The writing prompt at Sunday Scribblings today is "treasure". Here's my story...
The old woman sat in the rocking chair on the front porch of the small nursing home where she lived. It wasn't a fancy place, her stay there being funded by government dollars. She had been there seven years now, watching others arrive, often angry or sad and confused. She tried to comfort them and welcome them to their new surroundings. It seemed the only time family showed up to visit most of them was in their last days and hours, when it was proper to make an appearance and act as if they cared.
She often heard the young staff at the home talking about her and the other residents as if the were deaf and not right in their heads. She was saddened that they showed so little appreciation for the treasure of stories and wisdom that could be gleaned from these people, if only anyone cared to listen. But no one ever did, they were busy with meals and bath time, and medications and such... and even more with sitting in the office and talking to each other the old woman thought.
One day a young man appeared at the office door of the crumbling old home, which was surely as old, if not older, than many of the people who resided there. He told the owner of the facility that he was doing a living history project for his college class, and should like to speak with some of the elders in the home, to record their stories if they were willing.
The owner told him he was welcome to introduce himself to the residents and visit with them, but not to expect too much, because most of them were just "senile old farts" who couldn't remember what day it is much less what happened last year or ten years ago.
The young man was soon to prove her wrong. He began stopping by each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, making the rounds to talk awhile with each of the residents, asking them about their families, their lives, and what the world was like years ago. He carried a voice recorder with him so that he didn't have to interrupt their conversations to write down their words. For the most part he just listened, something no one had done for these folks in a long, long time.
An interesting thing happened. Folks at the nursing home began to look forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the visit that was sure to come. Staff noticed that the old men were tending to shave and the ladies were dressing up a bit, putting on necklaces and earrings, and sometimes a bit of rouge on their pale cheeks.
It wasn't long before a group began to gather in the day room on those afternoons, whereas they had mostly stayed in their own rooms in the past. As the stories were shared with this eager young man, they began to listen to each other, and to add on.... "Yes, I know that place, I first met my wife there at the Friday night dance!" "Yes, they used to say that doctor was an evil one, if he thought a woman had too many children already, sometimes the new one didn't live long after birth." Another would nod in agreement.
They shared stories of births, deaths, and marriages, of careers and children growing up. Of holidays and parties, places they'd visited, and pets they had loved. The young man recorded every word, and transcribed it into written form, often staying up late into the night to complete his project before then end of semester and Christmas break.
A few days before Christmas, everyone was surprised to see him juggling a large box as he came thru the front entrance. He headed toward the scrawny artificial Christmas tree under which very few presents were scattered, and began to unload package after package, all similar in shape and size - rectangular and not too large. The large print tags showed there was one for each of them. His eyes sparkled, but he wouldn't offer a clue as to what the brightly wrapped boxes contained. It became a source of increasing curiosity among the residents. Guesses abounded and excitement grew as Christmas morning neared.
The young man showed up early, bedecked in a bright Christmas sweater and a Santa hat, which made them smile. On this morning he joined them for breakfast, and helped staff pass out gifts. Thankfully, the staff had made sure there were at least a couple wrapped packages for each resident in addition to the ones he had brought. He watched eagerly as crippled fingers and time-worn hands began to undo ribbons and tape and scatter paper on the floor. They smiled in appreciation for the small gifts they received, and noted wistfully the nicer things that had come for those who had families that at least cared to some extent.
Then it was time to open the festive packages the young man had given them. The room grew quiet as boxes began to open, and soon their were exclamations of "ooh and ahhh", and more than a few tears from residents as well as the young man... tears of happiness... tears of understanding, definitely tears of love.
Each person had received a bound book with their own stories neatly typed in large print. On the cover of each volume was their name deeply embossed with gold leaf. Gnarled fingers traced the fancy letters. "What a treasure!" one woman exclaimed, and they all quickly agreed.
An old man who usually remained quiet then spoke up. "Son, you are the treasure", he said in a voice choked with emotion, "You came in here every week to visit us and to ask us about our lives, and you helped us recall all the memories we hold dear. You took the time, and you cared." Then he looked down and said "I only wish we had something we could give you in return, we appreciate so much what you've done here."
The young man stood, eyes glistening with tears. "Oh, but you have already given me the most precious gift possible," he said. "You gave me stories of your lives and taught me what life was like in the time before I was born. You helped me understand what it must be like to have family. You see, I grew up in an orphanage. I never got to know what it was like to have parents and grandparents. Now I think a little bit I do."
"You are all my treasures," the young man continued, "I will keep memories of you and your stories in my heart forever. I hope someday, when I am older, that my life too will hold wonderful stories to share." As the group gathered round offering thank yous and sharing hugs there was not a dry eye in the room.
Before long, most of them had shuffled off to their favorite sitting chairs, and were busily reading their own stories. Smiling at the wonderful job the young man had done, not just in recording their words, but in understanding their importance.
The young man would continue to visit the residents as he finished school and began married life. He brought his children to visit those that still remained, and their eyes danced with pleasure to see life continue as it should.