Today I had the opportunity to perform at a local facility which provides adult day care services. My own ninety-five year old grandmother spends three days out of the week there, playing Bingo, taking field trips and learning how to do Wii bowling among other fun activities. My grandmother enjoys it so much that she calls it “the club.” (Owing to the associations that that word has to people of my generation, it’s pretty comical.)
At any rate, yesterday when I reminded my grandmother that I’d be coming to perform, her first response was, “Oh! Are there going to be children there?”
When I said, “No, Grandma. There won’t be any children there,” I saw a confused look come across her face. Clearly she was picturing my work as a storyteller as something reserved for child audiences, and now she was concerned that I was going to come in and embarrass her in front of all of her friends with some sort of juvenile entertainment that was above her and her peers.
I tried reassuring her. “Grandma, I tell stories to all different ages, not just children.”
She smiled, but she didn’t look convinced. Probably too busy imagining her social status and carefully manicured reputation taking a nose dive after her peers saw what a crazy woman she had for a grandchild! At any rate, she smiled again and said, “I’m sure that you’ll make me very proud tomorrow.” But I wasn’t so sure if she was trying to reassure me or herself of that fact!
Well, as I began the performance, I would catch glimpses of my grandmother whose face had that slightly-scared look on it. The kind that says, “Oh boy! What’s she going to do next?” We tend to think of peer pressure and image-consciousness as a larger concern of teens and young adults, but honestly, it affects us throughout our lives, whatever our age as my grandmother has taught me on more than a couple of occasions.
However, as I continued the performance, the crowd warmed up quickly. And as they did, my grandmother began to relax. Maybe I wouldn’t embarrass her after all!
One of my favorite things about my job is being able to look out at an audience and see the wonder in people’s eyes. And there really is nothing more magical than seeing a crowd of older adults whose eyes are filled with the wonder of a child. It’s a good reminder that all of us, whatever our age, are waiting to have that place of wonder in our hearts and minds tapped and brought to life.
When the performance concluded, the audience asked me some questions about my work and my travels, and I, in turn, asked them to share some of their own stories. I was then gifted with stories of one woman’s experiences as an American living in Iran. A man’s journey to the Holy Land. A whispered comment about a visit to a nude beach in Puerto Rico. Several recommended that I make a trip Hawaii. Later another woman spoke to me at length about her difficult living situation, the husband she greatly missed and her diagnosis of dementia. She asked me to say a prayer whenever I thought of her.
As I was finishing, a woman next to my grandmother with tinted glasses and a red-tipped cane turned toward me and said, “That was beautiful. I’m sure that your grandmother is very proud.”
I couldn’t help but smile. “Thank you,” I said. And at the back of mind, I thought, “I hope so. I really hope so. Because I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
* As a side note, I must share that since my earliest days as a storyteller all the way up to the present day, I have practiced many of my stories on my grandmother. She is always willing and eager to listen, and we have a good laugh as I dress her up in some of the costume pieces used in the story. It was during one such practice session years ago that I first realized how wonderful telling for older adults could be, and I have looked for such opportunities ever since. Today when she comes over to my house to visit, I like to sit her down in my comfy rolling desk chair and bring her along to whatever room I’m going to be in. And of course, if there’s a new story that needs polishing or on old one that needs practicing, I know just the person to listen!