “Good luck!”  Today has really, for me, brought to life the old cliché of getting more out of service than what you put in.  All I did was work up the nerve to sit down at a table and talk, and I was opened to a fascinating conversation with a woman who just wanted someone who would listen to her.

…a little while later…

“Joppa Mtn. Pottery Welcomes back Archbishop McNicholas!”  is spelled out across the plastic interchangeable sign at the top of the gravel driveway leading to the humble property of Ann and McDonald Crosby.  As soon as we step foot out of the van, their dog Gordo enthusiastically greets us and seems particularly happy to see Jeff Hutchinson-Smyth back on his turf.  We all take a second to look around at all the beautiful handmade creations that are displayed all out in the open in the outdoor pottery shop.  Ann talks with us about why she loves what she does.  She even tells us why she does not particularly enjoy making duplicate items to sell, even if they generate profit.  She says, “Once I’ve created it, I’m done.  Someone else can do it for me, but I like creating things.”

McDonald takes us into his “classroom” where he gladly shows us the art of ceramics.  As the rest of my group has filed back outside, a few women walk into the studio with Hutchinson-Smyth and myself.  They begin to engage in conversation with us and explain that they are Jehovah’s Witnesses who are visiting Joppa Mt. Pottery for the first time.  We share who we are, where we are from, and what we are all about.  They complement us and seem truly amazed by the way we carry ourselves as Rockets.  This is a moment of humble pride for me as I am really able to see how outsiders can have such a positive first impression on McNicholas and I can walk away from the encounter knowing we represented our school and our faith well.

After I finally come to a decision on what I wish to purchase as a memento of the occasion, I calculate the cost of my items and am relieved when I have just the exact amount of money there in cash to make the purchase.  Ann seems to sense that I was on a tight budget, and when I go to pay for the mug and necklace, she hands me back nearly ¼ of the cash I owed her.  I am moved by her willingness to offer such a discount to someone she’d barely met.  Later, before we leave, we ask her if she ever has any fears about winter weather destroying their precious, beautifully handcrafted pottery that is sitting unprotected on shelves out in the elements.  She says, “He (God) could wipe all this away with the hurricane.  Why worry about winter?”  This shows her awesome steadfast faith in God and her confidence that He will protect them and provide for them

.…coming up next…

In the next edition of “Observations from Fall Appalachia 2018,” I will begin with the story of our experience at Glory Bound Baptist Church and our time with the Fox family.

 

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