The holidays can be tough, even if you’re not old, infirm and stuck in a nursing home. So I always try to bring a little extra cheer to my December volunteer gigs. This year, as I entered the dining hall and started to set up on one side of the room, a resident nearby barked “Go play over there!”
So I obliged and moved over to the other side of the room. As I got out my guitar another resident looked at me and said “Asshole!” Now, I’ve done enough of these to know that dementia patients say the darnedest things, so I try not to take it personally. But it was looking more like a “Silent (but deadly) Night”.
I started with a few light holiday tunes – “Here comes Santa Claus”, “Winter Wonderland” and the like. I think it was at that point that the woman who so joyously greeted me upon arrival barked at me again: “Play some hymns!” After reassuring her that I had hymns-a-plenty on the way, and dodging a few more “A-bombs”, the cheer continued to flow like slightly curdled egg nog.
Of course, it wasn’t all bad. I managed to get a few residents singing along with me, including a gracious daughter visiting her mom and a pair of incredibly lucid 90-something sisters. And folks got a kick out of a story I shared about “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. According to the Source of All Knowledge (Wikipedia), when Sinatra was recording the tune he complained to songwriter Hugh Martin that the lyric “until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow” was too depressing. “Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?” asked the Chairman. The Chairman gets what he wants, so it was changed to “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”
However, after muddling through my set that night I couldn’t help but feel that Martin might have gotten it right the first time. Wouldn’t you agree, Judy?