They just donated a new piano to the nursing home and rehab where Wanda lives. This is big news for a small place like this. There’s a buzz in the air.
Old folks love pianos. They can’t help but gather around them. It’s instinct.
Wanda says, “A hundred years ago, the only entertainment anyone had was pianos. Mama tried to get me to learn to play, I was too busy running ’round barefoot.”
“Me too,” said one man. “Spent all my time in the woods, wish I’d learned.”
A lady in a wheelchair with Parkinson’s adds, “My grandmother was full-blood Cherokee, she hated pianos. A white-man’s instrument. Wouldn’t let us touch them.”
The nurses here know the residents by name, and all day-to-day routines. This is not an easy place to work. One nurse tells me the first time she helped Sister So-And-So use the restroom, it took two hours—she almost resigned. She called it a, “traumatic experience.”
“My Paw Paw was a druggist,” Wanda went on. “Used to have a piano in his drug store. There was one kid who could flat play. He’d come in and stay all day. All us girls liked him.”
The remark is barely noticed by the crowd. They’re too zeroed-in on Rodney—a middle-aged man at the piano. He’s the music minister from the Methodist church. Today, he’s here to demonstrate the new piano and roll through songs like, “Let Us Break Bread Together,” or, “Amazing Grace.”
Wanda and company are waiting.
The nurse comes around and tops everyone’s coffee off. She has two pitchers. One with caffeine, the other with brown stink water. How she remembers who gets decaf is beyond me. I ask her how she knows such things.
“It’s my job,” she tells me. “Been doing it forever. I’ve known several these residents since I’s a kid. Like Miss Amy, she was my kindergarten teacher.”
When Rodney begins playing, the world stops spinning. People sing along. Wanda bellows strong enough to knock paint off a fire hydrant. She knows every cotton-picking word to every pea-picking hymn. Another man sits with his eyes closed, he’s crying. So are a few others.
It’s just music, but to these people, it’s something else.
“I’ve never seen’em so alive,” remarks one nurse. “I had no idea it would mean so much.”
For two hours, Rodney plays, until he sweat through his shirt. Finally, he takes a break. Wanda leads a standing ovation. Everyone joins in. Even the janitor claps. Rodney looks embarrassed.
“Please,” says Rodney, laughing. “You’d think I’d just played for the the Good Lord himself.”
You did, Rodney.
Today, he happens to look like a woman named Wanda.