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I finally get Mr. Hanson, my favorite person in this entire place, into his pajamas for the night after combing through what’s left of his ashy grey hair. I help guide him over to his bed, shutting the window once he lays down, a whistle of cold air manages to give me goosebumps before I can block it. I notice he begins to shiver too.
“There’s no way you can fall asleep when it’s this cold in here, let me go see if I can find some more blankets,” I say softly to him.
I search every closet down the hallway, but it seems the other nurses already beat me to it. This is what I get for working at a retirement home with no insulation and a bunch of greedy nurses. Right before I lose hope, I remember I have a quilt back in the room for situations just like this.
I pull the 30 something-year-old quilt out from a drawer that hasn’t been open in decades and lay it over him. He immediately drops his shoulders and I know I’ve done my job. Thinking he’d already be fast asleep, I go to open the door and leave but I hear him ask me a question just before my hand clutches the cold metal knob.
“I like this quilt a lot, where did you get it?” He almost whispers as he traces his wrinkled fingers up and down one edge of it, seeming to be in a trance from the array of patterns on it.
“Oh, that quilt has a long story behind it, I wouldn’t want to bore you with the details,” I say, knowing he will be asleep by the time I finish telling the story.
“Try me,” he says, looking into my eyes the way a puppy would after you don’t give him a treat. How could I say no to this man?
“I’ve had this quilt since I was a teenager, actually. I was working at this craft store and I would see this elderly man come in every Saturday without fail. He always went straight for the fabric section. He reminds me a lot of you actually, Mr. Hanson. Very petite, big ears, and such a big heart,” I began to explain to him.
Thinking about it took me back to the day I finally asked the man what he was using all the fabric for. He came up to my register like usual. He always waited in my checkout line no matter how short the others may be so I was always extra nice to him. I noticed he picked out a very random assortment of fabric that day; red hearts, footballs, and dinosaurs which don’t usually go together in my opinion, so my curiosity made me finally ask.
“I notice you come here a lot to get fabric. May I ask what it’s all being used for, George is it?” I asked as I noticed his name come up on the receipt I handed him.
He stood there with a blank face for a minute before breaking out in a wide smile and cackling.
After a good few seconds, he wiped a tear from his eye and managed to catch his breath to say, “It’s a funny story actually. You see, my wife, Ester, loves making quilts. It’s all she does all day every day, but she’s blind so she can’t see what the quilts end up looking like. She sends me here all the time with very specific fabric and designs to get, but to keep things fun, I get the weirdest ones I can find because she’ll never know. When she finishes the quilts, it’s nearly impossible to not laugh when she thinks it’s this cute little pattern and it’s not.”
That explains quite a lot. I smile at him and continue on with some small talk. He tells me they were high school sweethearts and the words he used to describe his wife show just how much he loves her, even though I’m sure she wouldn’t appreciate his harmless little joke.
He started coming in more after that day, always making sure to be at my register and telling me more and more about his life and marriage each day. He actually made coming to that terrible job an enjoyable experience, that is until I started noticing him coming in less and less.
When he finally made an appearance after about 5 months of being a no-show, I noticed he wasn’t being his happy normal self. He walked in with a cane and his head down, not even smiling at me when he walked past; something was up. When he finally came to my register I asked what was wrong.
“Oh, you young thing, you wouldn’t understand. Old age is really starting to creep up on me. I can’t even get down the stairs by myself anymore, let alone get myself to come here,” he sighed, making sure to avoid eye contact with me at all costs.
“Well, believe it or not, you look perfectly fine to me,” I say trying to cheer him up. “I’ve missed you. We recently got a new shipment of the weirdest fabrics I’ve ever seen. I’ve been waiting for you to come see them.”
I kneel down under the counter and pull up a pile of some fabric I could manage to get over the past few months without getting caught. He looked up slowly and a smile I haven’t seen in too long filled his face.
“There’s that smile. On the house too, I already paid for them. Don’t you dare become a stranger, though, I expect to see you next week. I’ll check for more fabric in the back and keep them up here so you don’t have to make the far trip to the back of the store anymore. I’ll see you soon, tell Ester I said hi,” I smiled while bagging up the fabric.
“You know I always do,” he chuckles while slowly making his way out the door.
I wait until he leaves and my head falls into my hands. I hate seeing a man once so lively barely be able to smile anymore. I knew helping him not have to walk to the back of the store anymore would help, but I wished there was just something more I could do for him.
He started coming in less and less but when he did, I always had fabric ready and paid for him. We would talk for a while before he became too tired to stand and would leave. We did this for a few months until he came in one day and told me his son suggested he and his wife go to a retirement home. I couldn’t agree more, he needed someone to take care of him, I just didn’t want to let him go. Noticing my instant shock and sadness, he quickly said something that changed my entire life.
“I have a friend that runs the place, he said you can have a job there if you want it. I told him how much help you’ve been to me and that I need you. What do you say?” He said with a serious look on his face I’ve never seen him have before.
I was shocked. Could this be my calling? I’ve enjoyed helping him out over the past few months and I’ve been wanting to move on from this job for some time, I just didn’t know where to.
I pause for a moment, and his face goes dull. I could tell it took a lot of him to ask me about it. I took a deep breath in before looking into his eyes, “When do I start?”
The face he made after I said those four words is something I will never forget. This could be my chance to help people and bring purpose to my life, I couldn’t wait.
I finally got to meet Ester when they got settled into the home a few weeks after the conversation. She was even more beautiful than George had described her.
I walk into their room after helping George to get dinner when I see her rocking in a chair. I knock on the door and a smile brightens her face. I make my way towards her and she grabs my hand with all her force.
“Awe, you must be the girl from the craft store,” she says, gliding her hands across my palm and playing with my rings. “I’ve heard so much about you. I want you to have something.” She grabs the quilt in her lap and raises it towards me. I recognized all the patterns on it and couldn’t contain a laugh from slipping. I quickly covered my mouth but it was too late.
“So tell me, what crazy things are on this one,” she says smiling. “George thinks I don’t know how he is. He can’t seriously think I believe he goes and gets what I ask for, but it brings him joy so I pretend to remain clueless so he can have his laughs,” she explains.
“Well, let’s see here. I picked out a great deal of these. My personal favorite is the patch with mustaches, but the jack-o-lanterns are a close second,” I say and she breaks out in a cackle.
“I want you to have this one,” she says, suddenly breaking her laugh.
“Oh, no you have it. It’s yours, you worked so hard on it I would never take it from you,” I say, knowing she won’t give up.
“I have plenty, trust me. You managed to make my husband happy after everything he has gone through, It’s the least I could do,” she says, shoving the quilt gently into my arms.
As much as I wanted to act like I didn’t want the quilt and wanted her to keep it, holding it in my arms brought me so much happiness. I went from scanning paint for 6 hours every day and hating every second of it to getting what I now realize is my dream job all because of one regular customer I took notice of.
I grew to love my job more and more each day for years until I noticed George started to get very sick. I’ll never forget one of the last conversations I had with him. He had been bedridden for weeks at that point. I did everything in my power to help, but I knew I was running out of time so I spent my days talking to him until he couldn’t anymore.
“I need you to promise me something, kid,” he said one morning, his cold hands holding mine at the edge of his bed.
“Anything you want, consider it done,” I smiled while immediately wiping a tear before he could see.
“When I’m gone I need someone to look after my wife and son, and you are the only one here I trust enough to do that.”
“Your wish is my command,” I managed to say before a lump appeared in my throat and I had to leave before he could see me crying.
I owe everything to this man and his beautiful family, keeping that promise was something I knew I’d have to do. That was 30 years ago, but I still remember all of our laughs and conversations like they were yesterday.
I let out a sigh and look over at Mr. Hanson with blurred vision before the built-up tears finally streamed down my face. Fast asleep like I knew he would be, I pull the quilt up over his shoulders and move his few grey hairs out of his face.
“Your father was a great man, he changed my life. I’m glad I got to keep my promise to him after all these years. Goodnight Mr. Hanson,” I whisper as the door creaks closed behind me.
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