Roll Out the Barrel
Susan P. Blevins
I recently visited my elderly friend Robert in his new retirement home. He is staying there for as long as it takes to get him back on his feet, in a manner of speaking, and to some degree of independence, so he can go home. His legs are shot, but he’s becoming a whiz with his wheelchair. I happened to be there at “Happy Hour”, and a smiling nurse called cheerily through his open door to tell us where to go for the gathering. He showed off his new skill at sliding from bed to wheelchair on a shiny board. Off we went, down the corridor to the elevator and up to the next floor.
Following the sound of music when we exited the elevator, we found the residents’ gathering place for this event. As we walked in the door we were greeted by a long table decorously clad with white table cloth, though no chairs, and an impressive array of nine wheelchairs lining the sides. Sitting at the head of the table was the only man. I don’t know if he was a resident or whether he was just a happy volunteer going round homes to bring a little music into their midst.
He had his accordion strapped across his chest and he was playing some of the golden oldies. Now and then a few wavering voices joined him in the lyrics. He must have been a fine player in his youth, and he still brought pleasure, though he could be close to eighty now, and his memory was failing him a bit too. A couple of ladies were slumped over sleeping in their wheelchairs, plates of barbecued chicken legs untouched on their plates, but the others were enjoying themselves, nibbling on snacks and drinking Coca Cola.
“I’ve only got one good leg,” cried out one well-built cheery matron, “and it sure wants to start dancing.”
I started clapping out the rhythm and some of the ladies followed suit. My friend and I sipped on a couple of glasses of white wine that the organizer had so kindly slipped us, and he devoured the barbecue sauce-smothered chicken legs with relish. He told me the regular food was not so good.
The entertainer played a couple of polkas that got everyone smiling. Some of them were of German ancestry, or Norwegian, as was the case of my friend. I even got up and danced around a bit, which they loved.
We left after an hour because it was time for Robert to have his shower before dinner. We exited to the strains of a Nat King Cole tune. It warmed my heart to see yet again how music can lift the spirits and bring joy into what was basically a gathering of sick, elderly women, many of whom were suffering from Alzheimer’s. A good toe-tapping rhythm, familiar words, and recollections of happier, younger days, served to bring, however briefly, sweet oblivion of present circumstances to the ladies.
It was not exactly a barrel of fun, but it was certainly a happy hour that we spent in their midst. We returned to Robert’s room singing a catchy song and causing everyone along our route to smile along with us.