I look forward to the days when I’m old enough to speak my mind freely and get away with it. When the internal governor that can often keep us from saying what we truly feel has become so rusty and broken down that it ceases to function. Or maybe it gets purposely thrown out the window once the pain, loneliness and indignities of elderly life make people feel they’ve earned the right to let it all out.
In my volunteer gigs, I’ve certainly run into my share of free-speaking oldsters. I’ve had little old ladies look me square in the eye and say “Asshole!” while I’m singing Christmas carols. I’ve heard “This is boring”, “Go play over there!” and other, thankfully unintelligible utterances muttered in my direction.
Of course, it can work the other way, too, with seniors who aren’t shy about expressing their appreciation for someone taking the time to come play for them. There’s the scholarly old gentleman, a retired lawyer, who yells “Bravissimo!” after every song. There was a woman last month who kept telling me what I nice voice I have (full disclosure: this was on the lock-down dementia ward, so I didn’t let it go to my head). I‘ve been patted on the butt mid-song (also on the dementia ward). And I was once damned with faint praise by a tender-eyed woman who said in the sweetest way possible “Well, that was a valiant effort” after my rendition of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” somehow paled in comparison to Tony Bennett’s. I’ve also been genuinely moved when someone stops me as I go, reaching out to take my hand and tell me they really enjoyed the music.
So I strum on, taking the bad with the good while trying to brighten a few old folks’ days. All the while, biding my time until I can start saying “Asshole!” with wild abandon.