nursing home

Gathered ‘round the tables, they count spots and wonder why they just don’t see that many folks. Sure would be nice, they said, if a few would come to visit.

If they can play Chicken Foot, that’s even better.

The staff at Garden Villa Nursing Home make residents who are capable have plenty of activities, but the workers all have jobs to do. They can’t, always take the time to play, Administrator Karen Tyson said.

That’s why, Activities Director Debra Cook added, they need the public’s help. They need visitors – especially in the afternoons from about 1:30 to around 5 p.m.

Come on by, she added, everyone is welcome.

The dedicated group of domino players typically settle into one of the common rooms.

“Nothing interferes with Chicken Foot,” Cook said.

Gladys Cerny is one of the players, finally giving up her spatula in favor of the white tiles of her favored game.

“I spent 28 years as the main cook here, 15 years at the school and 13 years for Rotary,” she said, “Everything here was homemade - always. Every second Sunday, I’d come in and make the dressing.”

Now, Cerny is a resident, sitting across from Michael Stogner, a former college band director who also taught English and history in Hallettsville and Louise among other places.

“It would be great (having visitors). New faces. New people,” he said, while gently explaining that each double requires three paths off of it “a chicken foot” before the game goes on. “And if someone plays a blank you want to cover that quick. If somebody gets caught with the double blank that’s 50 points.”

The two aren’t shy about sharing their stories, all while keeping track of nine-spot dominoes and offering encouragement to others.

At the same table, Marcell Morton and Betty Muzik also compete.

Muzik had a home daycare for 22 years. “It was the best decision I ever made,” she said, adding her home was in view of the school the children she cared for attended. “They could walk to school and back. I had the perfect setup.”

Morton had been a teacher too, working at El Campo Middle School, coming to the area from Louisiana for her husband to be.

She enjoys the game, she said. “It makes you think and it gives you something to do. It’s better than sitting there doing nothing.”

There’s a friendly competition in the group. They go for the win while stopping along the way to offer a helping hand to their opponents when needed.

They typically play in the afternoons, but can be convinced rather easily to join into a game in the mornings.

Domino time is also a time to visit and enjoy company if any come.

Cynthia Whitaker is another in the domino group, a woman who came to El Campo as a result of Hurricane Harvey, while Norma Graham is a life-long El Campo resident who worked in a nail salon and drive-in grocery stores.

Natalie Hubenak worked in banks before struggling with cancer. “When I was 24, they told me I had six months to live. I’m 50 now,” she said.

Visitors don’t have to be relatives. They just have to be willing to give a little bit of their time, perhaps turning a stranger into a friend.

“We need visitors badly. It really means a lot,” resident Georgia Kubala said.

Kubala isn’t one of the domino players, she’s just someone excited to see a familiar face in the hall as Brian Shimek of El Campo walked by. She taught him Czech dancing about five decades ago, but lit up immediately when he turned her way, offering a big smile.

Shimek came to play a round of dominoes, and to visit relatives, meeting up with Kubala came by chance.

She said, however, anyone willing to come by would be welcome.

“It’d be nice,” she said, reminding him and others to be sure to come back.

Those wanting to come visit should check in at one of the nurses’ stations, but are very welcome, Cook said.

In general, residents tend to go to bed early so daytime or early evening visits are preferred to nighttime.

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