I strolled around the church antechamber playing Broadway tunes, Christmas Carols and Patriotic songs on violin while my friend, Jay, accompanied on piano. The folks all sat facing us in a semi-circle, singing along, clapping, laughing at my antics. Twas a marvelous feeling for the two of us, to bring an hour of music and joy to the seniors of a day care center.
I announced that Jay Barnhart and I had retired from the field of criminal justice, he a medical examiner, me a homicide detective. Now in retirement, we are enjoying the gift of music that our parents instilled into us. They roared when they heard our new tag line: The Dick-Doc Duo. (I didn’t tell them our other nickname: Bag ‘em and Tag ‘em.)
As various tunes were played by heart and I roamed the room, my eyes often met theirs —one by one— winking, smiling. In one swift swoop, I let an upbow sling from my hand like a dart until it hit the floor. Laughter filled the room. My hips wiggled to strains of “If I Were A Rich Man,” and they laughed again.
One gentleman smiled broadly the entire hour. He seemed so robust and I wondered why he was among these people, some of whom obviously suffered from dementia and other old-age maladies. Eyes brightened happily as one attractive lady recognized us from a prior engagement. On her name tag: Nancy. I imagined her fifty years ago and wondered just how beautiful she really was at thirty-five.
One woman to my left, perhaps of mid-east descent, seemed alert and immersed in the entertainment. I wondered about her life, children, career, her ups her downs. One elderly gentleman with a cane seemed more detached and I hoped he was enjoying the day. Perhaps, he didn’t even know we were there. Another man sang heartily. I figured him a veteran of the big war.
As we finished White Christmas, I caught myself playing directly to a dark-haired lady sitting to my right. Something was different about her. She bore a distant scowl on her face. She looked up at me, but…you know how it is, she wasn’t looking at me. I lowered my fiddle and approached. “Smile,” I told her. She looked up toward me, but remained stoic. I then smiled at her broadly, “Come, it won’t hurt.” I moved my fingers upward at the corners of my mouth. She didn’t move a muscle. Perhaps, I thought, I am being out of line. “It’s okay. You can smile.”
I knew all the others were watching, including the day care supervisors, but wanted to give it one more try. Next to the lady, was an empty chair. I sat near to her. Strangely, she rotated her head toward me like Linda Blair in The Exorcist and gazed directly into my eyes. Everyone in the room was lasered toward the unfolding scene. I was about to rise, violin in hand, when — like an awakening — it happened. The woman’s face lit up like a Christmas tree with the most wonderful smile I’d ever seen on any human being, her pearly whites glowing in the light, her eyes wide and happy looking right at me.
The moment caught me a bit emotional, but I dared not show it. “You are so pretty,” I told her. And, she was. Moments later, the woman reverted back to her stone face, but that was okay.
She and I had a happy moment, together.
Jay and I come to nursing homes to entertain seniors, not for money, but for the reward of seeing happiness on the faces of delightful people who have made so many contributions to the wonderful world we live in. All the applause, laughter, and sing-alongs filled our hearts with gladness, but nothing that could match that incredible smile from a woman who never smiled any more. It shall remain among my most memorable gifts ever.
The people in day care centers and nursing homes have been war veterans, nurses, policemen, plumbers, journalists, ditch diggers, boat captains, dancers, artists, clerks, moms, dads, grandmothers and grandfathers or just, human beings. If we’re lucky, we’ll all have our turn at aging.
It is so important they not be forgotten.