‘Orange juice for the ear.’

This observation about the late Oliver Sacks’ book Musicophillia (2007) struck just the right note when I read it:

… music can animate people with Parkinson’s disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer’s or amnesia.”

Before Thanksgiving last year, I mentioned to our grandson Miah that I’d been searching for a very simple device that would enable his granddad to hear his favorite music. A few weeks later, he posted an article on Facebook that explained  the positive effect of music on the brains of people with dementia. Carolynn saw our Facebook exchange and within few minutes she forwarded a link to me. She was excited. “I think this would work for Poppy,” she wrote.

Fifteen minutes later I was in The Alzheimer’s Store and, yes, she’d found the perfect solution. The Simple Music Player is a reinforced, sturdy little thing with the retro charm of the radio that sat on my nightstand when I was a teenager. Lift the lid to start the music, push the big black button to change to another song, and shut the lid to turn it off. It comes loaded with familiar 1940s big band sounds and songs. Plus, a USB cable is included so that the caregiver can add favorite music. And, I should add, it’s Made in England.

Before I went to bed that night, I’d ordered the player. A few days later it was on my doorstep. Quite honestly, I wanted to keep it! The sound is outstanding, it is very easy to use and, best of all, neither I.D. nor password are required to use it. But I did put it under the Christmas tree for my husband.

Unfortunately, I have yet to download Peter’s favorite old albums, but I’ve got his extensive list at the ready: Jazz that the world forgot, 1920’s classics; The best of Jelly-Roll Morton; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Louis Armstrong, The Hot Fives; Absolutely the Best of the Blues; Count Basie One O’Clock Jump; Bessie Smith; Cab Calloway Forever Gold; Armstrong and King Oliverto name just a fraction of the hundreds in his collection.

Christmas night, I managed to entice Peter to dance to one of the oh-so-danceable songs. It was the first time in years that we’d “tripped the light fantastic.” Our intent was good, but our feet were laughably clumsy.


Be sure to turn sound up.

Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears—it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more—it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.” Oliver Sacks (1933-2015)

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

 

 

 

How lovely are thy branches?

The Christmas morning clatter—save the boxes, keep the ribbon, recycle the tissue, read the directions, where’s the receipt, the vac is clogged—is a week in the past. As I write, the new year is just hours away.  I can’t say I’m sorry to see the old one out.

This dwindling year has been an annus horribilis, as Queen Elizabeth II defined her 1992. She referred to her children’s marital follies and questionable clandestine issues, as well as the costly fire in Windsor Castle, one of her favorites.

Even though this has been an awful year for the Clarke family, we’ve found bright spots to keep us laughing. The house didn’t burn down either.

One of Peter’s new helpers, fascinated by his natural affinity with children, observed him interacting with a little boy. They stood on the fringe of a crowd waiting to see the Nutcracker ballet. I wasn’t there but I’m sure my husband’s eyes twinkled while he made silly faces and crouched to the two-year-old’s eye level. More than once, the boy announced loudly to anyone else in range that this, pointing to Peter, was his New Best Friend.

When I heard the story I smiled in spite of myself and my fretting.

For months I’d wondered how, or if, I would cope, how Peter would do, how would we all manage during the holidays. But, miraculously, my husband had settled into his new “digs” and no longer asked, “Is this my room?” every time I led him inside.

With a lot of propping up from family and friends, I spun through Christmas with more good cheer than I’d thought I could muster. I dashed and twirled and muddled, but in many ways, the week was actually one of the best we’ve ever had. The eight of us kept him busy with meals and snacks, card games, walks, movies, billiards, and chatter. Not that Peter talked much, but he smiled, chuckling, as he listened. If he had been able to channel my dad, my husband might have said, “Well, someone has to listen.”

Header: In 2017, Peter lifted a dug-up pine to bring home with help from Leslie who wore red and white striped camouflage.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

‘Consider yourself reminded.’

He stood at the kitchen table and puzzled over the red envelope I’d tucked inside the morning paper. “Is it my birthday?” he asked as he opened the card. It showed two goldfish smiling at each other from their side-by-side bowls. When he jumps into her bowl they live happily ever after, presumably.

Right month, wrong date. “No, Valentine’s Day,” I said.

“Oh, I didn’t know. Why didn’t you remind me?”

happy-dancing-red-heart-cartoon-isolated-on-white-background-valentine-s-day-greeting-three-dimensional-character-render_123656113I pointed to his message board where I’d put frolicking red hearts every day this past week. He shook his head and shrugged his apology. In fairness, the card isn’t a Valentine, strictly speaking. It’s teal and gold, not red and pink, and it’s a general purpose card about happiness. It could be a birthday card.

I picked it because of the goldfish. They’re known to have exceptionally short attention spans. Peter is my goldfish.

Leslie, on the other hand, delivered a red and pink, glitter-encrusted card that said, “Happy Valentine’s Day…consider yourself reminded.” She often reminds me to be as direct as possible with my husband, no complicated explanations, no double meanings. He had no trouble remembering  she’d brought a shiny red, heart-shaped box of chocolates. We each had one with our breakfast porridge.

I said it was OK that he didn’t remember the day. “You gave me the best present Wednesday…”

“I did? What was it?” He looked pleased with himself.

“…extra-special hugs after our dinner at India Garden.”

“Why’d I do that?”

“We hadn’t been there in a while. You cleaned your plate and mine, it tasted that good to you.”

“I don’t remember.”

“We’ll go again before too long. Maybe I’ll get more hugs…?” I batted my eyes.

He took the hint and hugged me. “Don’t get used to this,” he said, as I knew he would.

Maybe there’s something to be said for predictability.

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Chocolates for breakfast. What a way to start the day.

Color me aqua.

Christmas 2015 is history. I “bah-humbugged” through the season, but the day itself was memorable for lots of reasons. Not only did Peter not remember it was the 25th, he didn’t know it was December.

For the first time in years, he gave me a present he selected, or perhaps “selected by omission” is a better way of saying it. Leslie took him shopping. She took him to one likely shop, but when he looked in the window, he said no. He walked next door  and went in. He’d never been in either place before.

She pointed out several sweaters but, rejecting those, he chose another in aqua. (Strange, because it’s a color he really dislikes.) Carolynn thought maybe he picked it because I wore an aqua sweater the night we met — I like that theory. I love the sweater, the color, and the white shirt he (or Leslie) chose for under it.

Next, they went to buy a card. When I opened it Christmas morning, I heard a lively voice say, “HI THERE.” We both startled. Leslie, watching, hooted. “Peter jumped every time he opened the card in the shop,” she said. By moving the snowman’s hat onto the snowman, LEDs flash and an orchestra plays the first phrases of “Sleigh Ride.”  What fun it was!

On December 26, Boxing Day in England and, not coincidentally, our anniversary, I spied a slim package under the tree. A very sweet card topped it, but I’ll keep the message to myself.

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The gift was a calendar, desk blotter-sized, to color. I don’t know which of them found it, but Leslie knows I’ve fallen in love with coloring all over again. Peter remembered enough about the childhood pastime to ask, “Is this enough? Shouldn’t I buy the…equipment…the stuff…to go with it?” Leslie said no, and told him, “Mom really has enough colored pencils and crayons.” (By my count, 150 coloring  implements, one art gum eraser.)

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The jolly snowman card was a hit with everyone on Christmas Day and the days since. I keep it on the kitchen table. Every time I open it, Peter jumps and we laugh.

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Memories of Christmas just past. Color me happy.

 

‘Laughing all the way…’

“You’ve made my tea!” Peter had just come back from walking Nobby. He was surprised because I don’t usually make his multiple morning cups of tea.

“Yes, Leslie is coming by to pick you up in twenty minutes. She’s taking you shopping.”

“Why? Do I need to go shopping?”

“You don’t need to, but you always like to look,” I said. “You don’t have to buy anything.”

He grinned. “Oh, I get it. You put her up to this, didn’t you?”

“Nope. She just called and said she was taking you out. It’ll be fun.”

“Well, I love ya’ anyway, don’t I?” he said as he came towards me, arms outstretched for a hug.

I stalled him by pulling his jacket open to check if his shirt was clean. “Oh, you look good!” I said, surprised.

Without so much as a pause, he yanked my hoodie open, gave me his lecherous glance, and said, “You do too, Darlin’!”

I doubled over with laughter. He hasn’t forgotten how to lay it on. With his hug I handed him a generous supply of cash. Just in case he, you know, wanted to buy anything for anyone…for Christmas.

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