By Paul Lamar
When Walter wheeled his father down to the nursing home’s shower room, much against the old man’s wishes, he noticed a young female nurse outside the door, not Eric from the previous week. Juanita, she said. Tall, muscular, certainly capable of shifting a 95-year-old shadow of his former self onto a shower seat and giving him a good scrubbing.
“I’m not going with a woman,” the old man said.
“Yes, you are. You stink.”
“I don’t stink!”
“Well, after another week of sitting in the chair and going to the bathroom, you need a shower, and Juanita is a professional. She has seen it all.”
“I am, indeed, a professional,” she said with a Caribbean lilt. “And recalcitrant residents like you are my specialty.”
His father beamed. Walter knew he liked her use of “recalcitrant.”
“I’ve been a nurse for 25 years,” she said, unbuttoning the old man’s shirt,” and I have the pin to prove it.” She flashed a little caduceus on her lapel.
“I was a minister for 55 years.”
“Amen, brother. We’ll do the Lord’s will together in that little room behind the curtain. Baptize you all over again. Wash your feet. Give you a halo of heavenly scents, so you’ll smell good for your wife when she comes to visit,” Juanita said.
Juanita pulled off his shoes and pants, and lifted and pivoted him onto the shower chair.
“Well, you’ll just have to find somebody else on the second floor on whom to use your charms.”
Oh, Walter saw the old man smile when Juanita didn’t let her preposition dangle.
“Please put his dirty clothes in that bag,” she said to Walter, “and put the hearing aid, glasses, and watch on the tray. We’re going in now, Reverend.”
She closed the curtain. Walter heard the water running, the old man sighing as it ran over his head and shoulders and down into his butt, which he announced to her with a giggle. He used the old family word, however: “bottom.” Walter wondered if Juanita was subtly aiming the hose at various parts of his body just to give him some unexpected pleasure. Thank you, Walter said to himself. The old man hadn’t been completely naked in front of a woman in nine years.
The old man started to sing. He sang “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” his go-to song these days, though he was German through and through.
“Oh, you have a marvelous tenor, Reverend.”
“Call me Carl,” he said.
“OK, Reverend Carl.”
The old man kept saying, “Oh, that feels good. Just a little warmer, please. Yes, that’s it, just right. Oh, that feels quite wonderful.”
After a couple of minutes and a rendition of “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” which Juanita labeled “broken-hearted and melancholy,” the water stopped, and Juanita began toweling him down.
“God’s mercy, yes? Touch is one of the five senses, and it’s so important, yes?”
“Mr. Son, would you please pass me his clean clothes through the curtain?”
“It’s Walter, Juanita.”
“He’s a good son. All of my children are good to me.”
“Why wouldn’t they be, Reverend Carl? Honor thy father and thy mother. I suspect they have always subscribed to the commandments in your household.”
“We tried, didn’t we, Walter? Your mother and I did the best we knew how.”
Walter’s eyes suddenly brimmed with tears, and he could barely speak.
“Yes, Dad, you surely did.”
In a few moments the curtains parted. His father sat there in his wheelchair, dressed, his hair brushed and shiny.
“Ta-da!” the old man exclaimed, throwing his arms into the air.
Walter wheeled his father to the mirror over the sink, whereupon the old man kissed Juanita’s hand and set off with his son down the hall, singing “The Last Rose of Summer.”