“Clemmie Remembers,” Friend, Mar. 1984, 34
Eleven-year-old Jennifer stared out the window of her Primary classroom. Marshmallow clouds drifted across a blue March sky. Sometimes she saw imaginary faces in the clouds.
“Jennifer,” the teacher said impatiently, “what do you think of the idea?”
“I’m sorry, Sister Sparks. I guess I wasn’t listening.”
“I know,” Sister Sparks said dryly, at which the other students giggled. “We’ve been discussing a service project, and it’s been decided that we will visit the Golden Years Rest Home once a week for the next two months.”
“What will we do there?” Jennifer asked.
“We can sing, put on skits, play checkers and other games, and just visit with the folks who live there.”
Jennifer didn’t think that sounded like very much fun. She was apprehensive about being with people she didn’t know, especially older people.
The first visit to the home was not very successful. The children felt awkward and uncomfortable. The second visit was better. They felt a bit more relaxed, and the residents seemed to enjoy their company.
By the third visit the children felt at home, and they hurried to pick out their favorite partners to visit and play games with.
During one visit Jennifer noticed an elderly lady for the first time. She sat alone, looking out the window. Her fine, wispy white hair framed a face with deep wrinkles. Jennifer went over and stood silently beside the lady for a moment. Finally she said, “Hi, I’m Jennifer Wheeler. Would you like me to read to you?”
The old lady looked up with watery blue eyes. Her pale lips spread in a slow, sweet smile. “That would be very nice, dear, but if you don’t mind, I’d rather just talk.”
Jennifer drew up a chair and sat down. “What’s your name?” she asked.
The old lady laughed softly. “It might be one you’ve never heard. It’s Clementine. Clementine Dodd. But everyone here calls me Clemmie. Tell me about yourself.”
Jennifer told her about school and her family and friends. Her eyes sparkled as she added, “Oh, you should see my cat! Her name is Bounce. Don’t you think that’s a nice name?”
Clemmie agreed, and they sat in silence for a while. Then Jennifer said, “Tell me about when you were a little girl. Did you like school?”
Clemmie’s eyes misted over as her memory went back to those long-ago days. She was quiet for so long that Jennifer thought she hadn’t heard the question.
At last she said, “Yes, Jennifer, I liked school, but I had to quit in the sixth grade. We were very poor. Oh, the chores we had to do! There was wood to chop and carry in, buckets of water to bring in from the well, oil lamps to clean and fill. We didn’t have much time for school or for play.”
Jennifer found it hard to imagine Clemmie as a young girl, harder still to think of anyone’s working so hard just to survive. She thought of her own warm, bright home and the simple chores she had to do. “But didn’t you ever get to do anything you wanted to do?” she asked.
Clemmie chuckled. “I remember one time when I was about sixteen. I had a beau, one of the hired hands from a neighboring farm, who had invited me to a barn dance. Shortly before the dance my father noticed that the chicken coop hadn’t been cleaned and reminded me that it was my turn to clean it. I had completely forgotten! He said I couldn’t go out that night until the job was done.”
“What did you do, Clemmie? Did you have to stay home?”
Clemmie smiled as she continued: “No, I talked my brother into doing it for me. I had to promise to take his turn the next three times. If you knew what a hated job it was, you’d know how much I wanted to go to that dance!”
Jennifer went back home, thinking that things were sure a lot different now than they were in Clemmie’s day.
Over the next few weeks, Jennifer and Clemmie became great friends. Clemmie had new stories of her childhood to tell every visit, and Jennifer came to appreciate what it was like to live in those bygone days.
As they were going to the nursing home one week toward the end of April, Jennifer was thinking about how much she would miss Clemmie and her stories at the end of the month. When they entered the home, Jennifer noticed right away that Clemmie was not in her usual spot by the window. “Where do you suppose Clemmie is?” she asked her teacher.
“I’ll find out,” Sister Sparks replied and went to talk to the head nurse.
When she came back, Jennifer could tell by her expression that something was wrong. “What is it, Sister Sparks? Is Clemmie sick?”
“No, dear. I’m sorry to have to tell you, but Clemmie died a few days ago. The nurse said she went peacefully in her sleep.”
Jennifer felt the hot tears burn her eyes, and she turned away so the others wouldn’t see her crying.
Sister Sparks put an arm around her shoulders and said, “You brought a lot of pleasure and happiness into the last weeks of her life.”
As the class left the nursing home, Sister Sparks drew Jennifer aside. She handed her a small leather-bound book. The cover was cracked and worn at the edges, and Jennifer could just make out the faded gilt lettering, Daily Journal.
“The nurse gave me this to give to you,” Sister Sparks said. “It was Clemmie’s journal when she was a young girl. Clemmie wanted you to have it.”
Jennifer almost cried again as she looked at the writing on the worn pages. She knew the journal was something she would treasure always.