Thursday, March 18, 2010

Barbara's: A Spot of Magic

Barbara's Cafe--Magic in an unlikely place!

There’s always a spot of magic to be found, even at a nursing home. At Palm Village, there's Barbara's Cafe.

Jim, my sister Mary, and I visited my mother the other day in skilled nursing at Palm Village. As usual, we brought our Starbucks cappuccinos and caramel macchiato biscotti. We whisked our mother down the long hallways lined with medicine carts and residents sleeping in their wheelchairs, out the wide automatic door of skilled care, and into the main lobby of Palm Village—or what is known as the “other side” to those skilled nursing residents who CAN still know.

The “other side” is a euphemism for assisted and independent living. The lobby is airy and elegant, with high-ceilings, soft light, intimate groupings of chintz-covered sofas and easy chairs, glistening oak end tables, and glass-encased mahogany bookshelves.

Here’s the magic: at three o’clock every afternoon—VOILA!—what had appeared as a gaping dark hole in one of the walls suddenly blazes with light as Barbara’s Café turns on its red neon OPEN sign. This light illuminates a quaint retro café alfresco with red, black, and white checkered linoleum. Almost as suddenly as the light comes on, an aroma of popcorn wafts from an old-fashioned popcorn machine teeming with bursting kernels. And the coffee, smell the coffee! Unfortunately for us, it’s decaf. That’s why the Starbucks.

A tall bar at one end of the café is spread with cookies fresh from the oven, fresh fruit, pastries, and granola bars. On the opposite end, another bar displays the urn of decaf, tea, soft drinks, juice, and a soft drink machine. Ice cream and rootbeer floats are also available. All is free to the residents and any visiting family members.

White shiny chrome chairs with red vinyl cushions await an elderly clientele, who promptly begin a procession with canes and walkers as soon as the light comes on. Chatting together, they seat themselves around chrome trimmed white-topped tables, some with checkerboard tops.

They are different from the people who live in skilled nursing with my mother. They are the elite who haven’t yet experienced that bout of pneumonia that weakens them so that they can no longer dress themselves or get out of bed. They have not yet experienced the fall that cracks a hip and confines them to a wheelchair, securing for them a permanent spot in skilled nursing.

Barbara’s Cafe is a healing ray of light sent from the soul of the beautiful woman, Barbara Sargeant, for whom it is named and whose estate designed it and paid for it.

We wheeled Mom to a table and seated her so that she could see the decor and chat with old friends who stop by. Since Mom is a social person, those conversations often refresh her, even soothe the daily migraines that plague her.