Gresham singers play kazoos, piano to make spirits brighter
by: Jim Clark The Hot Shots perform at Village Health Care in Gresham on Thursday, Dec. 22,

A woman with a fish on her head gets up and dances around as what sounds like a hive of bees buzzes loudly.

No, this isn't some bizarre dream you're having because you drank too much eggnog - it's a Christmas celebration at Village Health Care Center, 3955 S.E. 182nd Ave.

At the party's center are the red-vested Hot Shots, 10 East County residents who entertain four times a month at area nursing homes and senior centers. Depending on the time of year, the group might sing romantic songs, Irish songs, wedding songs or patriotic numbers.

On Dec. 22, the Hot Shots performed at Village Health in front of an appreciative audience, from men and women in wheelchairs clapping along to the music as others, like the lady with a fake fish on her head, got up and danced to such tunes as 'Jingle Bells' and 'White Christmas.'

Led by Carita Wagner, the group plays kazoos that sound like a hive of honeybees from a distance as well as bells, washboards and, we kid you not, an 'intestinal fiddle' (the less questions asked on that, the better).

'I enjoy music, but I don't like to get up and sing solo by myself,' Wagner says, noting she and her husband of 62 years, James, have been Hot Shots for almost three decades.

Wagner says anyone can join the group, and it rehearses from 10 to 11 a.m. every Wednesday at Gresham Senior Center, 600 N.E. Eighth St. She says she loves the group because it gives her a chance to mingle with people.

'When you feel that you made somebody else feel good, then don't you feel good too?' she says.

Key member

Mary Towsley, the group's piano player, has been a Hot Shot for almost two years and punctuates her speech with 'oh heck' a lot. She describes the group as 'a bunch of old timers' who are 'actually fun.'

Towsley says the Hot Shots always start their shows with 'Happy Birthday' for anyone who's marking a milestone and then do a patriotic song before going with the show's theme.

'What is the most fun for those folks is some of the good ol' songs and the really lively bouncy stuff,' she says, noting 'Puff the Magic Dragon' is a perennial favorite. She adds that 'Take Me Out To The Ballgame' can also drive retirees into frenzy.

'Boy, would they whoop it up for that one,' she says.

Shirley a great time

Hailing from Troutdale where she sings in the choir at Faith United Methodist Church, Shirley Harsbarger, 76, joined the Hot Shots three months ago 'because there's older people who are still making music.

'Some of our choir members are older than the people we visit at the homes,' she says.

Like Wagner and Towsley, she says singing in the Hot Shots lets her meet and greet other people. In particular, she enjoys watching audience members' eyes light up when they recognize a favorite song.

'I can just see memories going across the faces of these folks,' she says.

She does have one rule, however. She will not, under any circumstance, make no mistakes about it, buster, play the kazoo.

'I am not the kazoo person because it tickles my lips, and I can hardly stand it,' she says with a chuckle. 'I 'la, la, la, la, la' it.'

Are you hot enough?

• For more information on the Hot Shots, call Carita Wagner at 503-665-7674.

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