I place my fingers on the keyboard, relishing the familiar touch and smell. It is a minute after 10.00, and all is going to plan. I listen to Mara at the microphone, charming her captive audience. Her welcoming spiel over, she looks in my direction.
‘Good morning, Grace. The audience is primed for a good time. Are you right to play?’ Her saccharine smile and slight nod trigger my fingers. I launch into a crowd favourite, Roll Out the Barrel. Beside me, Ted, balancing his piano accordion, after a missed beat or two, joins in. (The years are starting to tell on my dear friend, but rarely does he sidestep his ingrained urge to entertain.)
Mara, our experienced social organizer, belts out the lyrics, and sways in time, seeking audience participation—a little of which is forthcoming. But only from those few whose eyes have yet to lose their sparkle… Several appear to doze, chins drooping. Perhaps hearing aids are turned off, or lie abandoned in rooms. Or folks may just feel poorly…
As happens each Wednesday morning at Bupa Barron Aged Care Home, my Happy Hour starts.
A fair crowd is present today, judging from the wheelchairs and wheelie-walkers parked in the corner. I hope our music cheers them up.
I like to check the reaction of our audience, and it’s satisfying to see some tapping feet and fingers. There are smiles too. Volunteers and staff join in the singing. Several drape their arms across stooped shoulders or take the opportunity to soothe cream into the hands of their charges.
Those who are able to, pay attention to Mary, Ted and me at the front. The song ends and there is sporadic applause. Some now need their mouths or noses wiped, or to be sat higher in their chairs. Mrs Barbagello in her reclining wheelchair makes a late arrival. I am glad she isn’t left sitting in her room.
Today I recognise a few relatives in attendance, so I can expect some compliments at morning tea. Never unwelcome…
There are not many outsiders though—visiting hours are shot to pieces with so many recent closures imposed by administration and/or legislation. A convenient excuse for some not to be here? Pardon my nasty thought.
I swallow some water. Then it’s time to commence The Road to Gundagai, another golden oldie. Ted is ready this time, and we make quite a team. Momentarily, I feel chuffed—but prematurely. Isn’t that always the way? I strike one jarring note, and then another seconds later. Not inclined to use sheet music, I have to bear an occasional bump. A blush begins to creep up my face. Mara, however, handles this glitch with aplomb and continues singing–a real trouper. I appreciate her kindly wink which puts me at my ease.
Our program is underway.
One of the local schools has sent along some dancers, sparkling in their finery. The space for their performance, they’ll find a bit cramped, I think. Oh, well. They’ll sort it out.
This is the undoubted highlight of the morning, and ooh’s and aah’s of appreciation brighten the faces of the little ones. Their teacher organises recorded music. I am not needed.
Throughout their item, in my prime viewing position, my heart strings are pleasantly pulled by the youngsters’ determination to keep in time. I rummage in my handbag for a hanky at one stage. Little sweethearts.
After the generous applause for the performers recedes, it is time for the finale, Pack up Your Troubles and our usual old-time medley.
I see from my watch that it’s 11.00 on the dot as I close the lid of the piano.
A familiar bell alerts all present, as the kitchen staff wheel in the refreshments trolley and medications.
But I sense a change in the normal routine. Silence, heads turning, then murmurs… I spy a splash of colour and I see Jess, giggling, and bearing balloons and big bouquet walking towards me, her skirt swirling. Shocked, I stand up.
‘Happy Birthday, darling GeeMa!’ I clutch the flowers she presses on me. Tears overwhelm me–but she knows to have tissues ready.
‘Happy Birthday, Grace!’ rings in my ears. Hard hugs and soft kisses abound. Happiness bubbles from me.
In a wave of kindness, I am escorted to a table and a cushioned chair just for me. Smiles replace my tears of joy.
I hear the strains as Ted starts the Birthday Song. (I had wondered why he’d been fumbling and fussing about while packing up.) Voices chime in with the lyrics and any mistakes in musicianship pass unheeded in the general ruckus.
Cameras are pointed at me.
There is a cake, too, a beauty… Its inscription: ‘Our Grace–90 Years Young’.
I’m officially an ‘oldie’.
© Tropical Writers Inc 2024