“Old trees they just grow stronger, and old rivers grow wider everyday… but old people. They just grow lonesome, waiting for someone to say, ‘Hello in There. Hello'”
~From the song, “Hello In There”
Last night I volunteered for a bi-monthly dance held at a nursing home. I didn’t know what to expect, remembering footage from a senior dance that was shown at training for NYCares. Getting lost in the maze of the massive building, I eventually made my way to the auditorium. Inside, an eleven-or-so-year-old boy and the team leader were dancing around in circles, pushing wheelchairs as seven or so elderly folks snapped and swayed in their wheelchairs. I felt mildly uncomfortable at first, but it was soon changed when a man in a yamulke and wheelchair waved me over.
“Miss!,” he assertively declared, “It time to dance with me.” I wheeled him around to an upbeat Ray Charles standard and parked him at the end of the song. The room filled with more seniors and I was introduced to Adeline, one of the few attendees who relied on her walker and not a wheelchair. The team leader formally introduced us and we became dance partners for the evening. Adeline was once a Broadway dancer and when I asked what shows she danced in, she stated “You name it. I was there.”
Her agility and timing were incredible and she explained, “My feet can still move but it’s my head that gives me trouble.” With the height disparity, Adeline’s eyes directly ahead of my bosom, and so began our repeated conversation. We had this conversation about twenty-thirty times, with little variation:
Adeline: You have such a nice figure. How old of a girl are you may I ask?
Me: 24. (I lied, for the sake of preferring 24 to 25).
Adeline: Oh. Double that. That’s how old I am.
Me: You’re 48?
Adeline: I’m 60.
As the evening progressed, with the mambo and tango between us, my true age was revealed and Adeline’s age went from 60… to 65…. to 75… to 85… to 90. My guess is that she’s at least in her early nineties. I gather that women may always lie about their age- starting with knocking off a year, and eventually knocking off three decades. Sometimes she’d inquire how old I thought she was.
Me: I think you dance like you’re still in your thirties.
Adeline: Ha. I’m an old lady and you’re a young lady. You’re such a beautiful girl. Do you need a job?
Me: I’m always working a different job. .
Adeline: I don’t think you should be in the background. When I recommend people, they become stars because people listen to me. I’ll give you a slip of paper and you can give it to the right people. How would you like to make double?
Of all the memories Adeline may retain, her days as a dancer were the fondest. I asked if she ever had stagefright and that I have a terrible case of it. “Why, no!” she answered. “I’ve been on the stage my whole life. Sometimes they even still ask me to dance! Can you believe that? I think I’m too old but they still believe I have it. And they pay me a lot of money.”
I felt pieces of my heart begin to melt, listening to Adeline relive her days as a dancer and her true love for performing, as we held hands and swayed to the music. Adeline’s intentions were in my best interest, as she said, “I want to find you a good husband. You should have twelve husbands, you’re such a nice lady.” Her advice for marriage is that the woman should marry someone with money but she should also have all the money. Quite a progressive thought for a woman, but she knew the gratification of being the breadwinner. She still beamed with pride for her own independance and accomplishments.
When we finished dancing, she told me, “I would like to have a daughter like you.” There was such an innocence and kindness in her exchange, and I would watch her mimic my movements to fit in. I realized it was easiest for her to deal with a troubled memory.
At the end of the dance, I walked Adeline to her room and felt heartbroken when she asked what she was supposed to do now. She didn’t recognize her bed or her stuff, with a wall adorned with photos of her and her husband in their younger days. It moved me deeply to see the development of a life and Adeline’s good heart and love of life. I asked her as we parted, “Did you have a nice time tonight, Adeline?”
“Why, I always have a good night. I go to the best of places and I know how to have fun.” We parted and I sincerely hope to see her at the Senior Prom in two weeks. I never attended my own prom and am certain this will be far more enjoyable.