BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A 1910 song is wafting through Southside Gardens Assisted Living in Baton Rouge.
"Let me call you sweetheart, I'm in love with yooooo......"
You hear a choir of voices singing. It is a gathering in the complex's meeting room and everyone has a plastic notebook filled with song lyrics. This choir is an "experienced one". The songs are selected for their courtship years, so they harken back to earlier times. And the facial expressions on the men and women gathered is one of deep satisfaction as they revisit old songs like old friends.
"Let me hear you whisper, that you love me tooooo," they croon.
Leading this joyful gathering are two long-time friends. Carol Ducote and Mary Vedros are former nuns who do this for their love of people.
Carol Ducote says the audience is showing the power of music.
"I feel that music is the universal language of love. And it doesn't matter if it's independent living, assisted living, uh, Alzheimer's, there is a glimmer of recognition when you play and for those people who are able to read the words," says Ducote. "We've had many, many times, they have asked if they can keep the book."
Linda Montagnino is a friend who encountered these two doing their work and wanted to help. She helps prepare the plastic notebooks. They have about four sets that they alternate with, to keep their musical lineup interesting.
"Linda's our roadie," the ladies laugh. Linda smiles. "She's happy to do it."
Carol is blind now, and her partner Mary helps her continue playing the piano. They have been a team for the last 40 years. And during that time, Carol had taken an anti-inflammatory popular that time and it's side effects blinded her as an adult. She still plays beautifully at the piano. And hardly seems to notice that she's facing challenges because of the blindness. And now they perform free of charge for places like Southside and at Charlie's Place, the Alzheimer's center.
Patients there may no longer remember their family names, but something amazing happens when familiar music plays.
Mary says they may no longer be able to speak, but with the notebooks it works.
"We go to Charlies Place, they may or may not be able to, but they do like this, they find every line, their mouths are moving with the words and their foot tapping, almost all of them."
Years ago, Mary was a Dominican nun, gifted in writing and grammar, a nun for 21 years..."And I loved it. I was happy and I knew I wanted to be a nun since 6th grade."
In fact, when I ask about the fact they are from two different orders of nuns. They launch into a favorite teasing routine.
Mary teases Carol, "She didn't like Dominicans."
Carol: "I was never a Dominican, make that very clear!"
Mary: "I was Dominican, She was Notre Dame." Carol: "It was like the difference of being in the Air Force and the Army."
Both women had been outstanding students in their high schools. Mary had been at Dominican High, Carol had been at Sacred Heart High; and In 1972, they met when both were sent to a 10-day drug prevention education training seminar in Banderas Texas. They both turned out to be very good counselors and were sent back the next year too. That's when the two became fast friends.
Staying in communication, they kept track of each other and in the 1970s, both were discussing the "Opening of The Church", a time when the Vatican revised some of its traditions including making church services in the local language instead of requiring it be in Latin. At that time, roles of nuns started changing.
Mary says, "It took me about five years to decide that I wanted to do other things with my life, other than convent life. But I left in good standing, I loved every moment I was there." Later, she adds about her exit from the convent that, "The nuns were leaving, my friends were leaving. They started leaving after the Opening of the Church."
Carol made the same decision on her own.
"I left in '75 in good standing, not that I was unhappy in the job, but the role was changing, if I had stayed in, I would've gone to teach in a public school to bring in money for those who wanted to go and do mission work out of the country."
Carol says she would not have fared that well in the classroom and was not adept at learning foreign languages.
Carol remembers, "I had played piano, that's how I worked my way through school one of the ways, was playing piano at lounges. So I needed a little straightening out I'm sure. It was nine of the best years of my life."
The women share a house that had been in Mary's family, and there are many rooms. They need that, however, to house Mary's vast collection of dolls and Carol's huge collection of teddy bears.
They've actually been putting the bears to good work in the community. Carol donates some to Brave Heart for silent auctions and to put in backpacks for abused and neglected children. They donate bears to homeless shelters, nursing homes, hospitals and fire departments for frightened children at fire scenes.
But this music "gig" may be moving out the bear necessities volunteerism for a time. They're popular and word has been like wildfire about the magic they exude when leading sing-alongs for seniors.