"You are my sunshine," came a voice from the back. I picked up the key and started to slice out the melody on my cello. One of the residents breathed heavily, eyes closed, and I played on with a grin as a few folks added in their voices.
When I brought my cello with me to my visit to Grandfather on Father's Day, I wasn't intending to give a concert to the memory care unit and staff that he lives with, but that's what happened, and I'm glad it did.
Playing for old folks isn't something I'm novice at - I probably play for old folks more than any other sort. This winter, I got a kick out of crossing Haines, Alaska on ice to go play for a lunch at the senior center. The folks would request songs and I would play whatever they threw at me for the next hour. Unbeknownst to me, as I was playing, they took up a collection and I was given $16 to go "towards [my] next travels." Between songs, they wanted me to weave together stories from my wanderings earlier in the year - what happened between Alaska in January and Alaska in October.
Walking into Grandfather's care facility was a lot easier this time. Last time I went, I was a wreck - tears the entire bus ride over and walk and... lots of tears. This time, my tear-trigger wasn't even touched and I felt solid the entire time, so I could be fully mentally present with Grandfather. I grabbed my cello from Tobbit and walked in the building and was asked four times what I had with me ("A guitar?" "A cello." "I knew someone who played the cello." "Cool.") before I had dialed in the passcode to get into the small world known as "memory care" where folks go when their minds have started to really let go.
I had been planning on playing him hymns. Grandfather loves hymns. He used to have a few organs in the house, fixed organs, and for his 50th Anniversary with Grandma, they held hymn sing off. I figured I would take him away from the group and into his own room and play for him in there.
The staff, though, insisted that I play in the main room and pretty soon I had an audience gathered around.
I started to do what I do, weave together eclectic melodies. I tried to start solid on the hymns, two times few, and succeeded, but pretty soon "Jurassic Park" flowed into "Happy Together" which naturally got along great with "Russian Sailor's Dance" I had to stop myself from adding in some Brittany Spears, although, I can't imagine them having any objections.
Most of the times Grandfather would have his eyes closed and I thought he would be asleep, but then, when I finished up a song, he would clap or start directing in the middle of a tune.
He doesn't smile any more, but he still cries a lot.
"Grandfather, back when I was in junior high, we played Christmas songs together, you on the organ and I played the cello. This is the song that always makes me think of you, 'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.'"
That made him cry.
There was another tune I played, one I had written, that I've gotten positive feedback on - it's just a tiny little ditty.
"This is the song I wrote for the puppet troupe I was in up in Alaska," I told him, and he started to cry.
After enough cello had been played by me, a staff member took a whack at it. We all laughed and cheered.
Then I asked Grandfather if he wanted me to sing him some hymns. He told me he did. I grabbed the hymnal from right across from his bed and ran back to the group. Before I knew it, I was singing, a cappella, for this group. My singing was simple, and hopefully in key. I don't consider my voice one worth listening to, but I felt honoured to sing for this group. On certain songs, a resident would join in with their "bum bah bahhs" and one of the staff members knew a few of the songs and could sing along.
Collective, and in all sorts of small parts, a good afternoon.
I love Grandfather.
I don't know how much longer he'll be here for, but when he goes, I hope it will be peacefully. He's the last grandparent I have left and I don't want him to go. I'm not ready, but I think he might be soon. Maybe I'll have a year more, or two, but I honestly couldn't wish that on him.