Sam does not feel like talking. He doesn’t understand why this unfamiliar youngster keeps asking him questions. “What’s the point of all this?” he barks. He tucks his head even farther into his baseball cap and turns away.
It is my first Memory Bridge buddy visit and I’m feeling nervous and a bit overwhelmed by memories of my father. The residents here all seem very familiar to me: they are about Dad’s age, the same generation, and the same disease. I’m also wondering what is to be done about Sam, who seems increasingly belligerent, and his high school buddy, who seems increasingly uncomfortable.
Kate, the Memory Bridge program manager, moves to the rescue. “Sam,” she asks him, crouching to eye level. “Do you know the song ‘Sentimental Journey’?” As she sings the first line, her eyes tear. Later, she tells me that her grandfather is dying; this is his favorite song.
“Gonna take a sentimental journey…” Kate begins.
Sam is now smiling. “Gonna set my mind at ease…” he joins in, his voice clear and strong.
“Gonna take a sentimental journey, to renew old memories,” they continue together.
The similarity between Sam and my father is unexpected—and unbelievable. Like Sam, apparently, no matter how far my father seemed to have slipped into his private world, music could always bring him back. His eyes would light up and his hands start keeping time, and we would be treated to what remained of his beautiful baritone voice.
Now other buddies and students are joining in and requesting tunes. Alma, the nurse, brings out her guitar. Raucous versions of “It’s a Grand Old Flag,” “You Are My Sunshine” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” follow. Arms are waving and faces beaming. I’m singing along.
“How do you know these old songs?” one woman asks me.
“My father was a singer,” I say.