I received enough disappointed looks last month and this month from the women in the audience who came to look forward to receiving a kiss from Ollie. Especially from those with birthdays. I heard that they were looking forward to getting their birthday kiss from Ollie. Thus, except for the one home that asked me to not spread kisses about, Ollie is giving his special recognition to the gals who have birthdays during the month we perform. Often, the lady sitting next to the 'birthday girl' if she is looking at Ollie with expectation will also receive a kiss. Ollie is sticking to his principles however. He still doesn't kiss the guys because he says they taste like whiskers.
We somehow got on a new theme and story line when Ollie and I were talking about Valentine's Day. This time the conversation took an unexpected twist in that Ollie didn't respond with the words that he was supposed to. We would always bring chocolate ice cream into the conversation because it is his one and only favorite. This month when Lynn asked him if he was going to get anyone special a Valentine's Day gift he didn't get the right combination of words from Ollie. This is how it went:
Ollie replied, "Yup. Sure am. I'm going to get something for one of my girlfriends."
(Historically, Ollie was been dating 367 girl friends. He says he is going steady with them all.)
When Lynn asked, "Do you have a special girl friend that you are going to get something special for?"
Ollie replied, "Yup. I'm going to get something for Red."
"Red! Oh, I see what you mean. Red is her nickname because she has red hair" said Lynn.
"Nope," Ollie says, "She's got green hair."
Lynn asks, "You mean to tell me that all of the hair on her head is green?"
Ollie replies, "Nope she's bald. She doesn't have any hair on her head."
Lynn asks, "Then, if she doesn't have any hair on her head are you telling me that she has green eyebrows?"
Ollie says, "Nope. She doesn't have any eyebrows either."
Lynn pauses and hesitantly says, "I'm almost afraid to ask. If she doesn't have any hair on her head and doesn't have eyebrows, how do you know she has green hair?"
Ollie snaps back, "I saw her armpits."
And so it goes. Next month I'll put the complete routine that we developed for February in Ollie's Korner for Valentine Day.
This was a new experience. For the last couple of years Ollie and I have ended our show with him getting kisses from members of the audience. For a couple of years there would be a couple of people who would walk or struggle to the stage to give Ollie a kiss. I was always concerned that they would trip and fall on the stage steps or trip over some cords. Thus, Ollie decided to "work the crowd" so they wouldn't have to come to him.
Early this month I did a show. At the end of the show Ollie started his "work the crowd" routine. After he got his third kiss I was suddenly confronted with a person who asked that I not continue with the "work the crowd" routine. Obviously, I was a bit embarrassed. We quickly found out way out of the crowd and the audience dispersed.
While I was packing up the equipment the same person walked up to me and explained the situation. Apparently, a person had complained that Ollie could be spreading germs from his spit by kissing people. What!!! Ollie doesn't have any spit. He is made of vinyl. (Since then I have figured out who that person might have been because I had not been singing her favorite song even though she rarely showed up.) However, there is another part to the story-- the rest of the story.
I thought about the request a lot. Then it occurred to me that what Ollie and I do is a bit of magic. You see, Ollie is an illusion. It is common for people in the audience to get into a verbal exchange with Ollie. To them he is real. He relates to them because he doesn't take any guff from this Lynn guy and always wins even though he is 362 years of age.
When Ollie works the crowd and gets kisses, all of the gals he kisses taste real good. Some taste like chocolate milk, some taste like cookies, others like lemon pie etc. His interaction with the people are their rare interaction with anyone. To them, he is personal to them. Often, they will grab him and give him a big hug as well as a kiss. Most of the time they will turn their cheek and Ollie will give them a kiss. What really happens is that his nose touches their cheek giving them the illusion of him actually kissing them.
It occurred to me that we had developed a routine so complete that people had really become to believe that what they thought was happening became real to them. Ollie couldn't spread any germs. He has no spit! Besides, after each show Ollie gets a cleaning because he is quite expensive and I don't want to have him stained. Once, I had a gal grab him and give him a big kiss leaving a big blotch of lipstick on his forehead. It was quite a task to get that cleaned off of him.
So, because of that one incident I decided to stop his "working the crowd" routine. There were a number of disappointments in the other homes as they came to expect it. At each home I explained to the person in charge that I had received one concern at another home about his spreading germs, and the frivolity of it all, but had decided that it might be in the best interest of the tenants to discontinue his routine just in case someone had any concern. Thus, Ollie doesn't get to work the crowd anymore. What I hate is the looks of disappointment on the audiences faces when we leave without getting "up front and personal."
What we have continued to do is to give a kiss to a gal who we sang Happy Birthday to. It singles them out as being someone special. However, Ollie still tell the guys who happen to have birthdays that month that he doesn't kiss guys because they taste like whiskers.
Early this month I was asked to perform for an adult group that was not of the nursing home crowd. I developed a routine for Ollie for a kids group that I would be performing for a week later. I decided to use the same routine for this group to test it with different "grown up" Christmas songs. It is really amazing how adults can laugh at the silly stories that Ollie tells. In this routine Ollie hitchhikes to the North Pole to spend a bit of time with Santa. While there he discovers that Santa has a goat that thinks it is a reindeer. Although this wasn't a kids group the show went over quite well. (You can read the routine in Ollie's Korner. Click on Olive the Reindeer)
No matter how much one tries to do everything just right, there will be something that will happen to help screw things up. I rarely do kid shows largely because Ollie is an older guy. This month I was asked to do a half hour show for an office Christmas party. I arrived on time and set up the equipment. Ten minutes before show time I checked the sound level for the music and the microphone. All was well.
Prior to the start of the show I chatted with the lady who was in charge about what was going to happen. We had arranged to have Santa come in at the end of the show to give the kids a big thrill. I told her that there would be six songs in the show. The last one would be "Here Come Santa Claus." That would be Santa's cue to come walking in.
When the appointed time to start arrived I walked out with Ollie, plugged my microphone into the machine -- it didn't work! Out of the blue someone rushes up, kneels down and starts fiddling with the knobs. I explained that there was nothing that the knobs could do and that I suspected that the battery in the microphone had somehow gone dead although it worked perfectly just ten minutes previous. I excused myself for a minute, left the room and changed the battery in the microphone. When I returned it was then that I learned it was really dead.
(I learned the next day that the microphone had a cracked circuit board. It broke at the most inopportune time. Fortunately, I had purchased insurance for it and it was replaced without charge. It is the third mike that has been replaced. The first two suffered from a broken cord and would intermittently stop working for fractions of a second. This was a new experience that I hope I don't have to go through again.)
At the party the host was great. She quickly got me a wireless mike and the sound was broadcast through the speakers in the ceiling of the room. Thus, I was able to play the background music with my machine and use the mike with no control of the volume although it appeared to be OK. The tough part was trying to hold Ollie in my right hand while holding the mike in my left and still being able to hit the correct buttons on the machine to turn the music on and off with the same left hand. Not an easy task but somehow it worked.
I had developed a routine with Ollie whereby he tells of his recent trip to the north pole his visit with Santa. He was really into talking about Santa's goat. When I finished the first song we started the routine ending where Ollie was talking about the goat flying. At this point I started the second song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Guess who starts walking in? Yup, it was Santa -- four songs and 20 minutes early.
Well this sort of screwed things up a bit because all of the eyes of the little ones were now on Santa. Ollie and I winged the rest of the routine and had to leave out some of the good parts about Santa because he was sitting next to us. One can't tell secrets about someone, especially Santa, when they are sitting next to you -- can they?
Anyhow, we ended our show and Santa took over. As I was packing up the equipment about an hour later one of the mothers came up to me and said, "You may not have thought the kids were paying attention but a lot of them asked Santa about his goat." Unfortunately, Santa didn't pay as much attention to the show before he entered because he kept telling the kids he didn't have a goat. I don't think the kids really believed him because Ollie had told them what he had seen and had actually played with the goat. Little ones have great imaginations. They could picture Ollie playing and riding the goat.
As I was carrying my equipment to the dining room for a show I came upon a man in a motorized wheelchair. I hadn't seen him before. He was having a bit of difficulty driving it. I excused myself as I passed him on my way down the hall. He only had control of his left hand and arm. Everything else was paralyzed.
About 15 minutes later, as Ollie and I were introducing ourselves, he drove into the room. We waited as he navigated into the room and stopped his vehicle directly in front of us. We continued with the explanation of our rules. Rule #1 is that there are no rules. Rule #2 is just like the first one. This means that if anyone wants to sing along, clap their hands, tap their feet or get up and dance it was just fine with us. This always brings a chuckle.
We were about half-way into our show when he began to move his chair about in an erratic fashion. The attending nurse, located at the rear, began to walk toward him and then stopped. She watched for a moment and then returned to her station. She realized, as did I, that he was only dancing.
The only time Lynn asked to perform at a nursing home was the very first one. He still performs there monthly. All others have developed as a result of someone from a home calling him. He always finds a way to fill their slot. Currently, Lynn & Ollie are doing 13 - 14 shows a month in the Tri-City area.
However, there does come a time when he has to say no to a request. This month Lynn received a call from a nursing home near Detroit requesting his services. It would have entailed a 1 1/2 hour drive each way, 1/4 hour setup and takedown plus a one hour show plus the cost of fuel to drive that far. It would mean a minimum of 5 hours expended to do a show at that distance. (This was the third over 100 mile distance request this year.)
What is interesting is how Lynn & Ollie's reputation is being spread with word of mouth advertising.
This month started off with a flurry of activity as Crystal and I had been on a cruise through the Panama Canal. We left on September 14th (Sunday morning) and returned home on the 30th (Tuesday night). On Wednesday Crystal went to work in Frankenmuth while Lynn got Heidi out of jail (kennel) around 11:00am. Lynn also had to put a new program together for October in time for a show that same afternoon in Midland. Somehow, it all came together.
There was one humorous anecdote that Lynn heard while setting up his equipment at a home. Near the front rows a man and woman were sitting side by side. When Lynn returned with a glass of water and set it on the table in front of his sound machine the man asked the woman, "What's the water for?" She replied in all seriousness, "He's a ventriloquist. In order for him to be able to throw his voice he has to have his mouth full of water." He just nodded and accepted her explanation.
She just sat there with that terrific smile on her face. Alzheimer's is a terrible disease. However, on this day she was enjoying the songs and the memories of days long past. I could tell in her eyes that she didn't know where she was. However, the smile on her face let me know that she enjoyed the moment for now.
This is another time and place. Today I experienced an event that I will remember for a long time. Ollie, for some reason, made a tour of the crowd in the front row. He managed to get a couple of kisses. The lady at our leftmost position in the front row seemed to be very happy with the attention given her. As we began our program and went into a set of songs her face broke into a big smile. Partway into the set of songs her arms and legs lifted up and she slowly tumbled out of her chair. It looked like she had suffered a short bit of a seizure.
The attendant next to her immediately grabbed her to prevent her injuring herself from a fall. It was in vain. This smiling lady was beckoned home by her maker as she was experiencing a moment of joy. I thought that she had just fallen out of her chair and would be helped into it again. I was wrong.
The most impressive thing I watched was how caring the staff was. They were in tears as they realized that the person they were caring for had died. We may think of nursing homes as being filled with uncaring people but this event taught me a valuable lesson. People do care for each other even when they grow old. In this place the tenants were a part of an extended family. The respect and concern for the person and their family that had just gone home will not leave my memory for quite some time. Our only joy was that we were a part of her joy at the time God called her home to Him.
It has been a while since I've written to the diary. April got tied up with travel, May was a busy month digging out of winter and June was a month where we spent the entire month vacationing with relatives at our home. Actually, June was a month where I had to cancel almost all of the entertainment commitments.
On June 7th we met my wife's sister and her husband in New York City and spent a week looking around the town. After that we traveled to Canada and around Michigan.
There have been a couple of things that keep nudging me from the nursing homes. At one home there was a person who obviously was paralyzed. During a break between songs he asked, "Do you have any music where people can't dance to them?"
I replied, "Actually, no I don't. I'm unaware of any music that people can't dance to except for one called Send In The Clowns. I don't have that one. Why do you ask?"
He replied, "Because I am totally paralyzed."
I didn't know how or what to reply to him so I just went on with the program. A few minutes later he asked an attendant to take him back to his room. I trust he must have felt to be useless as a person. On the way home I remembered that someone in a situation similar to his didn't go on a pity party. The Today Show had featured a man who only had the use of his arms. He had just finished his internship as a surgeon.
This man who felt so useless could be performing a great service to other people in the home and the community as a whole. Although he doesn't have the use of his arms or legs, he does have a voice. He could be one of those wonderful people who read aloud into a tape recorder so that other people (blind) could enjoy the written word. It's a shame when we hide our talents under a bushel as the parable in the bible told us.
I've come to realize that the man upstairs watches out for me. In February I did a show for Messiah Lutheran Church in Midland. It was one of the most fun events for me for in a long time. The crowd got involved and appeared to really enjoy all of Ollie's antics. (My only concern was that my 'sound machine' would be capable of handling the large hall. It worked out to be sufficient.)
The first show for March was for a home that I had never performed before. The show was only underway for about 30 seconds when the 'sound machine' suddenly stopped working. I had to stop the show and reschedule it. It occurred to me that if it had failed at the previous show it would have be catastrophic. As I say, the Man Upstairs watches out for me.
Because I have twelve more shows scheduled it was necessary to purchase a new machine while the 'old one' is sent away for repair. The new machine is more powerful than the previous so it is taking a bit of getting used to. Hopefully, it won't cost an arm and a leg to repair the previous machine and I will be able to have a backup machine should the occasion arise again.
(March 18) Good news of sorts. I received a call from the repair shop. The CD player portion of the machine is defunct. Cost to replace it is $180.00. It looks like I will have a backup machine as soon as it is returned. Oddly, the new machine is acting up. Partway through a CD it will begin to jump and stutter. So far the only way I have found to correct the problem is to eject the CD by opening the tray, close the tray, advance to find the track that it failed on and proceed. It looks like the new machine will be making a trip to the "something's wrong" factory soon.
This was a short month as Lynn & Crystal spent three weeks on vacation visiting New Zealand and Australia. One highlight, while visiting the nursing homes, was to have two people attempt to give Lynn a tip for performing. (This is the first time in six years that anything like this has happened.) Of course, Lynn declined the offer and thanked them for their offering. What made their offer more profound is that this is a home where wealth is not a consideration for being housed there.
Happy New Year
(Jan 12) It's amazing how a little thing like a cold can affect a person. I shortened up the program for the shows last week to give myself a bit of a break. I also got a three day break between shows that gave me some time to rest. Today's show went really well as I was able to extend myself for the entire hour without difficulty.
I spent part of the time this week preparing songs to put onto a CD as I've had a number of requests for them from some of the residents where it is a more "come and go as you want" facility. (I won't advertise that I have them but the next time I get a request I will have one with me for sale as a nominal price. ) I've also decided to put more religious songs into each program. It has been my rule to always end each show with a religious or gospel type song. During this past year I've come to realize that the audience enjoys them almost as much as the "oldies" that form the backbone of the each program.
I got a kick out of a comment from one person this past week. When I announced that I would be putting more big band and religious songs into each show she said, "Oh no! Not funeral music."
After the show I managed to chat with her. She told me how much she enjoyed the music, especially the religious songs I did. She said, "It's nice to hear religious music that doesn't make one feel guilty or sad." As I thought about it she has a point. How often are the songs upbeat that we sing in church. They are mostly those from the 1800's that keep telling us how bad we are as people.
She reminded me of the comments that a resident (Winnie) made to my wife in November. She is in her 90's and always saves a chair next to her for my wife Crystal. (Crystal volunteers as a Master Gardener for this facility -- Frankenmuth Lutheran Home). During the show I announced that while in England the previous month stopped into a music store in search of some additional background music to use in my shows. I told them that I had found some gospel background music that had a song I had never heard of before. (The name of the song is "When He Was On The Cross." I since have found it available locally under the Pridiss label -- Southern Gospel series.)
I built upon that a bit by describing how selective the stores are in England and that it was only by chance that I had found this particular CD containing the song. I then sang the song. When it was finished Winnie leaned over and said to my wife, "I find it amazing that he can sing those foreign songs so well."
I'm also beginning to put together a show for a Valentine's Day party at a church in Midland. What is fun about preparing for the show is to develop some new material for Ollie as it relates to their pastors. Some of it will have to do with cow hunting as one of the pastors is from Texas and is an avid hunter.
(Jan 2) For some reason the cold I had seemed to almost vanish yesterday. Today I did two shows but found that after a half hour it was becoming very difficult to sing. Ollie is having a hard time talking too.
(Jan 1) I had a show scheduled for today but had to cancel it. Not only are we getting a house full of company but my voice is still gone.
Things Aren't Always As They Appear
At a facility where I perform most of the tenants are in "bad shape" as one might phrase it. This is a facility where people are housed that have suffered strokes, severe accidents and where the body just doesn't co-operate with the person inside. Although I sad for them, because because of their affliction, I somehow don't feel sad for them. My purpose is to bring them joy and not add to their burden.
Two particular people are always in the audience. One is strapped into a wheelchair while the other is strapped into a mobile wheelchair/bed. The person in the wheelchair is normally non-responsive and I've often wondered if his injuries have rendered him to be semi-comatose. This last time I arrived a bit early. When I walked into the room to begin setting up my equipment the nurse walked over to him and said, "I've got a new joke for you." She told him the joke and he responded with a grin. I realized that things aren't always as they appear. He was fully cognizant of his surroundings and what was going on around him. He was just trapped in a body that didn't want to co-operate.
The second fellow also taught me something that day. I don't know what his affliction is but he tends to move about in contorted ways during the show. On this day, he was laying on his wheelchair/bed just watching me as I set up. As I got into some of the "upbeat" songs he began to writhe around and his mouth moved in contorted grimaces. All of a sudden it struck me. He wasn't grimacing, he was singing along. He was doing the best he could and he was enjoying himself. I don't know why it took me so long to figure that out.
Counting Your Blessings
(Dec 27) Christmas is gone and so is my voice. Worse, I'm experiencing coughing spells during the night my ribs feel like a horse kicked them. I'm sure glad that I don't have any shows scheduled for a week.
(Dec 23) The cold, that began a couple of days ago is really testing me. Although I did the program for the folks in Midland on the 23rd, I found it difficult to do. Although I could speak, and control some of the symptoms with decongestants, I found I couldn't hold a note while singing. When I arrived home after the show I knew that it might be some time before I will be able to do another.
(Dec 19) Received a call today (Thursday) informing me that they would have to cancel the show on Saturday as the whole facility had come down with the flu. Strangely, it brought back memories of the very first program I was scheduled to do six years ago in Midland, (The difference was that six years ago I drove 20 miles in a snowstorm to learn that the facility was down with the flu.) It turned out to be a mixed blessing of sorts.
I took a late nap on Thursday afternoon to wake up with a sore throat. I managed to gat rid of the soreness with throat spray but when I woke up Friday morning I felt I was coming down with some kind of bug. I had to call the home I was to visit that day and tell them I felt it was best to cancel as I didn't want to take a bug to them. Later in the day I began to feel congested and just mopped around the house and came to realize that I was just coming down with a cold. A cold may not seem to be important to most folks but it can be devastating to an older person.
Right now I'm nursing myself so that I will be able to perform at a "new" home on Sunday afternoon. I'm hoping that the symptoms will wane as I really don't want to disappoint them by now showing up. The reason is that a former workmate has a relative there and went through a bit of work to get us scheduled.
(Dec 17) It's getting nearer to Christmas as there is only a week to go. Two interesting things happened.
We often think of nursing homes as a home of last resort i.e. the people don't want to be there. At the conclusion of the show I was packing up my equipment. As often happens, a lady watched me and we chatted a bit. Out of the blue she said, "Isn't it nice that they have places like this to live in?" As we spoke I came to realize that instead of feeling trapped in this facility she was thankful for having a place to live in without being a burden to her family.
Two days later I am again packing up to leave. The last song in the performance was Mary's Boy Child. Whenever I sing the song I always introduce it as being a song that originated in the early 1800's by the slaves. The lady who sat in the front row walks up to me while I am packing and asks, "Do you have any other slavery songs?" I tell her that to the best of my knowledge I don't. I expand on my comments to the effect that the reason I always introduce the song as one that originated with the slaves is not only is it is a beautiful song but I want people to realize that the slaves contributed to our society. Also, because of the way the words are sung doesn't reflect a "put down" to them but reinforces their contribution.
She got this big grin on her face and said, "My great grandmother was a slave. Also, my great grandfather fought with the confederate army. Their son married a Cherokee. So you see, I'm all mixed up." After we chatted a bit more she escorted me to the door with a bit of a spring in her step. I hoped that our brief conversation had made her day.
(Dec 3) To often we have to accept the fact that the "Man Upstairs" has called our friends to spend the rest of their time with Him. Imagine our joy when we found our friend Sally at a different facility. Apparently the extended care facility couldn't provide the services she needed and she was moved to another that could provide the care required. Ollie was so thrilled to see Sally again that he made a special effort to see that she got her Christmas kiss.
A second event occurred when, at a different home, we saw our friend who was featured in the Saginaw News article. We were concerned last month when she wasn't in the audience. This month she sat in the audience with her big toothless smile. What a blessing.
There is always something to be learned. During the past couple of months there has been a lady in the audience that made me a bit nervous. During the show she would wave her hands as if in a gesture to "get out of here." Additionally, the perception I receive from the look on her face is of a person who has a mean spirit. I don't know how to explain it differently. This month at the end of the show she wheeled herself to the front where Ollie and I sit and perform. I didn't know what she had in mind but I tried to ignore her lest she would "try something."
As we closed the show and Ollie made the announcement that he wanted to "work the crowd" she obviously was the first in line. Ollie bent over and said, "Do you want a kiss?" She looked me straight in the eye and said, "Not from him. I'd like one from you."
Why does the Man Upstairs keep doing this to me? Again, he taught me to not judge a person from their outward appearance. As I leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek her expression mellowed. The problem was my microphone, as it was pulled to the side, tended to poke her in the eye. She didn't seem to mind.
I went around the room with Ollie as he worked the crowd. When I made my way back to begin packing the equipment she remained sitting there. I walked over to her, leaned over said, "I'm sorry that my microphone poked you in the eye." I gave her a kiss on the forehead and said, "God loves you and so do I." I'll never forget the look in her eyes when I told her.
It's another day. My son and this three kids show up in time to watch Ollie and me do a show. This is the first time they have been in the audience in six years since I have began this adventure. I'm not sure what the impact will be for them but for me it was nice to be able to share an event in my life with them.
Views on Death and Dying
She is 93 and is one of the more vibrant members of my audience. She has become Crystal's "buddy" while we visit and entertain. During one of their conversations the thought of dying came up. She said, "You know, there are days when I would just like to go to see my husband. My arthritis acts up and I am really in pain. Then it goes away. I really would like to have my life end but I know God just doesn't want me right now."
I've been in the position of seeing people die. It is not scary at all. In fact, it is a most natural event. The first time I saw someone die I was in visiting the person with my wife. The visiting hours had run our but for some reason we stayed and continued to visit with her daughter who was also present. Suddenly, her mother stopped her labored breathing. Her eyes opened and she attempted to speak. Because she had no air in her lungs the vocal chords wouldn't work. She just mouthed the words she wanted to utter. I watched as she slipped into eternity.
Her daughter was obviously distraught but I remember her words to this day. "Mom, I would wish you back but now you are at peace."
The second time it wasn't really a witness of death but a knowledge that the person had wanted it to happen. My former father-in-law had a stroke and wanted to die. He refused therapy in the hospital and stated that he wanted to go home and die. After a couple of weeks the hospital released him and furnished a caregiver to stay with him in his home. Two days later he had died. I believe when our time comes that we just make it possible for our passing.
This past year I witnessed an event that remains indelible in my mind. My wife's father was 94 and was in failing health. A month prior to his death my wife traveled to Wales to see for one last time. While there he told her, "I will be glad when it is all done."
My wife Crystal said, "It's OK dad. If you want to go it is OK."
She stayed a week and returned home. Three weeks later we got a phone call that he had died. So, we returned to Wales for the funeral/cremation service. Following the service we went to Hazel's house (my wife's sister) where her dad had lived with her and her husband Jim. The family and relatives had come together at their home for a wake, a meal and a sort of reunion. It had been a long day. About 11:00pm we all retired to bed.
The previous night the grand daughter of Hazel had slept in our room. This night she would be sleeping in the same room as her parents -- just down the hall. Shortly after I went to bed Crystal came into the room and learned that the switch on the night stand didn't work. In order to turn out the light she had to pull the plug from the wall. She quickly went to sleep.
I couldn't fall asleep. It was a bright moonlit night and I laid there in the moonlight listening to the rain and the water falling off the hill just outside of the house. (In Wales it rains a lot.) Suddenly I heard a thump at the door. I watched as the door silently swung open. The light from the hallway dimly shone on the ceiling at it was opened and closed. A person had entered the room dressed in a wide striped white and black shirt. I thought it was the daughter who had entered the room and quite frankly got a bit disturbed that she would enter in this fashion.
For some reason I pinched myself to assure myself that I was indeed awake. I wanted to turn the light on but I knew the only way was to plug the cord into the wall outlet. I lay still and watched to see what she would do.
The person walked alongside of Crystals bed, leaned over to look at her, stood up and waved their arm three times as if in a blessing. The person then turned, walked to the door, opened it, silently exited the room and closed the door. All without a sound. I pinched my arm again to assure myself that I wasn't seeing things.
I lay still in the darkness and listened.
About 3 or 4 minutes later I heard the same thump on the door down the hall where the daughter was sleeping with her parents. "Ah Ha," thought I, "She left something in the room and returned to retrieve it." After a while I managed to go to sleep.
Around 6:00am Crystal awoke to go to the bathroom When she plugged the light cord into the wall I awoke and said, "Crystal, check out the area around your bed. Is anything missing?" She assured me that all was well.
When we both awoke at 8:00am I made it a point to check out the door. In this house the latch is an old style much like a latch we used to have on a utility door. It wasn't a knob that one would turn. When I attempted to release the latch I was unable to open it without an audible click. Secondly, the door rubbed on the carpet. There was no noise when the door opened the previous night. What surprised me was that the side of Crystals bed was tight to the the wall. Thus, there was no way a person could have walked alongside of the bed to bend over to look at Crystal.
When I related the story to Crystal her comment was, "Oh, that was probably just Dad coming to say goodbye."
Where is the pale of darkness that we fear as death? I have come to see it as something to be welcomed and not feared. There is more to this life than we expect. When I related this story to a pastor friend of mine he told me a similar story of a parishioner who was embarrassed to tell him that her recently deceased husband had walked into her living room, sat for a while on an easy chair and then left. He said, "There are things that happen that we can never explain logically. We don't really know what happens when we die. We just have to accept the fact that God knows what is best."
This was a new venture about 50 miles away. (I tend to entertain within the tri-cities areas.) The event was a Thanksgiving Day party for the residents and visitors. Before the program began I saw a person who was dressed and looked like the figure of Christ. I approached him and said, "I've got a picture of a guy who looks just like you on my living room wall." (His grin reinforced my comment as the picture is one of a laughing Christ.) Apparently he had been performing in that role for about eleven years. He was on his way to Saginaw to do a youth show.
During our show the residents appeared to enjoy Ollie's antics. His comments about how he was going to cook the turkey for thanksgiving and stuff it with chocolate ice cream brought a lot of chuckles.
We performed at a new home today. The entertainment director had billed it as a puppet show. This home is hard to relate to. The majority of the residents are not too aware of their surroundings although some are. The residents appear to enjoy the show but it is hard to get a laugh or response from them. Perhaps it is because we are strangers and they are not in tune with the subtle humor Ollie exudes.
At the end of the show, Ollie works the crowd giving and getting kisses. It is amazing how many awaken from their “slumber” when the attention is directed toward them. As Ollie makes his rounds getting and giving kisses a sense of excitement fills the air as each gal waits her turn to be next.
After we exit and tuck Ollie away I place Ollie in his carrier and proceed to take the equipment down. One lady who has been quite active during the show approaches me. “I really enjoyed your show,” she says, “I used to love to sing and skate.”
“Yes,” said I, “I saw you playing the piano during the songs with your hands.”
“Oh yes,” says she, “I used to play the piano but I can’t anymore and I really miss it.”
We chat a bit and it becomes evident that she has something on her mind. (They had been given the information that we would be a puppet show and apparently the songs had been our of the homes promotion.) Unexpectedly she says, “I got it figured out.”
“What is that?” I asked.
She replies, “When the singing was going on you were doing a pantomime, right?”
After a brief discussion, I came to realize that she thought I had bought a series of songs, with someone else singing them, by lip-synching to them. What had made her think that way were the times Ollie broke into the songs to solicit a kiss from someone (nurse) who walked through the room without me loosing the rhythm of the song.
Question: Are all of the homes you visit the same and how would you rate them?
Not at all. Quite frankly each has their own personality and are quite different. While I don't make a distinction of my performances at each I find I tend to adjust it according to the personality of the facility. I tend to rate them in my mind on a point basis from 1 thru 10.
The 10's are the most fun. The residents are cognizant of their surroundings and being able to relate to them is easy. They tend to catch on to Ollie's humor without my having to "drag it out of them." At the other end of the scale the residents just don't seem to have a sense of humor anymore.
I also feel the differences between each facility. For example, one facility that I classed as a 9 gave me a feeling of the tenants and caretakers as being someone "upish." Another in the same classification gives me a feeling of being fun loving and caring between the tenants and caretakers.
I really can't say that I pick up feelings of the caretakers as not having a caring attitude between the 1's thru the 10's. It's the way that the attitude is transformed to me from the tenants. I can see how involved the caregivers are with the tenants. The 1's tend to drive the tenant into the room and leave them there until the show is finished. The 10's drive the tenant into room and maintain an involvement with them. Sometimes it's as simple as distributing a snack or treat while the show is going on.
One of the finer facilities (10) has a person who is involved with the tenants throughout the performance. A caregiver leads them for the applause (sure we like it) and gets them involved by dancing during the songs. This gives the tenants some necessary exercise and Ollie the chance to comment on how good they are doing. While I am doing a performance I tend to notice that some appear to be nodding off. However, when the caregiver approaches them to dance (sometime while in their wheelchair) they brighten up. It never fails, however, when Ollie is working the crowd. They all brighten up.
Puppet Power Article - October 6, 2002
The article in the Saginaw News, written by Maggie Rossiter and photographed by David A Sommers (October 6), was released. It took up a full page plus part of another. The lead title was Puppet Power. It was well written and the photos caught the flavor of the shows.
Obviously, when I saw the article I returned to the local 7-11, where I bought the paper, and picked up six additional copies. When I placed them on the counter the clerk looked at the stack and me with a very puzzled look on his face.
In a quiet voice I whispered, “The parrot has diarrhea.”
The expression on his face was priceless.
Questions & Answers -- Pre-October
How do you pre-plan your programs?
A: One of the hardest things is to keep the program light and lively. Some of the people have very short attention spans while others are “normal” so to speak. In the beginning, I tried to make every performance special for each person in the audience. After a while, it occurred to me that I was trying to do something that was nearly impossible. One night the solution occurred to me. If I were having fun, they would have fun also. Thus, no longer do I preplan programs or worry about what I will say or do. Whatever happens just occurs naturally.
Q: Don’t you get tired of doing the same thing repeatedly each month?
A: Not at all. Each month I put together a new program that is hopefully varied enough to capture the imagination of someone who has previously been in my audience. While I try to introduce songs that follow a theme for the month, I have found that they look forward to some of the same songs from previous performances. One song is “Have You Ever Been Lonely?”
At the outset you might ask, “Isn’t that a poor song to sing as most of the people in the audience have lost their loved one or are indeed lonely?” I don’t think that is the case. Each time I sing the song I get a large contingency of people who sing along with me. In some cases I have heard, “You darn right.” However, the song nevertheless strikes a positive chord with them. I don’t pretend to understand why but I just have learned it does. Thus, it remains as a staple of my performances.
There are groups of songs that I have learned I should keep in the lineup as they look forward to them. For example, “Happy Days Are Here Again” always begins the show. Somewhere in the middle of the program the songs, Margie; Ma, She’s Making Eyes At Me and Put Your Arms Around Me are looked forward to. Each time I leave that group out, I get a request to be sure to sing them the next time. Therefore, I just let them stay in each show. After all, the show is for their benefit—not mine.
Are there times when you really don't want to do a show?
A: Yes, those occasions do arise. There are day’s whey I am really “up” for a show and other days when I have to make myself do it. On those occasions, I tend to work harder to make the show livelier. There was a period of time, for about a week, when I really had to concentrate on making the show fun. It was just after I learned that I had prostate cancer and would have to make a decision relative to treatment. During some of the songs, the words of the diagnosis would fill my mind as I performed -- especially the religious songs.
I recall at one show, the day after receiving the diagnosis, one of the people came up to me as I was packing up my equipment. She wanted to inform me that a person who had been a regular attendee was taken away to the hospital to die. She said, “She has cancer you know. No one comes away from that.”
I remembered that for a long time. After I had gone through 43 radiation treatments and got a diagnosis that all would be well I made a point to bring up the subject of cancer to them. (I remembered the group well.) As I introduced a particularly favorite gospel song of mine, I off handedly mentioned that sometimes we are faced with news that we really do not want to hear. I said, “In my case, a couple of months ago I was told that I had prostate cancer. If we keep our mind focused on what our maker has planned for us we can learn that what is planned isn’t as scary as one may imagine.” I was surprised to see how many people nodded their heads in approval.
How do you develop the routines that you and Ollie do?
That is a hard question. Obviously, the most fun thing is to find out what Ollie will say this time. Unbelievably, I never know what he will say. Often, what he says will surprise me. I really don’t understand why that occurs but it does. They are mostly spontaneous.
In the beginning, I would try to develop a routine for each show. After a while, it occurred to me that the best were those that came as an interaction between Ollie and the audience. Sometimes we will begin a routine and someone from the audience will say something that starts a whole new conversation. For example I might ask, “Ollie, are you going to do something special Thanksgiving?”
Ollie: “Yup, I’m going to cook.”
Lynn: “You’re going to cook?”
Ollie: “Darn right.”
Lynn: “What are you going to cook.”
Lynn: “Turkey? Why I bet the turkey is almost bigger than you are.”
Ollie: “So who cares? You can put it in the oven.”
Audience: “I’ll bet you don’t even know how to cook.”
Ollie looking at speaker: “What?”
Audience: “I’ll bet you don’t even know how to cook.”
Ollie: “Do you know how to cook?”
Ollie: “What do you cook?”
Audience: “Turkey, potatoes and gravy and dressing.”
Ollie: “Dressing! What’s that?”
Audience: “You don’t know what dressing is?”
Ollie: “Sure I do. I did it this morning?”
Audience: “With the turkey.”
Ollie: “No, by myself.”
At this point I ask: “Ollie, what did she say.”
Ollie replies: “She said she knows a turkey that doesn’t know how to dress.”
The audience laughs as they know that really was not the conversation but they also know that Ollie always finds a way out of trouble. It is at this point that we begin another song.
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