James Gabbard worked as a laborer most of his life and didn’t have a lot of time or money for life’s luxuries.
As he worked as a logger and in the tobacco fields he always, in the back of his mind, dreamed that one day he just might see the ocean.
But, he said, time and money aside, a lack of education kept him from trying on his own.
“I couldn’t read and write and couldn’t figure how to get myself there,” he said, explaining that he figured he couldn’t navigate the road signs.
But the 77-year-old, who lives in a Lee County nursing home following a series of strokes, had his dreams come true, as part of a trip arranged by Lee County Care and Rehabilitation Center, which is owned by Signature Healthcare.
Quality of life director Wayne Phillips said Signature Healthcare asked its nursing homes in Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida to raise $1,800 each to send a resident to the beach. The Lee County facility held a golf scramble to raise the money, Phillips said.
Gabbard got to make the trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., on the Atlantic Ocean, in part because he’d never seen the ocean before but also because he was one of the few residents mobile enough to enjoy the trip.
Gabbard, Phillips and a nurse, Rachel Steele, went on the trip in late September along with 41 other residents from Signature Healthcare facilities.
Gabbard and the others spent two days enjoying the beach, building sand castles and shopping, as beach-goers do, for T-shirts. He also bought a conch shell so he could hear the ocean after he returned home.
He got into the water up past his ankles.
It was memorable, Gabbard said recently.
“If I die,” he said, “I’d be satisfied.”
Phillips said Gabbard has a new energy since the trip and has spent plenty of time telling his buddies at the home about his trip. Pictures of the ocean are on the wall in his room.
Phillips said the trip had a purpose, beyond fulfilling a wish. Too often, he said, people think of a nursing home as a place were people go to die. But, he said, “we need to get them out doing new things.”
As for Gabbard, Phillips said, he’s seen a difference.
“A lot of the staff has talked about it, he’s just full of energy. He was just tickled to do death with the whole trip.”
So what did he think, standing on the balcony of his hotel when he finally got to see the ocean, an expanse of blue that stretched to the horizon?
“Golly,” he told Phillips, “that is a big outfit.”