RETURN WITH ME NOW TO THOSE THRILLING DAYS OF YESTER YEAR.
I just had me a fine few hours the other day. I did a live broadcast on my web station from a nearby senior assisted care center. It was a blast. In fact, it was a blast from the past. On my way to the center, I was kind of down listening to all the doom and gloom stations. They all have such an itinerary of awful scenarios for the future. Listening to these shows is almost like picking your poison and having a sip. They seem to make us all stars in our own personal Tales from the Crypt.
Sadly, I’ve got to admit that I too listen to each and every one of these nail biters almost every day. If I do it long enough, like everyone else, I get crazy. I’d listen to something else if I could but, what’s left on the dial just doesn’t do it for me. Show’s nowadays are just trying to outdo each other for shock value or, they’re automated playlists firing out one same song after another. As I drove along, I found myself missing Jean Shepard, Tex and Jinx, Wolfman Jack, Cousin Brucie, Big Dan, Gunsmoke, or even, Arthur Godfrey.
I pulled into the care center and decided to forget the blues and concentrate on doing a nice show for the residents. I’m not the greatest air personality ever by a long shot but, I wanted to do the best I could for these good folks. With that thought in mind, I set myself to the task of setting up my equipment. It’s a lot of lugging but, sometimes, lugging is a good thing. It shakes out the cobwebs and starts the juices flowing.
The receptionist was happy to show me where I’d be doing the show. It was a nice little room. My spot was in the corner near a piano. There was coffee and graham crackers in the kitchenette next room over. Things were looking up. Usually, a senior scout will come over when I’m setting up. It almost always happens at a care center. Today was no exception. This time an older gentleman popped his head in the door and asked if I was going to play some music. I told him that I sure as heck was planning to do just that.
I got my first smile out of the day from this fellow by saying that I was planning to play music that he was too young to know about. I mentioned that he probably never heard of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, or Frank Sinatra. I did say that he’d most likely enjoy these singers if he’d give them a chance. I asked him if his folks ever told him about big band music.
He knew I was kidding and, he hit back with a comment or two. “Too young to know about Glenn Miller? Like Heck! Boy, I used to go into New York to the Hotel Pennsylvania to see those guys every chance I got. Oh, you should have seen the girls there. Wow! I danced all night.”
I told him I’d be starting soon after lunch. He went off to tell the others. He used a walker but, he was going pretty fast out to the dining room. Soon, some ladies came by to ask the same questions. By then, I had the equipment set up so, I asked them if they’d like to listen to a sample. They sat right down and were all ears. I played a song for them by Tommy Dorsey, the Pied Pipers, and Frank Sinatra called Blue Skies. They swayed in their chairs and believe it or not started to sing along. Yes, they knew the song by heart. I put an album on and let everyone enjoy it as others came into the room. It was still an hour till airtime. I felt great and, so did they.
When show time came, I put us live on the web and started playing songs and telling stories. And of course, I always like to ask questions. I asked stuff like did anyone in the room ever meet Glenn Miller or any of the old singers. Quite a few had. One lady knew Frank Sinatra when he was pretty young. I guess she ran into him in a deli now and then. Another lady told us how she was so dressed up outside a Benny Goodman concert that some traveling salesman tried to pick her up. They all knew how to do the dances of the day like the Lindy, Jitterbug, or the Big Apple. They remembered being poor during the Great Depression. They laughed when I told them how my Mom was banned from going to a Rudy Vallee movie by herself because she would scream and swoon whenever he appeared in a scene. Some of the ladies said that they’d scream in the theater too, especially for Dick Powell.
The greatest thing is that many of them sang along to whatever song I played almost every time. Some sang quietly. Some let it rip at the top of their lungs. Some got sleepy and nodded off but, were smiling.
They knew who the “Schnozz” was. Of course for the uninitiated, that was, Jimmy Durante. The story I told of Jimmy picking the winners of an entire days card of horseraces at Santa Anita back in the day gave them a charge. They knew about the sport of horseracing and seemed to love it.
The show ended all too soon and I got a nice round of applause. It was me who should have applauded for them. They were such a nice audience.
As I was finishing my packing up. One resident brought me an apple and a lemon cookie from the break room. Two ladies remembered hearing my shows on regular radio. One was a resident and the other was a hair dresser there. It was great to hear the good things they said. The Activity Director seemed quite pleased which is always a plus. We talked about an upcoming Sock Hop.
On my way out, I walked past a fellow who was a resident. He was sitting in the hallway and said how he really enjoyed the songs. He said how the ship he was on in the Navy during World War Two only had a record player and maybe 20 records to go with it. He said they were great songs but, after a while, they kind of drove him and the crew nuts. I asked what kind of a ship he served on. He told me he was on a LST out in the Pacific. I’m pretty sure that’s a Landing Ship Tank (or Transport). They would hit the invasion beaches fully loaded with supplies. He said how he was at the battle for Okinawa. By then the Japanese were in heavy suicide mode. He said how word came that a flight of Kamikazies were about ten miles away coming down the beach looking for targets. He looked and spotted them on the far horizon approaching his ship. No sooner did he see them coming in low then, everything the ships off shore had, opened fire. Battleships, Cruisers, Tin Cans and shore units did all they could and got most of the squadron. But one was still up and flying zig zagging all over the sky flying low and heading right for this fellows ship. With just a few hundred yards to go and, only seconds left, some lucky battery got the suicide planes bomb and it exploded. The plane went into the surf.
The guy told me that after that day and when he finally got home, whenever some problem came up, he’d remember that day off Okinawa and just forget about worrying. He said it would have to be a pretty wild problem to get him rattled after that day. I agreed and shook his hand. He was a nice fellow.
They were all nice at this assisted living center. Many of those residents lived through the Great Depression and then World War II. Sure it was tough but, they took it in stride. They got down to business when necessary and when they could, they’d enjoy a tune or a show. Sounds like a plan. Bless them.