Hugging stations: How some Michigan nursing homes fight despair amid COVID

Phyllis Schmuhl and Linda Whitmyer step in from the monochromatic cold of a February afternoon.

Inside the heated vestibule at Cass County Medical Care Facility, it will not matter that, for the next 14-and-one-half minutes, the sisters’ conversation with their father will be the same as countless others they’ve had with him in the past.

That dementia has left him with few words.

That Phyllis’s quip — “Did you go dancing last night, Dad?” — is as well worn as the faded ball cap that signifies 96-year-old Clarence “Bo” Whitmyer’s time as a B-17 tail gunner in World War II.

What will matter is that Whitmyer’s eyes are pinched at the corners, evidence of the smile behind his mask.