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The Detective

Sitting distracted in church I realized I had picked up my old bible.  The one where all of Psalms is ripped out due to the teeth of our old dog.  I thumbed through the thin sheets to find the passage, but my fingers paused when I came to an old picture tucked lovingly between the pages.  Resting somewhere in the old testament lies a picture of an unlikely friendship.  One I hadn't thought of for a long time.  The one picture I had of the Detective.
I know the pastor kept talking, but my mind fast drifted nine years back to me as a college student at my nursing home job.
Framed within the tattered edges is twenty one year old me wearing the same navy sweater I often did smiling a wide smile because leaning next to me was one of the most precious people I've ever met.
I don't remember my first meeting with Dickey, but I know soon after it he was my favorite resident.  I never figured out what his exact diagnosis was.  Why he was at the nursing home.  There was obvious mental complications and he was in need of a walker.  But he made the walker fly.
He was really the celebrity of the floor.  Whipping out of his room in sprint fashion greeting everyone he walked by.  Always in a baseball cap and wearing the childlike sweetness an innocent grin. This grin would slow creep across his face as a friend came into view.  Sometimes his voice was soft, "Hi, how you?" He'd ask.  I remember the love that came from within his brown eyes.  You see Dickey was elderly, yet young.  He had the mind of a child and always had.  He had grown up sheltered from the world and so finally landing at this nursing home he was surrounded by people.  And people loved him.
He paced in and out of the day room.  Playing bingo, nodding off in chairs, and several times a day tormented by some voices he would talk to and yell at, then always snapping out and refocusing on whatever was going on.  I remember how startled I was at first at the fits that he seemed to be having with some unknown bully.  It hurt me to see this precious boy- man seemingly badgered countless times a day by someone no one could see or stop.  But this was Dickey's life.
After the storm would intensify and sweet Dickey would fight the voices off he would snap back and a sweet smile would fast spread on his face.  He was back and we would talk. Laugh.  Question.
He had an amazing memory.  Any small fact, memory, or story I told him was forever there.  He would ask me about my dog, my family, my parents, and on the list went.  Somehow despite his mental anguish whatever I told him never got lost in the tangles of his mind.  His memory wasn't clouded.
He wanted to be loved.  He would say quietly like a small child, "Do you love me?"
"Yes, Dickey.  I love you."  I'd nod assuringly, smile, and hug him.
Eight thirty every morning satchel over my shoulder I'd clock in to the mixed smell of bacon and urine.  I'd find myself met face to face with Dickey as he was making his morning stroll down the hall.
I tried to take him every day for a walk through the maze of a nursing home.  People everywhere greeted him.
He loved policemen and badges.  Frequently every day he asked me if I knew "About them crooks."
One morning I took him to the HR department on a whim. "Dickey, we will get your very own badge." I promised.  Somehow I had named him, "The Detective."  I wish I now knew why.
The HR department tried to coax him to smile for his new badge and he wore it haphazardly hanging off his shirts declaring him "The Detective."  I think he felt official.  After all he was the only detective we had.
His walker sped down the ramp as we made our morning rounds together.  My hand always tucked under his arm as he said whatever came to his mind.  Many times those things were unfiltered.
We would walk past the kitchen and he would spy an employ wearing a hair net.  She never liked us and would always make comments to me.  Finally one day Dickey silenced her by asking me loudly completely unaware at his lack of social correctness, "Look at that midget.  Why is she a midget? And why is she fat?" He said loudly.  Too loudly.  The kitchen staff glared at me and I tried to not smile. When he started saying this I'd try to hush him, but I realized it was fruitless.  He wasn't trying to be rude, he just had the filter of a child who is stating the truth as they see it. As if he was saying, "The sky is blue."

Some afternoons I'd walk Dickey to the drink machines and he would pick something out.  He would pass the in house minister.  I have to admit the minister was a bit of an odd man.  He was friendly, but very snippy too.  Dickey always rattled his cage.  He never understood that the man was a minister.  He would loudly say to me as we stood in front of the Coke machine, "Look at that menace!"  Always confusing the two words.

Dickey lived for Utz Cheese balls, walks, and most of all for the bus ride.  Twice a week he would pace the halls telling everyone about the bus.  "We got a new bus. Did you hear about that new bus?" (The bus was always new to him). He said like a stuck record.
He loved getting on the bus for the forty five minute rides in the sunshine.  I don't know if it was the motion of the bus, the bright blue sky, or the same lady who sang 99 bottles of pop on the wall for the entirety of the trip.  No matter Dickey lived for the bus.  His one chance to see the world.

Some days I'd come in to Dickey's room in the early morning to find his beard matted hard to his face.  He didn't know how to eat properly and he never bothered with wiping his face.  I'd go to the linen closet wet towels and try gingerly to peel all the crust off.   I wanted so badly for Dickey to be treated as the beautiful person we all knew he was.
One day I got the only peek I'd ever get into Dickey's past.  A cousin came to visit him in the day room and she told me he had lived the majority of his life at his mother's home.  In her care.  That was why Dickey enjoyed the nursing home.  His world had gotten larger.  The exact opposite of most people who come into a nursing or rehab center.  That's why he was always smiling and greeting everyone. He had so many friends now.

I left the nursing facility after my second baby and from time to time I'd go check on Dickey.  My life got busier finally and I stopped going.  A full year went by without my presence despite whenever i passed the facility my heart would drift to Dickey my young - old friend.
One night before Christmas I went with a group from Church to visit the center.  It had been a year and I didn't know how I would find Dickey.
He was in the same room with the same roommate, but he was now bedridden.  No baseball cap, no badge, no fast moving walker that might take you out.
I leaned over his bed and whispered his name. I had three children now following me and i wanted to show him.
He was sleeping but his eyes flitted open and he smiled the same young smile.  I'm telling you there was something about those moments of clarity he had that made him seem so fresh from Heaven innocent.
He immediately started telling me about the bus, asking me about my dog (one that had died years before but he had never forgotten), and several other stories.  He clicked through them all in the same few sentences and I smiled knowing they were all tightly locked into his sweet brain somewhere.  I hadn't deserved for him to remember me at all.  I had dropped out of his life, yet he hadn't forgotten.
As people sang Christmas carols down the hall and my husband nudged me and said we had to go Dickey snapped into his usual battle with those same voices.  I could tell it frightened my children a bit; however, when he focused back in he gave me perhaps the sweetest gift of my Christmas.  He looked at me dead in the eyes and said, "Do you still love me?"
I had tears running down my cheeks, "Oh yes Dickey. I love you." I felt like a fraud saying it, knowing I hand't been there lately.  Knowing he had waited to see me.  But I still did and I wanted to convince him.
His smile was my gift.  I kissed his cheek.  He looked at my husband and said, "She loves me." My husband laughed, "Yeah Dickey she does."
That was my last chance to see my friend.

Dickey was so special to many people if for no other reason then he was actually happy about being in a nursing facility when most weren't.  He was basically the welcome wagon of the nursing home.  He was why i wanted to come to work and he did feel like a child to me.  An innocent child wrapped in the skin of an elderly handicapped man.  He had demons to face in his head and those voices to contend with.  But even seeing that formed within me a compassion for the mentally tormented in a way I hadn't known before.  I couldn't imagine why he had to suffer like that.  It hurt to think he had walked around all these years in the prison of a handicap.

The sermon closes and my mind is far away.  Lost in that picture.  I'm still thinking deep about Dickey smiling back at me under the rim of his baseball cap with some scraps from lunch still in his whiskers and marveling over the way sometimes you find the most beautiful people in the most unlikely of places.  I'm thinking about how I'm the lucky one that got to know him and how I wish I would've stopped by more.  The way my friends would say, "He asks about you all the time.  When you are coming back. He still calls you, Summertime" How those words still sting me.  I wish I had done more. I wish I hadn't gotten too busy to go for those walks and talk to him about the police. And I think about how simple loving people can sometimes be.  It can sometimes be as simple as a container of cheese balls and a wet wash cloth to wipe the crumbs off and making sure a sweet old man is ready for his bus ride.  It can be simple. And sometimes the simplest of things can be the most sacred too.  It's sacred to see the innocence of a child behind the wrinkled eyes of an elderly man, forgotten by the world yet loved by God and walking around as love from God to anyone who would engage Him.


  1. Beautiful story, Summer. It's so very true that the simplest things can be the most sacred. Glad to stop by from Coffee for Your Heart.

  2. Somer,
    I'm so glad you're back! And many blessings on your new baby! I was so happy to see your comment on my blog today! What a wonderful story about your work in the nursing home -- there was so much truth in it and so much to make me think! Your compassion and goodness show through this post and leave me with great admiration for your gifts! Yes, loving people can be simple, but challenging and difficult at the same time -- you are just a gem, Somer! xo


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