I’d talked with Greg many times during my volunteer visits, but none of our conversations had been like this one.
He: I’ll be 64 on Feb 14th
Me: Oh, your birthday’s on Valentine’s Day!
He: Yeah, and I’ve got a heart-shaped navel. I’ll let you see it for a dollar.
Me: [stunned silence]
He: For $5, I won’t show it to you.
I had the feeling he’d told that joke many times. And I’m sure he meant no offense. Nonetheless, I consider it an odd exchange between a pianist and a member of her audience. How does one respond to that information? I could only manage a small, tolerant smile.
And what a music lover he is. Once when I played “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” a 1926 song revived by Elvis Presley in 1960, he wept so deeply he had to leave the room.
The first time I met Greg he was in a wheelchair, his left leg extended with a big bandage around the knee. I figured he was a live-in physical therapy patient following surgery. But as months passed, and then a year, I realized something else must be going on.
Last month, I was shocked at the change in his appearance. He looked so thin and bald it took me a moment to recognize him, even though he was seated at his usual lunch table. But he chatted amiably, his voice still strong. And that’s when he surprised me with the news about his Valentine’s Day anatomy.
I’m in my 13th year of volunteering. I really should have learned by now to expect the unexpected.
Paulette Bochnig Sharkey