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Conduit of joy
She stops at his full-length prosthetic leg leaning against the wall. "Who's that guy?" she asks, gives his real leg a hug, and she's off.
--Terry Jaakkola

by Terry Jaakkola


I carry my granddaughter into the nursing home. Her pink cowboy boots touch the carpet, her ponytail at full swing, she skips to the elevator and stretches to push the up button to see her Grandpa Jock and Papa Jack.

She has been here at least 150 times. The first was to the assisted-living side of the facility. Coming from the hospital, my daughter and I brought newborn Button to see my mom and her tablemates.

Walkers were more common than wheelchairs. They talked of music, movies and current events. In spite of my mom's dementia, she could pretty much keep up.

But the present for most of these residents was not as good as the past, and when our 7-pound, 19-incher entered as a miner of happy memories, she brought up babies gone by like gems the residents could almost touch again.

From there, we journeyed to the nursing-home side. At my dad's table, three out of four were wheelchair-bound. The fourth could walk but his direction was vague. When Button came in, the focus was all baby-breathing impulses of life through heads and hearts that had dulled with age and disease.

Now we just go to the nursing-home side. My mom died from a fall almost two years ago. My husband, who has Lewey Body Dementia, now eats with my dad, who has Parkinson's.

Today Button bounds out of the elevator and heads down the hall to see Grandpa Jock who, listing seriously in his wheelchair, sees her, pulls to the center and beams. "Hiya!," she says waving her arm. She stops at his full-length prosthetic leg leaning against the wall. "Who's that guy?" she asks, gives his real leg a hug, and she's off.

"Where are you going?" he calls. "To Papa Jack's," she calls back and shortcuts from his room to my husband's room. With enthusiasm he revs up his scooter to follow.

Sitting stiffly in his wheelchair, my husband gets his own leg hug. Then she's off to rifle through his treat drawer.

No doubt, Button's arrival on the scene was well-timed. In the midst of decline and loss, she is our conduit of joy. Hands on hips, standing thigh-high before us, she keeps us here, in the electricity of now.

Terry Jaakkola teaches in the College Prep program at North Hennepin Community College and freelances from home in Clearwater, Minn.

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