Last week, my friend and bandmate, Rey Pineda, called and asked if I would join him in entertaining the patients at the Ben Atchley State Veterans Home. I readily accepted the invitation and was really excited about going. Rey decided that we would treat them to an evening of traditional blues. As a harmonica player, I couldn’t have agreed more.
This was my first visit to the home so I didn’t know what to expect. Folks, the experience was far greater than anything I could have anticipated. The people there are mostly confined to beds and wheelchairs. I was told that many of them do not have regular visitors and rarely are able to leave the facility. When Rey and I entered the recreation/television room, we were greeted by a room full of people anxiously awaiting the music. They engaged us in conversation before, during, and after our performance. They called out requests, and we were able to play all of them. I have never played for a more enthusiastic crowd.
That said, the enthusiasm was infectious. Rey and I gained energy from it, and I will say that our synergy has never been better. I felt that I played a step above what I thought my capabilities were, and Rey said the same thing about himself. We played better together than we had ever played before – and we have played together for nearly twenty years.
We stayed for a while and talked to several of the patients. One very old lady in a wheelchair, who I think had been disabled on one side by a stroke, had patted one hand and one foot the entire time we played. Rey held her hand and thanked her for being there, and she smiled a most beautiful smile for him. I am a Navy Vietnam Era veteran, and several of the vets wanted to talk to me and I was happy to talk to them.
Even when we left, a couple of the old guys followed us to the door in their wheelchairs still excited and talking. As we walked to the car and loaded our gear, Rey and I were exhilarated. We were talking at the same time, high-fiving, and laughing. It is difficult to describe the intense feelings from having made the day so pleasurable for such a deserving group. We agreed that the evening was surreal, something we will not soon forget.
On the way home, Rey asked if wanted to stop for a beer. Duh!! Of course. So, we stopped at The Casual Pint in Hardin Valley. This was a Monday evening and business was slow. In fact, we were the only patrons inside. The bartender was a lovely, petite woman whom we engaged in conversation. She proved to be well educated and a good conversationalist. We were there for an hour or so, and were getting ready to leave when Rey asked if we might play her a song. She said she had never had that happen and was very happy that he asked. On the way to the car for the guitar and harps, Rey asked me what I thought we should play. Without hesitating, I said Harvest Moon. Rey jumped and spun around toward me, and said that was exactly what he was thinking. Wow! Everything was just working. So, we went back inside and played Harvest Moon for the bartender. Once again, we played it as well, if not better, than we ever had. She thanked us profusely and shook our hands as we said goodbye. This was another very special event in what had become a very special day.
On the way home, we were still chatterboxes talking about the evening. I dropped Rey off at his house, and while we were unloading his guitar a lady came walking down the street with a Great Dane in tow, or maybe it was a Great Dane with a lady in tow. The dog started pulling her into the driveway toward us. She was telling it not to, but we said it was okay. It turned out that the lady was Rey’s neighbor from across the street, but they had never met. She said she had rescued this very beautiful (and very large) dog. I leaned down to pet the dog and talked to her as I rubbed her ears. It was quite obvious that the poor thing liked affection and was trying to lick me the whole time. As I stood upright to leave, the dog stood up and wrapped her paws all the way around my neck and hugged me. I was surprised and elated. That was like a capstone experience for a very special evening.