I was home schooled. My own mama taught me to read, to write, to add, to study and to live.
But of all the lessons my mother taught my sister and I, there was one lesson that I hold as the most important: My mom taught us to love others.
Every week we visited the nursing home. We would walk the halls and visit the sweet people in their rooms or where they would sit out in the halls in their wheelchairs. We did crafts with them, painted the elderly ladies nails or pushed them around for walks. We learned to listen to their stories, play along with their memories, kneel by their chairs and hold their hands, and to hug their frail shoulders.
I have so many memories and stories of our visits to the nursing homes, but there is one that came to my mind this morning that I want to share with you.
I can't remember exactly how old I was, but based on where we were living at the time, I know I was less than fourteen. The nursing home in our area was St. Josephs Manor, a one level brick nursing home with long hallways. My favorite person to visit at St. Josephs was Mary Cone. Mary was always sitting in her wheelchair near the nurses station towards the back of the nursing home. No matter who were visiting as we made our way down the halls, I would crane my neck to see if Mary was sitting in her usual place. She always greeted me with a smile and outstretched hand. She wore beautiful cardigans, always with one button fastened at her neck. Her slim frame was often covered with a warm blanket and I remember a gold bracelet always hanging on her wrist. She was full of smiles and interesting conversation.
On one particular day, I remember sitting on the floor in front of Mary's wheelchair, listening to her talk about her younger years. It was late in the afternoon, and there was a fresh blanket of snow outside. I told Mary about the snow, and a light sprung to her eyes. She told me long ago tales of her happy childhood in southern New York. She remembered snow angels and throwing snow balls. As her smile grew with each memory, a thought occurred to me. What if Mary could throw one more snow ball? What if instead of remembering the glittering snow, she could touch it--breathe it in. I excused myself from Mary, and flagged down her nurse. As I whispered my idea, I saw the nurse smile. It must have taken a half hour or more for the nurse to bundle up Mary warm enough for the early evening winter chill.
I remember she wore a woolen coat, a burgundy hat and mittens. She had a thick blanket folded over her lap and a big smile on her sweet face. I remember wheeling out onto the broad walkway in front of the nursing home. The sun had set and it was just beginning to get dark outside.
I'll never forget what it felt like to place a cold, wet snowball in the gloved hand of Mary Cone. She grasped it between her mittens and held it tightly with a sparkle in her worn old eyes. Gently, she lifted her arm and tenderly, but with calculation, she tossed the snowball. She let out a little squeal as it flew through the air and giggled as it landed with a powdery thud. I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and watched her take in the scene of the winter night and the resting snow ball. How many snowball fights did she remember in that moment? How many schoolyard chases and sledding adventures? Did she remember laughter with her siblings? Hand in hand strolls with her father? Celebrating a happy first Christmas with her new husband or new baby? I watched Mary's face, and I watched her silent memories pass before her eyes.
I'll never, ever forget the way Mary looked after throwing the snowball that night. Her cheeks flushed and rosy, her eyes sparkling like the new snow.
As I remembered Mary and the snowball this morning, I made myself a promise. I promised myself that in addition to all the other lessons I hope to teach my children, I will teach them love. I will venture to teach them that bringing someone else joy is far more important than seeking pleasure for themselves. I will tell them that even now, at least ten years later, I can still clearly picture sweet Mary Cone throwing a snowball for the last time with a smile on her lovely, wrinkled face.