Grandpa’s Song

Grandpa sat in his wheelchair in a line of about ten other elderly men, all dressed in white shirts. The others wore t-shirts, but I recognized Grandpa’s dressier shirt he got from Mexico.

Their chairs were angled inward towards the center, where two men played acoustic guitar, songs by artists that everyone knew like Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Elvis.

In Grandpa’s nursing home is a big gathering room where the residents sometimes have more formal dinners if they don’t want to eat in their rooms, their Christmas train exhibit in December, and special events, like their Valentine’s Day concert with the men’s choir.

Grandpa always sang at church, knowing the hymnals by heart, but opening the hard-covered blue books for me to see the words and notes. And just like they did at church back then, they call him by his last name here, too.

My mom and I sat in the back, near the windows. We weren’t expecting such a big crowd, but I was glad to see lots of people showed up. We surprised him by coming and as he looked around the audience, other residents in wheelchairs, nurses standing beside them, a sprinkling of relatives, he caught my eye in the back and I waved as if I was at a graduation. It took him a second but he recognized me and sent a huge smile and wave right back.

I’m not sure what it is that makes a place feel like home all of a sudden. I come to the nursing home often enough, but obviously it’s not Grandpa’s house, where he and my grandmother raised three children, or even someplace he’s been a part of for decades, like his lodges and clubs. But here, in this big room, with the curved windows behind me and the crowd of people flooding the tiled floor, I could feel that perhaps he’s acclimated a bit. People know him. The nurses stop to hold his hand and ask him how the book that he’s reading is. We’re pretty certain he has a steady girlfriend. This means that maybe my mom can calm her guilt a little about putting him here. That maybe he’s in the right place for now. That strangely enough, it’s turned into a sort of home.

In the middle of the concert they announced that my grandpa had a solo song. It was a lovely old tune sung by a husband about the day he married his wife and how beautiful she looked that day. It ends with a stanza on how beautiful she looks now and if I thought about it too much I knew I’d cry, watching my grandfather sing along with the guitarist, gingerly holding his white paper notes. Instead of drifting away on memories I tried to only absorb what was going on in front of me. The other men waited patiently as he sang his song. He stumbled a little but still had that same voice he did in church not so long ago; loud and strong.

I came with my mom, and my future son, still inside my belly. He kicked gently to the upbeat songs, giving me hope that maybe we can enjoy some music together when we are finally face to face in a couple of short months.

A few tables down from us a woman started dancing, her body moving well, and her embarrassment zero. She was probably around 80 years old. I’ve never been one of those people to care so little that I can get up and dance in a room full of others who are not, but I truly admire the ones who can. I would imagine the embarrassment of dancing alone drifts further and further away with age. I love that she didn’t care and I hope I don’t either when I’m 80.

And then I got this feeling. It lasted for only about 20 minutes or half an hour, but it stayed strong; the room, the songs, the dancing lady, my grandfather, my mom, my son. Everything was as it should be. Nothing was misplaced in time. I was supposed to be here, sitting in this chair, waving to my grandfather, next to my mom, and swaying back and forth to the songs we knew. There wasn’t anything to worry about, even though I knew there were things I could worry about. There was no space for that here. This is what I needed to be doing, right this minute. I didn’t give myself room to think about how my husband and I will pay all of our bills once I leave work to take care of the baby, or how I will finish the book I’m writing, or even how I will get gas on the way home when it’s all highway. No. There was only right now.

Grandpa told us afterwards that he wrote the song he sang, which we knew was not true, but went along with anyway. Who were we to take away his victory? He told his friends the same and they all gave him the same kind courtesy of getting away with this sweet plagiarism.

When everyone was out of the big room, we sat in the small coffee shop across the hall praising his voice and the concert and eating cookies mom picked up from Whole Foods that morning. The macaroons were for Grandpa only.

There’s a lot of things to think about when are are there. A lot of stressful things; Grandpa’s care, the facility, his room mate, seeing him enough, the guilt, our trip home, the traffic, when we can come back…

But I have to admit that it’s all put on hold once we are here, every time. Because that’s just it; we’re here. Now. And we can’t control anything else. So, I watch Grandpa eat his macaroons and slowly drink his coffee just the way he used to at his own kitchen table and talk about his song and introduce me as his granddaughter, Professor Angela (even though I’m not a professor anymore) and we stay until we have to go.