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Reliving precious memories

Profile image for By Patrick Hayslip / Staff Writer
By Patrick Hayslip / Staff Writer

Many aspects have changed since James Wood was last able to visit Napa Valley in California nearly 25 years ago.

The 91-year-old resident of Sterling House in Denton remembers traversing the rolling hills around the vineyards, watching the grapes get picked off the vines before they were stomped on by women as they hiked up their dresses to avoid splatters and stains.

He remembers getting a loaf of French bread, some of his favorite Brie cheese and sitting outside absorbing the sun’s rays and the crisp atmosphere while enjoying the company of friends with his wife, Eileen Francis Wood.

Now Wood will be able to relive the precious memories in Napa Valley that he made with his wife, who died in 2004. Wood was selected for the Jeremy Bloom Wish of a Lifetime through Brookdale senior living grants.

Today he will be going to California with his daughter, Roberta Petric, and his caretaker, Jordan Readicker, who helped get him selected for the grant.

“I haven’t been there in so long,” Wood recalled recently. “The only thing I’ll miss is having my wife with me. We would come out to visit [Roberta]. Everybody ought to go to a place like that in their lifetime. It’s not like going to a farm or something. It’s really a pretty atmosphere.”

Wood, who is no relation to the local car dealer by the same name, suffers from macular degeneration, a disease that caused him to go nearly completely blind in July last year, depriving him of working on his genealogy project, painting and reading his Kindle.

After some rigorous treatments that included painful shots in his eyes, he has regained his sight. But his vision will continue to deteriorate, so experiencing the trip to Napa Valley while he still can is crucial.

“His life is going to change dramatically when he’s completely blind,” said Petric, the ancillary services manager at Sterling House.

Readicker, the resident programs coordinator at Sterling House, said she’s not surprised Wood’s story won over the selection committee.

“James has always talked about going to Napa Valley with his wife and how he hasn’t been in 20-plus years since she passed away,” Readicker said. “There was no telling that he would win, but when he did, we were excited. We’ve been looking forward to it for two months now. This is something he’ll hopefully talk about the rest of his life.”

Wood could easily be one of the most active residents at Sterling House, and is commonly found at the front of the building sitting in the hallway, always striking up conversations with other residents, or in his room with his “spoiled” white and gray schnauzer, Dewey. All the nurses refer to him as “Dad.”

Since finding out that he has won the trip, Wood has taken charge of a wine and cheese tasting program.

But his affinity for wine began much earlier in his diverse life.

Along with the holidays he would spend with a friend in Michigan, floating down the rivers on pontoon boats while picnicking, Wood recounted memories of his service in the Army during World War II, when he says he lived every moment impulsively.

He would use his sidearm to shoot holes in barrels of wine and collect the wine in containers as he floated down the Seine River in the north of France.

In his hometown newspaper of Elkhart, Ind., near South Bend, where he worked for the railroad and a private telephone company, Wood was declared missing in action after being dropped behind enemy lines in Europe, but his Army unit was able to meet up with another unit to escape.

Along with the other veterans at Sterling House, his memories of the war are vivid, but it was in France where his love of wine and cheese blossomed.

Petric, Readicker and Wood will be staying on the Sonoma side of Napa Valley today through Saturday, and if readers would like to join Wood in his journey, they can follow Sterling House on the Parkway on Facebook. Wood was also provided with a portable oxygen tank from Choice Medical for his trip.

Wood and his wife had been married for 59 years before she died, just before their 60th anniversary, so with Wood’s eyesight deteriorating, Petric hopes this trip will be with him for a long time to come.

“Most of these people’s spouses and siblings are gone. They just have their memories,” Petric said as she held back tears. “That’s the amazing thing about Wishes for a Lifetime is they go back, they take their memories and make them real again.”

PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.