Senior talent on display
From behind a sparkling silver curtain June 30 emerged Eileen Grant in a red jacket and black fedora, her left hand gloved in silver, dancing and swinging her hips to Michael Jackson’s “Bad,” while fellow residents of the Emeritus at Deep Run retirement home and community members laughed and clapped.
Grant and other residents, volunteers and community members were participating in the first national Bring Your Talent contest, hosted by Emeritus Senior Living and part of elder care expert Dr. Marion Somers' tour with the 3in4 Association, a non-profit organization working to increase awareness about the planning for long-term care. The 50 city tour will end July 25 in Phoenix, A.Z. and the contest winner will be chosen from all the video submissions and taped tour stops by Aug. 13. The winner could receive a year of free rent or one of 11 week-long stays at an Emeritus community.
Grant was born in 1928 in Brooklyn, N.Y. as Eileen O'Connor, the third-oldest of 10 children in an Irish family. During World War II she traveled with other dancers and comedians and pros such as Mel Brooks and Eddie Fisher entertaining the troops.
“I loved it. I was doing it from the time I was this high," Grant said, lowering her hand toward the floor. "If you’re a performer, you’re born a performer.”
Grant’s daughter, Shelley Damion, who attended the show last week but sat on the side so as to not to be a distraction, said she hoped her mother would win.
“She’s always been the most entertaining, even at parties,” Damion said. “She choreographed my high school production of ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’ I think it was the best one we had ... I wasn’t in it.”
Every Friday, Grant, who is a memory care patient, practices ballroom dancing with instructor Phyllis Harris, who helped co-choreograph her dance.
“It’s really exciting to see them come out of their shells,” Harris said. “It’s hard to watch them get older. . . She comes down when she feels like it.”
Harris was supposed to perform with Grant the day of the show, but because other entries dropped out, Grant had to perform before Harris had arrived. Filling in for Harris was Nick Nevi, the life enrichment assistant at Emeritus, and one of Grant’s biggest fans.
“She’s got spunk,” he said the day before the contest. “She’s very talented. She’s my hopeful. I know she could really knock the house down. . . She deserves one year rent free.”
Nevi said he hoped that if she didn’t win, that one of the other Deep Run residents would.
“When our residents do what they love it, rejuvenates them,” he said. “I really admire our residents for doing this.”
The Thursday before the contest, Harris and Nevi made a video music video of Grant’s performance in case she got nervous the day of or resisted because of her memory.
Private duty caregiver Demetra White said she had seen the end of the videotaping.
“When I saw her get up and these moves, she seemed so much younger, “ White said. “My mouth was just open. If she doesn’t win, I’ll be surprised.”
During the practice, Grant pulled White onto the dance floor despite White’s protests. By then, Grant had kicked off her shoes and was dancing barefoot with free-style moves, something White said Grant usually did.
Old photos of Grant dancing and acting in the 1940s lined the walls of the dining room, where the stage was set for the performance on Saturday. In one or two, Grant’s bare feet could be seen. Grant said she had learned to dance after attending dances with soldiers on Governors Island, where her older sister had a job.
“It was the kind of music where we’d go dancing and the gentleman would swing me over his head, around his back and between his legs,” she said. “I was young and had a wonderful time. . . It’s been a lot of years, but I had a wonderful life. I loved the life I lived. Isn’t that a song?”
In her opening speech Saturday, Somers introduced herself as a girl from a rough neighborhood in East Harlem, N.Y., who grew up in a five-story walk-up filled with seniors. Somers said that there was always something to learn from her elders, especially how to live.
“You don’t get to be 80, 90, or 100 years old without knowing how to live,” she said.
On a trip to China, Somers met a 104-year-old woman who she asked to share with her one thing she’d learned. The woman responded, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”
“I asked the interpreter what she meant,” Somers said. “What she meant was, your husbands and kids are going to do what they’re going to do, just do what you can do.”
Having a balanced and steady approach to addressing long-term care is key, as it is to addressing life, she said.
“I like to say that I have been blessed living with seniors,” Somers said. “I live a very blessed life because I’ve learned not to get obsessed about the nonsense stuff, and when you think about it, most of it is nonsense.”
Somers went on to emphasize that everyone is a caregiver at some time in his or her life, whether it is for a little sister or for parents.
“Three in four Americans will need long-term care at sometime in their lives, and we are not ready,” Somers said.
Sixteen percent of caregivers die before those for whom they are caring, she said, emphasizing the importance of being organized during the caregiving process. She went through an A-Z list of quick things for care givers to remember; among them: “Trust the elder you’re caring for, and trust your basic caregiving instincts,” and “Understand that being a caregiver requires patience.”
“Talking about elderly care is not a sexy subject, so to remind people is necessary,” she said. “Nobody wants to talk about aging or maybe being infirm. It’s always over there, another person, but that other person could be you.”
The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.
Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.
The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.
Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.
The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.
An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
Charlottesville's Bella’s Restaurant recently opened a location in Short Pump Village, at 11408 West Broad Street. The restaurant is owned by Valeria Biesnti, a native of Rome who arrived in the U.S. at age 21 and later became a U.S. citizen. With her restaurants, Bisenti has sought to create an ambiance that welcomes diners in a casual setting, like her favorites from her hometown. > Read more.
A Henrico native will appear on the third episode of the Travel Channel's new grilling competition series “American Grilled.”
The episode, filmed in Charlottesville, will premier July 16 at 9 p.m. and feature Glen Allen-native Rex Holmes, a patent lawyer who operates http://SavoryReviews.com a blo,g centered around tasty recipes and BBQ.
The show features hardcore grilling enthusiasts from across the country going head-to-head for a chance to compete for a $10,000 cash prize and bragging rights when they are crowned the ultimate “grill master.” > Read more.
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