This is my 4th year doing a Hollywood theme with my senior groups.
Every time I explore the theme with a group, I leave with my head spinning, full of wonderful stories and ideas...kind of like when you've just come back from a wonderful trip. I went to Hollywood 4 times last week with my senior groups, but each trip was different and all the stories were new!
Two days after the Oscars aired, I drove to the Community Center expecting no one to show. It was 33 degrees and drizzly, but the senior van was running and I ended up with a nice crowd. Betty arrived the late. She was nearly shaking with fury.
Betty is 88 years old and she stands outside her apartment each morning waiting for the senior shuttle bus. "I was out there waiting in the cold, rain and it went another way! I had to call my daughter to bring me!" I couldn't imagine the frustration. But Betty's mood changed when she saw the table. "I did my homework!" She laughed. I had told the group we would be doing a Hollywood theme and Betty took that as an assignment. She watched the entire Academy Awards from start to finish. "It was my first time. I've never watched before!"
Reacting to Good News
Betty talked about the faces of the winners when they heard their names announced. She was intrigued with the different responses from tears to laughter. "I was wondering," Betty asked, "if we could go around the table and talk about a time when we were surprised with good news and how we reacted."
I was blown away by her thoughtful request. She almost shared her suggestion like she had a good secret. It was an unusual tangent to go off on and I loved it! The response of the group was so positive that all began speaking at once. "I was so surprised when my husband gave me flowers after my daughter was born..." "My jaw just dropped when I got the letter..." "I just cried when I found out..." I was forced to grab a prop, like I've done before with this rowdy bunch. "Okay, let's pass the mic!" I happened to have a microphone, kind of like one an Emcee for the Oscars might have used in years past. We took turns telling our stories into the mic.
With all my groups we talked about Red Carpet Glamor...today versus old Hollywood. My groups are so different, but they all have the ability to get a little silly with feather boas and fur stoles.
I kept the long white gloves in hidden in the guessing bag and gave a hint before passing it around the table. "There's something in the bag that women wore years ago when they went to very formal affairs...in the 1960's and before." I was surprised no one could guess, but all laughed with recognition when the gloves were revealed. Paul, one of the staff members at the Assisted Living Center stopped by as we were laughing about the gloves. "Sorry Paul, I should have brought a bow tie for you!" "Bow ties!" Paul exclaimed with much enthusiasm. "I've made thousands of those." We ended up hearing about Paul's work 20 years ago when he worked at a factory in New York that made bowties and cummerbunds. He was very cheery as he described all the steps of bow tie making. But when I saw him laughing and carrying on with the residents, I had to be glad he now has a job that makes use of his great people skills.
With some of my seniors who suffer from Alzheimer's, the old movie posters and soundtrack recordings helped with recalling favorite films and movie stars. The only one who did not have a nearly swooning reaction to photos and music from Gone with the Wind was a visiting caregiver who was in her twenties.
We all laughed to see the young woman's surprise when she learned the movie was four hours long with an intermission. She said she couldn't even sit through Wizard of Oz. But sadly the old faces of Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart and Mariyln Monroe brought about a few sobering questions. "Is Gene Kelly still alive?" "Whatever happened to Jimmy Stewart?" I've learned to be prepared for this, but it's tough seeing the reactions. Some look truly surprised to hear that an old star is gone. Some shake a head as if to say, Oh of course...I forgot.
There were a few who had heard the news of Shirley Temple's recent passing. This was especially sad because many grew up seeing Shirley Temple at the theatres as children themselves. But I let Shirley do what she did years ago. I put on a recording of Good Ship Lollipop and let everyone forget the sad for a moment. Some smiled and swayed and some sang along. Shirley Temple was always good at making people forget their worries.
To see the clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1r4bbgv1If8
My last visit was with the folks at the skilled nursing facility, where I have learned to just go with the flow. I have some regulars who come prepared for the theme and I have short term visitors who are confused by the quilt on the table. I have some who are sleepy from medication or anxious with pain. I have visiting babies who can be a fun, but noisy distraction. But each week I squeeze as many wheelchairs around the table as I can and wait for the surprises. I always hear some good stories!
This week it was a short term resident named Ruth who had stories of growing up in Newark, NJ, not far from Jerry Lewis' home. Their mothers were friends and Ruth's brother and Jerry were on the same high school basket ball team. Ruth's brother would beg Jerry to just be serious and play, but he always ended up doing some goofy stunt with the ball that ruined their chances of winning. Ruth made the mistake once of taking Jerry's question seriously when he worked at a soda fountain and asked if she wanted whipped cream. It ended up in her face. She remembers the frustration of her mother saying, "No, flying is too dangerous." when Jerry's mother encouraged Ruth to fly out to Hollywood and see Jerry when he was teamed up with Dean Martin. You could tell she was still frustrated at missing out on that promised limo ride and all the other adventures she could have had. I couldn't get enough of the Jerry stories, since I've always been a fan of those whacky old movies.
From Movies to TV
Ruth also remembered when she was young, going with her aunt to a play on Broadway. Just before heading inside, a limo pulled up and a woman climbed out, then rushed over after recognizing the aunt. "Oh you must come to our party afterwards!" Said the aunt's friend , who was also named Ruth.
It turns out her aunt's friend was Ruth Sullivan, Ed's wife. Young Ruth had to be dropped off at home after the show. It was a school night and no party for her.
Ken, who was listening to Ruth's stories was reminded of a few of his own. He grew up in the Bronx and remembered dancing with Ed Sullivan's niece when he was a young man. But his best story was about being in high school drama club where he painted scenery flats and worked the lights. "If I didn't do the lights...well then no one could see!" He laughed as if mocking his role. But his friend, Art took to the stage more than he did.
The two lost touch a bit after high school, but were reunited a few years later. Ken was in a bar when Art entered with a friend. There were introductions before they sat down together. Ken still remembers how the friend casually flipped his chair around backwards before sitting down to enjoy the evening. Ken went on to tell our group at the table that Art's friend turned out to be Jackie Gleason. A few caught on before I did. "Art Carny!" "Yep!" Ken laughed. He couldn't say enough good things about his successful friend, Art.
What did I learn?
Regardless of our background or knowledge, we all had a little fun with this theme. Maria admitted she saw few movies. "We didn't even have a TV. We had to go to the store to watch TV." she laughed. Dorothy, on the other hand had the most film knowledge since she was an award winning make up artist working with actors like Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson. We all had opportunities to ham it up with a feather boa and microphone or sway to a medley from West Side Story. This is always one of my favorite themes...and some day I should just FILM IT!
The Village of Boquillas
A week ago, my husband and I crossed the border into Mexico, through Big Bend National Park. The border officially opened a year ago, making it possible to visit the village of Boquillas. In the past year, Don and I have spoken with many locals on the US side of the border who have a special bond with the village.
By Boat and Mule
We were the first tourists to arrive when the Port of Entry office opened that morning. As we walked down towards the Rio Grande, we could hear Victor, the singing greeter across the river, serenading with great enthusiasm. A rowboat took us to the Mexican side of the river where we paid $5.00 for a round trip burro ride to the village.
Noel, shown with Pardo the burro, accompanied us on our dusty 3/4 mile walk. He spoke a tiny bit of English and luckily Don spoke a decent amount of Spanish.
We hoped to enjoy the cultural experience along with some Mexican food and beers. But we also hoped to give some business to this community, that almost disappeared after 9-11, when the border was strictly shut down.
It would have been nice to have lugged my big quilt and some entertainment for the kids, but that would have been hard. Instead, I brought my smaller quilt project...the quilt that I'm making with a little help from the friends I meet here and there.
After checking in with passports at the village, Noel became our village guide. This turned out to be a great way to meet some of the locals and learn more of the history. We stopped at this little house on the edge of the village and met a wonderful family.
Alexa was like many of the village children that Saturday, selling beaded jewelry, miniature wire animals and walking sticks. She approached with a collection of bracelets and spoke softly. I bought a woven wrist band for $3.00 and she shyly posed with me.
Mom & Dad
Alexa's mother, Emma and father, Felix encouraged us to look at a few crafts on the table in front of their house.
Seeing the embroidery prompted us to ask about quilts. We had heard that over the years, US quilters in the Big Bend area had helped the village women sell their quilts. Even though the collaboration had halted with the border closing, we hoped maybe we could find a quilt to buy. Unfortunately, Don didn't know the word for quilt, but I pulled out the quilt project from my bag and tried to explain.
Emma seemed to understand me and I thought her answer was no. But after we parted and made it half way down the hill, we looked back to see Emma, Felix and Alexa coming towards us with two bundles.
When Emma opened the square patchwork quilt I could smell the smoky smell of a wood stove. I could see the small patches of vintage fabric were quilted by hand. I sure hoped she hadn't pulled it off Alexa's bed! "Mucho, Mucho trabajo!" Emma sort of pantomimed the hard work of hand sewing. When they asked for 50 dollars we hesitated politely. I'm sure they could tell we were already sold, but I fumbled with a "deal" that Don and Noel helped translate.
A Square from Alexa
I showed them my quilt project and said we would buy, if Alexa would help me. I somehow explained that the quilt was being pieced together with squares, decorated by friends that I meet on my travels. I pulled out some colorful pieces of material and fabric markers and let Alexa choose. She picked a fabric with colorful paint brushes and flipped it over to draw a picture of her house and a flower.
I wish my camera could have captured one of Alexa's brief smiles. She seemed bashfully pleased when I let her pick from a funny collection of "monkey socks" I'd brought to give to children. And I guess I'll stop worrying that the quilt might have been taken from her bed. Her mother had numerous embroidered blankets and spreads, so I know Alexa will have her pick, if that happened to be the case.
What did I learn?
I gained some wonderful knowledge about this tiny town, with one phone and no electricity. I learned that the people are warm and welcoming, even though some may be a little shy. I also learned an important Spanish word. Edredon means quilt!
A Good Name
I love the name of this west Texas town. Being at an elevation of 6,000 (high for Texas) makes it worthy of its name. When I realized I would be in Alpine for 2 days in February, I searched on line for a place to volunteer. Sunshine House! Another perfect name.
It was a perfect sunshiny morning when I arrived at the welcoming little white brick building. It turns out this building has been many things since it was built in 1893. First it was a public school. In years following it was a hospital, college dorm, Border Patrol Station and then an office for US Agricultural and Soil Conservation. But for my visit, Sunshine house was a cozy center serving the senior community, offering hot lunches and social activities.
A Cozy Place
I loved entering through screened doors! (not enough screened door in Texas) And there were open windows letting in the pleasant morning air. There were Valentine decorations on the tables and doorway and an antique quilt near the welcoming desk. That was a good sign. Quilts are welcoming, that's why I use mine.
Cathy, the director met me and helped me find a space to use, even though I wasn't even sure what I'd be doing. We had spoken on the phone weeks earlier and hoped some of the women who enjoy quilting would be arriving that morning. But it didn't really matter. I spread out the quilt with a few things to open conversation and I waited to see what would happen.
Designs & Talking
It was a quiet morning and the first two people I met were men. I promised them, this wasn't a "Lady Thing" and invited them to the table. As we sat and talked (not about quilts!) the men both gravitated towards the colored wood shapes.
As we visited, they pieced together designs and then teased each other about whose was best. I loved sitting in that quiet little room chatting about how Cruz had moved from Mexico in 1962. He talked fondly about the different places he had lived and the different crops he had worked with. I loved the soft spoken answer of Nick when I asked if Alpine had changed much since he was a boy growing up. "Hmm. Not really." I smiled at that surprising answer.
I never did an actual program. As it turns out, I never had a group at one time. I had a number of people coming in and visiting with me and each other and sitting for a while and sharing. It was a nice change from what I do regularly. The quilt did it's job, giving us a cozy area to gather. And I did get a chance to pull out my traveling quilt project. A few were happy to decorate a quilt square to add to the growing quilt.
Square & Stories
Cathy joined our little gathering at one point to share some antique quilts that had been donated to the center. As she visited with us I told her what great storyteller Avalon was. "Oh I know!" Cathy laughed with nothing but appreciation.
After Avalon told some stories about her maternal grandmother who used to host quilting bees and her violin playing Choctaw grandfather, she picked a piece of fabric with woven baskets. Cruz picked fabric with yellow corn on it. "Did you ever pick corn on any of the farms where you worked?" I asked. "Oh yes!" he answered.
The Dining Room
Across the hall I could smell the chicken friend steak cooking. It was obvious I could not compete with those smells that lured the noon time visitors into the dining room. "Come eat with us!" They asked. I told them I my husbnd was arriving to pick me up. "I'll stay for lunch next time I visit!" I promised.
Visiting with the Diners
I didn't have time to eat, but I did visit with a few tables, asking what was the best thing about Sunshine House. Some said, the food and the cooks.
A few said Cathy and many said, the friends. A sweet, smiling woman name Lila said it was her kids who convinced her to come to the center. She laughed, "I always mind my kids!" But you could tell they didn't have to persuade her anymore. She pointed to Cruz across the table and grinned. "Cruz gave me flowers on my birthday." Then she smiled to the woman next to her. "Carmen doesn't speak any English and I don't speak Spanish. But we hug a lot!" .
What did I learn?
I was reminded about small town warmth. There are wonderful centers like this in big cities, but there was something small and safe and cozy about this little neighborhood building, that sits in a small town. When I said I would eat lunch next time, I wasn't just saying that. I really think I will be back. And I don't even think I need The Quilt to pave the way.
A Cold Theme
I could have used some colder weather in Houston to make this theme more fun, but we only get the chance to focus on winter sports (in Houston) once every four years. And since the TVs and papers were bombarding us with coverage for 2 weeks, I decided we should go for it!
It was a little tricky finding some props for the table, since I no longer have any ski or skate equipment. But I dug out some pretty fun goodies that belonged to my mom's doll. The skis were fun because little has changed with the look of women's figure skates over the years. The mini leather skates were a good reminder of what women wear on the ice. But the skis were a good reminder of what skis have never looked like. At least I've never seen dainty, black Mary Jane shoes attached to skis!
More Toy Props
For some more modern props, I unburied the old Playmobile collection. These toys were actually pretty helpful in our discussion of the equipment used in the Olympics today. It made us wonder about helmets and when they started using them. It got us off on tangents about the Jamaican Bobsled team and the numerous competitions involving skis and snowboards today.
Porcupine on Skills
This little guy prompted some story telling. I told about how I presented this skiing porcupine to my husband on Valentine's Day in 1980. It was a silly gift, but we were riding on a bus headed out to watch the downhill skiing at the Lake Placid Olympics.
As we sat on the bus that day, I reminded my husband that a year earlier we had celebrated our first Valentine's Day together. On February 14, 1979 we hadn't been dating long, so when Don mentioned purchasing tickets for the 1980 Olympics I just wondered about the lucky friend or relative he would take along. It never occurred to me that we would be married and attending the Olympics together.
Photos Trigger Snow Memories
There were no Olympians in my groups, so I hoped to hear stories about skiing or skating or even sledding. And there were some great ones.
Ken had a story about skiing in Quebec as a young man. He told about his friend who suffered a complicated injury (on the rope lift, not the slopes) and was cared for by nuns in a Canadian hospital. Ken accompanied his friend on the train journey back to the US and remembered how the friend had to be lifted on his stretcher through the train window. Dorothy described the sled made by her brothers from wood and a tub. Dorothy and her young sisters were placed in the tub and pushed down the hill. I loved Dorothy's smile as she told the story. Rita had another story about brothers and sleds. This one involved holding onto mud flaps of trucks or attaching to car bumpers...for some very exciting rides! These folks had much better stories than mine!
I figured I should have some games up my sleeve in case our theme grew dull. I hardly needed the games but we did have a few. Our favorite trivia question was, "Who was the oldest Olympian?" (an 83 year old British curler in 1924) In one group, we created our own snow ball throwing Olympic category. Our white foam ball got a little wild as we tried to toss it across the table into the Olympic cap.) We also had a little fun placing the 5 colored Olympic rings in proper order on the table.
... we had more fun, trying to place them in order...off the table!
Everyone recognized the Olympic Fanfare, Buglar's Dream, written by Leo Arnauds in the 1930's. This piece, heard on TV coverage since 1968, made everyone smile. "It makes me proud to be an American!" I heard from one group member. That made me smile, because I wasn't even sure she was a citizen.
After playing the inspiring Fanfare, I asked everyone to be quiet and just listen to the next piece. It started softly with violins. As the music grew louder and began to gain speed, I saw a few bodies begin to sway. "Skater's Waltz!" I heard a voice in my first group. I had them imagine the tracks made by the skates as they moved on the ice to this music. I pulled out paper and chalk and let them move their hand over the paper to the 1,2,3 rhythm of the music.
Skating Around the Quilt
Each group reacted a little differently to the Skater's Waltz. Some closed eyes and swayed. Some were eager to point out specific instruments and tempo changes.
Some folks playfully paired up with the person sitting nearby and reached both hands across... for a sort of silly "paired swaying!" But my group at the Community Center took the idea the furthest and created a circle with linked hand holding around the square quilt. As the music played the group swayed along. Some even did a little skating under the table...and ALL did some laughing. We had a fun time imagining what we would actually look like on the ice!
What I learned?
I was totally surprised that all groups with so many different abilities and backgrounds and interests and ages could relate to this theme. I had expected to have a few disinterested in a theme of winter sports, but all seemed to come in with a certain amount of knowledge and interest. Why? I think I have to thank TV coverage. For many without cable, the Olympics has been about the only choice for 2 weeks. Because of that, everyone seemed to be united with a certain amount of Olympics Knowledge. So thanks TV! You made this extra fun for me!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.