The Best 3 1\2 Minutes of my Week.
Every Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. I play an old piano at an old age home, where my mother currently resides as she battles Alzheimer’s disease. Battle is not really the right word here, as the disease declared victory many years ago, and now the illness just sits there smirking viciously, while celebrating its pyrrhic victory over the first beautiful lady I ever met.
I have written about this before, https://breakingwell.com/2015/04/22/wake-up-mom/, so to avoid and stop redundancy, I will share a new story through a very different lens. My weekly obligation to this group of very old, grateful senior citizens, is a habit I am unable to break. Perhaps the gentle applause after a recognizable song from the 1940s feeds my ego in a way my manager’s positive performance reviews no longer can. It might even be a recognition of a distant memory, where there was a time when my mother would sing along to the old Sinatra songs I still play poorly, that fuels my desire to recapture a moment that will never reoccur. Whatever my deep psychological reason for the weekly ego trip is, I will leave the analysis to those more professional people with comfortable leather couches to determine.
As time passed at my weekly gig, I began to deviate from the typical song list of songs written long before I was born, as I became increasingly bored with playing the repetitive menu of old standards. This was a delicate dilemma to address, as I did not want to offend the senior crowd’s expectations, while trying to play a song that somehow wasn’t connected to memories of World Wars or those fabulous 1950s.
One evening, to demonstrate what I thought was a rather clever compromise to this internal riddle, I chose to play a song from my own history, while masking it with a Gershwin like approach. I played the Beatles 1st American number one hit “I Wanna Hold your Hand” at such a slow tempo, dirges played at funerals would be embarrassed. Yes I disguised the song with a ballad-like arrangement that the undiscerning ear might mistake for some Ella Fitzgerald jazz standard.
Remembering that this song catapulted Beatlemania into our hemisphere were facts I could not ignore. I was changing the song’s innocent lyrics with that catchy upbeat tempo and melody, while subconsciously ignoring Its irresistible effect on unsuspecting teenage girls in the early 1960s. I have a suspicion the Fab Four had a little more on their minds than just holding the hands with the adoring screaming girls, but groupies as an acceptable occupation,had not yet come into fashion. Perhaps this song may have started that now accepted rock star trend. Hedonism resorts were soon to follow.
The little gathering place that houses the piano at this assisted living home, is furnished with many chairs and couches. The attendance pattern of each night is populated by two distinct generations. The residents, who often rely on walkers and wheelchairs get the preferred seating areas. And another group, the adult children of these parents, occupy the other seats that tend to get moved very close to their adored parents. Each night these children who comfortably resemble my own age, sit beside their immediate relative and try to encourage their bespectacled ancestor to tap their feet and even sing along. There has yet to be a mosh pit formed during my performance, but one can only hope.
As the weeks passed, and the moment arrived where I played this slow paced deviation of a Lennon McCartney classic, I began to notice something quite remarkable.
The crowd was now very familiar with my annoying introduction to this song. As I sarcastically pronounce about finally getting to play I song I actually heard on my very own transistor radio, I slowly play the opening chords of a song the younger adults recognize. The offspring now begin to extend one of their hands and gently grasp the very wrinkled hand of their parent. They hold that hand with a lovingness no word I know, can describe. Often the children use the other hand to softly stroke the arm of the parent.
As lyrics like “And when I touch you I feel happy inside” echo in the room, the grip of these two generations gets a little tighter and the parents seemed overwhelmed with the simple connection. That emotion never causes a release of those two hands.
As I finish the final verse of my unorthodox version of a golden oldie, with the concluding line “You’ve got that something, I think you’ll understand. When I feel that something, I Wanna hold your hand”, the familial connection intensifies. It is like these two boys from Liverpool had a theory to test, they cleverly disguised in a pop song. Is tender human touch our greatest expression of love? Every Wednesday for 3 1\2 minutes their theory is confirmed.
The song ends, and a few require a tissue hidden in the sleeve of their garment, and we move on to those songs only the elderly recognize. But that three and half minutes stays with me. It stays with me on my drive home, and it often clouds those thoughts one has, as they try to get to sleep. This moment has had other repercussions that are more curious for me. This brief moment in time, as Mr. Hawking would describe it, has unfortunately created a more confounding new moment for me.
We all have strong memories that are directly related to songs of our troubled youth. We hear a song from our distant past and our bodies are immediately transported to the basement of an old friend’s house where decades ago, some life altering event took place. The event is still indestructibly linked to some song playing in the background and you smile in your car, whenever that song is played.
My connection to the song “I Wanna Hold your hand” was a cherished memory of a time where the music world was attacked by a British invasion of heavily accented bands. My strong recollection is of my aunts making me sit down and listen to a new group they thought they alone had discovered. The joy on their faces as the little 45 spun out its magic through the family tube reliant stereo, was a memory I cherished. That memory is now destroyed. I no longer think about Beatlemania when I occasionaly hear this song on one of my new fangled music apps, With apologies to those legendary gifted songwriters,who clearly had a very different intent with the composition. I will never hear that song the same way again.
Below is a facsimile of the version of the aforementioned song, that seemed to dominate this week’s narrative. “Too slow” will ultimately be part of your musical critique, but I was never described as very swift.
Full disclosure: The title here is The Best 3 1\2 Minutes of my Week. You will notice the song is actually only 3 minutes and 29 seconds. This extra second will allow you to move on to more important things to do today.
Cue the Blong: A facsimile of what the hospital crowd must endure every Wednesday.
That was so beautiful and I was bawling like a baby before the music started. After two Tissues all that there is left to say is that your talent as a musician, writer and humourist are exceeded only by your sensitivity and kindness. You are quite a guy Dennis Ford. 😘
Wow Debby, thanks for the very kind comment. I apologize for the tissue issue, however moments like these can be kleenex worthy. Hope to see you soon.
Sitting here with tears in my eyes. How great of you to give of your time and talent to your mom, the residents and their families!
Mary Ann, first thanks so much for taking time to read my little item. I really appreciate your very kind words, and hope the kleenex was near by. I will offer something less emotional here to offset that last one. https://breakingwell.com/2016/04/19/the-disappearing-words/
Your Mom and those folks that hang with her have something in common with myself and many many others. We’ve all got great memories of many wonderful moments beside a piano with D Ford. Thanks for the article Fordski, and thanks for all the music and smiles.
Hey Grant, Thunder Road is still one of my favourite moments ever when you and I discover a piano in any hotel across North America. Thanks for the kind words.
Very creative and I agree with the comments above. Many nights around the infamous piano giving courage to those of us who have no business singing a note at all is the part I miss the most. Keep up your gift to mix, humour with humility, reality and respect. Great storyteller and today’s world is missing this waning communication approach. I don’t always comment, in fact I think the moving article about your mom was the other other comment I provided, but I am a committed Breaking well card holder proudly wearing the silk screened logo on the tank top you included with my membership dues and I also enjoy the time it takes to read your stories as a refreshing refuel to continue to read text messages with so many abbreviations resembling a distant foreign language
Denis thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I get so few messages, I often wonder if I am writing for myself:) I appreciate the contrasting you make to texts and foreign languages. I will get you a membership card soon.
Deeply moved by your article and song. Thanks for sharing.
Sandra Jackson, there is a name from the past. Thanks for you kind comments and I hope all is well with you. I am flattered that you read this little rant.
Loved this piece, Dennis. Well done, as always.
I recently came back from a visit with my Dad in Saskatoon who is suffering from dementia and resides in a home as well, and it hits right home with me. So thanks for helping me keep some memories close… cheers.
Rory I am saddened to hear your are going through this. No words can help here, but I do wish you a little peace with that situation. I do my best to remember what they were and not what they are.
Dennis, fortunate in my current employ to be with seniors on a daily basis I have seen the profound impact music can have on those living with dementia. You continue to make a difference – sure you are receiving a positive performance review every Wed. 🙂
Thanks Joe, I appreciate the comment and the truth behind how music can soothe the people at these homes.
I think it is so lovely that you spend time with your Mom’s crowd. Of course I am loving the whole Beatles interjection…..
Music is an energy vibration that resonates and reaches many…including us. Love your blongs!
Wow Cathy and Bruce, two replies on one night. Thanks for your comments and tolerating the less funny blog. I hope all is well with both and I will talk to my lovely wife when she awakes, and suggest getting a time to connect long before the summer ends. Enjoy your weekend.