An AltOhio Christmas

​When You Trade a Reindeer for a Rascal

Lisa Sanchez
​A decade ago, although it feels like significantly more time, I helped serve Christmas dinner at the nursing home I volunteered with. For months I had been killing time reading to seniors, chatting with them, and engaging in the occasional wheel chair race. It had all started as mandatory community service through various follies of my youth but ended up being an enjoyable experience I often look back on with fondness.
Christmas 2004 was no different. The cafeteria, lined with windows on the far wall and thick, decorated carpet was decorated with garland, lights, and numerous trees at every end of the room. I had helped spruce up the eating hall myself, and was quite proud of my cutout snowflakes and sparkly snowman ornaments. It was nice to know that a room these seniors ate in every day, for every meal, could be transformed into a glittering, festive, banquet hall. Even the nurse's station had a wreath decoration. At first, I was hesitant because I was the only teenager helping in a long line of nurses and registered help aides. I was sure I would accidentally give someone the wrong dose of food and accidentally throw them into a coma. Luckily, I was on mashed-potato detail. The official food of Christmas magic.
I shucked various savory supper delights for hours on end, greeting each resident as they came through the chow line with their families. I was thrilled that some of the people I had gotten to know during my time there introduced me to their loved ones, regaling them with stories of our hard fought bingo victories, birthday parties for 98 year old women, and how much I reminded them of a family member who wasn't there at the dinner. Each accompanying relative reacted with a different level of interest and conversation. Some simply nodded and smiled amiably, some conversed (as much as the constrains of the pushy food line allowed), and some simply held out their plates. But, the excitement in the residents' eyes to have family and friends visit was unprecedented.
Some of the people who didn't have family visiting still stayed positive. When they came through the line I asked if they had seen Santa yet and Carol, an 85-year old woman, whose namesake came from being born shortly after Christmas, answered me, "I'm pretty sure he's my new roommate." I laughed uncontrollably, almost halting the entire line, causing a great potato cessation for moments. When I finally composed myself, Carol beamed from ear to ear. She said she had never made anyone laugh that hard at Christmas before, and that I'd given her a great gift this year. She left the table still smiling. I looked around the large dining area and saw many people who had never had a visitor during my tenure, talking and laughing with their family, eating well, and feeling loved. That is an irreplaceable feeling for anyone of any age. Keep your family and friends close always, not just during Christmas, the season of giving, but always, the season of living.