Happy Hour at Assisted Living

Who would ever think that there would be a “Happy Hour” at an assisted living center? It’s true. Many of them have a gathering once a week or on holidays, and they serve wine, beer, soft drinks, and even mud slides and margaritas. Where my mother lives, they have Happy Hour on Friday afternoons, before dinner, so it happens from about 3:00 to 4:00.

The first time I went over to Mom’s place to join her for Happy Hour, the highlight of the week for her, I worried that my guide dog would be distracted by all the people standing around with drinks. Silly me. It’s assisted living. People are sitting around, mostly in wheel chairs. There was no difference in threading our way through the lobby than on any other day.

Last Friday, the Happy Hour turned into something truly happy. My mother and I were sitting near a gentleman who was chatting with a particularly friendly and outgoing volunteer namedSandy.Sandyasked the man, whom I’ll call Henry, what he used to do before he moved there. It turns out he used to own an elegant restaurant in town, where a singer entertains in the evenings. “I used to sing sometimes,” he toldSandy.

“Well, you could sing for us,”Sandysaid. “Would you sing for us?”

“I’d sing if you could find an accompanist for me,” Henry said, doubting thatSandycould magically produce an accompanist. ThenSandyturned to my mom, and half jokingly asked, “Regina, can you play the piano? Henry here says he’d sing if I can find him a piano player.” Little did she know that my mother played piano for over 85 years.

“Sure” she said with the sweetest smile she’s worn since she moved in a month ago. “I used to teach, and I’ve accompanied hundreds of singers.”

Sandywas thrilled. As soon as the taped music was turned off for Happy Hour, she guided both my mom and Henry over to the grand piano in the lobby. I was a little worried that maybe Mom couldn’t remember all the chords, or maybe her 96-year-old arthritic hands would fail her, but I should have had more faith in the power of music.

“How about In the Garden,”Sandyasked Henry. Do you know that one?”

“Oh sure. That would be good.”

“What key do you like it in,” my mom the musician asked.”

And then she’d give him a nice arpeggio for an introduction, and off they’d go, Henry singing his heart out and Mom playing confidently, slowing down or speding up, to match the singer, being careful not to upstage him. The dining room workers sang along as they prepared for the evening meal, and they applauded after each song.

As Mother made her way back to her apartment, several of the aids stopped her and told her how beautifully she played. When we got back to her apartment, she plopped down in her favorite chair, exhausted from the walk back from the lobby, but also from the exertion of the performance. Yet, even though I couldn’t see her face, I knew she was pretty pumped up. “I think I’ve lost my touch,” she said modestly.

“Oh no,” I said. “You haven’t lost your touch at all. You might have missed a chord now and then, but you’ve still got it. I bet if you go down there and practice, it will all come back, and you can be sure that when you start playing, somebody will run and get Henry. They’ll say, ‘Come on Henry.Regina’s at the piano. We want a concert’”

I always knew that music can heal the soul, but on this day, it was music, not the wine, that put the happiness in the hour.



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