Happy People

Gwyneth loved living at Euclid Retirement Home. It was clean, comfortable and she was well cared for. The staff was kind and helpful. Her room wasn’t large, but she didn’t have to share it with anyone, unlike friends she knew who lived in other, not quite so nice places.

Her favorite thing about Euclid, though, was how pleasant everyone was. There were no grumpy people among the staff or the residents. Everyone walked around with smiles on their faces. Even those whose communication skills were limited smiled all the time. It was as if Gwyneth had fallen down the rabbit hole and landed in the land of happy.

Before she moved in, she was sad and lonely. Her children lived in other states, far away, and seldom came to see her. Her friends had moved on, either through death or a lack of independence, so she had no one to pal around with.

Her days were the same: get up, eat, eat some more, read, watch television, go to bed. Sometimes she went to the movies, but it wasn’t the same as when she would go with her husband or friends. Who do you discuss the movie with when no one was there?

Sometimes she’d treat herself to a meal out, but then she was a sad, lonely old woman sitting in a booth by herself. She’d bring a book and read in order to have something to do, but it wasn’t the same as sharing conversation over a good meal.

Her life was one big lonely day after another.

Until she heard about Euclid. A friend discovered it first and moved in when an opening appeared. Nancy loved the place and spoke highly of the wonderful staff. Nancy bragged about how much better she felt shortly after moving in, that she no longer looked forward to death, and in fact, enjoyed every single day.

She invited Gwyneth over for lunch one day so Gwyneth could see for herself how happy everyone was. And she was right. The residents sat around the large dining room table with smiles creasing their eyes. The staff sang and danced as they delivered the food, and sang some more as they cleaned up afterward.

The atmosphere was so low-keyed that Gwyneth was surprised that anything got done, but the residents were clean, their clothes were spotless, and her friend Nancy’s room was dust free. The furniture in the common room was a bit dilapidated, but still comfortable. The walls and floors were clean, and when Gwyneth had her tour of the facilities, she was pleased with how sparkling clean the kitchen and bathrooms were.

It was so perfect that Gwyneth inquired as to whether or not there was an opening. There wasn’t, of course, but there also was no one on the waiting list. Gwyneth completed the necessary paperwork and that was it. All she had to do was wait until someone either died or moved out.

Meanwhile she sorted through the stuff in her home. She went through closets, drawers and cabinets. She got rid of clothes she hadn’t worn in years, blankets that had sat in cabinets waiting for company to need them, and excess silverware that she wouldn’t need. Placemats and matching napkins…gone. Tablecloths, even fancy ones, stuffed into giveaway bags.

Even the piles of cookbooks disappeared. Anything she wouldn’t be able to take with her to Euclid left the house. She kept enough furniture to live with, enough pots and pans to cook basic meals, and the clothes she wore every day. Well, a few good dresses, but that was it.

Her son helped her find a realtor and arranged for an appraisal of the house. Once she knew fair market value, she put it up for sale, thinking that if all worked out, an opening at Euclid would magically appear when she had no place to live.

And it did. No sooner had a buyer made a reasonable offer for her house, not just meeting the sales price, but adding an additional $75,000 as enticement, than a room became available. Gwyneth would move in her new place just as the buyers were taking over her house.

Even though she wasn’t sure she’d like living in a home, Gwyneth’s mood improved after the first meal. She felt calmer, more relaxed and happier than she could ever remember feeling, even when her husband was alive and her kids still lived at home. That night she slept well, with no nightmares chasing her thoughts.

She enjoyed being with those residents that were able to converse. Every night they had pleasant discussions about the current political mess in Washington or movies or happenings in the news. After dinner they competed against each other to get the answers on Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Sometimes they played card games, which were rollicking bits of pure unadulterated fun.

Gwyneth knew she had made the right decision because every day was the same. Happy people, happy staff.

The only complaint that she had was that one resident, Lawrence, a grizzled old man of about eighty, seemed to have an unusual amount of company. Day in and day out people came to the door. Lawrence would take them to his room, and within a few minutes the visitors would be gone.

The staff seemed to like Lawrence more than the other residents, which was also bothersome. They also visited the man’s room quite frequently throughout the day, then would bustle into the kitchen. Amid the sounds of cooking would be giggles and loud guffaws.

One day the police walked through the door, dressed in what Gwyneth thought of as combat gear. That caused quite a stir. The residents were abuzz as the police searched the kitchen, opening every cabinet and drawer. They went through the massive china cabinet that stood in the dining room. They opened the envelopes that contained residents’ prescription medications and examined the contents of every bottle.

The cops went down the hall while the residents were sequestered in the front room. Another hour went by, while everyone speculated about the purpose of the visit, what they might be searching for.

Eventually the cops conferred with the manager who had been called to the home. Shortly after that, Lawrence was taken out in handcuffs and all the police officers left.

There was great speculation as to why he was arrested. Someone thought he was running a secret gambling operation on the computer in his room. Another guessed that he was a pedophile who was collecting images of children.

But no one would ever have guessed the real reason for his arrest if the manager hadn’t sat down with everyone and explained what had happened.

Lawrence had been buying and selling marijuana over the Internet. The police found over $20,000 worth of the drug in his room along with a stash of money, hidden between his mattress and box springs. He was being accused of selling drugs to the staff, to residents and to those non-residents who dropped by to visit him.

Gwyneth had wondered why anyone as popular as Lawrence would live in a home. After all, he seemed to have a goodly number of family and friends that came by, day after day. Well, now she knew that they weren’t family, but customers.

The next day there was an account of the arrest in the local paper. The police suspected Lawrence after seeing him approach a red sedan at the corner of Thornton and Fremont Boulevard, a sedan that was under surveillance for possible drug dealing. They followed Lawrence home and staked out the house for several days. After witnessing the number of strangers who came and went, they sought a court order.

And that’s how they caught him.

Everyone at the home was dismayed. Lawrence was a happy man and a good conversationalist. The staff members that were arrested were also good people. One was a mother of several small children and another was a cook who babysat her grandkids on weekends.

It was a shame. Lawrence’s arrest brought a great sadness to the home. No longer were the residents happy. Long gone were the pleasant conversations. No more did they compete over the game show for answers.

And the replacement staff wasn’t nearly as happy, either. Many of them were downright grouchy and seemed to resent working with a bunch of old folks. Slowly the house fell apart. Things weren’t as clean as before. There was grime in the bathroom and dust built up in the corners. The carpets were seldom vacuumed and the quality of the food disintegrated.

Gwyneth and Nancy organized the residents in the writing of a letter of protest, begging that Lawrence be allowed to return once he had served his time. They saw him not as a drug-dealer, but as the catalyst of all things good about Euclid.

Months later, when Lawrence was released from jail, he returned, but without a computer and without his car. He was restricted to the home and no longer did countless visitors walk through the doors.

But the mood slowly changed. It began with the staff. All of a sudden they were happy to be there. They changed sheets and diapers with smiles and laughs. There was giggling from the kitchen and guffaws as meals were served.

And then the residents began to smile again. And talk again. And compete over game show answers.

And Gwyneth was happy to be alive.

About Terry Connelly

Terry Connelly is a retired high school English teacher. She earned her BA and Single Subject Teaching credential from California State University of the East Bay, in Hayward, California. She taught for 18 years at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, California. She was gifted to work with both College Prep students and those with learning disabilities.
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