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Marylou Good Witch
by Grace Gannon Rudolph

Marylou Harwich was a 62-year-old diabetic. She was on disability but worked for minimum wage as a bagger at the Harbor Village Shop ‘n Save. No eggs were ever cracked; no bag of bread compressed to the size of Saltine crackers on Marylou’s watch.

On rainy days she brought in shopping carts abandoned in the parking lot. On snowy days she shuffled through the lot with elderly shoppers, helping them track down their cars.

One spring morning Marylou had a seizure and was taken to the hospital. She was stabilized, given a walker, and sent to the Golden Ladder Nursing Home for rehabilitation.

Two days into her stay she put aside her walker and bought a cane at the Ladder gift shop. The body of the cane was shaped like an Anaconda; the top was the head of a snake; wide grinning mouth and red crystal eyes.

Small children who came to visit grandparents and were terrorized by tiny people in electric wheel chairs were drawn like magnets to Marylou’s cane. It wasn’t long before she became known as Marylou Good Witch, the Ladder’s official babysitter.

Marylou went to the gym daily, bringing residents with her and overseeing their exercises. When the administrator Ed Brushelmann, who had a heart of gold and a significant case of ADHD, began getting requests from families that they preferred the “new occupational therapist.” There was anarchy in the ranks of the rehab department. Brushelmann chuckled, had a name-tag made up: Marylou Harwich, Resident. “What’s the harm?” he asked with a shrug.

When the bed-maker left on maternity leave, Marylou stepped up to the plate and began fluffing pillows and tweaking covers.

When the gift shop volunteer left for a three week vacation Marylou filled in. When she noticed a bottle of white-out she unpinned her name-tag and removed the word resident. Sales at the gift shop picked up. Visitors waited in line to get inside. All seemed to be going well until Gretchen Blake, the social worker, arrived at morning meeting disheveled and wild-eyed. “Look,” she waved a handful of letters over her head. “Families are asking to switch to the doctor who has an office in the gift shop, because she’s always available, and really knows what’s going on.”

Ed Brushelmann, whose medicine had kicked in that morning, said, “Can you set up a discharge?”

“She may have to pay privately for home care,” Gretchen said.

Hands flew into wallets, and pockets; a pile of cash grew on top of the table.

“I’m on it,” Gretchen said. She was about to leave the room when the door flew open and pinned her against the wall. Mary Lou stood in the doorway grinning. “My brother called from Kansas. He wants me to move in with him.”

Brushelmann pumped his fist in the air. “Go for it,” he said.

That afternoon Marylou Good Witch flew off to Kansas and took her zest for living with her.

The Golden Ladder was never quite the same.