My dad's side of the family is an interesting lot of people. I spent yesterday afternoon with most of them, gathered around a table for Thanksgiving dinner (the first of 3 I'll eat this week) at my grandpa's nursing home. Sitting there, I mused that we are like a small patriarchal society, presided over by my soon-to-be-97 grandfather, Sture, who unselfconsciously perpetuates much of the Swedish stereotype. (You can tell a Swede...)
Now that I and all of my cousins are older, we are a strictly Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve family. Birthdays are no longer celebrated, if even acknowledged, and the occurrence of major life events (for example, my cousin's engagement) seem to come out only under prolonged questioning at one of these two events. In short, I wouldn't call us close. Now that Grandpa is in a nursing home, our traditions have lost their home turf, and so we found ourselves at his nursing home on a Sunday afternoon, subject to each other and a man dubbed "the entertainment."
There he stood in the corner, stationed behind his synthesizer, wearing a keyboard tie and one of those hands-free mics that wraps around your head, held fast by your ears, with a little foam-covered thing that hovers in the vicinity of your mouth, a la Britney Spears in concert. No one at our table noticed him until he began to speak. There had been no introduction by the nursing home staff, no justification offered for his intrusion upon our painfully stilted pre-dinner conversation. We were left to assume, with sinking hearts, that this man was "the entertainment."
His repertoire consisted of a few 40's and 50's tunes and a patriotic medley, all played with so much pep that I felt like puppets would appear at any moment, interspersed with a litany of over-told jokes and socially awkward audience interaction. I cannot vouch for others in the room, but at our table "the show" was not well received. At one point, with his inimitable lack of tact, my grandpa even announced (in that overly loud way that persons hard of hearing are prone to do), "I wish he'd stop that racket already."
No, the entertainment was not appreciated at our table for any degree of talent. But I had to give him credit, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I even discovered reasons to be thankful for Synthesizer Man.
First, I figure you've got to be really sure of yourself, and your act, to perform to the kind of crowd of which I was a part on Sunday afternoon. The kind of crowd where a good percentage can't hear you, and many of those who can wish they couldn't. The kind of crowd where only the nursing staff clap when you finish a song, because after all, they hired you and have to act happy about it. The kind of crowd where facial expressions are hard to come by, stolen years ago by age and infirmity. And yet on he played and sang, with enthusiasm and dare I say, spunk. He played to the room, regardless of reception, and encouraged the few who sang along. He told another joke even after the last one elicited only a few groans. And at the end (oh, the blissful end), he wished us all a Happy Thanksgiving and promised he'd be back for the Christmas party. I couldn't give him props for the quality of his performance, but I had to admit I was kinda impressed this guy was out there performing at all.
It made me think about the fact that so often I am afraid to "go public" with anything until I'm certain that I'm good at it, that others will appreciate and even applaud my contribution. I'm way too concerned with being perceived by anyone as "fumbling through" that there are many attempts at things that never see the light of day. That guy had moxy. He had his own brand of charisma. And who knows, maybe some of those wheelchair bound people were eating it up, but just weren't able to show it. They'll have another chance at the Christmas party to express their appreciation, and maybe by then I'll have learned to be a little less critical, and my relatives and I will find something to talk about.