Over hill, over dale, we will hit the dusty trail

“It was my 97th birthday yesterday,” Floyd said. He’d exited the dining room and made a beeline for me at the piano in the atrium. I knew what he was going to say next, and he didn’t disappoint.

“Hey, do you know ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home’?” Of course I did, even before he belted out a few bars. Then, on cue, he told me that he served in the South Pacific for two and a half years during World War II, as part of a U.S. Army bomb disposal team. He and his fellow soldiers sang the tune because they “wanted to get the hell out of there and go home.”

Show me the way to go home
I’m tired and I wanna go to bed.
I had a little drink about an hour ago
And it went right to my head…

Floyd is like many of the veterans I meet in my work as a volunteer pianist: his life is defined largely by his years of military service. I am happy to honor him by playing the songs he asks for, usually ones with an emotional connection to his time in the Army. He likes “America the Beautiful” and “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” (also called the “U.S. Field Artillery March”).

However, I’m still trying to get used to Floyd’s quirks, especially his extreme fondness for the cowboy-style hoot “Yee-haw!” which he interjects constantly while I play, whenever he feels the urge, often at the most inopportune times. Imagine the scene. I’m playing the lovely, tender 1945 ballad “For Sentimental Reasons,” but with Floyd’s unfortunate accompaniment, what my listeners hear is this:

I love you for sentimental reasons – Yee-haw!
I hope you do believe me
I’ll give you my heart – Yee-haw!

Some of the other residents have gotten fed up with Floyd’s behavior, and a few have left my performances because of it. I carry on. But I do limit myself to playing “Show Me the Way to Go Home” only once per visit, near the end of my program. And a couple of minutes after I play it I hear, “Hey do you know ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home’? I haven’t heard it in a long time. We used to sing that when I was in the South Pacific during World War II, because we wanted to get the hell out of there and go home.”

Hmmm, yes I believe you might have mentioned that to me once or twice before…

Copyright © 2013 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Audiences, Dementia, Music and emotion, Song requests, Volunteering. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Over hill, over dale, we will hit the dusty trail

  1. Liz says:

    My dad’s World War II Army reunion for the 79th Division, 315th Infantry Regiment, always closes with the Colonel Bogey March. Dad, now 90, started attending the reunion about 10 years ago. He met men there who had been in the same places at the same time and knew some of the same people. They were moved to tears recalling a well-liked and respected sergeant who was killed in action. One member made a video that recorded their recollections of the campaign. They are planning to meet again next year.

    • Thanks for telling me about the “Colonel Bogey March” and your dad’s army reunions. I didn’t think I had heard of the piece, but once I listened to it on YouTube, of course it was quite familiar. I’m going to get a copy of the sheet music so that I can add it to my programs. I expect the song will connect with many of my listeners.

  2. Sandy Shores says:

    Well, whether you know it or not….you ARE a blessing to the people you play for. I’m sure you get many, many repeated conversations from them. I guess they all (especially our veterans) are entitled to repeat themselves. *smile*

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