Many of my elderly listeners proudly introduce me to their visiting sons and daughters. For a resident of a senior facility, having visitors is a big deal. It announces, My life extends beyond the walls of this place.
Lunchtime visitors often use my piano music as a talking point when conversation wanes. Do you know this song, Mom? Did you and Dad dance to it?
There are poignant moments. Once when I played “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” a memory-care patient named Carroll livened up and started singing. His daughter was surprised. I noticed her wiping away tears as she sang along softly with him.
Another time, Luella’s granddaughter came to visit, bringing her 9-month-old twin girls. Luella leaned in close to those babies and serenaded them while I played “Red River Valley” and “Bicycle Built for Two.”
But when it comes to singing, Florence and her daughter Jane are my stars.
It started one day when Jane arrived to take her mother to a dentist appointment. Florence uses a wheelchair and needs help with activities of daily living, but mentally she’s sharper than many middle-agers I know. Jane had come a little early and found her mother finishing lunch, just as I was wrapping up at the piano with Irving Berlin’s “Always.”
The two began singing together. Conversation in the room stopped. They were good. I decided to extend my program with a couple more songs. Florence and Jane crooned their way through “Blue Moon” and “As Time Goes By.”
Jane scheduled her next visit to coincide with my next visit. This time, she got there before I did, not wanting to miss a moment of the music with her mother. And they knew the words to every song: “It Had to Be You,” “Side by Side,” “Georgia.”
It turns out they’ve enjoyed music together for a long time. Jane, who is about my age, told me that when she and her sister were young, they used to tap dance and sing at the Polish Club in Lansing, while their mother accompanied on piano. Jane loved performing. She still does.
As the hour ended, Jane had a request. I dug through my sheet music and found what she wanted: “That Wonderful Mother of Mine,” a sentimental century-old song. This time Jane stood, locked her gaze on Florence, and sang solo: You are a wonderful mother, dear old mother of mine…
As those old MasterCard commercials put it: Priceless.
Copyright © 2016 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.