“You’re pretty good on that piano, young lady.”
Wayne was in his usual spot at a table near the front, wearing his usual outfit of plaid shirt, jeans, and a baseball cap. He’s a talkative 91-year-old World War II veteran who keeps up a steady patter while I play. Wayne and his wife used to sit together. She died, so he sat alone for a while. He has short-term memory lapses and can get on people’s nerves. One memorable hour, he sat only a few feet from the piano and told me after every song, “I used to play steel guitar.”
An extrovert like Wayne needs company. Enter Wilma, also widowed. A few months ago, I noticed she started joining Wayne at his lunch table and they talked about the music, about old times. She was patient with his repeated “I used to play steel guitar.”
Wilma is a beautiful octogenarian with bright eyes and a flawless rosy complexion, which she swears is the effortless result of soap, water, and moisturizer. We should all be so lucky. She takes great care with her clothing. The day this story took place, she wore pale lavender slacks and sweater, with a matching beaded necklace and a big flower brooch. Her white curls looked soft as whipped cream.
As Wayne and Wilma ate lunch and I played in the background, I heard him ask her several times, “Wanna dance?” She seemed tempted, but not sure if she should. They kept debating, through “Oh Johnny Oh,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” and “Side by Side.”
When I announced I would play two more songs and then wrap it up, he tried one last time: “We should dance.”
Wilma relented. “Okay, a slow one.”
I selected Tommy Dorsey’s theme song, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” from among the sheet music I’d brought with me. It was written in 1932 by George Bassman, with lyrics by Ned Washington. It’s the only song Bassman is remembered for, while Washington penned words for many successful tunes, including “My Foolish Heart,” “The Nearness of You,” and “Stella By Starlight.”
The aides pushed aside some empty tables to clear a little dance floor. Wayne and Wilma started tentatively, but were soon in sync. He worked in a couple of twirls. And gave her a smooch when the song was over.
The activities director captured the moment with her camera phone. “For our newsletter,” she said. Other staff passing through stopped to watch the duo. This is the kind of thing that makes their day worthwhile. One aide commented, “When I’m old, I hope I’m blissfully in love like that.”
If there’s an upside to Wayne’s memory loss, it’s this: Each time he’s with Wilma, he gets to fall in love all over again.
Copyright © 2016 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.