Fiddling tunes at Harbor Place, a section of the nursing home where Mom was living, seemed like a worthy way to spend an hour or so. The occupants were suffering from dementia, and I had learned the most I could contribute was to provide them moments of pleasure.
Mom was obviously delighted I had come with my fiddle. Grinning nonstop, she sat in a seat toward the front where she could see and hear everything. Everyone seemed cheerful. Maybe dementia sometimes fools people into thinking they’re happy, or maybe they are.
Beginning with the bluegrass tune ‘Old Joe Clark,’ imagine my surprise when my guitar playing friend Michael and I played through the tune a dozen times because Jimmie, a stately African-American woman of uncertain age, catapulted herself into the song and belted out every known verse with unbridled gusto.
Others tapped and clapped out the rhythm. I’m sure my face didn’t hide my amazement at Jimmie’s extraordinary ability to sing all those verses. Magic! Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched and listened to her sing. Her long-term memory had returned to being a sharecropper’s daughter as she remembered the words to a song sung long ago. Every morning for over ﬁve years, Jimmie had asked the attendants where she was and how long she had been there. What joy that ‘Old Joe Clark’ had stuck with her all those years.
Jimmie had no idea of her surroundings. However, in addition to her uncanny ability to remember all those lyrics, she had been crocheting complicated patterns day in and day out for five years. Compared to other residents’ rooms, hers was vibrant, covered with rainbow colored doilies and scarves.
Jimmie’s singing charmed most of us, but a petite woman, Regina, just watched without expression. When the song ﬁnally ended, Regina leaned over to Michael and whispered the only thing she could say in English, “I’m an Italian girl.”
Michael beamed. He replied, “I’m an Italian boy,” and serenaded her with “That’s Amore.” Regina smiled from wrist to wrist. Hollywood’s central casting could not have pulled it off any better. By then tears rolled down my cheeks. It was a magic moment of happiness for the ‘Italian girl’ and for Michael and me too. In those brief moments, all was right with the world. Michael and I may have embarked on providing moments of pleasure that day to Harbor Place residents, but we left with memories to last us a lifetime.