Bringing seniors together with a bushel of beans

Domestic chores an `occupational therapy' for residents

September 01, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The sound of snapping fresh green beans broke through the din of the television, turned up high enough for the hardest of hearing at Lookabout Manor senior home.

At a table behind the couches that face the television, a half-dozen residents of the home worked through a bushel of beans that Jeanie Meeks brought in from her husband's farm, and asked for more. It sure beat watching reruns on the large-screen TV.

"They kept asking me, `When are you going to bring some more beans?' It brings back all the things they used to do," said Meeks, a former nanny who one year ago was a daily visitor to the home, where her mother was living. Her mother died last September, but Meeks continued visiting the other residents -- 14 live in what was once co-owner Donna Miller's family home on Stone Road north of Westminster.

Owners Miller and Kathy Pennewell offered Meeks a job in March to create activities for the seniors. She brought in games and made up a few. But she got a bright idea this year when her husband, Lawrence, brought in the first harvest of green beans. She gleaned a bushel and a half, and took them to Lookabout Manor.

For residents such as Mary Kartrider, 80, the domestic chore released a flood of memories.

"One year, I jarred 100 quarts of beans," said Kartrider, who had been a farmer and gardener her whole life until a stroke took away the use of her left side five years ago.

Last week, she snipped and snapped the second batch of Italian flat green beans that Meeks had brought in from her husband's crop, which is grown for a commercial frozen-vegetable company. Her 91-year-old aunt, Elsie Martin, worked alongside her. Both lived on farms near Manchester and Millers.

Kartrider always enjoyed putting up the fruits of her garden.

"It's fun, but it's not as much fun as when you have full use of your body," she said. Still, she managed with one hand to snip beans and even brush silk off a crop of sweet corn Meeks brought in once.

"That's one of the hardest things I had to give up -- working in my garden," Kartrider said. "I think the proudest you are is when you jar everything and go back and look at what you jarred and the work you did."

She loved the look of the gleaming glass Mason and Ball jars filled with an array of colorful corn, tomatoes, beans and peaches. When Meeks spilled the basket of beans on the table, Kartrider followed her impulse to put them up.

"When you got it fresh like this, if you don't take care of it -- jar it or freeze it -- you just don't have it," Kartrider said.

Pennewell makes sure no one throws out the little nubs that have been snipped off the ends of each bean, and scrapes them into a bowl to take outside for the two goats to nibble.

Strutting around the goats and anywhere else he pleases is a Leghorn rooster who does not restrict his crowing to dawn or any other hour. He and the goats, plus a few chickens and kittens, approximate a little of the farm life. A cluster of red outbuildings and silos across the road provide a constant farm vista through a living-room bay window next to a large-screen television.

Richard Powell, 68, another resident, helped the women snip beans while "I Love Lucy" played in the background. No stranger to the task, Powell remembers sitting on the front porch with his brother, trimming and destringing beans for his mother at their farm on the banks of the Ohio River near Cincinnati.

Most of all, then and now, he enjoyed having fresh green beans for dinner afterward. The nursing home's cooks prepared them plain as a side dish and froze some to last through the fall.

"They're good," Powell said.

Ruth Fogle snapped her share of green beans and more during her years as a farmer in the New Windsor-Marston area of Carroll County.

"I did everything on the farm except plow," said Fogle, who turned 100 in June. She cut wheat and shocked it in the days before a combine simplified grain harvesting.

Meeks has incorporated other household chores such as folding laundry into the activities.

"They feel like they're doing something useful," she said. "And it gets them together as a group."

Most of the time, the residents sit in groups of two or three -- the same groups of two and three. Tasks like snipping beans around a table brings more of them together at a time, she said.

"It's occupational therapy," said Pennewell, a registered nurse who started the home three years ago with Miller. "It exercises their motor skills. It's really good to sit around and talk about the days when they kept house and took care of their families."

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