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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hospice patient works J.C. Penney store once more

Akron Beacon Journal

By, Jewell Cardwell

Crossroads Hospice often asks its patients their greatest heart’s desires, how they would like to spend their perfect day.

Not surprisingly, some patients take to the sky, opting to go up in a helicopter, airplane or the Goodyear blimp, if that can be arranged.

When the question recently was posed to 92-year-old Louise McCaskill — a resident since November at Meadowview Healthcare Center in Seville — she was quick with an answer.

She wanted to go shopping.

But not just anywhere. She was very specific.

She wanted to go to J.C. Penney to relive what she often calls her glory days.

In other words, it was as simple as going back to work.

The Jackson, Tenn., native worked 26 years as an assistant manager at J.C. Penney’s store No. 419 in Jackson, in the dress and women’s sportswear departments.

“I helped a lot of women buy beautiful clothes,” she proudly announced as she prepared to shop J.C. Penney’s Market Square store in Copley Township.

In a grand effort to make her experience memorable, store leader Peggy Senger and lead service expert Alyson Miller greeted Mrs. McCaskill with a large bouquet of flowers.

Mrs. McCaskill’s granddaughter, Melissa Purdy of Wadsworth, and Crossroads Hospice social worker Rosalind Skinner accompanied her.

Actually, they were just along for the ride, as this seasoned shopper knew what she wanted.

“I need pants in a size 14 petite,” the Southern-drawling Mrs. McCaskill said.

“Do you still have Alfred Dunner? Because that’s all I wear.

“I’ll need something bright!” this animated fashionista continued. “Old folks don’t have to wear black. And I don’t like folks who look slouchy in their clothes!”

“I’m going to need some bras, too. Ever since I had that heart surgery, my chest has dropped.”

Not a problem, said the professional bra fitter on hand to lift her into a new chapter in life. “You know, nine out of 10 women wear the wrong size bra.”

Louise McCaskill is no longer going to be in that club.

As she gathered up a few Alfred Dunner clothes to take to the dressing room, Mrs. McCaskill began dispensing her own work philosophy.

“You must always cater to the customer,” she said matter-of-factly. “And you must be nice at all times.

“But that works both ways,” she wanted me to know. “The customer needs to be nice, too.”

As she emerged from the dressing room in lilac slacks and a coordinated blouse, she eyed herself in a three-way mirror and happily offered this assessment: “I really like this. It makes me look little.”

There would be many ins and outs of the dressing room, followed by much applause and thumbs up from the growing coterie of onlookers.

One of the store’s representatives pulled a vividly printed top with a parrot motif for her to try.

“Well, I think I can do that as long as the parrots don’t talk back,” Mrs. McCaskill joked as she allowed this columnist to pose her like a fashion model.

“I’m having fun,” she announced, seeming to surprise herself.

Well, she was until she looked down at the shoes she chose to wear for the shopping experience. A tan, lace-up style. Comfortable, yes.

“Why, these are the tackiest things I ever did see!” she railed as if seeing them for the first time.

Mrs. McCaskill had earlier lunched at the nearby Cracker Barrel as part of her special day. “She said she wanted Southern cooking,” her granddaughter said. “What could be more Southern than Cracker Barrel? … She ordered chicken salad, a baked potato and, of course, sweet tea … We were surprised she ate everything!”

Three weeks ago, she was treated to a new hairdo at the Tangerine Parlor in Seville.

Skinner, of Crossroads, said $250 was set aside for the whole experience, including the shopping spree. The funds for Crossroads’ Ultimate Gifts comes from its charitable foundation.

Purdy called the shopping spree for her grandmother just what the doctor ordered. “Moving her here from Tennessee [where she had lived the first 91½ years of her life] was very traumatic,” she said.

This experience seemed to move the needle in the right direction.

“I feel good today,” declared Mrs. McCaskill, who had to lean only a few times on her walker. “Now I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow, but today is good. Real good!”

When she’s not dreaming about her past life, when she was independent and waiting on customers at J.C. Penney, Mrs. McCaskill busies herself with crossword puzzles and word searches.

“I also play bingo two times a week,” she said. “I win a lot of quarters. And I save them, too.”

Asked about her biggest challenges in dealing with customers, Louise McCaskill replied, “It was probably trying to talk a size 22 into not thinking she was a 16.

“Usually, I was able to talk them out of that,” she said, still congratulating herself.

Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or

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