Cherries Are Their Own Reward
In the last few weeks of work I was asked to transfer to a unit of all ladies. I had worked a few shifts in the unit, so I knew what the work entailed. It was just across a wide driveway from the unit I worked in. Maybe they wanted one male worker in the unit. Maybe, and I think this was more likely, someone on the current unit had a friend they wanted to hire and work in that unit. It didn’t matter. I had my own reasons for accepting the offer. I had become close to a couple of people on that unit. I thought it would ease the transition for them of my leaving. I could visit them everyday and they would know I was just next door, so to speak.
The people of the ladies unit had various handicaps. Most of them were in wheel chairs and much of the work was helping them moving from place to place. One lady was like a member of the staff. She would sit where she could see the clock through the glass of the supervisor’s office. Five minutes before anyone else, she got up, went to another room and wheeled out another older lady, ready to head down the long hallway to lunch. She could have lived on her own I thought. Her countenance was always a look of sad resignation. I checked her records, and her IQ, over the last several years, was listed as being between 54 and 59. It seemed to me she was a 70, at least, based on nothing but my own observations. I asked the unit psychologist about this. He told me that the government liked to see IQs below 60 and, “Where would Sally go if she wasn’t here?”
Krissy was a younger lady, thirty-ish. She was tiny, but she could speak louder than anyone else in the unit. When she went to the bathroom she would yell out, “I’m done!” when she was finished. She did need help with that. Her main challenge though was in ordinary conversation. Staff constantly asked her to speak more softly. If she heard the words “look” or “see” she yelled out, “I’m blind! I’m blind! I can’t see!” She was blind.
Most days Krissy hung out in Yolanda’s room. Yolanda had a roommate who was also blind and in a wheel chair. She didn’t speak, but she could grunt and indicate agreement, and she had her own version of a laugh. Yolanda was in a wheelchair too. She had CP, and wore thick eyeglasses. Yolanda could talk. She and Krissy were the most talkative two people in the place. When I had time, I sat with them in Yolanda’s room. I explained things for them, answered questions, and told stories. They were quite inquisitive. The sessions were like mini-salons.
A couple of days a week Yolanda and Krissy went to some sort of occupational training program. I did not volunteer to go to those kinds of outings. I had been to some and did not like what I had seen at these programs. (I understand these things have changed.) So I had not been to Krissy and Yolanda’s program before, but on a morning in the middle of my last week of work, I was told that in the afternoon, I would accompany Krissy and Yolanda to their program, and Sally would come with us. Sally would push one wheel chair and I would push the other. There was some kind of party, someone’s birthday. A staff person told me that Krissy and Yolanda had asked for me to go with them. Maybe the staff person had made that suggestion to them, I didn’t know. On the other hand, maybe there was another kind of influence involved.
I knew that “party” in this case meant industrial slab cake on paper plates. On my lunch break I drove to a grocery store to see what I could find to bring as a surprise treat. Strawberries would have been ideal I thought, but this was late June and the time for strawberries was past. (Aside: there was a time in earth history when what you would find in the fruit and vegetable aisle of a grocery store were items that were “in season”. If there are any such things in your grocery store today they might be called “locally grown”.) This being late June and in the earth period of “in season”, cherries were abundant. I filled a large bag with cherries. They probably had never had cherries before, I’ll need to show them how to deal with the pits, I thought. When I got back, I put the bag of cherries in a backpack and brought it with me.
There we were, after the van ride and the wheeling and rolling down hallways, about a dozen of us sitting at tables arranged end to end. Normally staff who accompany people to these programs stand against a wall. I sat across the table from the three ladies I brought to the party. I waited until the industrial slab cake was passed out and consumed, then I brought out the bag of cherries. Sally and Yolanda saw them and were excited and Krissy caught on. Sally’s eyes brightened like they almost seemed they never would.
The occupational specialist came strutting up behind the ladies and said, “Put that away, Peter.”
“How do you eat a cherry?”
If it had been some kind of dietary restriction, I would have put them away, but of course I had thought of this. “I’ll show them how to eat them,” and I did not put them away. The ladies had already seen them. I had enough cherries to give a handful to everyone at the table, but now I would concentrate only on the ladies who came with me. These ladies loved me and I loved them and I trusted them do this and enjoy the cherries.
I showed them how I eat a cherry. I put the pit in front of my mouth and extracted it with two fingers. I emphasized to them that this was inside and not good to eat: yuck, no good, take that out. I explained that this is how I do it, but this would be too hard to teach right now, so “I will teach you another way that will be easier for you. Do you want to try it?”
“Yes. Yes, we do, Peter.”
“Ok, now Krissy, you are blind so I will show you separately, but if you listen carefully, it will be much easier for you, ok?”
“Yes, Peter. I’ll listen. I’m listening.” She was good at this and it was funny to watch her at earnest listening.
I asked them to watch as I demonstrated the new method of eating a cherry.
They already had paper plates in front of them. I had counted on this. I put one cherry on each paper plate in front of Sally and Yolanda. “Put the cherry between your fingers like this and pinch the cherry apart like this. See the pit, it’s like a little stone or pebble. Pull it out, Set it aside. And eat the rest. Good? Ok, can you do it again? Excellent. Now, Krissy, I’m going to put the cherry between your fingers. Got it? Ok. Now, do you feel a little dent at the top? Good. Pinch it apart there. Feel a little stone, like a pebble there? Ok, pull that out and put it aside. Eat the rest. Good? Great. Want to try another one?”
I gave them as many cherries as they could get through in the time left to us.
Here is a retro photo of the ladies, Yolanda, Krissy, and Gloria, Yolanda’s roommate.
And because Krissy was out of focus, and because I happen to have another photo of Krissy…