- By Nicole Villalpando American-Statesman Staff
Myrtle Wendell rests in the bed of a Bee Cave nursing home tapping her hands to the music of “Take These Chains From My Heart” by Hank Williams. At times she closes her eyes or tries to sing along softly.
Austin singer Susanna Van Tassel and guitar player Marvin Dykhuis sit in chairs at the foot of her bed and fill the room with music — more Hank Williams, some Loretta Lynn, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Ernest Tubb songs. Wendell’s roommate, Sandy Peterson, sits up in bed with a big smile on her face.
In the hallway, fellow residents and staff members peek in to listen to the music.
This is Swan Songs, a local program that since 2005 has provided more than 525 concerts to people receiving hospice care.
The concert for Wendell was like many other Swan Songs’ concerts: sweet and intimate with music that the recipient or the recipient’s family chooses, but unlike other recipients, Wendell and her roommate Peterson, aren’t from here. They and 93 other residents of a Rockport nursing home were brought by bus or ambulance Aug. 24 along with staff members as evacuees from Hurricane Harvey. They left with very little, and they don’t know when they will return.
“It was rough,” Peterson says. “We stopped every three minutes” to check the roads ahead.
They all came to Park Manor skilled nursing facility in Bee Cave. The staff there turned living rooms into bedrooms, doubled up residents in bedrooms and filled three hallway wings with evacuees. The staffers, evacuees themselves, who came with them initially had to sleep on couches or in chairs. They since have relocated to hotels. Some of the residents have family members nearby, but many do not.
Since the initial evacuation, about half of the Rockport residents have been moved to other facilities in the area.
Wendell, who has trouble talking, said at the end of the concert, “I’ve enjoyed everything.”
“Thank you so much. It means a lot to me to be here with you ladies,” said Van Tassel, who was playing her first Swan Songs concert. “It’s an honor to be here.”
It was the first time Van Tassel and Dykhuis had played together. “I’ve got to book us some gigs,” Dykhuis said.
“You did great,” Wendell said.
Dykhuis has played about 30 Swan Songs concert. “It’s a wonderful experience,” he said. “The joy you bring to people, that music brings to people. It’s the music that really helps people out. It’s not me.”
“You just come along and lighten everybody’s days,” Peterson said.