Children are God’s apostles, day by day sent forth
to preach of love, and hope and peace.
—James Russell Lowell
For their Christmas holiday project, Cassie’s California Blue Bird troop planned to visit a nursing home.
“Folks in nursing homes are often too old or too sick to be home alone,” Mrs. Peters, the group leader told the little girls. “Maybe they have no relatives, maybe families are far away or unable to help. We’re going to cheer them with carols and bring them gifts we’ve made.”
Placing the last flower on her wreath, Cassie wondered about the person whose name she drew—Mabel—somewhere between 60 and 80. Not yet 10, Cassie had difficulty identifying with “old.”
Her grandparents played golf, traveled a lot, and had plenty of loving relatives.
Outside, a car horn blared. Cassie scooped up her wreath and rushed to join her friends. The Blue Birds, a junior version of Camp Fire Girls, soon arrived at a modest cottage. A matron greeted them enthusiastically.
“The folks are just so looking forward to your visit,” she said with a smile.
Stepping onto the cottage’s smooth linoleum floor, Cassie sniffed a strong disinfectant odor. Mrs. Peters sounded a pitch on her harmonica, and led the troop in “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Singing along, Cassie gazed at one wrinkled face after another: some smiling, some sad, some apathetic. One elderly woman turned her face to the wall. As the matron announced that the little girls would be circulating among the residents with gifts, a man in a wheelchair spun forward. He wagged his finger fiercely at the visitors.
“What right do you have coming here, reminding us of families we don’t have,” he shouted. “Once a year somebody comes here. Take your do-gooding pity and get out!”
Wide-eyed, some of the girls backed away, but Mrs. Peters coaxed them forward again as the matron calmed the grumbling man.
Shaken but determined, Cassie asked a group of card-players, “Please, where can I find Mabel?”
A lady with bright orange hair gestured toward the window. “Over there,” she said cheerfully. “And don’t pay these grouches any mind. You kids are okay.”
Timidly clutching her wreath, Cassie approached the straight-backed figure. Sitting by the window, she was highlighted by soft winter light.
The gray head with a proud French roll at its crown didn’t move. Mabel—if this was Mabel—continued gazing out the window at the darkening California desert. Cassie set her wreath on the worn, polished surface of a table by her side. Taking a deep breath, she stared at it, as if memorizing every leaf.
“I made this wreath for you,” she said. “I know it’s just homemade, but there is a story for every twig and flower. I came to tell you about them.
“The base is made from pine branches—some were easy to bend, and some I had to soak in water to shape the frame. It’s all natural, and gathering the flowers was fun, because I remember where each one grew.”
Her courage up now, Cassie talked faster, touching the wreath as she spoke.
“The wild coneflowers are from a vacant lot by my house. Someone is going to build new homes there, so by spring the coneflowers will be all gone. These dried desert flowers—the mustard, sage, and lavender—smell so good, and they’ll last a long time. The rabbit’s-foot fern is from my patio garden, and so is the baby’s breath. I caught the gold and red maple leaves when they blew across our lawn. I found a few little pine cones, too. And in the center is a star white cactus flower. Mom says it’s kind of unusual for this time of year.”
Slowly, Mabel turned around. Eyes undimmed by age searched Cassie’s.
“I sit by this window,” she said quietly, “because I miss the outdoors so. Thank you for bringing it inside.”
A trembling hand, clustered with brown spots, reached over and grasped Cassie’s. “I, too, remember where the flowers grew. Merry Christmas, child.” ❖
This article was published originally in 2000, in GreenPrints Issue #44.