by Dennis Dalman
Five-year-old Jaxson Yager is eagerly counting the days until Christmas so he can dress up like an elf and once again bring hugs, kisses and holiday cheer to the elderly residents of Country Manor in Sartell.
In recent years, Jaxson has become something of a beloved “mascot” for residents and staff at the senior-living facility. Like a pint-sized emissary of happiness, Jaxson loves to visit Country Manor where he knows just about everyone. The faces of people there bloom with big wide grins when they see Jaxson scurrying down hallways, peeking into rooms, giving happy greetings, hugs and kisses.
One woman resident at Country Manor was nonverbal – that is, until she met Jaxson. He visited her, gave her a hug, and she brightened up. Jaxson said goodbye to her. She looked at the boy, smiled sweetly and said “Bye!”
“That just made mommy’s heart so happy,” said Jaxson’s mother.
“It makes my heart happy, too, mommy!” he told her.
Jaxson is the son of Nicholas and Amber Yager of Sartell and is a kindergartner at St. Catherine Drexel Catholic School in St. Cloud. Father Nicholas, a former U.S. Marine, is in the construction business. For the time being anyway, Amber is a stay-at-home mom with Jaxson’s new sister, 6-month-old Aryanna. In the recent past, Amber worked in the activities department of Country Manor. Her grandmother, Delphine Bialke, was a resident there, and that is how Jaxson got to know so many residents – during his many visits to his great-grandmother “Del.” Delphine, Amber’s mother’s mother, died Oct. 6 at age 98 after six months in hospice care.
Jaxson, of course, was heartbroken. At her wake, he walked up to her casket and placed a smiley face pin on her blouse. Then he knelt down, said a prayer and rubbed Del’s hand.
Later, he told his mother they must keep going to Country Manor, even though Del is no longer there. He said there are lots more “grammas” there he loves, that he still wants to visit. He and his mother have been going to Country Manor just about every week for several years, even when Jaxson was just a baby.
“Some of those grammas don’t have grandkids any more,” he said. “I still have so much love for gramma, and I want to share that with the other ones there.”
Hugging comes natural to Jaxson; it’s a family trait.
“Hugging was a big part of our family,” Amber said. “My grandparents loved to give hugs. I do too. And so does Jaxson.”
When Jaxson grows up, he wants to be “a Marine and a farmer.” He is very proud of his father having served in the Marines, and during some of his visits to Country Manor he would wear a small Marine uniform with cap that made him look like a little toy soldier. His visit as a “Marine” caused waves of joy and delight among residents and staff.
His role as an elf was also a big hit with residents as he hopped down the hallways, grinning with his elfin dimples, pointy elf–shoe bells making a jingling ring.
Jaxson, said his mother, is a normal little boy who can, like other kids, be a “little smarty pants” sometimes. When he balks at doing a task and wants “mommy” to do it for him, she tells him,”Well, you’ve got two arms and legs.” It’s a saying Jaxson quickly adopted, one that he now uses on adults.
“He loves Legos and can play with them all day, and he loves playing cards,” said Amber, adding some of the card games take place at Country Manor with its residents.
Jaxson also loves music and loves to sing “You Are My Sunshine” to his baby sister. His favorite song, though, is “Sixteen Tons,” an old song from the 1950s sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford.
When Jaxson now visits Country Manor with his mommy, he walks past the doorway to his great-grandma’s room. She is no longer there. He sometimes pauses, remembering, looks sad, but then he hurries on down the hallway to all the other “grammas” and “grandpas” to share hugs, kisses and lots of love.