A Coat for the Winter

All he wants is a coat for the winter. Something to cuddle up with and keep him somewhat content, for nothing on this earth will ever shelter him from the cold he now feels. The winter may last longer than expected and most will not see that he is in need of his comfy old coat. A new coat will not do. He needs the warmth found only in the memories of that old coat. He had had it most of his life. Nonetheless, he is mostly a cheerful old man. He likes to talk, to whomever will listen, but most walk away, too busy to realize his need. Death is near, and he longs for it day after day.

Mr. Parton is a God loving man. He wants everyone to do right, and tries to do right by everyone. I met him my first week at the nursing home. I wondered why he was even there because he was in such good shape, save for the wheel chair. He was strong. Had a good firm hand shake, the kind a boy remembers all his life, and models his own handshake after. I would often see him pushing other residents around from behind, holding onto their chair, and propelling the two mechanical bodies with his strong legs. Then one day I saw him coming down the hall, heading straight for me, I stepped to the right of him and he stopped and turned himself sideways in the hall, as if to not let me pass. It was awkward.

He stuck his hand out and said in a strong raspy voice with floppy cheeks, “Hayden Parton.” I responded, a little nervous, a little scared, and overwhelmed; “nice to meet you, I’m Kelly.” He was a sure man. He knew that already, just as he knew I was the new kitchen supervisor. We had a moment of small talk and parted ways, but as we did, he caught me by the arm and as I looked down on him he said, “I’m glad you’re here, we need someone like you.” I didn’t know what to make of that statement, but it made me feel like I was on top of the world. Maybe that was the idea.

I saw him often. In the hall, in the dining room, always pushing someone else from behind. He told me one day to make sure I pay close attention to his wife, the next day he asked me if I noticed anything funny about her. I said no, why?  He said she gets jealous when I push these other women around. And with that, he let out a bellow of laughter. I had the opportunity of serving lunch to them that same day in the dining room and she did make a comment about how he is always flirting with the other gals, pushing them around and all. “Showing off” were her exact words.

They were a very loving couple. They were always together. I even saw them holding hands on the front porch sometimes before lunch or dinner. I don’t know how long they were married. Mr. Parton told me they had been together since high school. I couldn’t believe it. They were both in their 80’s, but still acted as if they were a couple of hyper adolescents just looking for a tree to hide behind and let the world have itself while they enjoyed each other’s company.

Mrs. Parton became ill sometime in the summer, and like many people that are old, her body began to shut down. It started with just every day “under-the-weather” type symptoms, but eventually her chronic problems took their toll on her and she died in the fall. Mr. Parton was a different man after that.

I passed by him one day, he was in a state of, half sleep half awake, and I stopped for a moment to watch him. To my surprise, he knew I was standing there. Most people would have opened their eyes slowly, and looked up groggily. But not Mr. Parton. As I watched him, a hand started to move towards me. I reached for it and he shoved it into my hand and gave it a shake. It was softer than usual and very cold. Then he opened his eyes and “said Kelly, I had a dream about her last night. I’m glad you came by.”

He then told me about his dream. I’ve listened to many people tell me their dreams before, but this was different. He was describing it as if he had just had it, while I was standing there watching him. He said he had seen her as he remembered her when they started dating. She was young and beautiful again. Her hair was long and flowing, and she walked over to him and leaned down and kissed his forehead and told him he’d better stop flirting with all those gals. He laughed and said, “she was always a jealous kidder.”

When he finished telling me of his dream, he told me that soon he’d see her like he did in his dream. The next day he was sick, and his family were all there, and they had asked me to bring him some banana pudding. It was his favorite. I prepared it myself and took it to his room. Inside was a dark atmosphere. But when I gave his pudding to his daughter, he rose up from the bed and called me to him. He shook my hand and said, “thank you, for all you’ve done. Keep up the good work.”
He always made me feel better. If I had been having a bad day or even the worst day, whenever I saw him, he always had something nice and encouraging to say, either about me, the weather, or someone else in the facility. And, most of all, he reminded me of my father in that he always looked for the possibilities in a task instead of the obstacles standing in the way of the task. And in being in a new place hundreds of miles away from my family, I found that very comforting.
Through vacations, days off, and everyday hassles of the job, I didn’t get to see him that much after that day I took him the pudding. He died a few weeks later. But thinking back on that day, I had noticed his hand shake. It was stronger than ever, and warm.  Not with fever, but with life. I remembered the last time we shook hands, when he told me about his dream. Mr. Parton had found his coat somewhere in that dream and now spring was on his horizon.


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