I’ve lost my rookie status at Covenant Woods. The “Welcome the New Residents” bulletin board, with its pictures of the ten newest residents, is across the hall from the mailboxes. When I went for my mail Saturday, my mug, which had graced that board since March 26, was gone. I guess I am now an old timer at the old-folks home – excuse me, in the retirement community. I better watch what I say. A lot of the old folks here are old enough to be my parents and a darn sight more spry than I am. But, as long as I’m in my electric wheelchair, I can beat any of them in a foot race.
It was two youthful miscreants, however, who enlivened last week’s happy hour. Every Friday afternoon, Covenant Woods serves the residents wine, beer and munchies. William and Richie, the two youngest residents, according to Richie, had been working on getting happy long before the appointed hour. Richie, stumbling in, joined us in the library toward the end of the hour and reached for a bottle of wine. But Penelope, the activities director, swooped down and snatched it away. She offered him a Sprite. After some not always polite discussion, Richie was sent to his room.
Apparently William wasn’t noticeably drunk at the start of happy hour – I got there halfway through – but he was getting obnoxious when it ended. Al, a retired Army colonel in his nineties, told William, “You’re making a damn fool of yourself.” And William went on making a fool of himself, even after he and everyone else had adjourned to the dining room for dinner, where Penelope played bouncer for a second time.
Saturday evening, Al didn’t tell me that I’m a damn fool, but he did tell me to be careful. I was out taking my evening tour of the grounds, and as is my wont, I went down the entry road to the main road, which is a busy four-lane affair. Just as I was turning around, Al came by in his car. “You shouldn’t come down here, and don’t even think about crossing the street,” he said. And he asked if I had a cell phone on me – I did – in case I needed help. Sunday morning, he came into the library as I was availing myself of the Wi-Fi and said several residents over the years had wandered out on to the road. He said he once came upon a resident in a wheelchair crossing the road who had no idea where she was. Now it scares him whenever he sees a resident, whether walking or in a wheelchair, near the road.
A long hallway connects Building B, where I live, to the main building that houses the offices, dining room, the activity room, the library, and a few other things. There are lots of windows along the way; it is not a dark and dreary place. But the hall isn’t wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass, which results in those of us in them and those who use walkers spending time waving each other on and saying, “No, no, you go first.”
Music is piped into the hallway. On my first trip down the hall, I assumed it came from Sirius or some elevator music supplier. But it wasn’t long before I came to the conclusion that there must be a pile of CDs stashed somewhere. I’m also convinced the person who selects the music changes weekly. The award for the programmer with the most eclectic taste goes to the person who was running the show my first week here. It seemed that each trip up or down the hallway that week was accompanied by either Patsy Kline singing “Walking After Midnight,” or a classical orchestra playing J.S. Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze.”
I don’t know the words to many country standards, but I am familiar with “Walking after Midnight.” Anna was an Ash/Craft client I worked with for a few months in the early nineties. She was a short woman, a little on the pudgy side, nervous when she was in groups, and she had an accent right out of a West Virginia holler. But, oh, could the lady sing, and she knew a huge number of country songs. Anna was always anxious to get home, but she was scared to venture out into the hallways when they were filled with other clients rushing to the buses, and she would ask me to walk with her. As we made our way to her bus, she would look up to me with her big blue eyes and a smile that seemed to say,” Oh, Tom, you’re my hero,” and sing “Walking after Midnight”.
Back in the halls of Covenant Woods, we listened to soft, instrumental versions of “Moon River” and “The Days of Wine and Roses” for a week. Last week was big band week: mostly Glenn Miller, and mostly “Moonlight Serenade” and “In the Mood,” another song that takes me back to the days when I was out and about and an intrepid sports reporter for the Star Beacon. One Saturday I covering a basketball game at Pymatuning Valley High School, and PV Jazz, a group far superior to your average high school pep band, was entertaining the crowd between the JV and varsity games. One of their selections was “In the Mood,” and across the way from me, two white-haired ladies clapped and swayed to the music just as they must have when they were young and the song was new.
It’s funny how a song can take you back to a place. On Myrna Drive in Bethel Park, there was an organ in our living, and Mom, a very talented organist, played it for several hours every night. Dad made frequent stops at Volkwein’s music store on his way home from work to get sheet music for the old standards and the non-rock-and-roll hits of the day: songs such as “Moon River,” “The Days of Wine and Roses,” “Mack the Knife,” “I Left my Heart in San Francisco,” “Hey Look Me Over,” and the like.
One time during my teenage years, I spent several nights on the couch reading Jim Bishop’s The Day Lincoln was Shot, while mom played and Dad sat in the rocking chair and read the paper. Mom played a particular song a lot those nights. I no longer remember what it was, but for several years afterward, every time I heard that tune, either when Mom played it or on the radio, I was back in Ford’s Theater.