Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Elvis and Mom

Music blared, lights flashed, nursing home attendants dressed in poodle skirts and jauntily tied scarves cheered and yelled, and an aging, pockmarked Elvis in a bejeweled jumpsuit bounded through the doorway and up to the front of the nursing home chapel filled with elderly ladies with walkers and wheelchairs and immobile expressions. He grabbed a microphone, and intoned: “Hi, I’m Johnny Cash.”

I remain puzzled as to whether he was acknowledging his greater physical similarity to Johnny Cash than to Elvis, whether someone had put on the wrong theme music and he was making a joke, or whether he had just forgotten which dead singer he was portraying at this nursing home. Possibly I was hallucinating. I choose to think he was making some subtle joke. He quickly returned to the task of being Elvis, and, with a “Thank you very much,” launched into “Return to Sender” to celebrate what would have been Elvis’ 72 birthday.

It had been somewhat of a struggle to get my mother to the concert. I was visiting for her birthday, and she was complaining of feeling exhausted all the time, just wanting to sleep. I thought it would be good for her to partake of some of the activities offered by the nursing home, and I really wanted to see Elvis. She finally gave in and we found a spot in the very last row.

Elvis started moving about the room, crooning to individual women. One elderly man was dancing. The nursing home attendants were beside themselves with glee, and I thought how nice that Elvis is connecting directly with the residents. (I play, in various ensembles, in nursing homes, and it took us a while to figure out that talking to the residents before, after, and during our performance as important as actually playing for them.)

But, then, when Elvis got to my mother, I suddenly felt outraged that this man-in-an-Elvis-suit might flirt with her for a laugh, even a loving, laughing-with-you sort of a laugh. He didn’t. He shook her hand and shook mine. Very respectful and proper. My mother said later, “Who does that old geezer think he is, trying to be sexy?”

She did enjoy her root beer float, and agreed that it was good to get out of her room on occasion.

By the end of our visit, she was feeling stronger and more energetic than she had in some time, and, in the weeks since our visit, she has gone to other events. But, recently she said that these activities were boring. "Would you play Bingo?," she asked me. Ah. . . no. Fortunately, she enjoys reading, but I wish there were more entertaining activities that would entice her out of her room, as it is (generally) good to connect with other people.

I live quite a distance from my mother, but I am going to try to do more performances at local nursing homes, and try to figure out ways to involve the residents. I would love to hear from others who play in nursing homes.

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