Opinion Columns & Blogs

With heart, soul and harmonicas

Harvey Balmer pretty much sums up my feelings about the elders in our tribe: If genes and good fortune allow us, most of us will end up in a rest home at the end of our lives.

And we’re going to want someone to come visit us when that time arrives — the way Harvey Balmer does now.

I got to meet Harvey recently, thanks to Spankie Barker, who sent us a press release seeking to increase the number of men in the Single Seniors Club because it’s a cultural thing that more women than men join such clubs.

In addition to the release, Spankie also left her business card, an attention grabber featuring pastel-colored stars, musical notes and what appeared to be a pink harmonica flying under the name Harmonica Troubadours. Who wouldn’t be hooked?

The Harmonica Troubadours is a sub-club of the Single Seniors Club, and Spankie and Harvey are two-fifths of the Troubadours with the other three being Peggy Midling, Melba Hixon and Donna Gang.

Knowing I had to meet such a crew, I invited them down to the paper to check their musical chops.

The Troubadors got their start some eight or nine years ago when only one member knew how to play a harmonica (yes, the caterwauling must have been intense). Yet they kept tooting at rest homes and care centers.

As Harvey says, “They enjoyed us, which really surprised us. We’re now actually in demand. We have about three or four functions a month at which we play.

“We’re seniors and will be in their position some day and we’d like others to do the same for us.”

“It lightens things up,” Spankie interjected. “They ask us back. One lady reached her hand out and said, ‘I love your harmonica and I love you.” It brought a tear to my eye.”

Harvey: “We don’t play for money. If someone gives us a little gift to offset expenses, that’s fine. We will play for food, and then we say if you don’t feed us we’ll play for nothing.”

Any honorarium goes to producing sing-along books. “That’s an expense that we’ve struggled with,” said Harvey.

What do they play? “We don’t play anything newer than 1960. Our music goes back to the 1800s, but 1940s and 1950s is our era; when music was still good,” laughs Harvey.

“We don’t do rap or hip-hop,” Spankie added with another laugh.

And that’s the thing about the Troubadors: They love to laugh. Maybe it’s all the inhaling they do when they’re whittling on a tune, giving copious quantities of oxygen to their brains. Whatever, each of them has the exuberance of a giddy kid.

As to the Seniors Club, here’s the pitch: It has almost 50 members. You have to be a senior and single. The club strives to have an equal number of men and women. Because of the aforementioned cultural bias, there’s a waiting list of some 50 women. A woman can join if she brings a man in and he stays for a year. If he drops out, she has to drop out, too.

Youch. Can you spell Sadie Hawkins?

The club has dances, plays Scrabble, poker and bridge and has weekly coffee klatches at 9 a.m. Wednesday in San Luis at IHOP and at 9 a.m. Friday in the Five Cities at CJ’s.

Dues are $12 every six months.

So how were the Harmonic Troubadours? Although Melba was at the races the day they came by, and Donna was in Canada (these are people whose tent pegs are permanently pounded), they were absolutely terrific. They soared in perfect toe-tapping harmony.

“We just want to bring a little something to people,” said Spankie.

Actually they bring bliss, trust me.

If interested in joining the Single Seniors Club, give them a jingle at 541-4515 or 481-1793.

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or 781-7852.

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