Danny and the boys arrived late to the nursing home. They were running behind schedule because of traffic on I-65. But they were here, and that’s all that mattered.
And they brought their instruments.
“We’re all waiting for you, Danny,” said the nurse, leading the band toward the rec room.
Residents filled the day-use room, wall to wall. There were dozens of wheelchairs, O2 canisters, and a corral of roller-walkers stabled near the door like Appaloosas on the open range.
Residents had donned their Sunday best. Old men wore ballcaps with KOREA and VIETNAM embroidered on the fronts. Old ladies sported oversized tennis shoes and hairdos which hadn’t changed since the Johnson administration. Everyone’s hearing aids were cranked up.
The musicians set up near the spinet piano. Then Danny introduced the band over the mic.
There was Roger on the drums. Roger is no spring zucchini, he’s been playing the skins since Buddy Holly was a household name.
Albert was on double bass. I asked how long Albert has been playing the upright. His only response was, “I have underpants that are older than you.”
And of course, there’s Danny, playing his collector’s item candy-apple-red Country Gentleman guitar, which is worth about as much as an amphibious aircraft carrier. Danny’s mother bought him this guitar in 1960. “My mom gave me this guitar for my thirteenth birthday,” he said.
The band opened with a few easy numbers. Just the classics. “Summertime,” by Gershwin. That always gets the collective heart rate up. Then “Fly Me to the Moon,” the older crowd loves that one.
One man in the front row became so excited that he began to shout, “I have to pee!” Whereupon the rowdy stood and attempted to demonstrate this for his fans just before the nurse escorted him from the room.
The band followed this with “You’re Not Mine Anymore,” by Willie Nelson. A song which debuted in 1954, when many of these people were just figuring life out.
Next, an Ernest Tubb standard, “Walkin’ the Floor Over You.”
They played a few Pasty Cline gems. The keys were too high for Danny’s voice, so they asked a nurse to sing lead.
Nurse Jeannie came to the microphone and the residents applauded. She sang “Crazy” in the key of C. She even did the Vegas-lounge-singer hand gestures as part of her act, complete with the “come hither” finger.
“That always gets the old guys going,” said Jeannie.
The band played “Young at Heart” by Frank Sinatra. There were a lot of people smiling for that one. A few even knew the lyrics. Like Miss Marcy, who used to tap dance on local TV when she was a kid.
“I wore gold lamé,” said Marcy. “And I wiggled my butt on TV.”
Then came “My Pa-Pa” by Eddie Fisher. Then “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” and “Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys. Half the room was singing along.
“Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba Barbara Ann,
“Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba Barbara Ann…”
Then the guys played some Jan and Dean, and everyone reflected on the unique, albeit disturbing genre that is ‘50s teenage-death ballads. Songs such as, “Dead Man’s Curb,” “Leader of the Pack,” “Last Kiss,” and “Teen Angel.”
When they played the Elvis hits, the entire place came unhinged.
A woman named Susan began to cry.
“I drove to Graceland the week after Elvis died with my girlfriends,” Susan said. “We stood by the gate with candles and hundreds of other people.”
Then came the hymns and gospel. Danny shed his Gretsch guitar and sat at the piano. The band covered all the Cokesbury essentials. “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Thee,” “Peace in the Valley,” “They’ll Know We Are Christians.”
The nurses distributed Kleenex for the funeral tunes like “Amazing Grace,” “Precious Lord,” and “It Is Well with My Soul.”
There wasn’t a person who listened to “In the Garden” and didn’t get misty.
Then Danny led the communal singing. “How Great Thou Art” was a particular favorite. This was followed by “Shall We Gather at the River?”
By the time they got to “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” Danny noticed a woman’s face in the back of the room.
She was smiling at him.
The old woman asked one of the nurses to wheel her up front. The music stopped when the ancient woman arrived. Danny leaned forward to embrace her.
“Oh, thank you for your music!” the old woman said between sobs. “This has been the best day of my life, I’ve never had a day better than this!”
She took Danny’s hand in her own. Her eyes were bloodshot and her voice quavered. She seemed to genuinely mean her words.
“You’ve made me so happy,” she said. “What did you say your name was again?”
“Danny, ma’am. My name’s Danny.”
“Danny,” she said. “That’s such a lovely name.”
When the nurse wheeled the old woman away, a bandmember leaned in and asked, “Who was that woman?”
Danny wiped his eyes with his forearm and said, “That was the woman who bought me this guitar.”
Eileen - January 23, 2022 7:40 am
Oh, Sean, you have a way with words. Please keep sharing the stories.
Debbie g - January 23, 2022 8:09 am
Smiling with tears there are no words
Love you Sean and Jamie and to us all
Dru Brown - January 23, 2022 9:13 am
You got me that time. Dang.
Carol Anne Keene - January 23, 2022 9:50 am
Thank you Sean, a lovely, sad story
Donna - January 23, 2022 11:51 am
Oh Danny boy….❤😥
Karen+Erwin-Brown - January 23, 2022 11:56 am
Joretta Parker - January 23, 2022 12:19 pm
Oh my heart broke for Danny, to think that his mother did no know who he was.
Lisa - January 23, 2022 12:46 pm
My mom had dementia. This was a wonderful story. Thank you.
Ron Mahn - January 23, 2022 12:50 pm
What a gracious moment, recounted as well by your pen as Rockwell might have by his colors and brush. Life isn’t necessarily kind but it can present moments of deep significance and pathos. Thank you Sean for this one.
Trudy - January 23, 2022 12:50 pm
I wasn’t expecting that ending. I’m so glad that Danny could make his mother so happy with his music. Something inside her made a connection to Danny.
Kathy Cross - January 23, 2022 12:59 pm
Sean bless you fir sharing your messages
Carter Anthony - January 23, 2022 1:05 pm
When my mother was in assisted living, they all laughed about calling themselves “inmates”. She played the piano when they gathered to sing. It was loud and somewhat off-key but they loved the music and singing.
Mary - January 23, 2022 1:09 pm
You outdid yourself on the tear meter this time.
Sarah - January 24, 2022 3:05 am
Tear meter, for sure! I was just naively reading along… then BAM! Got me in the end. Great story.
Tammy S. - January 23, 2022 1:16 pm
Ernie - January 23, 2022 1:19 pm
I’m with Mary. So many of us are or will be in Danny’s shoes. I was misty over the picture you painted, the tunes you had me humming, and of course – Danny’s gifted guitar.
Rhonda Bellairs - January 23, 2022 1:22 pm
This was beautiful! Touched my memories and my heart in sk many ways! 💕
RussellMR - January 23, 2022 1:31 pm
This same story happens in some form or fashion all across the world. It is happening in my family right now. It is like a long goodbye. We have learned to appreciate the moments of lucidity. It is hard for all of the Dannys out there for sure but the story you gave us is beautiful just the same.
Denise Cheke - January 23, 2022 1:34 pm
Oh man, way to start my Sunday morning in tears! Thanks Sean…from a misty eyed old lady in Saskatchewan Canada!
Paul McCutchen - January 23, 2022 1:57 pm
As usual I didn’t see that ending coming. Great story Sean, as usual.
Carol Krebs - January 23, 2022 2:20 pm
My Mother passed away from Alzheimers and I’ll never forget when the day came that she couldn’t remember my name. When I asked her if she knew my name she said “no…but you are very pretty, but why are you sad?” (tears were streaming down my face). Such a horrible disease…. I pray and donate that a cure is found in my lifetime.
jstephenw - January 23, 2022 2:24 pm
Damn you Sean. I am amazed at how you can find the beauty in so many things. We all need you to keep lifting our spirits during this rough patch we are going through. Hey to Jamie.
Chasity Davis Ritter - January 23, 2022 2:38 pm
I joined a Facebook group about a week ago called Old fashioned Hymns and spiritual music. I know you have many good stories about this subject and I plan to share a lot of them to that page. I always share you to my own when moved to do so. I shared this one today and I hope the members of the group love it just as much as I do.
Pat - January 23, 2022 2:45 pm
Lot’s of Moms are enjoying today’s post!! Thank you!!
Stacey Wallace - January 23, 2022 2:49 pm
Sean, you made me cry, but thanks for this sweet story. Love to you and Jamie.
Ruth Mitchell - January 23, 2022 3:01 pm
Along with hearing every song you named in my head and falling back nostalgically into my own teenage years, I pictured those residents in the moment enjoying every lyric and tune. As usual I didn’t see that ending coming. Thank you for sharing your gift and making us all a little more aware of our own humanity. WOW!!
Rich - January 23, 2022 3:08 pm
I pray for a return to the memories of those days that these folks bring to mind. Thanks, Sean!
Julie P, RN - January 23, 2022 3:25 pm
Like Trudy and Paul, I didn’t see the end coming. Another beautiful and “waterfall” story today, Sean❣️ God Bless Nurse Jeannie for adding even more merriment to the already amazing rock band concert. I can see myself in the audience in the not-too-distant future…most of those songs are part of my own history from the ‘50’s forward. I always love the way you tie together the ends of your writing with the beginnings…I wasn’t thinking Alzheimer’s until your last line. And if I may correct a typo? It’s “Dead Man’s Curve”, circa 1963, by Jan & Dean. P.S. Our local twin-city radio station had a program many years ago, and the announcer was referred to as “the Country Gentleman.”
Nancy C. - January 25, 2022 10:01 pm
Thanks Julie for the correction on “Dead Man’s Curve.” Now I don’t have to make the comment myself.
Ann Davis - January 23, 2022 4:05 pm
This brought tears to my eyes – made me remember when my mom was in Assisted Living – she’d been a widow for over 20 years and met a man who had also lost his wife. They had a wonderful 3 or 4 months together until he became terminally ill with cancer and my mother had a stroke. They were both put on the Extended Care side of the facility and they would pass each other without any recognition whatsoever. It broke my heart to watch it. I will never get it out of my mind. But thank you for this sweet story- bittersweet but sweet just the same.
Shelton A. - January 23, 2022 4:25 pm
What and ending…it makes you happy and so sad all at once. God bless to all, especially Danny and his mom. Thank you, Lord, for folks like Danny and his band.
Ann - January 23, 2022 4:39 pm
Oh my…I was great until the last line😢….beautiful and too close to home, I’m almost there! Thank you.
DAVID A WILSON - January 23, 2022 4:40 pm
Certainly makes my eyes water! Thanks.
TIm - January 23, 2022 4:47 pm
Life Sean … life … we should all be so blessed as Danny and his sweet Momma
Brenda Francis - January 23, 2022 4:47 pm
I thought maybe…but didn’t see it coming the way you told it. So sad and so sweet. You have such a gift of words Sean. Keep ‘em coming!
Susie Flick - January 23, 2022 4:55 pm
Music, one of the most universal “languages”…that all can connect to and love.
Patricia Gibson - January 23, 2022 4:57 pm
Wow is all I can say❤️
Pat Deas - January 23, 2022 5:20 pm
Pass the Kleenex!!!
Linda Moon - January 23, 2022 5:51 pm
My Country Gentleman loved Ernest Tubb and often played “Walkin’ the Floor Over You”. I tap-danced on local TV a few times when I was a kid. So this story brought lots of memories with the music these residents loved, and I’m wiping my misty eyes right now. Music…what a gift. And storytelling is a gift, too, Mr. Sean of the South.
Becky+Souders - January 23, 2022 7:03 pm
Lovely … just reading the names of those great songs brought a smile! Thanks, Sean. Again.
Carroll Wills - January 23, 2022 7:06 pm
I love all of your “blogs”, or whatever you want to call them, but this one really touched my heart. Thank you for writing from your heart most of the time. Love your writings.
MAM - January 23, 2022 8:15 pm
We, all of your readers, are so privileged to live in a time when it is possible for your writings, Sean, to land in our inboxes every day. The wonderfully told stories always bring us laughter, smiles or tears, and very often all in the same story. This one hit too close to home. I remember the day my mom didn’t know who I was. As all of us who have experienced that know too well, it is terribly painful. But your stories lovingly tie everything together! Thanks as always,Sean!
Texas Grandma - January 23, 2022 9:59 pm
Well, you did it again. I’m crying.
That was wonderful, right up to Danny’s mother. That’s the heartbreak of our generation(s), I think.
Jimmie Slaton - January 23, 2022 10:08 pm
That was a heart touching story. Entertaining and heartbreaking. My Dad died from Alzheimer’s three years ago but I still have my 1971 Les Paul Goldtop he bought me. I can do relate!
Karen Snyder - January 23, 2022 11:23 pm
Tim Wood - January 24, 2022 1:55 am
Didn’t see that coming. 57 and crying like a baby. Thank you, Sean.
Kim Morris Ladoczky - January 24, 2022 6:08 am
You’ve made me cry twice tonight. This one hitting a bit too close to home. Mom is in the early stages… I am dreading the upcoming years. Have been down this road before.
Naomi - January 24, 2022 11:43 am
I am now one of those little old ladies; I’m 77, and my husband is 91. We still in the house that we built in 1981, and we still have all of our mental faculties. It was just a few years ago that my husband and I and people from our church went to a local nursing home every Christmas and sang Christmas carols as we walked up and down the hallways. Old age sneeks up on you; you don’t see it coming.
Susan Ogden - January 24, 2022 1:39 pm
Metaphorically what I am living right now … I am caregiver to my 92 year old mom. She only sometimes remembers me as her daughter. Getting old is not for the faint of heart. Thank you for this story… just beautiful.
Gayle Wilson - January 24, 2022 3:12 pm
Another beautiful reminder that life is a treasure. Thank you for filling our minds with treasures instead of rubbish. God bless you and Jamie.
Bill prather - January 24, 2022 3:29 pm
Anyone who has had parents or close friends with dementia can identify with article, and cry
Diana - January 31, 2022 11:03 pm
Beautiful. I have chills and tears. Never stop writing these stories of real life.
Karen Callis - February 2, 2022 1:46 pm
Damn! You’re so good at this!
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - April 24, 2022 1:17 am