Wednesday, January 25, 2023

RED FELT SLIPPERS

Marie (not her real name) is in the bathroom when I arrive for my weekly visit. The door’s open, so I peer cautiously around the door frame. There she is, rocking slowly back and forth in her wheelchair, bumping repeatedly against the full-length mirror on the wall.

I announce my presence and ask if she’d like to come out and have a chat. With her usual positive intonation, she replies, “Oh, my, yes!”

Marie is a nursing home resident I visit as a volunteer. I’ve been seeing her every Thursday morning for over a month now. She’s a lovely person. Bright, sociable, interested in people and the world.

Oh, and she’s 107 years old.

         I explain that I can play virtually any
         music from any era, and ask her what
         she’d like to hear.


Marie needs hearing aids in both ears. But one’s gotten lost, so I have to sit facing her right side and speak quite loudly so she can hear me.

We’ve settled into a nice routine which Marie seems to like: first, we just chat for a while. Then, since I know she used to love reading the newspaper every morning, but now can barely make out the headlines, I read her a few articles from that morning’s Minneapolis Star Tribune.

By that time, after nearly shouting for half an hour, my voice has given out. So from my tote bag full of activity gear I pull out my compact, Bluetooth speaker and open Spotify on my phone. I explain that I can play virtually any music from any era, and ask her what she’d like to hear.

THE LIGHT FANTASTIC
As I’m navigating to a Frank Sinatra playlist, I idly ask her what were some of her favorite pastimes in her prime. Without hesitation she replies, “Dancing!” And then adds, almost under her breath, “…until my injuries put an end to that.”

I decide not to pursue something that must have been so painful for her. But I switch my music selection from Ol’ Blue Eyes to some big band favorites. You know, the Glenn Miller, the Duke Ellington, the Tommy Dorsey. I play it a bit louder than I would for myself.

At first, Marie's staring kind of distantly as the music plays. But then her eyes close and her head nods forward. Well, I figure, I guess I’ve lost her…but that’s okay.

In the Mood ends and Artie Shaw’s Dancing In the Dark starts playing. I happen to lower my eyes to the floor and see that Marie’s feet, adorned in red felt slippers, are moving to the music—one at a time, forward and back, side to side.

When it’s time for me to go I take Marie’s hand in mine, lean down toward her right ear and say “You haven’t lost a step.” I‘m not sure if she knows what I mean, but I detect a little smile that starts in her eyes and spreads like a blush across her face.

You can bet I’ll be dancing with Marie again next week.

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