Aiko has been a resident of a senior living community for 2 years. The first time we meet, Aiko is at the reception desk. She has stopped by to get a newspaper to read, and a nearby staff member asks her if she wanted to go to tai chi.
“I don’t like tai chi,” she says emphatically. The staff member replies, “Oh, that’s right, you don’t like tai chi.”
“That’s right. It’s TOO SLOW.” For emphasis, Aiko nods her head as she says the last two words. “I like more energy.”
It turns out Aiko prefers aikido and dancing. These activities, she says, are good because they have “some movement.”
Aiko is obviously well liked. During our chat, several people walk over to say hello to her. She has the grace of a dancer, and the stage presence of a Broadway legend. In fact, Aiko is a classically trained pianist. Her music education started at home in Berkeley, CA, and continued when she and her family were relocated to a Japanese American Internment Camp during the Second World War. After graduating from the camp school, Aiko taught music to the other children.
“Camp life was hard,” Aiko says. “In the camp, you don’t have what you want to eat, and you get only so much money for the work, maybe $15 a month. But we were lucky. My mother purchased a home after we left the camp, so we had somewhere to go. Not everyone had that.”
Although she was encouraged to pursue a musical career, Aiko attended UC Berkeley to study politics. She didn’t want to be a concert pianist, she says, “I wanted to meet Mr. [Ronald] Reagan.”
These days, Aiko spends her time reading, playing the piano, visiting with her friends, and helping the staff plan activities for other residents. One of her favorite activities is working with volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – they plant gardens and do crafts together. One such craft project, a beaded dragonfly, is proudly displayed on the handle of her walking stick. In addition to the dragonfly, Aiko wears a bracelet, a turquoise ring, and her mother’s wedding ring.
Aiko’s dragonfly craft jewelry.
“Since my sister got married, I was the only one to carry on the family name,” she says, holding out her hands. “That is why the ring came to me.”
Aiko’s jewelry catches the light as we shake hands at the end of our interview. Aiko smiles and thanks me; graciously saying it was nice to meet me. And then she’s off to her next activity for the day. I don’t quite catch what the activity is, but I’m certain it’s something with lots of movement.
I meet Aiko again a week later to deliver her Gramsly box. She greets me right away. “I remember you! We talked downstairs for a long time!” She’s wearing a smock, getting ready to do a painting. When I give her the box, she says it’s like Christmas.
“I didn’t have much of a Christmas this year, so this is nice.” The Gramsly box contains things I think she would like, based on the time we’ve spent together. Among other things, the box contains seaweed snacks, chocolates, and a scarf in her favorite color, pink. Aiko’s face lights up when she unwraps the scarf.
“How pretty! This is so pretty,” she exclaims. “I don’t have anything fancy like this because I don’t have a boyfriend.” Everyone assures her that she doesn’t need a boyfriend as a reason to look pretty. A nearby volunteer compliments Aiko on the scarf. Aiko turns to her and says, “Oh, you love it? I don’t want you to love it too much, you might take it!” Everyone laughs, and we shake hands again. Aiko’s grip is strong. She bids me goodbye. “Leaving already? Thank you very much for the gifts. I hope to see you again soon!”
I tell her it was good to see her, and that I hope we meet again soon. When I leave Aiko, she is surrounded by friends, happily engrossed in her painting.
This post is part of our Meet a Senior blog series, in which we showcase senior citizens and tell their stories. All of our subjects receive a customized Gramsly box as a thank you for their participation. If you know a senior (including yourself!) that wants to participate, please contact email@example.com.