American Singers

So, we chose songs the radios quit broadcasting around the time of Harry Truman. Our crowd of white-hairs gave an enthusiastic applause that was as loud as an oscillating fan.

We played music for a nursing home. It was a sterile room with fluorescent lights and a funny smell. People kept asking our guitar player to turn up the volume.

That was a first.

It bears mentioning: we have taken the stage in some ugly places.

We’ve played for motorcyclists with names like, “Bruiser,” “Snake Eyes,” and “Ernie.”

We’ve played clogging dances, barroom weddings, family reunions, sixtieth birthday parties, crawfish boils, car dealership sales, shoe stores, one bar mitzvah.

This was our first nursing home.

So, we chose songs the radios quit broadcasting around the time of Harry Truman. Our crowd of white-hairs gave an enthusiastic applause that was as loud as an oscillating fan.

One woman asked if we knew “Keep on the Sunny Side.” Another asked for “Dixie.” We had three requests for “O When the Saints Go Marching.” One for “Viva Las Vegas.”

A man named Benny—suspenders and hearing-aids—asked for “I Saw the Light.”

We played it quiet and slow; he sang all four verses with his eyes shut. Blessings of higher value, I have not received.

There was a lady who called me Danny and kept asking, “Did you find my Curly?”

I answered, “No ma’am, I didn’t.”

“Well, did you even go LOOK?”

High and low, ma’am.

I met a man who played trumpet. He was half black, half white. Skin like caramel. They tell me he’s got some stories.

Midway through our medley, one of the nurses asked us to play “America the Beautiful.”

“They like American songs,” she said.

We started the tune, but never got to sing a word of it. The room beat us to the punch.

A man in back stood. He wore an orange cap with a blue “AU” on it.

The rest stood with him. Their voices weak, but sincere. They sang about Purple Mountains Majesty and Fruited Plains while the band kept steady time.

These people are my friends. My neighbors. These are not elderly patients. They are men and women every bit as important as those who wear younger skin.

These are hometown folks from various lifestyles. People who the world has, more or less, forgotten. But, by God, they’re still here.

There are former bankers, grocers, peanut farmers, and battleship sailors. Women who birthed families, mamas who kept backyard gardens.

And when we finished singing, the man in the orange hat approached me. His head and arms shook. He could hardly stand still from Parkinson’s.

He said, “My son used to play the guitar.” It took all he had to pat my shoulder. “I wish I’d gone to hear him play before he died.”

I pumped his hand. He had a remarkably strong grip for someone in his condition.

“Will y’all stay for lunch?” he asked. “Any American is a friend of mine.”

Well sir.

That makes two of us.

23 comments

  1. Sam Hunneman - March 5, 2017 2:39 pm

    “Blessings of higher value…”
    Lovely.
    Thanks.

    Reply
  2. Tom - March 5, 2017 2:40 pm

    These columns have become a staple of my day. No matter what else the day holds, I know I will smile, usually shed a tear, and reminisce a bit. Family and friends long gone will smile back at me.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Priscilla S. Adkisson - March 5, 2017 2:50 pm

    Sean, this is so “right on”. I can relate. Our choir sings for these dear people a couple of times a year, and guess who is more blessed?
    PSA

    Reply
  4. Carol DeLater - March 5, 2017 2:58 pm

    They say we are invisible…the generation that has made it to retirement age. I haven’t decided yet if I agree, but I’m leaning toward it as each year passes. One thing I know for sure, we love America. If we are lucky we don’t identify with red or blue, but with RED, WHITE and BLUE. I bet the band left the home with a happy heart.
    xx

    Reply
  5. Jean - March 5, 2017 3:58 pm

    Well, now I’m crying.
    I’m enjoying your blog. Don’t know how I found you.

    Reply
  6. CArol Dunaway - March 5, 2017 4:05 pm

    With so few words you can paint not just a picture, but a 3-D living and breathing image etched in my mind forever. Kudos.

    Reply
  7. Sandra Marrar - March 5, 2017 5:00 pm

    I have recently met some of the most delightful men and women at the nursing home my Mama lives at. They are so special and my heart gets so full just being in their presence.

    Reply
  8. Kathleen Gentile - March 5, 2017 5:00 pm

    Well, dang, Sean…you did it again. Reaching for the kleenex.

    Reply
  9. Gayle Dawkins - March 5, 2017 5:34 pm

    Love this Sean. Hope you have a blessed week. Gayle

    Reply
  10. Ellen - March 5, 2017 6:17 pm

    You paint pictures with words in people’s minds. Quite a talent that some painters don’t have.

    Reply
  11. Scott Berry - March 5, 2017 9:09 pm

    Sean, I just read about you in the Mobile Press Register,so I looked up your blog. I enjoyed the one about playing at the nursing home. My father-in -laws band used to play for them around Hammod,LA all the time. I don’t play,so I can’t go entertain ’em,but I should go visit some.

    Reply
  12. Cherryl Shiver - March 6, 2017 12:10 am

    Thank you so very,very much. This one was much needed today. My Momma is in assisted living, oh honey, the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I savor the good days, and they are getting fewer and farther apart, but she is and always will be my Momma.

    My husband and son play Bluegrass, and those old folks do love it. Some can even still, cut a rug……

    Reply
  13. Mandy Austerman - March 6, 2017 12:28 am

    God love you for playing for people in a nursing home….wonderful!!!

    Reply
  14. Jeannie Schweck - March 6, 2017 1:52 am

    Just found your blog!! Love it-what the US is all about. Thank you

    Reply
  15. Mary Ann Stiles - March 6, 2017 4:45 am

    You are fast becoming my favorite writer. Keep writing…I’ll keep reading. War Eagle.

    Reply
  16. Martha Wilson - March 6, 2017 7:52 am

    I am so glad you wrote this…but even more glad that you went to play for them. My sister was the activity director for a nursing home in our hometown for a while and she was wonderful at it, because to her it was not a job. It was a way to give back to the people who gave so much to all of us, only she got paid to do it. She got everyone she could find involved in what went on where she worked, and she taught a lot of us some important truths. I watched the faces of the residents when people took the time to bring their talents out to share with them. And there were many my sister convinced to do just that…singers, cheerleaders, team mascots, petting zoos, Native American dancers…anyone and everyone that she could drag in there she did. She said that just because “her people” could no longer get out into the real world, there was no reason the real world could not come to them. I wish everyone understood that…I wish every nursing home had someone like my sister working to ensure that the residents were not forgotten, and who could teach others that they are not just “residents,” they are our friends, family and neighbors. Hopefully when good people like you explain that it will make a difference. So, thank you on behalf of not just the lucky people that you played for that day…but for many others who may benefit from your words. You never know whose heart you may have touched.

    Reply
  17. Michelle Jebeles - March 6, 2017 1:53 pm

    LOVE LOVE LOVE!

    Reply
  18. Robin Patchen - March 6, 2017 2:12 pm

    Lovely. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  19. Shawn - March 6, 2017 3:39 pm

    You are THE BEST!

    Reply
  20. Kay Keel - March 6, 2017 7:56 pm

    Many years ago I helped a group of youth who utilized puppets to lip-sync old time gospel songs. The nursing home patients loved it!

    Reply
  21. Sandy - March 6, 2017 9:30 pm

    We went with a youth group to sing at a nursing home some time back. My favourite comment was one lady to another in a voice made for people who need hearing aids. “This is better ‘n television.”

    Reply
  22. Tish - March 7, 2017 12:59 am

    you know, the older I get, the more stories like this mean. thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  23. Pingback: Moon River, Amazing Grace and the Evergreen Nursing and Rehab Center - Sue Bell Cobb

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