After wheeling my mother to a table in the activity room of her care facility in Los Gatos, California, I walk to a cabinet and open a door looking for something to do. 1950’s country music fills the large room. Shamelessly, joyfully people are singing along with Elvis.
“You don’t have to say you love me–”
Finding a box labeled “Jenga,” I carry it back to mom, pouring the blocks onto the table in front of her. Mutely she watches as I begin stacking pieces into three boxy towers–hoping she will play the game by adding blocks and then pulling them away.
She doesn’t remember how to play, yet she remember sensations.
Picking up a wooden rectangle she deftly rubs her fingers over the smooth surface. Her hand alive with feeling, seeking to turn sensory signals into words. “Oh, this feel so–” She tries to convey but a repeating word starts a slippery slide off her tongue running over and over again and again, until thoughts fall to pieces.
My building project grows–without her input–as she silently continues working her fingers around two sleek wooden game pieces. Soon, the mood around us shifts as several robust voices begin singing and The Yellow Rose of Texas carries the room away.
For me, a vivid memory arises of my father and mother singing that song together in the kitchen on a Saturday morning. My mother–her mind now broken from the sticky edges of Alzheimer’s disease–continues caressing her blocks. Soon, my tower rises tall and her Yellow Rose of Texas blooms. Smiling, she begins clapping her wooden blocks rhythmically together and singing–“The yellow rose of Texas I’m going there to see…” Her words clear and her tune right on target.
There are different kinds of memories and only certain memories rely on a functioning brain. Memories arise from many stimuli, like touch and sound as well as feelings and emotion.
It’s a beautiful experience watching distant memories engage through music.