I’ve written before about how Mum responds to music and, sometimes, to photographs. Today, I hit her with both. I took my trusty laptop with me, mainly to show Mum some photos of a balloon trip last weekend. I bought the trip as a birthday present for my wife three years ago and after 23 postponements, mostly due to adverse weather, we finally left the ground last Saturday afternoon. It was worth waiting for. Warwickshire is a beautiful county and in warm autumn sunshine, we saw it as its best.
Mum followed the slideshow, only occasionally drifting away. Sadly, she didn’t recognise my wife in a photo but I don’t think she’s known her for quite a while. That realisation hits me right in the pit of my stomach because Mum loved/loves Mary and was so happy when we married 13 year ago. I have a sneaking feeling Mum had wondered whether I would ever “settle down”. Looking back, I’m very grateful for the times Mary and I shared with Mum and Dad. I just wish there had been more of them.
Before heading over to Mum’s today, I’d made a playlist of some of her favourite songs and initially, I played some music to accompany the photos. Mistake. Mum can really only concentrate on one thing at a time and so if I drew attention to the song being played, the slideshow was forgotten. But after the photos had been viewed, I experienced – again- the sense that music can reach parts of Mum which other things can’t. Oliver Sacks, in his book “Musicophilia – Tales of Music and the Brain”, writes about how musical memory somehow survives “the ravages of disease”. I don’t pretend to understand the science but I delight in connecting with Mum in this way. Some of the songs she might have known a couple of years ago seemed to puzzle her today but her favourites remain as potent as ever. “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine” is always a winner. Mum loved “Showboat” and of all its memorable songs, that one in particular. As soon as she recognised the opening line: “Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly…”, her face lit up and she was away. We took a trip to “Oklahoma”, praising a beautiful morning, and shared Frank’s “High Hopes”.
Today’s surprise winner was a staple of “Stewpot” Stewart’s Junior Choice of the 1970s. “The Unicorn Song” by the Bachelors – please don’t ask why it’s on my iPod because I really don’t know – was a left-field selection but Mum sang happily about the green alligators and the humpty back camels.
As always, the same song topped Mum’s hit parade though.
Perry Como’s “Magic Moments” has long been a favourite of both of us and she was as fluent as ever as we sang along today. The song is part of my childhood. Mum owned it on a 78 and an entry in her diary from 1958 recalls the day she bought the record. In my earliest years, as I grew to love music, it was one of the songs I played most often. It remains a regular on my iPod today and I still own the original 78.
Of course, there’s a poignant irony here. “Magic Moments” is all about the “..mem’ries we’ve been sharing..” and that’s precisely what Mum doesn’t have any more. She can remember the words, but can’t recall the memories of listening to the record together more than 40 years ago. But, today, as we both sang the final line “…filled with love…” we smiled and laughed, as we probably did all those years ago.
I’ll remember today even if Mum doesn’t.