By Dan Harkins
DEBARY - At least one Thursday morning a month, you can bet Ruth Chester will be wheeling down to the activity room at DeBary Manor nursing home to take her monthly trip back in time with the Kitchen Band.
She hears the 14 members singing along with Pat Boone writing "Love Letters in the Sand," Dean Martin advising the lovelorn to "Powder Your Face With Sunshine," while The Drifters stroll "Under the Boardwalk" and take the 80-year-old longtime DeBary resident right back there with them. She's singing right along, a wide smile showing in her eyes.
"Music has always been a big part of my life and I'm not alone," Ms. Chester said, pointing to her two-dozen neighbors who wanted to be there, too, many just to listen with their eyes closed. "I sang in the choir since I was a little girl. We used to get in the car and sing our way wherever we were going and all the way back. So all these songs here, I know most of them. We all do."
Formed a dozen years ago by residents of The Cloisters of DeLand, the members of the Kitchen Band are about the same age as their audiences. They stay seated during most of one rehearsal and one half-hour performance every Thursday at a different area nursing home.
They don't bother with instruments, settling instead for some form of kitchen utensil - hence the name.
"We used to do pots and pans, too," said Roger Wagner, The Cloisters' assistant activities director, "but pots are gone now. Hard on the ears."
Although some have evolved to more practical instruments, such as tambourines, maracas or bongos, others, like Beth Klein, prefer to stick with tradition. She's got a cheese grater she lovingly scratches with a potato masher.
She's been performing with the Kitchen Band for three years and adores it when Mr. Wagner, the group's master of ceremonies, pulls her up to dance and sing a duet.
"You're mashing potatoes again?" he asks her between songs.
"No, silly" she replies curtly, "I'm making music!"
Keeping all these songs close is what matters to Ms. Klein the most.
"These were the songs we sung back when we were young," she said. " I've always had music in my life, and this is a way to keep it in my life."
Then she whispers, "I'm 92 today."
Mr. Wagner said the group has no pretensions.
"This was started by residents getting together and wanting to do something for the community," he said. "A lot of them couldn't sing then and they can't sing now, but it didn't matter then and it doesn't matter now."
After the show, performer Tom McNerney of DeBary stood in the lobby of DeBary Manor before hopping back on the bus to The Cloisters. He lived here for three years, and every minute brings another shout of "Tom!" or "My man!"
Mr. McNerney shakes hands with his old neighbors. One asks him why he's playing the traveling Vaudeville circuit these days.
"It's this old music," he says. "It makes me feel like I'm young again. And I've got all these ladies along for the ride. Can't beat that."
To book a date with the Kitchen Band, call (386) 822-6900, Ext. 208.