A Farmer, A Pig, and A Senior
Many jokes start out with the line that "A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a....." and a funny story is told. For that reason, it was impossible to resist titling this column "A Farmer, A Pig, and A Senior", even though it is both true and has a funny ending.
The Senior part refers to, well, seniors, including those who due to the infirmities of age or sickness, require nursing home care. The Farmer refers to my childhood friend, farmer Paul Minor of Bristol, Connecticut, who tours the country with his family pig, Daisy, encouraging reading under the title of "Pig Out on Reading." The Pig, as you expected, refers to a pig, named Daisy, who is the most charming, most coddled, most travelled and most hugged and kissed pig on the planet. She has been in almost every state of the union. Daisy is the draw that farmer Minor uses to make presentations to young children in schools across the country to encourage them to read. Daisy is the icebreaker that rivets their interest and attention as he promotes reading.
Daisy also earns her keep by being the prize in many charitable fundraisers for "Kiss the Pig" contests. But farmer Minor and Daisy have also found that they can be a helpful part of the support group in nursing homes with seniors who have dementia and significant loss of memory. They have a good time jogging memories of residents and sharing their stories. One of the key things that make us cherish life as humans is our memories. Without those memories, we lose a vital part of what gives us meaning in life. Events or pictures, or songs or story telling that help us hold onto those memories is invaluable to maintaining some vestige of our lives. Many nursing homes have programs to encourage mental stimulation by playing games, singing songs, and talking about photographs of their earlier lives. And most people who grew up in the 1920's to 1950's probably lived near farms where there were animals, or they themselves had animals.
Realizing this, farmer Minor and Daisy have embarked on visits to nursing homes where they tell stories or read articles of long past events, which even a person with severely impaired memory can remember or relate to if their long term memory is jogged. Daisy is the draw which makes them comfortable and gets their interest as they are told stories and prodded to give their own stories of growing up in the depression, or World War II sacrifices, or the first television show they ever saw, or how they met their spouse. The key factor is that the long term memory is spurred by the early relationship with animals, whether they were pets or neighbors animals. Farmer Minor tells me that the hour or so he spends with the seniors always elicits fond memories of times past that might otherwise remain hidden. Exercising the brain this way is not only pleasurable, but the stimulation helps retard the creeping dementia and memory loss.
So before I forget the story, one day farmer Minor and Daisy the pig walked into a nursing home. At the end of the session, everyone was given the opportunity to kiss Daisy. Most respectfully declined to give Daisy a smooch, but a few did. One of the women in attendance, was sort of holding back so farmer Minor again asked her if she wanted to kiss Daisy. Her memory was obviously invigorated by the session because she said, "I don't want to kiss the pig! I want to kiss the handsome farmer!"