By Lisa Yorkgitis Nahach
Holding a milk-glass basket filled with sweets, I knocked lightly on a partially open door at Oak Tree Villas in Jefferson City, Missouri. I waited for a moment and then nudged the door open a little bit more. A woman relaxing in a recliner opened her eyes. She had lush white hair, which framed her face in soft curls. I estimated her age at 85.
“Hello,” she said in a clear, welcoming voice.
“Hello,” I said. “My name is Lisa, and these are my children Elizabeth and Timothy. We brought you some treats. Would you like a brownie or a lemon bar?”
“A lemon bar, please,” she said.
My father probably would have selected a lemon bar, too. He loved the can’t-miss-it flavor of lemon, especially in sweets. When I arranged to commemorate Dad’s 92nd birthday earlier this month by visiting residents at Oak Tree and offering them a treat, I had no trouble deciding what to bring.
Lemon bars have long been a family favorite. Featuring a shortbread crust and a smooth, tangy lemon filling, the bars look very festive arranged in paper cupcake holders. I wasn’t sure if one pan would be enough, so an hour before show time, my daughter offered to make brownies. She’s a sweetie!
At the nursing home, the treats were a hit. “These lemon bars sure are good,” one woman called after we had left her room and gone into another. “I’m glad you like them,” I told her as we passed her sitting in a wheelchair in the doorway of her room.
Staff members at the nursing home served as our guides. One resident ate only pureed food, so she couldn’t eat sweets. Another woman was diabetic, so she, too, shouldn’t have any. If residents were sleeping soundly, we left a brownie, a lemon bar, or both on a side table. If a door was closed, we didn’t disturb the resident. Once inside a resident’s room, we took our cues from them as well as visiting friends or relatives.
“Thank you for stopping by. That was very nice of you,” said a male visitor.
One of the most receptive residents proved to be the lady with lush white hair who opened her eyes as we entered her room.
She invited us to sit down, and Tim and I each chose a chair. She didn’t have any more chairs, so she urged Elizabeth to sit in her wheelchair, on her hamper, or on her bed, which had a raised-edge mattress, like my father’s hospital bed used to have.
“It doesn’t look comfortable, but it is,” said the resident, who moved in after my father passed away.
My daughter used to have no trouble sitting on Granddad’s wheelchair or on his bed, but she turned shy on me and remained standing, giving the elderly resident a head-to-toe view of her lanky 5’10” self dressed in skinny jeans and a pink Under Armour sweatshirt.
“You two must do something athletic,” the resident said.
When we told her that Tim and Elizabeth played basketball, she reminisced about how she, too, used to play that sport, except she and her friends didn’t have a gym. They played outside until the weather grew too cold.
Our conversation covered many other topics — the new clothes her mother made for Easter, her four grandsons, and the milk-glass basket I inherited from my mother and used to carry sweets. She admired the basket, called Elizabeth and me pretty, and declared that Tim was a handsome young man. Our new friend charmed us, that’s for sure.
In fact, I think her charming ways have helped her stay young at heart. My kids and I thought she was about 85, but we found out that she is more than 100 years old.
Dad would have been envious. I remember the awe in his voice when he spoke of centenarians. “See that woman?” he said one day a few years ago. “She just turned 100.”
He wasn’t able to live to a hundred, but he did lead a full, active life. Before Parkinson’s Disease reached its final stages, he stayed so busy with activities that I sometimes had to hunt him down when I went to visit. On a sparkling spring day in 2012, a few weeks after he turned 89, I found him at a gathering to celebrate April birthdays. The activities included a quiz about celebrities and other well-known figures who celebrated their birthdays in April. Dad knew so many answers that I thought to myself, “Wow! I hope I am as sharp as he is when I get to be his age.”
Happy Birthday, Dad. We miss you.