Miss Tia’s first-grade class is visiting the nursing home. It’s a big day. Some of the residents here are wearing their Sunday best.
Andy Griffith is on TV. The woman sitting in front of the screen is elderly. Slumped. She’s wearing a red blouse, gold shoes, and too much makeup. She’s not moving.
Behind her: a man eats from a plastic tray. His cap reads: “Kubota” on front. He’s stabbing meatloaf.
Two first-graders are the first to introduce themselves. They are happy kids. They talk loud.
The old man turns an ear toward them. He has to adjust his hearing aid. By the time he does, they’ve already found a new victim.
This makes him laugh.
A nurse pushes a wheelchair. Sitting in the seat: a white-headed woman with coal-black skin. They say she sang in a choir as a young woman.
She warms up with “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” to prove it.
“No,” says her nurse. “YOU aren’t the one singing today, it’s the KIDS who’re singing.”
And the kids certainly do.
They line up before a piano. A fourteen-year-old girl, named Briana, provides keyboard accompaniment. Miss Tia’s children sing their lungs out.
There isn’t a person in the white-headed audience who isn’t smiling.
A woman interrupts the song. She is gray, wearing a nightgown. She’s yelling. She calls for Benjamin. She’s frantic.
She asks anyone within earshot if they’ve seen Benjamin.
One of the nurses tries to calm her by taking her to the other room. The old woman doesn’t want to go, she gets fussy. She begins sobbing.
The other residents don’t notice her.
When the music’s over, kids visit with their audience—just like Miss Tia told them to.
A blonde girl joins the woman watching Andy Griffith. She sits on a vinyl chair. Her feet don’t touch the ground.
The woman has not moved in nearly an hour.
Andy and Barney are in the big city. Barney is trying to catch a jewel thief. Disaster ensues.
The little girl wears a serious look. “Who’s that guy?” she asks, pointing to the screen. “A police guy or something?”
The old woman’s face moves for the first time. She gives a smile that knocks five decades off her age. “Why that’s Andy, sweetie.”
And the party’s over. Kids say goodbyes. There are hugs, handshakes, even forehead-kisses. Miss Tia and her parent-assistants gather kids like a herd of caffeinated goats.
It takes ten seconds for the place to fall quiet. The only sounds left are oxygen-tank compressors and Barney Fife’s shrill voice.
Nightgown rolls her walker toward the sliding doors. She shuffles at a fast clip. She is yelling. “COME BACK BENJAMIN!”
A nurse settles her.
“They love visitors,” another nurse tells me. “I don’t know if Miss Tia realizes how much these first-graders meant today. This was probably the best day of our entire year.”
Then this world could use a lot more first-graders.