The greatest leveler of all

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, July 11, 2013

    It’s 80-something degrees outside, but inside the Lawrence County Nursing Center they’re wearing long sleeves and covered with afghans.

     One resident rolls up to the room where we’re to worship in red sweats. She’s the same one who isn’t afraid to let her thoughts be known – during the sermon.

     “I can’t hear,” she calls out from the back of the dining hall, her comments competing with clanging pots and pans in the kitchen. “What does he mean?”

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     We’ve been invited this Sunday morning because of a fellow church member’s hair-dressing abilities. She has forged friendships with several of these ladies over permanent waves.

     Right now, though, another of our friends is employing her own abilities on the piano up front. She’s having trouble with an upper octave of sticky keys, but it really doesn’t matter. This crowd is singing hymn number 334 with gusto.

     “This is my story, this is my song . . .”

     And what stories they have.

     Right beside me is Dorothy, spry and wizened, who spent her life fur trapping and commercial fishing with her husband on the Pearl River.

     In the corner sits Lydia, who’s really a Hoosier that somehow ended up in Mississippi. Crippling arthritis eventually put her in a wheelchair and this residence. Her family – all of them – are now gone.

     Samuel, blinded years ago, sits still as a statue near the piano. He admits to his share of “bumps in the road” since arriving in Monticello in 1968 with the paper mill.

     And there are other stories among the ID bands. A lady with extremely soft hands tells me of a husband’s massive heart attack, and of being left with three young children.

     She mentions a psychologist grandson in Pigeon Forge, because pride in posterity is certainly no sin here.

     Just ask the tiny lady in the wheelchair by the window. Her son’s a preacher at a “b-i-g church in Tupelo.” Oh, and she’s broken her back three times, said this resident with the twist of hair that marks her Pentecostal persuasion. 

     And that’s when I finally notice it, this unusual blending of denominations. Of skin tones. Of classes. Perhaps, after all, society’s great leveler isn’t war or education or even Atticus Finch’s courts (I do love To Kill A Mockingbird). Maybe it’s a nursing home.

     “I have four people in my house,” Preacher tells them, pointing out a passage in Proverbs. “You have what, 60? You need wisdom, a lot of it, to live with 60 people.”

     There are amens and a “that’s right” from Dorothy. A disabled arm is raised in agreement from the rolling bed where a young man (I don’t know his story) lies.

     Preacher continues, and I exchange glances with a tired assistant who’s leaning against the doorjamb.

     Of course, she probably could tell a story or two herself, but there’s no time to speak of them today. One of the 60 is calling her name. I think she’s wearing red sweats.

      Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at