Mama’s happy when she cries the blues.

Peter’s eyes sparkled, his foot tapped and his lips smiled when he heard the tinkling sounds of Jelly Roll Morton jivin’ on the piano. He recognized the music instantly and that just made my day.

I don’t cry easily, but my husband lit up when he recognized ol’ Jelly Roll and that light-fingered style he had. And I sniffled, no, I cried. I’d finally taken his music player—his Christmas gift—back to him loaded with his longtime jazz favorites from the 1920s .

Ma Rainey did her “thang” and belted out “Black Bottom Blues,” then Al Hirt laid on “Bourbon Street” and Jelly Roll must’ve plumb wore his fingers out all the way from “Doctor Jazz” to “Grandpa’s Spells,” some 18 cuts later.

I asked him if he knew the lyrics or the titles, but he laughed and shook his head no. “I remember the music though,” he said, nodding to the beat. When Louie Armstrong started warbling “High Society,” he attempted to sing along. His imitation of “Satchmo” was still as off key as ever and he bumbled the words as he always did, but he was happy.

Funny, one of his favorite CDs is “Jazz the World Forgot.” My husband may not remember much these days, but he hasn’t forgotten his passion for the sounds of the raucous, roaring twenties.

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

When the edge is gone.

Our son-in-law Martin launches into contemplative ruminations occasionally, usually about some subject so obscure that no one knows what he’s talking about. We all laugh and pay him no nevermind. Some eyes may glaze over as he rambles.

Not long ago, Leslie and Martin, Peter and I went out to dinner. Leslie and I chattered about this and that, Martin chimed in now and then, and Peter listened, silent as usual.

Into a gap in the conversation Martin said, “You know, Pete reminds me of a well-loved old kitchen knife. A very good knife, once sharp, but a bit dulled by time and use.” Leslie and I chuckled, and Peter smiled as if he got it, but I know he didn’t. Martin was pleased with his metaphor and, I admitted, it was a good one.

Old knives did all sorts of jobs in the right hands — they peeled apples and potatoes, chopped cabbage, loosened sealed jars, dismembered chickens, even acted as screwdrivers in a pinch. Even when they don’t hold their edges anymore, those knives still hold pride of place in kitchen drawers, for sentimental reasons, if for nothing else.

 

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My great-granddad Tommy’s whetstone and an old knife from my drawer.

Header photo:  Veg for stew or for the compost bin?

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Thinking for two.

He doesn’t worry about things; he just…seems to accept he can just do what he can do and can’t do everything. He’s always been the sort of person who doesn’t think too deeply about things.

I seem to be the one who’s finding it hard because everything as it was in our lives is finished. I’m 58 and I think if I was 70 I’d be more accepting of the situation, but I’m always thinking for two people and I’m exhausted most of the time.

The paragraphs above express my feelings, but I didn’t write them. The writer, Penny, is the caregiver for her husband Harold. They live in Lincolnshire, England, and her article, “Coping strategies,” was on the Alzheimer Society’s UK website several years ago.

I search the web often for ideas that could help us, so when I came across Penny’s piece I felt a certain kinship — Peter is English and I always wanted to be. Besides, Penny understands the therapeutic effects of a cup of tea. 

 

Tea in a china cup and a McVitie's biscuit.

Tea and a McVitie’s chocolate biscuit.

 

It feels like there’s always a next step; something else to think about…going to the day centre, …getting used to the day centre, … going more often, and now…trying an overnight stay and…respite.

For us, it was getting used to the idea of Bill who started taking Peter and Nobby to nursing homes three years ago. Now Bill drives Peter to physical therapy too. Soon, I’ll add more in-home care so that I can have some respite.

There are things I miss, like having someone to discuss things with. We’re having some decorating done at the moment and I might ask Harold what he thinks, but it’s not the same.

Oh yes! In the past year a number of small house repairs needed attention, plus some major things to deal with. Even though I knew Peter couldn’t manage any of them, I wanted him to listen and lend an encouraging word at least. But if I were to say anything he’d be upset because he no longer understands the problems, nor can he help anymore.

So I whine to my daughters and to a few good friends.

I don’t look forward too far, as I would just be worried all the time. 

Penny mentions missing the things they used to do together…caravaning and dancing…but she believes things could be worse.

One day at a time, is the motto I try to adhere to.

There has been more deterioration latterly and Harold relies on me more. But I have to learn to let go each time something is lost.

Harold was only 64 when he was diagnosed, Peter, 71. I think Peter is losing ground more slowly than Harold. What keeps Peter somewhat steady, I think, is that he is now, and always has been, so bloody single-minded, the effects of a separate issue. I never thought I’d be glad that was the case.

I have wondered about giving up work, although [it] gives me a bit of respite. But that would lead to another form of stress as it would affect us financially.

We’ve been retired a long time, and we’re OK financially, but stress related to finances plagues me almost daily. But that’s another post.

Penny and I have such similar concerns — I wish we were on the same side of the pond so we could share a cuppa.

 

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©Nikki McWilliams digital print; original painted in tea.

 

Note: There will be more from Penny in another post.

Sources: Living with dementia magazine, The magazine of Alzheimer’s Society UK, and www.alzheimers.org.uk/magazine

Header photo: Flower star, London market, 2006

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.