It was Friday, so the smell of fish cutlets greeted me when I arrived in the assisted living center’s dining room. I knew from discussions with the chef that he likes having me there to play during lunch. The music adds a little pizzazz, he says. He finds it challenging to keep the residents happy when “they have to eat in the same restaurant every day.” With me there, he gets fewer complaints about the food. The lunch bunch also seems to linger and socialize more after eating, content in the pretend piano-bar atmosphere, reminiscing, quizzing each other about song titles and lyrics.
This day, though, the mood was somber. I played a string of upbeat tunes, hoping to jolly the group. Around me, kitchen staff made their rounds. I heard them announcing the menu at each table, as they pointed out the available items on the typed-and-photocopied daily bill of fare. I was aware of the usual slow, deliberate process of diners making mealtime choices, perhaps the most consequential decision of their day.
I kept playing, but things remained quiet around me. Soon servers were delivering food to the tables, offering help and chipper encouragement:
I’m going to cut this meat up for you, okay?
Would you like me to butter that bread?
Do you want me to crunch your crackers in your soup? That’s how I like it…
There you go – That looks good!
Constance had chosen tilapia and French fries, and couldn’t open the fiddly foil packet of vinegar. An aide took over the task and began sprinkling the contents on the potatoes. I heard this exchange:
Tell me when.
Put the whole thing on.
Her vinegar-dispensing duties complete, the aide turned to Constance’s tablemate, Bert, and started cutting his turkey in gravy, the alternate menu choice. She chatted as she sliced:
My Grandma used to put it on my hair to make it shiny.
Bert took a moment to consider that. He needed clarification:
After the aide cleared up Bert’s confusion over her grandmother’s beauty secret, the three of them erupted in big, heart-healthy laughter, the kind that gets your blood flowing and just plain feels good. As Norman Cousins put it, “Hearty laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors.”
Copyright © 2013 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.