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.”