"Do you know that woman?" I ask the lady sitting next to me. "The one with the thin brown hair combed back off her face?"
"I think her name is J.," she replies. J. mesmerizes me. I can’t look away. A beatific smile transforms her face, seems to erase any lines of age. It reaches into her eyes, which are riveted on my husband. She is luminous. Midway through The Girl in the Garden Waltz, I notice, she has inched forward. Now, she doesn’t have to strain around the other wheelchairs aligned in rows in the common room of the nursing home for the afternoon’s entertainment my husband and his sidekick are providing. She claps her hands in time. The smile stays even when the song ends. It’s etched into her face, I think, her default expression at rest. I’m envious.
They change it up with Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain. Now, people are singing along. When they launch into I Come to the Garden Alone, the chorus swells to not only residents but also visitors who have come to hear Elmer and Charlie play.
With The Happy Go Lucky Polka, feet swing, mostly in time, and any mobile limbs sway, clap, and tap. On her feet with the support of her walker, a woman in an orange shirt with matching necklace moves to the music. A visiting couple dances through the labyrinth of wheelchairs, armchairs and card tables. The resident budgies and the cockatiel chirp along in accompaniment.
Enough with the old time stuff. Now, some Latin American rhythms with Yellow Bird. They find the right pieces, says L., in corroboration of the program selections for the hour. Elmer is always prepared. He picks a theme, and thinks about the songs that will resonate with people.
An attendant kisses one of the residents on the cheek. There’s something about a Sunday afternoon that can make a body feel alone. At the moment, though, they’re not in the common room any more. They’re twenty again, or thirty-five, at a dance in the local school or barn or community hall. The music has beamed them to that beloved remembered world for a brief hour. I hear the strains of the Seven Step, my favorite dance, and wonder yet again why they play a pattern dance for this audience, when no one dances. I realize that, in this other dimension to which they have been teleported, they are indeed on the dance floor.
Next, Charlie takes over with a perennial favorite, Walk the Line, by Johnny Cash. He has some fun with the lyrics at the end:
I keep my pants tied up with binder twine.
I keep my fly wide open all the time.
I keep my spirits up with a bottle of wine,
Because you’re mine, please pull the twine.
The applause, guffaws, and chortles from the almost eighty people gathered in that room fuse with the fading strains of "twine". The naughtiness takes them back, too. Elmer and Charlie are having fun, and their enthusiasm and joy are contagious. In that environment, my husband is quintessentially himself. He knows the subliminal power of music to transform moments in life, and he’s good at making those moments happen.
The strains of Sentimental Journey remind people all too soon that the hour is over. The sincere applause, the smiles, the joy, the conversations over coffee and goodies afterward dispel the stiffness in the musicians’ fingers and wrists from three gigs in as many days. But it’s the misty glaze Elmer and Charlie notice in the eyes of many of the residents still between dimensions that stay with them, and the reason they’ll be back here in a few months.
J., L., and the residents wouldn’t miss it for the world.