In the days of coronavirus precautions, a nursing home has been a sometimes lonely place to be. But a classically trained singer has been making the rounds across North Texas to make sure the isolated residents are properly entertained, even if the concerts have to happen outside.
"I really enjoy seeing the people that used to come. And I do miss them," admitted AnaBeth Field, 86, a resident at Twin Rivers Assisted Living in Plano.
Fellow resident Flora Bowden, who will tell you without hesitation that she is currently 93 and 1/2, admitted the days have become somewhat lonely for her too.
Like most assisted living communities, Twin Rivers enacted strict protocols for outside visitors. And to date the facility of approximately 83 residents remains COVID-free.
But in an attempt to solve the moments of loneliness and isolation, staff occasionally carry chairs to the covered front porch. Chairs and wheelchairs properly socially distanced become an impromptu theatre. And under a portable awning serving as a stage, Ruby Weston works her magic.
"Hi everybody," she said with a microphone in hand on a recent return visit. "Good to see you guys," she said to the residents and staff gathered to hear her perform.
Originally from Baltimore, Maryland and trained in opera at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, Weston sang professionally for a few years. But now, the single mom of four has found an audience that needs her more.
Pre-pandemic Weston performed throughout North Texas in the cafeterias and meeting rooms of various assisted living centers. Lately, those performances, a mix of Broadway tunes and old standards, have moved outdoors to safe socially-distanced locations, like the covered drive-up at Twin Rivers' front door.
"It's like an experience of a lifetime for them," said Life Enrichment Director Diane Martinez, who hires Weston to perform as often as she can. "Music is everything. It brings back memories. It brings back their loved ones. It brings back memories and they are happy again."
Both Bowden and Field, both widowed, talked about how Weston's visits help them with memories of the people they miss.
"Ruby brings back a lot of memories for me," Field said. "It makes me feel happy. And I'm grateful."
"I love music," Bowden said. "And I get so happy when I hear music. She's wonderful," she said of Weston.
"It just makes me want to get up and dance. But I've got a knee that won't let me," Bowen laughed.
"The reactions are far beyond anything that I could ever expect," Weston said. "Hearing things like that make you want to do it even more. I enjoyed it but now it gave me purpose. A resident once told me, 'I'm alone and I've been sad for two years and I decided to take a chance to come to your event. And I'm happier than I've been in a long time.' And she thanked me and I'm like, how could I possibly have anything to do with that?"
"Just doing this really makes me happy," she said.
Meanwhile, Twin Rivers Assisted Living is putting procedures in place to allow visitors following Governor Greg Abbott's announcement about the planned reopening of nursing homes.
And Weston is ready to perform in her usual location, the Twin Rivers cafeteria, as soon as it's deemed safe for some of her biggest fans to applaud for her again.