A MEMORABLE CHRISTMAS SMILE

I strolled around the church antechamber playing Broadway tunes, Christmas Carols and Patriotic songs on violin while my friend, Jay, accompanied on piano. The folks all sat facing us in a semi-circle, singing along, clapping, laughing at my antics. Twas a marvelous feeling for the two of us, to bring an hour of music and joy to the seniors of a day care center.

I announced that Jay Barnhart and I had retired from the field of criminal justice, he a medical examiner, me a homicide detective. Now in retirement, we are enjoying the gift of music that our parents instilled into us. They roared when they heard our new tag line: The Dick-Doc Duo. (I didn’t tell them our other nickname: Bag ‘em and Tag ‘em.)

As various tunes were played by heart and I roamed the room, my eyes often met theirs —one by one— winking, smiling. In one swift swoop, I let an upbow sling from my hand like a dart until it hit the floor. Laughter filled the room. My hips wiggled to strains of “If I Were A Rich Man,” and they laughed again.

One gentleman smiled broadly the entire hour. He seemed so robust and I wondered why he was among these people, some of whom obviously suffered from dementia and other old-age maladies. Eyes brightened happily as one attractive lady recognized us from a prior engagement. On her name tag: Nancy. I imagined her fifty years ago and wondered just how beautiful she really was at thirty-five.

One woman to my left, perhaps of mid-east descent, seemed alert and immersed in the entertainment. I wondered about her life, children, career, her ups her downs. One elderly gentleman with a cane seemed more detached and I hoped he was enjoying the day. Perhaps, he didn’t even know we were there. Another man sang heartily. I figured him a veteran of the big war.

As we finished White Christmas, I caught myself playing directly to a dark-haired lady sitting to my right. Something was different about her. She bore a distant scowl on her face. She looked up at me, but…you know how it is, she wasn’t looking at me. I lowered my fiddle and approached. “Smile,” I told her. She looked up toward me, but remained stoic. I then smiled at her broadly, “Come, it won’t hurt.” I moved my fingers upward at the corners of my mouth. She didn’t move a muscle. Perhaps, I thought, I am being out of line. “It’s okay. You can smile.”

I knew all the others were watching, including the day care supervisors, but wanted to give it one more try. Next to the lady, was an empty chair. I sat near to her. Strangely, she rotated her head toward me like Linda Blair in The Exorcist and gazed directly into my eyes. Everyone in the room was lasered toward the unfolding scene. I was about to rise, violin in hand, when — like an awakening — it happened. The woman’s face lit up like a Christmas tree with the most wonderful smile I’d ever seen on any human being, her pearly whites glowing in the light, her eyes wide and happy looking right at me.

The moment caught me a bit emotional, but I dared not show it. “You are so pretty,” I told her. And, she was. Moments later, the woman reverted back to her stone face, but that was okay.

She and I had a happy moment, together.

Jay and I come to nursing homes to entertain seniors, not for money, but for the reward of seeing happiness on the faces of delightful people who have made so many contributions to the wonderful world we live in. All the applause, laughter, and sing-alongs filled our hearts with gladness, but nothing that could match that incredible smile from a woman who never smiled any more. It shall remain among my most memorable gifts ever.

The people in day care centers and nursing homes have been war veterans, nurses, policemen, plumbers, journalists, ditch diggers, boat captains, dancers, artists, clerks, moms, dads, grandmothers and grandfathers or just, human beings. If we’re lucky, we’ll all have our turn at aging.

It is so important they not be forgotten.

50 Responses to A MEMORABLE CHRISTMAS SMILE

  1. Celia December 8, 2007 at 12:42 pm #

    Marshall, all your articles are “right on,” different though they may be in content. This one is simply wonderfully heart-warming. When I’m “there” one of these days, I hope someone like you comes violining around. Celia

  2. RBC December 8, 2007 at 1:00 pm #

    Marshall,
    Nice Christmas story and nice human interest story. As I read it I was trying to think of something sarcastic to say but thought better. Why mess up a nice story and a nice thing to do? I will say though, that I like the “Bag em and Tag em” name better. It has a nice ring to it.

  3. Ernest R. Melby December 8, 2007 at 1:07 pm #

    It wasn’t Christmas but one day, maybe two years ago, I took my mother to see people wee both knew in two nursing homes.
    The happiness we gave some of those people left a wonderful feeling. One man, in his 90’s, was all smiles. His daughter said he brought up that visit for months. A little of our time gave more joy than could have been imagined.
    I commend Marshall and his friend for bringing some joy to people who have little left in life other than people who care..

  4. Wanda Schultz December 8, 2007 at 1:19 pm #

    Hi Marshall

    What a nice story. My mom is in a nusing home and she loves to go listen to the people who come in and sing and dance for them. I go there every day and I notice that most of the folks there have no visitors and it breaks my heart. Thanks for sharing your music, your laughter and yourself. Maybe someday you can go play for my mom!!

  5. Leonard Brady December 8, 2007 at 2:03 pm #

    Marshall
    Thanks for sharing this story. It was really nice and I appreciate you sharing it with me. I hope other who read this story take it upon themselves to do something wonderful like this. We owe it to them to try and make them as happy as we can. We are a wonderful Country even thought we still have problems, but we can help those who have to live in Nursing Homes. It does cost us anything to show them some Love

  6. Ailish Nic Phaidin December 8, 2007 at 2:21 pm #

    Marshall,

    I love your story and thank you so very much for sharing it. You’re a man amongst men and a violinist amongst violinists — particularly the type who share their talents in this way. Thank you.

  7. Joyce Robinson December 8, 2007 at 2:21 pm #

    Didn’t know you played the violin! I play(ed) the piano. I’ve had and have a couple people in a nursing home. Your article is very inspiring. Perhaps I’ll brush up on the piano (I only play maybe three times a year), and do as you do someday. I’m sure it brings them joy and a moment (or hour) of forgetting all the misery around them. Good for you.

  8. Sharon D. Marcus December 8, 2007 at 2:41 pm #

    Marshall,
    This article is “on point”. This one is simply fantastically gratifying. When I’m “there” one of these days, I hope someone like you comes around to share. Nursing homes meet the needs of persons with illness or to provide long-term nursing supervision for persons with chronic medical problems or elderly persons. A nursing home is not a hospital. The goal of nursing home care is to provide care and treatment to restore or maintain the patient’s highest level of physical, mental, and social well-being. But when we put our love ones in a nursing home they must not be forgotten.

  9. Gladys Broderick December 8, 2007 at 2:47 pm #

    Well, I AM 85 years old, not in a nursing home, but I do visit friends there. Seniors love the old songs, and shut-ins who have you, with your twinkly eyes, playing your violin so beautifully, (I’ve heard you play), are having a wonderful time. God bless you, Marshall.

  10. Gladys Broderick December 8, 2007 at 2:55 pm #

    Well, I AM 85 years old, not in a nursing home, but I do visit friends there. You brought a smile to a shut-down lady. What a miracle!
    Seniors love the old songs, and shut-ins who have you, with your twinkly eyes, playing your violin so beautifully, (I’ve heard you play), are having a wonderful time. God bless you, Marshall.

  11. Pat Wilson December 8, 2007 at 2:55 pm #

    This story took me back a few years, when I belonged to a women’s small singing group. We used to go to various nursing homes in the tri-county area here, till the director’s husband was found to have Alzheimer’s, and she disbanded the group. Two of us, with the pianist, continued for two years to do the same thing, till my partner had a stroke. It was a joy for us to see some of the patients smile and/or keep time with the music with their feet, some singing or mouthing the words to a song they’d remember. I think for some we lullaby-ed them to sleep, but that was ok, too!

  12. Lou Belcher December 8, 2007 at 3:03 pm #

    Great story. It brought a smile to my face,too. And, since I’ve seen you dancing while playing your violin, it wasn’t hard for me to picture the scene.

    Thanks

  13. Patricia Brooks December 8, 2007 at 3:10 pm #

    This story really touched my heart because
    I hae cared for the elderly for years. Now I care for them on a rehab hospital based setting and I hate to see them go back to long term care sometimes. People like you that come to entertain are priceless. It is wonderful to give someone at least a smile,especially the ones that never have visitors or family come to the nursing home.
    Keep it up.

  14. Jerry Todd December 8, 2007 at 3:27 pm #

    Marshall,
    What a great time you brought to the folks at the nursing home. This country needs more people like you, givers & not takers.
    May God Bless you Marshall,
    Jerry

  15. Doris Stiles December 8, 2007 at 3:42 pm #

    I saw you there and saw her smiling….nice to see Leonard Brady is tuned into this….hugs to you and Su for the season.

  16. KR December 8, 2007 at 4:30 pm #

    Marsh,
    When one or more of my grandkids accompany us to visit my mom, who is 91 and in a nursing home, or my wife’s mom, who is 88 and in an assisted living facility, the same kind of warm- emotions take place. Everyone in the halls want to talk to them or hug them or just touch them. Fortunately, my gkids are glad oblige. Small things to generally lonely people mean more than one can imagine, unless they have the experience.

  17. Kay williamson December 8, 2007 at 4:34 pm #

    Wonderful story, Marshall. You must have been at the center in Cocoa Bch. Don and I are entertaining there on the 18th. I had a story published in the “Driftwood” about one of our Christmas visits to a nursing home in Melbourne when our two grandkids went with us. The patients LOVE young children. (Grandkids are grown now)! One of these days Don and I are going to see you doing “your thing.” In the mean time, keep up the good work.

  18. Ed Janofsky December 8, 2007 at 4:54 pm #

    Marshall This has to be one of your best

  19. Grace Urrows December 8, 2007 at 4:57 pm #

    One of my health care clients was a nursing home and I was there often.I was shocked to learn how many residents have absolutely no visitors from the beginning of the year to the end.I used to bring flowers with me and just give them away one by one to whoever looked lonely as I walked down the hall. A pleasant surprise helps a lonely human a lot, so does playing to ease a broken heart, as you found, In addition to helping save a spirit giving gives so much back to the giver that we might almost pay for the chance to do it. I just wish more people would “adopt” a lonely person who has to call a nursing home “home.” It isn’t hard to find somebody, staff members will usually introduce you.

  20. Frank December 8, 2007 at 5:50 pm #

    Marshall,

    Great story for the holiday season. We need more like it.

    When we had our St. Bernard, Natalie and JOhn Salata would borrow him and dress him in a Santa hat and take him to local nursing homes with small gifts that were donated by some local merchants. The looks of pure joy on the faces of these folks was beyond description. The sight of a large furry 200 pound St. Bernard dressed as Santa was just too much. They did that every year until “Bear” died.

    I miss those days and thank you for bringing them back to me.

  21. Bill Bell December 8, 2007 at 7:39 pm #

    Good Evening,Marshall,

    You and Jay did a fine thing in playing for the folks in the nursing home. I appreciate your sharing your experiences with us. I know something of the satisfaction that you got from playing for them, because my wife and I used to belong to a recorder group in Atlanta, and we too played in nursing homes. Always an appreciative audience. It gave us a good feeling to have contributed a little diversion.

    Regards, Bill

  22. Renay December 8, 2007 at 7:53 pm #

    Love Dick & Doc, great names for the Angels you both are! God bless you both.

  23. bjb December 8, 2007 at 8:00 pm #

    Hi Marshal, having been a manager for a couple of years in a nursing home and now have a son in one I am a bit experienced in that environment. Your music, particularly for those that may be suffering the loss of memory that Alzheimers and dementia brings, is unbelievably wonderful for them. When only the older memories remain, anything from their past helps keep them connected to life. Music is more and more being recognized as therapeutic, especially for those who have Parkinson’s. Thank you on behalf of those in any nursing home you visit.

  24. Anonymous December 8, 2007 at 8:05 pm #

    DEAR MARSHALL: MAY THE GOOD LORD GIVE YOU MANY MORE YEARS TO ENTERTAIN PEOPLE LIKE THE ONES YOU MET IN THE NURSING HOME. IT’S A WONDERFUL STORY, THAT’S WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ALL ABOUT. I’VE BEEN A VOLUNTEER AT THE HOSPITAL FOR 10 YEARS AND EACH DAY WHEN I VOLUNTEER I TRY TO GIVE SOMEONE A SMILE EVEN THOUGH I MAY NEVER RECEIVE ONE BACK. HAVE A WONDERFUL HOLIDAY. AFFECTIONATELY CAROL

  25. Ray VanOrsdale December 8, 2007 at 8:14 pm #

    Marshall, you really outdid yourself on this one. Unfortunately I have spent a LOT of time in nursing homes as a visitor; fortunately never as a patient. Depression hits you the moment you enter the premises; if they are allowed to sit our front all eyes are on each new arriving visitor, in an expression of hope the new person is there to see them.Many seem to have been dumped there and never have visitors.
    My late in-laws were in a nursing home in Pinellas well over a year and we tried to visit them each weekend. I will never forget the eyes greeting and following us.
    I wish I had the imagination of Grace Urrows and had taken flowers for the poor souls lining the front, a front porch, and the hallways.

  26. Kristyn Schuller December 8, 2007 at 9:19 pm #

    older people have so much to offer. it’s wonderful you can bring joy to people who otherwise might not have anything happy to look forward to.

  27. Monique D'Alessio December 8, 2007 at 10:14 pm #

    Dear Uncle Marsal

    I can only imagine the smiles you brought to the residents. Working in a nursing home I know just what this means to the them. I have heard you play your violin and that alone will fill your heart. Alhough some of the residents can not show there emotions do to there illness they can still hear it in there hearts.
    Love You Always

    P.S. When you come visit up to Canada bring your Violin and perhaps you can play at Sandfield Place.

  28. JIm Hirschman December 8, 2007 at 11:58 pm #

    Hi there , Marshal !

    YOu and I have a mutual special friend. That is Joe Davis. He sent your “Christmas Smile” to me. Thank you for writing it, and I thank Joe for including me.

    You are the kind of guy who restores my hope that the world will not die in a holocost of 6 billion people fighting each other. I credit you and I credit your parents for passing on the idea that people can be nice to people, ( even those whose names we don’t know of mayt meet only once )

    Thanks for being a role model. Yes, I know you didn’t plan to be, but well, let’s have lots of role models like you.

    Merry Christman !

    Jim C (Big Daddy) Hirschman

  29. JIm Hirschman December 8, 2007 at 11:59 pm #

    Psst …. Merry Christma(s) !

  30. George Wolf December 9, 2007 at 3:44 am #

    God has blessed us by His giving us people like you.
    Right-on!

  31. Jan Siren December 9, 2007 at 6:08 am #

    Marshall,

    you set examples – in words, in music, and in human caring – that are a challenge for the rest of us to follow. But we should try!

    Thank you.

  32. Jack & Helene Stevens December 9, 2007 at 9:55 am #

    Music is the key to unlocking age old hapopy memories – our short term memory events are quickly forgotten and thus the songs and music of long ago can help nursing home shut-ins revisit the happy events of earlier days. What a wonderful thing it is for Marshall and Jay to be the catalyst that helps these seniors to smile and recall happy events.

  33. Terry December 9, 2007 at 1:10 pm #

    Nice story, Marshall. I’m sure your kindness and generosity touched all the folks there. I doubt if I’ll be cursed with a long life, but should I be, I hope someone like you comes to visit me in my dotage and makes me smile.

  34. bill brink December 9, 2007 at 3:30 pm #

    Your a good man Marshall, but i always knew that. Have a great holiday.

  35. Holly Simms December 9, 2007 at 4:39 pm #

    You have such a big heart and spirit, Marshall. No wonder I like ya so much! Thank you for sharing your story. It’s a gift just to know you. Best wishes to you.

  36. Joe Haymes December 9, 2007 at 5:26 pm #

    When one has the gift for words that you have — no, wait, your great gift is understanding people and their feelings, and having the desire to relieve their pain and multiply their joys, and then your wonderful gift for words can work sheer magic. Nobody has ever put a value on the warm and loving (or loved) feeling a lonely soul can derive from a word, a touch and a smile from one who shows he cares.

  37. Al Harper December 9, 2007 at 8:35 pm #

    Marshall, During the past year Joan and I have spent considerable time in the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Miami. Joan’s mother, Josephine, is now a resident there. So I understand what a wonderful thing you are doing with your friend! Thank you!!!!!!!!

  38. Nikola Sorak December 9, 2007 at 9:32 pm #

    Nice! I try all the time to make goofy comments about anything to make Katica smile and even laugh. She still does it. How much longer will it last, I do not know. I am slipping too.

    Nick

  39. ELEVEDUFF December 10, 2007 at 9:01 am #

    DEAR MARSHALL, I RETIRED AND MOVED FROM DETROIT TO ALABAMA, TO ASSIST WITH MY 58 YEAR OLD SISTER IN A NURSING HOME. THE VISIT ALONG HAS BROUGHT HER SWEET SMILE BACK. BUT I ALSO TALK TO OTHERS WHO NEED SOME ONE JUST TO SPEAK TO THEM AND WHAT A SMILE YOU GET.THERE JOY IS IN US TO HELP RESTORE THOSE SWEET MEMORIES THAT BRING ABOUT THAT WONDERFUL SMILE. THANKS ELEVE

  40. John K December 10, 2007 at 10:32 am #

    Marshall, as you know my mother-in-law is in an assisted living facility. We had the pleasure of attending their annual Christmas party last Saturday evening. The attendees, just like you have experienced, are in their golden years, most alone,but all with heart rending stories of life, love and loss. Unless you experience this environment first hand there is no way you can understand. I was so impressed by the attention given to everyone by the staff. They made sure each was participating to the extent of their capabilities, even if it was dancing with them while they swayed in their wheelchairs. Your willingness to give of yourself, as so many do this time of year, is cherished and appreciated. See you at the home (hopefully in the distant future). We can talk about how far we used to hit the ball. Happy Holidays.

  41. julio December 10, 2007 at 11:04 am #

    Great story I think that they should never be forgotten.

  42. gwen December 10, 2007 at 11:45 am #

    Thank you for sharing your gifts with the people in that Home and for sharing the experience with a friend who shared it with me. I visit a Nursing Home regularly as a Minister to the Sick and I agree with you and all your friends who have responded…there is no greater gift to the people than the gift of one’s presence!!
    Thank you again.

  43. Bob Swan, Capt. MDPD, Honorably Retired December 12, 2007 at 3:14 pm #

    Marshall,
    This is my favorite time of year. I thoroughly enjoyed your story. I look after a 95 year old woman (not related to her) who is still living on her own, so I know how important your visits to the elderly are. Keep up the good work. Really nice to see you are doing so well with the writing and the music. Sincerest good wishes and Merry Christmas.
    Bob Swan

  44. Gary Hancock December 12, 2007 at 7:45 pm #

    Besides being an accomplished writer of truth and fiction, I’ve learned an even warmer side of a man I never knew played a musical instrument but loved working homicide cases. As cops we found our own rewards in our everyday tasks. I’m just not sure our rewards compare to those you’ve reaped by sharing your music, and bringing joy to the folks at the nursing home. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  45. Sandy Barrera December 12, 2007 at 10:04 pm #

    Marshall, I always knew you were special in many ways and this story only confirms it. What a wonderful way to share your talents and wit! I have elderly parents, and although they are not in a nursing home, I know it makes their day to receive a call or a visit. I thank you for all those who cannot, and hope that when my time comes there will be a “Marshall” out there to bring happiness with a violin and a smile. Hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous and Happy New Year!!

  46. Pete Forrest December 13, 2007 at 9:56 am #

    I don’t believe that you have been writing only these few years after retirement. You must have been a closet reader and writer since birth! Loved your Christmas story…could you work it into a plot for your next book?

    The retired officers had their holiday luncheon at the Miccosukee Resort yesterday. So many grey heads and pot bellies one step ahead of a nursing home for many. You would have been a hit with your violin and cheerful patter.

    Happy holidays and let’s enjoy life while we may.

  47. Jacqueline Pradel December 16, 2007 at 3:07 pm #

    Hi Marshall,

    What a beautiful story! It really shows the kind of person you are and have always been. So unfortunate, that we don’t have enough of people like you who realize that we are all in this together and it cost so little to make someone happy for a little while. Tomorrow it might be our turn in the nursing homes. Keep the good going around it will come back in twofold.

  48. Doodee February 3, 2008 at 8:39 pm #

    Thanks for sharing

  49. Usetatrorkack February 7, 2008 at 7:10 am #

    I’d prefer reading in my native language, because my knowledge of your languange is no so well. But it was interesting! Look for some my links:

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  1. khekksum89 » A MEMORABLE CHRISTMAS SMILE - December 19, 2007

    […] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerptI strolled around the church antechamber playing Broadway tunes, Christmas Carols and Patriotic songs on violin while my friend, Jay, accompanied on piano. The folks all sat facing us in a semi-circle, singing along, clapping, … […]