CHIPLEY - Sometimes baby Bo-D has to be chastised, but, generally, he stays coddled and cosseted in the sweet arms of his 97-year-old grandmother Susan Harris.
The elderly woman helped raise her grandson Joseph, whom she nicknamed "Bo-D" as a child. And when he went to prison in 2013 to serve a life sentence, she visited him as often as she could until last year, when she injured her hip, crippling her mobility.
"That was her baby," said Harris' daughter Kathy Downing, referring to the real Bo-D. "That's her baby," she added, nodding to the toy baby doll in Harris' arms.
Harris also suffers from dementia disease.
Dementia is marked by the loss of cognitive functioning - thinking, remembering, and reasoning - and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities, according to National Institute on Aging. About 5.5 million Americans have the disease.
Doll therapy, which is what Harris receives with the doll Bo-D, is becoming commonplace at nursing homes. The dolls are used as a way to calm residents with dementia and comfort them. The technique has received criticism, a National Public Radio story points out - some taking the position that it "infantilizes" seniors. However, the therapy is a way of "trying to meet them where they are and communicate with them in a way that makes sense to them," a spokesperson from Alzheimer's Association stated.
May is National Older Americans Month.
"When my daughter got her that doll, she said 'Bo-D' and started crying," Downing said. "The doll helps because she loved Bo-D so much - she raised him from a little boy because I worked off shore."
The real Bo-D is 37 years old. He showed up to his grandmother's birthday party in his own capacity - through a Mother's Day and birthday letter he sent through the mail.
"I love you and miss you," Joseph wrote. "Good Lord's willing, maybe they can bring you to see me. Happy Mother's Day and happy birthday. I love you with all my heart."
Harris was born in 1921 close to Washington County and was raised picking cotton in Holmes County. She has lived in the area all of her life. She married Oliver M. Holman, who is the father of the late Charles Holman, a former mayor of Graceville.
She celebrated her 97th birthday Monday at Washington County Rehabilitation Nursing Center with cake, a balloon, her daughter and "Bo-D."
"Cover Bo up mom," Downing told her mom Monday right before the birthday celebration kicked off. Within seconds, Harris gently lifted her blanket just over the doll's shoulders and embraced it a little more, touching her face to its face.
"She loves her youngins and her grandyoungins and great-greatyoungins," Harris said, tearing up. "She's got a heart bigger than this building and there wasn't nothing she wouldn't do for people."