This is my 4th year doing a Hollywood theme with my senior groups. Everytime 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!
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.