Some poor people are rich in the things that matter

Lorraine V. Murray’s newest book is “Death Dons a Mask,” a laugh-out-loud mystery set at St. Rita’s parish in Decatur. Her email is

The first time we came down here, I thought, “Oh, Lord, how could anyone stand working in this place?” There are no windows, no posters gracing the walls and no houseplants to cheer things up. Instead, envision rows of gigantic washers and dryers, growling constantly, plus folding tables and racks to hang freshly laundered items. The air is heavy with dampness and heat and the scent of soap.

No wonder my husband and I approached the laundry room of the nursing home with trepidation. We had just purchased some sweaters for his mother, who had been diagnosed with dementia and was living a few floors above the laundry area.

Somehow I expected the people who worked down here to be short-tempered, grouchy and certainly less than enthusiastic about fulfilling our request to iron name labels on the clothing. After all, I figured they would be paid very little per hour and struggling to make ends meet.

But what a surprise it was to meet a stocky woman with black hair carefully braided and a smile that didn’t seem to quit. She didn’t seem at all downtrodden and never uttered a complaint. Each time we saw her after that first meeting, she would happily relate a little story about my mother-in-law. If this lady was poor, I guess she didn’t know it.

On a recent visit, we asked about her new year, and she admitted it had been hard. It seems her brother, who was mentally challenged, had died of a heart attack.

“I kept him at home with me for 15 years,” she said softly, her big eyes shining with tears. Then she smiled. “I sure miss him, but maybe the Lord thought it was time I got a life.”

My husband and I both gave her a hug. Then she ironed on the name tags, and we climbed the stairs to a sunnier floor where the rooms sport big windows overlooking generously sized oaks and pines.

My mother-in-law greeted us with a big grin and boasted that she had gotten into a fight with her latest roommate — and actually had thrown something at her. This is her fourth roommate in a year, and she didn’t seem at all penitent about the skirmish.

My husband and I sighed as we were leaving, wishing things were different, wishing my mother-in-law wasn’t so aggressive and so proud of being mean to other people.

“It’s the disease,” I said gently to my husband. “We have to remember she doesn’t really intend to be so cruel.”

The nursing home brings out in stark contrast the difference between rich and poor. I suppose you might say the rich are the ones who can afford the hefty payments that cover three meals a day, round-the-clock care, bathing, diaper changing and activities.

And maybe you could say the poor are those who scrub the floors, change the diapers and wash the linens.

But tell that to the lady in the basement. I’ll bet she knows wealth needn’t apply to money and possessions — and some seemingly poor people are actually quite rich in the things that matter.

I’ll bet she also knows that Jesus said, “The last will be first, and the first will be last.” And “The meek shall inherit the earth.”

And I wonder if the laundry crew diligently bleaching sheets and washing shirts day in and day out in that dark, damp environment won't be the first ones through the heavenly gates, while the more privileged inch along behind them.