We almost bumped into one another. The hall was crowded with attendees moving from one session to another. It was in the late 1980s in Des Moines at the Governor’s Conference on Aging. She took my arm excitedly, greeted me and introduced herself – needlessly, for I knew it was Marian Paasch from the Low Moor/Camanche area. We exchanged our reasons why we each were there. And then she said, “Oh, how often we wish your folks still had their home. We sure could use it!”
The “home” to which Mrs. Paasch was referring was Low Moor Nursing Home, a large home that my father remodeled in 1956 into a facility for older residents of the area, after our grandfather’s estate was settled and his farms were sold, giving Dad, ever the Renaissance Man, the resources to restructure and adapt the house to state requirements in order to acquire certification to care for older adults. That restructuring included a hidden cantilever which remains, still hidden, to this day. Hmmm, another story?
This, however, is a mini-chronical of life with those older residents who made LMNH their home in their final years. It truly was their home, and Mother and Father, and we sisters as well, became their family. The stories from those days could become a full set of volumes recalling among so many other things: Warren’s long-johns journeys, Moritz Jacobsen’s eye case, Mrs. Rossiter’s walks, Morgie Orndorff’s mouth harp, the treats brought by Leonard Litscher, and those the Cappers brought from their creamery that once stood in south DeWitt, and Laura, the gentle Scandinavian housekeeper of the Clinton Bickelhaupts.
I reveal real names because not only has it been so long ago and they are no longer living, but it is with love that I honor them, including staff, among them Nita Haring, Dorothea Nielsen, Florence Traver – all taught us, along with their nursing knowledge, tremendous love for our elders. Well done, good and loving providers of care.
So, when Nita’s son, Kim Haring, and I hug so emotionally upon meeting these days, we both know it’s our mothers we are embracing, and what we hold dear from those days gone by.
The Home was arranged so that those who were ambulatory would pass through common areas to go to the restroom. One DeWitt gentleman, Chris Lahl – oh, how we loved him! – made his way quite frequently to what he called ‘Toyland’ (we well-knew it was a play on the word ‘toilet’). Often, he would stop to tell us a joke or two before he went on his short journey: “I eat my peas with honey,” he said, “I’ve done it all my life. It makes my peas taste funny, but it keeps them on my knife!” As he started on his way again, still chuckling, and being aware of his scuffling gait, he would announce that he was now going to “Shuffle Off To Buffalo,” the reference to a song in a 1932 movie. It was quite fitting.
Father, though he usually didn’t participate directly in the care role, certainly added to the joy of living there. On Sunday afternoons, or a winter’s evening, out he’d bring his violin or accordion. It entertained us all, certainly, but I got the feeling that as he played he was somewhere else, lost in the music, lost in thought. The residents were carried away as well, to younger days, tapping their toes to the rhythms. It was a delight to witness the effect of his music on them, those songs they knew so well – “Oh ‘Dem’ Golden Slippers,” “Beer Barrel Polka,” “My Blue Heaven,” “Red Wing,” “Ramona,” “Yankee Doodle,” “Cruisin’ Down the River,” “Mein Hut der hat Drei Ecken,” with hymns and waltzes as well. As he plays, the residents emerge from their rooms, move closer, start swaying. Beautiful memories.
We had Dr. Marme as medical director, three RNs full-time, cooks and aides all for a capacity of only 18 residents, plus Mother and my sisters and me for housekeeping and serving meals, all the while keeping it quite homelike. After all, we lived there, too.
I have always maintained that when regulations morphed nursing homes into medical models, they threw the baby out with the bath water.
In 1965 The Older Americans Act was passed. This year will be its 55th year, yet in a state with an overwhelming population of older citizens, so few know about this act which established the National Aging Service, and State Units on Aging (in Iowa it became the Iowa Department of Aging) under which states were divided into, and served by, several Area Agencies on Aging. Unfortunately, there have been many modifications and adjustments throughout the years, including for Iowa a reduction in the number and services of area agencies on aging, all citing lack of funds. Baloney!
Today, Scott, Clinton and Muscatine counties are grouped together, served by Milestones Area Agency based in Davenport. The services of the area agencies are meant to go far beyond senior centers and meals served there; it includes the mission to help older persons remain active in their communities, to age well, and be safe in their homes. Too bad we no longer have the nursing home in Low Moor for those who remain.