Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Angel: Part 4


Wednesday, December 19

            When he had gone to sleep the previous night, Jeff had had every intention of ignoring Samuel's suggestion to forget about play practice. He knew that the suggestion had been made with good intentions, but the play was his responsibility, and he simply couldn't leave it to someone that he hardly knew. He wasn't sure exactly what happened or changed during the night, but when he woke in the morning, he had decided that he would let his assistant take care of practice today. Perhaps Samuel was right; he did need a break from it for a day.

            After showering and eating breakfast, he was ready to go put in some service hours, he just had to decide what he was going to do. He had planned on taking Seth along and making him decide, but his family was mysteriously missing this morning, gone to who knew where. Well, if had to make a decision, he certainly could do that. He would go to the nursing home first and spend some time there.
            With the decision made, Jeff grabbed his coat from the hall closet and bundled up for the cold weather. The temperature had dropped about ten degrees overnight, and he decided to duck back inside for a good pair of gloves before leaving the house. Bob was nowhere to be seen as he walked toward the front gate. If the dog was smart, he was probably hiding in his doghouse where he had some protection from the elements. Jeff closed the gate behind him and turned left out of habit. He had taken two steps toward the church before he caught himself and turned around; the nursing home was in the opposite direction. He buried his hands in his coat pockets as he walked, already feeling the effects of the cold. The wind was not blowing making things a little better, but the utterly chilling cold seemed to cut through his warm clothes right to his bones.
            The way to the nursing home was fairly long with several turns in it, mostly through residential areas. Most of the houses along the trek had lights adorning them and decorations in their front lawns. The number of Santas and reindeer was astounding. Artificial trees and other Christmas scenes were also common; there was also an artificial snowman, ironic considering the amount of real snow that lay on the ground surrounding it. Jeff didn't even notice the utter lack of biblical decorations until he passed one simply decorated house. All that they had to their credit was a roughly made stable with some poorly designed figurines of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus underneath. Jeff turned his nose up at the scene. Couldn't they have at least shelled out a few bucks to get a nativity scene that looked good? They were totally being shown up by all of the other decorations. Santas that had definitely come from the store and lights that were put to good use on house eaves. It was actually kind of embarrassing.
            The nursing home was around the next corner, and Jeff hurried to get inside and out of the cold. He shook the snow off of his coat in the foyer before stepping into the actual facility. As he did, he suddenly remembered why he avoided these places like the plague. They were so depressing to him with all of the old people concentrated in one place just waiting to kick the bucket. The place smelled funny, and he had to force himself not to cover his nose as he walked to the front desk. The woman there was on the phone and held up a finger indicating that she would be with him in one minute. He seriously doubted that it would be that soon.
            "How can I help you?" she asked as she hung up the phone a few minutes later. Her manner indicated that she clearly thought she had something better to be doing now than talking to him.
            "I came over to spend some time with the old folks," Jeff said, noting that the woman cringed at the phrase "old folks." He'd have to use a different turn of phrase next time.
            "You people are all the same, aren't you?" the woman demanded in an irritated voice. "You need to feel like you're doing something good around the holidays, so you come up here to spend as little time as possible with the residents. You know these are people that need to be visited all year long, not just at the holidays."
            "So..." Jeff said, waiting for the woman to conclude her tirade.
            "Normally I'd give you a piece of my mind, but as it turns out, they need a person to call balls for bingo in the dining room," the woman said. "That's straight down this hall and to the right. You can't miss it."
            "Great," Jeff said. "Thank you."
            Maybe this wouldn't be as bad as he thought. He'd call bingo for a few hours, heaven's knew that old people could play it for that long, and then head home. At the end of the hall, he turned right, almost immediately stepping through the large double doors of the home's dining room. There were perhaps thirty of the residents seated in the room, all with bingo cards and clearly ready to go. At the front of the room, or at least in the direction that they were all facing, was a simple bingo machine and ball board but no one sitting behind it. Two of the nursing home's workers stood near the machine talking in low voices. They kept casting looks at the people sitting at the tables and Jeff did as well. It was well that he had arrived when he did, a few minutes later and the workers might have had a slow moving and physically unsound mob on their hands.
            "Hey, I'm Jeff," Jeff introduced himself to the workers. "Apparently I'm here to call the bingo game."
            "Thank God!" the taller nurse said. "We were wondering what we were going to do. They don't like to wait on their bingo. It's the highlight of their day."
            "Here is the basket of prizes," the other nurse said, shoving a rough wooden basket into Jeff's hands. "When someone wins, let them choose something out of this."
            "We have an emergency on the second floor, but if you need help, go to the front desk," the first nurse said. "They should be able to help you."
            "If I need help with what?" Jeff asked, but the nurses were already gone.
            He looked down at the basket of prizes and then out at the elderly people. Given these prizes, he was unsure of why bingo was the highlight of their day, but who was he to argue. If the people wanted bingo, he'd give them bingo.

******

            "Bingo!"
            The call was made by a sweet looking old lady this time. Jeff would take anything besides the surly gentlemen who had won the last round. First had complained about the prizes before he even saw them; clearly this man was a regular at bingo. Then he had complained about the colors and everything else he could. Jeff wasn't entirely certain how, but he was pretty sure that the man had even insulted his taste in clothing, though he couldn't be certain. The man was mumbling by then and since he had already taken possession of his winnings, Jeff hadn't stuck around.
            Now he carried the basket to the winner, a woman in a wheelchair sitting next to the surly gentleman. She had dark hair streaked with grey, kind eyes, and reminded Jeff a lot of his grandmother before she had passed away. She was slow choosing a bingo prize and Jeff had to suffer through another round of complaints from the man. The woman didn't seem to hear him and smiled and thanked Jeff after choosing something from the basket. Jeff headed back to the bingo table and was about to start another round when one of the nursing home's employees entered the dining room.
            "You're still playing bingo?" he asked Jeff in a low voice. Jeff wondered why the nurses always talked quietly when they didn't want the old folks hearing them. Most of them had such bad hearing that they wouldn't have heard something yelled directly at them.
            "Yes," Jeff answered the question. "We've been playing since I got here. Nobody told me when it was supposed to end."
            "Well, consider yourself told," the nurse said.
            "Well, it looks like that's all we'll have time for today," Jeff told the room. Booing came from all corners and a few of the residents even threw juice boxes. Jeff dodged the projectiles good-naturedly and smiled to himself. The only thing that these people liked more than bingo was complaining. It was actually kind of funny.
            The events of the next few minutes were a blur for Jeff. He was never quite sure exactly how, but he ended up sitting at one of the tables playing cards with the woman who reminded him of his grandmother, the surly gentleman sitting by her, and several others. Strangely enough, he found that he enjoyed the experience more than he thought he would. These old people were fun to hang around with and funny to listen to. Once you got past all of the complaining that they did on a regular basis, they were great. Time seemed to fly by, and it was past dinner time before Jeff left for home.
            It was dark outside by now, and the lights and decorations of the houses that he passed were now displayed in all of their lighted glory. Strings of lights glittered down the eaves, around doors and windows, and across the roofs of the houses. Large blow up decorations and wire-frame figures with lights looked a hundred times more impressive in the night, lighted as they were from the inside with darkness setting them off brilliantly. The rough nativity scene again caught his eye. It was lit by a small spotlight now, and the utter lack of other decorations on the house was as obvious as ever. Once again Jeff felt irrationally embraced and hurried past the yard.
            At the house, Bob was out again and gave an excited bark of greeting as Jeff approached.
            "Hey boy," Jeff returned the greeting as he opened the gate. Quickly he squeezed through and shut it before Bob could put any escape plans into effect.
            "You happy to see me?" Jeff asked as he petting the dog, trying to avoid as much slobber as possible. Bob dropped his tennis ball into the snow and looked up at Jeff, tongue hanging out.
            "I can throw it a few times," Jeff said. Gingerly he picked up the green mess of frozen slobber and gave it a good toss. In an instant, Bob was off tearing after the projectile, chasing it to its landing point. In his hurry, he raced past the ball and had to double back for it. In what seemed like no time at all, he was sitting at Jeff's feet again with the tennis ball between his front paws. He was staring up at Jeff with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, waiting expectantly.
            "Goodness dog," Jeff said as he picked the ball up again. "You spend all day outside and you still have this much energy?"
            He gave the ball a toss and Bob was off after it again. After a dozen tosses, Bob was still as energetic as ever, but Jeff was beginning to feel the cold. He gave the ball one more toss and headed into the house.
            The family was in the den watching a Christmas movie. Jeff stopped to watch a few minutes of it and was quite underwhelmed with the quality to say the least. He didn't remember seeing the film before, but that could have just meant he had blocked out the experience. A movie this bad could probably lead to behavioral problems or even a general dislike for the Christmas season. He dug some leftovers from the fridge and had a late dinner while the movie finished. Next it was time for the family to read from the bible something Christmas related. Tonight they read the account of Gabriel appearing to Mary and telling her that she would be the mother of Jesus. He had always liked this passage, when he was younger it was because of the angel but then because of the implications. Mary had probably been scared to death by the proposition of having Jesus, but she had agreed to it anyway. Jeff had always taken comfort from this passage. No matter what God wanted him to do, he always gave a choice but more importantly would give him the strength to do it. He wondered how he had forgotten about this passage in the last few days. He had not been praying or reading the bible enough. That would have to change.
            After the reading, Jeff headed up to bed. The day's events had wiped him out. It had been a good way to get away from the stress of his production. Tomorrow he would see how much help it had actually been. After a prayer and changing into his pajamas, he slipped under his covers and fell asleep.

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