(Editor's Note: Over the course of 36 years of performing for residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, musician Pat Moniot has compiled a number of stories. She recently shared a few with The Post-Journal.)
Manor Oak: A lady I met had just celebrated her 100th birthday. Yet her skin was smooth and unwrinkled. I asked her how she had kept such a youthful appearance. She reached out her hands and drew me close and said, ''Oil of Olay!'' She said she had put Oil of Olay face cream on her face since she was 15 years old. I suggested that she go on TV to advertise Oil of Olay as their oldest, satisfied customer.
Tanglewood Manor: I met a lady who was 100 years old, yet she was able to walk, and able to enjoy my music. I asked her how she had lived so long and whether she drank, smoked or fooled around with men. She said, ''Well, I never smoked and I never drank, but I've been with hundreds of men.'' I gasped and she waited for the effect and said, ''You see, dear, I was a nurse and for 45 years I took care of elderly men.'' Then she added, ''You ought to come and visit me sometime. I could tell you stories!''
Heritage Green: At one performance, about 25 residents attended our music program. After the third song, we noticed that three-fourths of the audience had fallen asleep. When we returned in a few weeks, I mentioned the sleepiness and one lady told me that she would never let herself fall asleep when there was entertainment going on, as that would be rude and ungrateful. She said her husband had died three months ago and her son and his wife refused to take her in or set up home health aid. They forced her to sell her trailer and move into the nursing home. She said she found it nerve-wracking, but she thanked us for coming and involving people in music.
Frewsburg Rest Home: A gentleman told me that he had been there only three weeks. He said, ''I know that I will sleep well for the first time knowing that there are people out there who care enough about us to come and entertain us with their talents.'' Then he shed a tear.
Heritage Park: I had been playing country songs with my father, singing and playing the harmonica and I could play most of them by ear. When I put some sheet music up on the piano, the dozens of oscillating fans immediately blew my papers off the piano, onto the floor. My dad tried to hold the music as I played it, but his big hand covered up all the notes. I had to play only the solos that I knew by heart. The next time I played there, I brought Scotch tape. This worked better. However, at the beginning of the program I knocked my folder of loose-leaf sheet music onto the floor and I had to rush, picking them up and re-collating. Everyone was patient and we chuckled about it.
Heritage Park: I met a lady who had been a violin teacher all her life. She asked me if I could come someday and accompany her on the piano, just for fun. People may wonder why a person would prefer visiting nursing homes instead of shopping or watching football, especially if the performer is not paid money for coming. I am convinced that volunteering with my music talent pays off in relieving my stress and meeting people who may be in an old body, but who are very youthful in spirit. Yes, I get paid - in the heart.
Heritage Park: My good friend and former neighbor had a fire that destroyed her home and left her ''with nothing.'' For years I had chatted with her, but had never visited, as she felt embarrassed about her unpacked boxes and floor she could not sweep. Finally, after this fire, she was placed in a nursing home. I finally had an opportunity to visit her in person and to play a variety of songs for her, along with my singing partner. It was the silver lining in the clouds. We hugged each other and I promised to keep in touch with her.
Heritage Park: I had a lifelong dream come true! The famous volunteer pianist Dorothy Brooks now resided here. She was 95 years old. The last few times we played there, she was asleep or sick and could not attend. Finally, we got her out of her room and spent an hour entertaining her and the other residents. I first heard Dorothy Brooks play and sing in a state institution in 1968. She was l like a little black speck on the stage and it was years later when I realized who it was. Throughout the years, she reappeared in my life, at the hospital, in my neighborhood, in restaurants. We used to walk to work together when I lived on Fourth Street. At this performance, when we announced the next songs, she smiled and shouted ''I know that song!'' She told me she knows 2,000 songs.
Manor Oak: There was a man who was unresponsive, just sitting in his wheelchair by the nurses' station. The nurse said that there was no reason to wheel him into the music room, as he wasn't aware of his surroundings. My dad went over to him, touched him on the shoulder and played his harmonica into the man's ear. Very shortly, the man awoke and began to talk to to dad. Everyone was amazed. Then, it turned out that he knew how to play the harmonica. We took him to the recreation room, where he sang and played one of dad's harmonicas.
Heritage Green: After our performance, I walked around chatting with the residents. I asked a lady, ''Did you enjoy the music?'' She replied, ''Well, not really. Oh, it was all right, but they bring in so many people every week, it's all the same. A person just gets tired.''
Tanglewood Manor: I announced that I would play ''Silent Night'' as a solo, then play it again for everyone to sing along. One man misunderstood and he came over the piano and began to sing with my piano solo. This did not work, so I stopped and asked him to wait for a moment. The poor man was embarrassed and went back to his bedroom. Well, my dad saved that day. He said to everyone, ''Now, there's a man who wants to sing ''Silent Night!'' My dad went into the man's room and persuaded him to come out and sing.
Heritage Green: We were invited to play for a Halloween party for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. I was impressed by a man who must have been 6 feet 6 inches tall and who was dressed up as Dracula, with a black and red cape and much makeup. There was something magnetic about his demeanor and I seemed to he playing the songs just for him. He knew all the show tunes. I found out that he was a circus clown and magician who had to retire with multiple sclerosis at age 34. He told me that he specialized in ministering to young people and encouraging them to follow their dreams, as he did. He hoped to tour elementary and high schools as a clown/magician with a walker.
Frewsburg Rest Home: After we played for an hour, a lady approached me and said, '' I remember you from last year. Have you been studying?'' I replied ''No, I just go to work and back.'' She said, ''I mean, you have really improved in playing the piano since the last time you were here.'' I accepted the left-handed compliment.
Music and laughter stimulate people who are elderly or disabled, people with Alzheimers or Down's Syndrome, etc., can gain from singing, clapping and laughing. Active participation leads to major improvements in moods and health and it is a great treatment for boredom and depression. Going to a nursing home doesn't have to be depressing. It can be a merry little party for individuals and groups. It has made me happy for 36 years.