PUNXSUTAWNEY — On a silent winter’s night, with only the soft jingle of silver bells to disturb the stillness, Punxsutawney native Betty Daughenbaugh would set out along Sprankle Mills Road on a horse-drawn sled. That cherished childhood memory of a lovely, snow-white sleigh ride is a recollection that Daughenbaugh has revisited often in her 90 years. It is one she was certain was meant to remain only a memory as she is now just a decade shy of a century.
Nevertheless, this year, all Daughenbaugh really wanted for Christmas was a trip down memory lane.
And though the route she traveled is now where the Hemlock View Golf Course lies, a trip down memory lane is just what she received.
When Mulberry Square Elder Care & Rehabilitation Center Administrator Marianne Dougherty was deciding how to make the holidays memorable for residents — one of whom is Daughenbaugh — and posed the question: “If you could have anything for Christmas you want and nothing is out of bounds, what would it be?” she was not deterred by their answer of: “An old-fashioned sleigh ride.”
Of course, nowadays, Dougherty discovered, old-fashioned sleigh rides are few and far between.
However, with direction from the Punxsutawney Area Chamber of Commerce, Dougherty was able to find and hire Misty Haven Carriage, a company that gives sleigh rides as part of Groundhog Day festivities.
With the horses, driver and sleigh squared away, Mulberry invited residents, along with their families, and employees to a Dec. 21 Christmas celebration, featuring a memory to remember, yet again.
“We picked a date, and we prayed for nice weather,” Dougherty said. “God smiled on us today, because it’s beautiful.”
Four days before Christmas, residents, along with their family members of all ages, Mulberry employees and members of the Punxsutawney Area High School choir — which later sang to residents — took turns riding on a horse-drawn sleigh that jingled all the way to Barclay Square and back.
“It was just the greatest thing,” Daughenbaugh said. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m just so thankful I’ve got that sleigh ride in before I die.’”
The old-fashioned sleigh ride experience was a Christmas present, according to Dougherty, that Mulberry staff wished to give to the residents who are destined to spend their holidays at the assisted living center.
“We have to remember that people, regardless of age or disability, are still young at heart,” Dougherty said. “It’s important to allow them some real excitement at Christmas-time, to allow them to live and enjoy the same things here that they would enjoy in the community.”
“Picture if you were 80 years old: Would you think you would be able to go on a sleigh ride?” she said. “That’s what it’s about: Making dreams come true.”
In addition to Daughenbaugh, that dream certainly came true for 72-year-old resident Rose Goyette.
“I never thought I’d have a sleigh ride in this life of mine,” she said. “My brother, he just called and asked what I was doing. I said I was about to go on a sleigh ride. He said ‘What?’ like I was dreaming or something.”
In addition to a touch of nostalgia, the day offered a bit of holiday spirit to all residents — even those with disabilities. The feat was seemingly impossible to many residents, as their age, handicaps and other ailments are prohibiting, however, using mechanically-assisted lifts and, what Dougherty terms, “people power,” Mulberry staff members were able to accommodate all residents wishing to take a sentimental horse-drawn sleigh ride.
“Can I be put on the list?” resident Dora Sherry asked Mulberry staff members as they attempted to organize the order in which residents would take off.
The 44-year-old is currently undergoing rehabilitation after the amputation of her right foot, which she caught in a ladder while loading a moving van. Not realizing the severity of the injury, Sherry walked on her broken foot, and a subsequent bone infection led to its amputation.
Due to the nature of her disability, employees were uncertain as to whether they would be able to successfully place Sherry on the sleigh.
When they regretfully explained this to Sherry, she simply continued to hold steady eye contact and wait for them to come up with a solution.
“It took a lot to get used to not having a foot,” she said. “I’ve gotten over it, though.”
Currently waiting on her prothesis, after which she must learn to walk and then muses she will be “cut loose” from Mulberry, Sherry enjoyed the novelty the horse-drawn carriage ride offered.
“It’s like a yesteryear type of thing. People my age have never really been on a sleigh ride like that, its been done away with. So I’m going to enjoy this,” she said. “It’s a once in a lifetime thing.”
Her husband, Arthur Sherry, who walks down from his residence near Comet Market to visit his wife every day, noted the lost foot as only the most recent challenge in the checkered medical history of his wife, additionally rattling off stroke, diabetes and dialysis as past struggles.
“She hasn’t been home since September, and in and out of the hospital since 2008. When she had her stroke they kept telling me she would either end up a vegetable or bed-ridden. It was a massive stroke,” he said. “She out-fooled everybody.”
Though Arthur notes his wife’s time spent at Mulberry as “just the beginning” of her recovery, she out-fooled everybody Tuesday, as well. After patiently awaiting for her chariot in a Mulberry van, and various attempts to move the sleigh closer to the van ramp, Sherry found herself situated on the sleigh.
“There she goes,” Arthur said, watching his wife disappear into the distance as the faint echo of silver bells sounded. “There she goes.”