Stories unfold around me when I take my place at the piano. One that I’ve been watching for the past four years stars Rose and Howard, both well into their 90s. It’s a story of devotion, companionship, and romance. Rose has Alzheimer’s disease and lives in a memory-care facility; Howard keeps an apartment a few miles away in a retirement community. They’ve been married for nearly 70 years.
Twice a month, I play the piano where Rose lives. She’s in my audience because Howard personally makes sure of it. He goes to a lot of trouble to do so, and feels it’s completely worth the effort. “The music is really good for her. She enjoys it so much,” he says.
Howard voluntarily gave up his driver’s license a few years ago when he felt his reflexes weren’t quick enough behind the wheel. Now he rides the city’s paratransit vans for the elderly, a time-consuming process involving many stops and a lot of waiting. By the time I see him at noon, he’s been busy for hours just getting there. He collects Rose from her room and slowly pushes her wheelchair through a labyrinth of hallways to reach the area where I play. I can picture their journey: quiet, pencil-thin Howard steering spunky, sturdy Rose, who cheerfully greets everyone she passes. Her skin is rough and her hair in need of attention, but her eyes remain bright and her sense of humor intact. Howard presents her to the world as if she were a queen.
Once settled by the piano, Rose and Howard hold hands and croon old tunes like lovebirds. They quiz each other on song titles, remind each other of lyrics. One remembers a few lines, the other finishes what has been forgotten. One or the other is sure to nod off for a few minutes at some point. I make sure to include their favorites in my program: “Bye Bye Blackbird” for her, “Red River Valley” for him, and “The Nearness of You” for the inspiring pair they are.
The love and affection that Rose and Howard show for each other get noticed. One day as they sat awaiting my performance, an aide was helping other residents close by. She had her back to Rose and Howard. When she eventually turned around to face the couple, she delivered a line that delighted them: “I didn’t need to look to see if you were there. I could feel the heat.”
For those moments when she’s sitting next to the man she calls “my Howard,” Rose has everything she needs. I once glanced up from the piano to see that she had brought her face close to his, their noses almost touching. I heard her say, “When we have our 100th anniversary, she can play for us!”
Nothing would please me more.
Copyright © 2014 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.