A whirlwind of long disheveled hair and ruffled clothing, AURA STEVENS, storms towards a hospital admittance desk. Aura had the look of a person who had just stumbled out of bed and threw on whatever she could find with little regard to her appearance. Upon reaching her destination, Aura drops her heavy purse upon the desk with a THUD then addresses the attending nurse in a rather uncivil fashion. “My husband, Craig, had an accident at work. I was told he was sent to this hospital.” Make up, keys, and various other feminine items spill onto the admittance desk as Aura rifles through her purse frantically searching for something. “I think I have his medical card here somewhere.”
The attending nurse slowly rises from her chair. She approaches Aura in a calm disarming manner. “Miss please. I am here to help you. But you need to take a breath and slow down.”
“I am sorry,” Aura apologizes with a sob. “I didn’t mean to be so rude. I am so embarrassed.” She stuffs her possessions back into her purse as she stammers. “They didn’t tell me what happened. Only that Craig was in an accident and sent to this hospital. I have all these nightmare thoughts running through my head.” Aura smears mascara down her cheek as she wipes tears from her eye. “We just got married a month ago. I am still getting use to calling him my husband.” Aura practically collapses onto the admittance desk as she cries miserably.
The attending nurse quickly slides back onto her chair and looks up at Aura. Her fingers hover over her keyboard ready to type. “What is your husband’s name again?”
Aura chokes back her tears. “Craig. Craig Stevens.”
The attending nurse quickly types in the name. “Craig Stevens. He was admitted half an hour ago. ” The nurse smiles up at Aura. “He has a minor laceration on his forearm. He’ll need stitches, probably a tetanus shot, but he’ll be fine.”
Aura breathes out a sigh of relief. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
The attending nurse continues to smile warmly up at Aura. “You are most welcome.” She hands Aura a clipboard containing a medical form. “You can fill this out in the waiting room. I’ll let them know you are here.”
Aura plops herself down onto a chair in the hospital waiting room. Her hefty purse teeters precariously on her lap as she looks over a medical form held in a clipboard.
Sitting quietly across from Aura, an elderly woman peeks up from behind her book. She looks over at Aura, inquisitively, before blurting out, “have we met?”
Aura continues to perform her circus act of balancing a clipboard, preventing items from falling out of her overloaded purse, while concentrating on answering the questions on an overly complicated medical form. “Not that I am aware of,” she says with a forced smile. Though in the back of her mind, Aura thought that the elderly woman did remind her of someone.
The elderly woman seems relieved by the answer. “Sorry for being a bother. It’s just that sometimes I forget.”
“No bother,” Aura responds offhandedly.
The elderly woman places her book on a shoe box size tin can on a chair next to her. With sympathetic eyes, she watches as Aura battles with her purse while struggling to complete her medical form. “Is everything all right, dear?”
Aura holds up the clipboard in frustration. “Could they make these forms any more complicated?” As if to punctuate her frustration, items from Aura’s purse suddenly fall onto the floor and roll in various directions. Aura curses quietly to herself as she bends over to pick up her belongings, causing more items to fall from her purse.
The elderly woman quickly comes to Aura’s rescue. In one graceful motion, she picks up the items from the floor then sits on a chair beside Aura. “Now let’s see if I can help you with that big-bad medical form.”
“You’re very kind, really. But you were reading,” Aura stammers embarrassingly. “I don’t want to trouble you any further.”
“Oh pish posh,” the elderly woman declares with a lighthearted chuckle. “That book is so predictable. I swear I must have read it in another lifetime.” The elderly woman settles into the chair next to Aura and proceeds to expertly guide Aura through the questions on the medical form. In no time at all, the medical form was completed.
Aura looks over at the elderly woman in amazement. “How many of these forms have you completed?”
The elderly woman retakes her chair across from Aura. “Honestly, that was my first. It’s strange but I think I could answer that form in my sleep.” The old woman gazes over at the main hospital ward with a sigh. “In my marriage I am the frail-sickly one, while my husband is the rock. He usually takes care of those things.”
The elderly woman suddenly turns to Aura. “Goodness gracious. Where are my manners? We haven’t been properly introduced.” She holds out her hand, playfully, in an all-too-formal manner and speaks with a Southern accent. “Trisha Nobleman. I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Aura finds herself smiling from ear to ear as she shakes Trisha’s hand. “Aura Stevens.”
Trisha settles into her chair. “Well, Aura Stevens, what brings you to our fine establishment this early in the morning?”
“My husband, Craig, had a minor accident at his work,” Aura replies.
“So you dropped everything to be at his side. Am I right?” Trisha asks.
In response, Aura humorously gestures to her cluttered state. “Am I that transparent?”
“They do have a power over us, don’t they?” Trisha muses. “I don’t know what I would do without my Gerald.”
“And you?” Aura inquires. “You mentioned your husband.”
“Yes. Gerald. He’s been feeling a bit under the weather. Our niece brought him here the other day for a routine check-up,” Trisha responds.
“I hope everything is all right,” Aura voices her concern.
“Oh yes, dear. Gerald is as fit as a fiddle. I have known him since we were children, and he has never been sick. Not once,” Trisha explains. “They only held him overnight for observation. I am told.”
“I am relieved to hear that,” Aura affirms. And it wasn’t just a statement that Aura uttered out of politeness. It was the truth. She really was relieved. There was something warm, inviting, and strangely familiar about Trisha. It was as though Aura had known Trisha her entire life. In an attempt to keep the conversation rolling, Aura quickly adds, “well at least now we are the ones waiting for our husbands and not the other way around.”
They both enjoy a good laugh: partly as a tension relief, but mostly because of the bond the two of them were developing in such a short period of time.
Trisha reaches for the tin can on a chair next to her. “Well, Aura. You look like a woman who could use a little pick-me-up.”
Aura shakes her head. “Oh I couldn’t. I don’t drink.”
Trisha’s face lights up as she giggles happily. “I am not offering you spirits, dear.” Trisha peels the lid off the tin can. Inside are sparkling cookies shaped like snowflakes, mistletoes, and other various Christmas ornaments.
“Christmas cookies,” Aura says with delight. “But isn’t it a little early for Christmas cookies?”
“Some might say,” Trisha admits. “We were never able to have children of our own. I suppose that is why Gerald enjoys volunteering as the neighborhood Santa Claus so much. After a while it became his identity.” Trisha looks proudly up at Aura. “For the two of us, every day is Christmas.”
Aura notices for the first time how Christmassy Trisha’s outfit was.
Trisha offers Aura the cookies. “Please help yourself. I insist.”
Aura stares at the cookies with hungry eyes. “I really shouldn’t. I am on a diet.” She quickly grabs a cookie and devours it, while making yummy noises. “This cookie is so good.”
“Can you guess what the secret ingredient is?” Trisha asks.
“Love,” Aura answers with a laugh.
“Well love is the main ingredient to all good things,” Trisha asserts. “But to make my cookies extra special,” Trisha moves in closer to Aura as though she was about to reveal a secret, “I add, crushed, candy canes.”
A realization registers on Aura’s face. “I love candy canes,” she says with a smile. “No wonder that cookie was so good.”
“Candy canes are the very embodiment of Christmas,” Trisha continues, “with the added sweet, minty goodness.”
For the next few minutes, Aura and Trisha continue to laugh and eat delicious Christmas cookies. Aura was disappointed when the attending nurse informed her that her husband was ready to be released. Before she left, Aura gave Trisha a big hug and thanked her for her kindness.
The following day, Aura returns to the hospital to retrieve her husband’s work key card he had left behind. To her surprise, she sees Trisha sitting quietly in the waiting room reading a book. Aura turns to the attending nurse and asks in earnest. ”Pardon me, nurse. Isn’t that Trisha Nobleman sitting in the waiting room?”
The attending nurse glances over at Trisha with a sigh. “Yes. She is here every morning. Like clockwork.”
“I don’t understand,” Aura exclaimed. “I thought she came here yesterday to pick up her husband. Why would she return?”
The attending nurse looks up at Aura in bewilderment. “Oh. You don’t know. The way the two of you were talking the other day, I thought…”
The nurse pulls Aura aside in a hush-hush manner. “It was over a year ago that Trisha’s husband came here to be examined,” the attending nurse tells Aura. “He was such a kind old man. He looked like Santa Claus.”
“Did you say he was as in past tense?” Aura asks.
The attending nurse responds to Aura’s question with a nod. “Everything seemed fine. We held him overnight for observation just as a precaution,” the nurse continues, “but he passed away during the night.”
Aura GASPS out loud.
“Trisha and their niece came to pick him up the following day, thinking everything was right as rain,” the nurse narrates while glancing sadly over at Trisha. “I remember Trisha handing out delicious Christmas cookies to everyone. She told us that candy canes were her secret ingredient.”
Tears well-up in the attending nurses eyes as she resumes her story. “We didn’t know that Trisha was already showing signs of Alzheimer’s. The trauma of her husband’s death must have accelerated it. To Trisha, each morning is a reset button. She wakes up and bakes a patch of Christmas cookies, thinking that she is about to pick up her husband from the hospital. Her niece couldn’t stand to see her aunt constantly reliving the horror of that day, so she asked us to play along. In a few minutes, I will tell that sweet old lady that her husband has to stay for another night just as a precaution. Unfortunately, he can’t be disturbed because of the medication we gave him. Then her niece will come to take her home. And tomorrow, we will have to do it all over again.” A phone on the admittance desk suddenly RINGS. “That must be Trisha’s niece now.”
The attending nurse picks up the phone and answers it. “Yes. I will tell her now.”
Aura bravely chokes back her tears. “Could I tell her? Please.”
In the waiting room, Aura sits across from Trisha.
Trisha peeks up from behind her book. She looks over at Aura, inquisitively, before blurting out, “have we met?”
It took all of Aura’s willpower not to burst out into tears. “No, ma’am, we haven’t. I just started volunteering at the hospital. It’s my first day.”
“Well happy first day,” Trisha declares sweetly as she reaches for the tin can on a chair next to her. “I happen to have the very thing to celebrate the occasion.” Trisha peels the lid off the tin can and reveals sparkling Christmas cookies inside.
Aura would go on to visit Trisha at the waiting room of the hospital every morning. She cherished each moment she spent with Trisha. It was during this time that Aura began to remember the summers she spent with her grandmother when she was very young. Aura would often sit on a porch and watch her grandmother as she worked on her garden with such care and dedication. Her grandmother’s garden was so beautiful and perfect, like something out of a fairy tale. After Aura inherited her grandmother’s home, the once magnificent garden soon fell into disrepair. Neither Aura nor her husband had a gardener’s touch. It was Trisha who inspired Aura to bring her grandmother’s garden back to life. Little by little, the garden began to take shape until it became the envy of the neighborhood.
When Aura showed Trisha pictures of the garden, amazed at what she had accomplished, Trisha simply giggled—in that special way she always did—and told Aura something she would remember for the rest of her life. “I am not in the least bit surprised,” Trisha declared. “The memory of your grandmother guides you in all that you do, while the glow from your husband and beautiful baby girl fills your heart with love and happiness. That is your secret ingredient, my dear. It is the candy cane to your life’s garden.”
Three and a half years later, Trisha Nobleman stopped coming to the hospital waiting room. She passed away peacefully during the night, on Christmas Eve of all days. On a night stand by her bed was the same book she had been reading for the past few years. A Christmassy outfit was neatly laid out on a chair ready to be worn. In her oven was a batch of freshly baked candy cane Christmas cookies. They would be the last cookies Trisha would ever make.