Mr. Funnytalk's Story
"Time to get up, George."
He squinted his eyes as the thrown back drapes revealed a bright morning. "O.K., Mom," he mumbled. The nursing assistant went about her work, pulling out some items from the dresser and laying them on the bedside table.
"Mr. Fahnestock," she said slowly and loudly, "Here are your clothes for today. I'll help you to the bathroom, and then we can put on your diaper and get dressed. O.K.?"
George smiled, but he didn't have the faintest idea who this person was, or what she wanted of him. He did manage to follow her leading, and soon he was seated in his wheelchair, a strap tying him down on either side. The foot rests of his chair had been removed, which allowed him to use his feet to move around. Like an infant in a walker, he made his way out into the hall and down the corridor.
So many different faces, some of which looked familiar. Wasn't that Martha over there? Then again, who was Martha? He couldn't quite remember. As people walked by, he'd ask them a question, or try to tell them something. They would only smile and move on. Didn't they understand English?
He ate his breakfast surrounded by his friends. Or, at least, he thought they were his friends. He really wasn't quite sure who they were, but they were at his table, so he must know them. One just sat there and drooled. Another was very restless and was trying to get out of her chair. "Now Tricia," he said, "Mommy made us this special supper. Sit down and eat, please." The woman continued to fidget, and George forgot her and Tricia, whoever she was.
Later, after breakfast, someone played the piano, trying to get a group of them to sing. "Jingle bells, Jingle bells, Jingle all the way..." The words flowed out of his mouth. From where they came, he wasn't quite sure. Different images passed through his head: a Christmas tree, candles, a bright red bicycle, a child's smiling face, an open Bible, a bow tie, sheep. "Away in a manger no crib for a bed...," a stocking, laughter, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, egg nog, wrapping paper... All these images floated through the air with the music, disconnected but real. The words continued to pour out his mouth. "Silent night, holy night..."
* * * * *
"Honey, I need to run some errands this afternoon. Is there any way you could take care of Wanda, or do I need to call a sitter?"
"Well, she could come along with me. I need to get over to the nursing home to visit George Fahnestock and a few others. They always like kids to come along."
"Wasn't Mr. Fahnestock the one who lost his wife and daughter in a car accident?"
"Yes. He lived alone for many years. Now that he's in the home, I'm afraid Alzheimers is getting the best of him. It's been sad watching him slowly lose touch with reality."
"Do you think it's all right for Wanda to visit him?"
"No problem. Besides, the church is about the only family he has left. He could use somebody besides the minister visiting him."
* * * * *
Wanda sat in the seat next to her father, the shoulder belt tickling her neck. In her arms she held her favorite baby doll.
"Daddy, why is Mr. Funnytalk in "a" home? Aren't we visiting him in his own house?"
"No, sweetheart. Mr. 'Fahnestock' is in a place we call a 'Nursing Home.' He's not able to take care of himself anymore. He needs other people to help him. People called 'Nurses.' That's why we say it is a 'Nursing Home.'"
"Is he the only one there?"
"No, there are other people who also can't take of themselves anymore. Daddy needs to visit a few of these, too."
"Don't they have a family to take care of them, like I have you and Mommy?"
"Well, some of them do. Not Mommies and Daddies, because these are older people. Many of them have grown-up children. Sometimes it's very hard for these children to take care of their parents."
"Does Mr. Funnytalk have any children?"
"No, honey, he doesn't. Once upon a time he had a daughter, maybe just like you. I think her name was Tricia. Then a sad thing happened. She and her Mother were killed. He never married anyone else, or had any more children."
"Is he all alone?"
"I don't know of any brothers and sisters, or any other family. Nobody else visits him."
"Jesus wouldn't like that."
"Jesus wouldn't want him to be alone."
"Well, he's not exactly alone. Mr. Fahnestock has many people taking care of him."
"But he is, Daddy. He doesn't have any family. Everybody needs a family. That's why God sent Jesus, to make us a part of his family. You said that."
"I guess I did, Wanda, I guess I did."
* * * * *
It was after lunch, and George was tooling his way down the hall, when someone he vaguely remembered walked up to him. "Hello, George," the man said slowly and loudly. "I'm Pastor Higgins from First Church. Merry Christmas." George repeated the now familiar holiday greeting back to this "Pastor Higgins," although he wasn't quite sure who he was. The word "Pastor" did ring a bell, and different pictures of various people scurried through his head.
"Mr. Fahnestock, I'd like to introduce my daughter. Her name is Wanda."
George looked at her and said, "Pleased to meet you," though to everyone else it sounded like "Rik-ter stall-sink." Pastor Higgins then took the handles of the wheelchair and pushed George over to a nearby sitting room where they could visit. As they went, Wanda walked beside the chair. Halfway down the hall she reached out and took George's hand and held it.
Once there and settled, George looked long and hard at this little person who held his hand. It felt so good. Her hand was warm. Furthermore, she wasn't doing anything to him. Most people did something to him when they touched him. This little person just touched him, and she smiled.
The bigger person was talking, but George wasn't paying much attention. He kept focused on the other. Suddenly all sorts of memories flooded his awareness. Like sparks lighting a pile of kindling, a fire briefly burned in his brain.
Tricia, my precious Tricia. He recalled the Christmas they gave her a bicycle. She was so happy. He had spent hours trying to put it together. Shiny red it was. She loved it. That was the happiest moment of his life, seeing her face all aglow.
George began to tell Pastor Higgins and his daughter all about it. Of course, the words did not come out as he intended. It sounded like a garbled mess. He was obviously excited about it.
Pastor Higgins had never seen him this animated. He was a little worried that Wanda might become frightened. After all, his daughter had only just met the man. Perhaps he should have spoken to Wanda about what to expect.
George told them all about that Christmas, all the details he could remember. The new dress his wife had made Tricia, how she wore it to church on Christmas Eve and the next Sunday. The gift Tricia had made for him, a green felt bow tie with a red ball in the middle. He told them about how he put her on his lap and read the Christmas story from the Bible. The journey to Bethlehem, the manger, the shepherds, the kings.
George told it all, as much as he could remember. Finally, he began to run out of steam, and the time came for Wanda and her father to leave. Before they left, Wanda placed something in his hands, reached over and whispered in his ear, "I'll be back," and kissed him on the cheek.
* * * * *
Later, as they were driving home, her father asked if she was O.K.
"Of course I'm O.K., Daddy. Why?"
"Well, Mr. Fahnestock was a little more excited than he usually is, and I wondered if you were getting a little scared."
"No, Daddy, not at all. Mr. Funnytalk is a very nice man."
"It's O.K. if you didn't understand what he said, you know. I sure didn't."
"But, Daddy, he was telling us his story. Everybody has a story to tell. You told me that."
"I guess I did, didn't I."
"Can we go back and visit him again? I like him. Can he be my Uncle George?"
"I suppose so, if you really want him to be. Let's get home. We've got a Christmas Eve service to get ready for."
* * * * *
George sat in that room for quite a while, holding onto the present the little girl had given him. A little baby doll. He wheeled his chair over to a table and looked for a long time at the Nativity set someone had placed there. Then he tooled his way out into the hall, holding the doll close to his chest, and singing "Joy to the world the Lord is come!"
Of course, that's not what others heard.
But that's what God heard.
©1996 Peter L. Haynes