Santa With Starlight Mints

Santa visited one of the old folks’ homes I played at last month. He didn’t arrive aboard a tricked-out sleigh. He wasn’t ensconced in garish red velvet. He wasn’t even a he. Rather, this Santa showed up in a flimsy cotton nightie with one of those walkers with the built-in seat and an oxygen tank in tow. She stared intently at me from the door of her darkened room during my first song.

“Sorry, did I disturb you?” I asked after finishing the number.

“You’re Jeff. You’ve played here before.”

The tone in her voice reassured me she was actually happy to hear some music, even if it was a little past her bedtime. So I invited her to join me and the few residents gathered in the hall outside her door.

“This next one is White Christmas,” I announced.

“You want to make me cry,” Santa replied.

“Should I not play it?”

“No, go ahead,” she said with comic resignation.

So I played it as softly and sweetly as I could. She took off her glasses and reached for the Kleenex. Afterward she told me the song makes her miss her son. I braced for a sad “my kids never visit me” story but it turns out she’s still pretty close to her son and sees him often. She told me a bit about him and it brightened her mood.

During the next tune she shuffled off to her room and re-emerged with a clutch of starlight mints in hand, bestowing gifts to everyone. One for the poor demented man obsessively rocking his wheelchair back and forth into the wall. One for the man seated a few feet in front of me with a thousand mile stare. One for Mary, the cute little black woman who smiles, closes her eyes and mouths the words to the tunes she knows (which are almost all of them). One for the bald woman who looked far too young to be in a senior home. One for my wife and one for me. Hard candies all around.

May your days be merry and bright. And may all your Christmases be white swirled with red and wrapped in cellophane as tightly as a mother’s hugs.


‘Tis the season to be cranky…

Bad SantaThe 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?