“Welcome, sweet springtime, we greet thee in song…”
Just before 6 on Tuesday evening, Shelby Lookabill drags heavy cushioned chairs into a circle in the activity room of Trinity Oaks health and rehab (formerly the Lutheran Home).
Residents begin to roll in in their wheelchairs. A few caregivers sit down beside loved ones. There’s some bright green punch on the bar nearby that Shelby made, leftover from a carnival earlier in the day.
“It’s time to get started,” says Shelby, a tall, blonde, bubbly 18-year-old. “Are we missing anybody we need to go get?”
Tonight is the last night of Shelby’s eight-week Bible study. It’s based on the Andy Griffith Show, and with about 20 folks attending each week, it’s been a rousing success, according to Trinity Oaks staff.
“We don’t get that number out at night for anything,” says Brenda Zimmerman, director of life enrichment. “She’s amazing. She’s committed herself for the summer. We don’t get a lot of volunteers that age.”
She adds, “She’s a new face, with new opinions, and it’s been a novel program.”
Many of the residents no doubt watched the “Andy Griffith Show” back in the 1960s. Episodes are still shown today on many channels. During the Bible study, residents watch an episode and then discuss each one, talking about various life lessons in the process.
Residents chose “Barney and the Choir” to end the eight-week series. Resident Jeff Fisher calls it “an iconic episode.”
Shelby begins the video clip, and the room is soon filled with the show’s familiar whistling tune. In this episode, Barney is asked to join the local choir, but the director soon discovers that the deputy “can’t sing — not a lick.”
Barney tries — and fails, miserably — to sing along with the choir to a song called “Welcome, Sweet Springtime,” which choir members refer to as “good ol’ 14-A” in their repertoire. Barney is the only one oblivious to his caterwauling.
There’s lots of chuckling during the next few minutes, as Barney finally has his moment in the spotlight, with a little help from Andy and another singer backstage.
When the episode concludes, Shelby launches into a discussion of the evening’s theme, “Little White Lies.”
The group agrees that Barney couldn’t sing, but didn’t know he couldn’t sing. The director wanted to dump Barney, but the rest of the group — Andy, Thelma Lou, Aunt Bee — wanted to spare Barney’s feelings.
Residents can relate.
“We had somebody in our choir who could not sing,” says Mary Katherine Clark. “It was terrible!”
They talk about whether you should or should not tell little white lies.
“There’s not a good time to lie, but a time to fib,” Jim Misenheimer says.
“Sometimes you don’t have to tell the whole truth,” says Richard Cosgrove, who’s been attending the Bible studies with his mom, Edith, a resident. Sitting near them are Andrea Lyerly with her dad, resident Martin “M.L.” Kimble.
“Is there anything such as a harmless lie?” Shelby asks.
Their consensus is that it depends on the circumstances.
Shelby explains the difference between lies and deceit — lies are spoken, but deceits are actions.
Shelby’s mom, Melissa, is on hand this evening for the last class.
“As kids,” she says, “me and my brother used to plan out some lies. Our parents knew the whole time. When Shelby was young, Shake was her pretend dog. If anything went wrong, Shake got blamed. Other than that, she’s been pretty honest.”
“A lot of times,” Shelby admits, “I’m too honest. I’m not tactful.”
Shelby says that sometimes, little white lies can lead to bigger lies, thus eroding trust in a relationship.
“You have to weigh, is that little white lie worth that trust?” Shelby notes.
Shelby discovered about 40 different types of lies in her research. The type of lie that Andy and friends told Barney is called “falsified flattery.”
“There’s always something good, and honestly good, to say in every situation,” Shelby says.
The group agrees that most folks tell little white lies to spare others’ feelings, or to protect someone else. That can also be called misguided love, Shelby says.
Before long, the last Bible study wraps up, a disappointed “aww” echoing through the group. They’ll get together next week, however, with a party on Tuesday hosted by Shelby and her family.
“If you’re gonna bring a family member, you need to let me know tonight,” Shelby says. “We’re gonna have some super-duper food!”
Afterward, the residents continue to chat and visit, drinking punch and munching on the cream cheese streusel that Shelby has brought.
Jeff has seen every episode of the “Andy Griffith Show” more times can he can count.
“When Shelby first came to us, I was a little bit skeptical about what the attendance would be, but she was adamant about wanting to do this,” he says. “It was a lot more than I anticipated. I wanted this to work for her. She’s a great kid. We think of her as family around here. It was a great idea from the start. I didn’t miss one.”
Resident Kathy Sperry only missed one session.
“I enjoyed it,” she says. “Shelby’s a good teacher, a lot of fun.”
“I think she has done a wonderful job,” Mary Katherine says. “She’s done a lot of work on it. She’s kept the discussion going — no lulls at all. And she’s a gonna be a college freshman! We’re just real impressed with her. We’re gonna miss her. She’s enthusiastic — and it’s catching.”
Melissa is obviously proud of her daughter, and her work here at the nursing home.
“She could have chosen to work a full-time job this summer with the hours she put in here,” Melissa says. “Instead, she chose to give of herself. This has been an experience that cannot be replaced.”
“This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Shelby says, after the residents have returned to their rooms. “I’ve learned a lot more from them than they learned from me.”
Shelby, also the daughter of John Lookabill, will enter UNCG’s honors college this fall. She planned her senior project on elder care. Shelby, who graduated from East Rowan in June, planned to compare nursing care to assisted living, because her grandmother was a resident of Trinity Oaks. Even though her grandmother died in October, Shelby decided to go ahead with her project. The senior project includes 15 hours of volunteer time, and Shelby began volunteering at the nursing home in February.
“Honestly,” she says, “I’ve been hooked since the first day.”
As activities intern, Shelby has worked this summer from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., four days a week, plus one or two weekends a month.
“I come whenever they need me,” she says.
When she goes away to school Shelby plans to Skype with residents —one way that families keep in touch.
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.