Opinion: … as we go through the years, day by day

A little while ago I went home to spend a few days with my mom and dad. At 85, Dad’s been dealing with Alzheimer’s for several years now, and Mom is dealing with the fact that her man and best friend of more than 60 years is slowly slipping away. Before I even got there, she warned me that the disease had been progressing.

“He doesn’t even put his music on anymore,” she told me over the phone. “He just isn’t interested, it doesn’t register.”

For Dad, that’s indeed a significant change. Music in general and jazz in particular has been a big part of his life. Joining the Air Force out of the hills of West “By God” Virginia had opened up the world to him, exposing him to people, places and cultures that he never would have experienced otherwise. The years that he was stationed in Kansas City, with its then-legendary jazz scene, were of special importance.

But that too has slipped away.

On my last day there, Mom asked me to do a couple of home projects. I began digging into Dad’s toolchest, stored in the back of a closet and long untouched, and began pulling out the tools I would need. Drawn by the commotion, Dad appeared at my elbow, watching but saying nothing.

A few minutes later, I was standing up on a ladder and realized I needed a screwdriver. I started to climb down but Dad stopped me.

“Whatcha need, boy?”

“Uh, a screwdriver.”

“OK. Phillips or standard?”

I looked at him, a little surprised.

“Phillips,” I said, and sure enough, he reached into the toolbox, pulled out a Phillips-head screwdriver and handed it to me. I was a little surprised, and my mind flashed back to those years as a kid, handing tools to my father as he stood on a ladder or lay beneath the family car.

As our work continued, Dad got more and more engaged. He was always ready with the next tool I would need, and a couple of times he made suggestions on how to do something, and damned if he wasn’t right. It was pretty amazing.

“Hey, you know what we need?” he said at one point. “We need some music!” He shuffled over to his stacks of CDs and made a selection, and a minute later the house was filled with music again.

Mom walked into the room with a big, befuddled grin on her face. She looked at her frail, thin husband bouncing to the rhythm, and at me up on the ladder.

“Did you do that?” she asked me.

“Nope. He did.”

She looked at Dad, eyes shining, and her smile grew even bigger.

Dad smiled back, knowing that he must have done something good, even if he wasn’t quite sure what it was. “Get out of here,” he finally joked to her, a little embarrassed. “We guys got work to do.”

We went back to work, and the music played on.

Anyway, here’s a cut from the album that Dad played that day, which not coincidentally serves as a tribute to the greatest couple I know:

As that probably demonstrates, Dad had come of musical age in that awkward era after World War II, but before rock ‘n roll took over the world. In that brief window in time, “The Four Freshmen” had been kings of the American music scene, topping the charts week after week. (Dad told me once that he didn’t think much of the Beatles as musicians, but “boy, they sure know how to write a good song.” That revelation came to him after jazz musicians had begun to reinterpret the Beatles songbook. )

And if the harmonies of the Freshmen sound familiar for some reason, you have a good ear. A kid growing up in California around that time by the name of Brian Wilson found their sound fascinating, tearing apart their arrangements and harmonies until he understood how to do it himself. From that, came the Beach Boys.

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38 comments
piconur.
piconur.

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Bergy08
Bergy08

Love this story. Read your column regularly - some of the best perspectives I have read.

Oy Vey
Oy Vey

Great story Jay! Thank you for sharing.

honested
honested

Thanks for that Jay!

Glad you were able to be there for the experience.

Mick11
Mick11

"Dad told me once that he didn’t think much of the Beatles as musicians, but “boy, they sure know how to write a good song.”

My dad said exactly the same and he also loved jazz!  His favorite was dinah washington.

We lost him him this past march and there isn't one day that I don't think of him.  Raising nine kids, he was tough as nails but he became my best friend after I left home.  He was tough, strong and could fix anything, a real mechanic that was born out of necessity during the great depression. 

A lifelong democrat, he thought obama was a great president, he said history will bear that out.  He's already right. 

The concept of everlasting life and heaven is kinda tough for me at this point, I mean what are you supposed to do for eternity??

If you read scripture closely you can detect that even jesus gets a bit frustrated by that question.  It's as if he's saying why do you not appreciate this life that you have right now???  It's a miracle of plain sight and consciousness!!!!!! 

The only concept of heaven that works for me is being able to see and talk to dad again along with all those loved ones and pets who have passed.

Now that he's gone, I understand that I would be happy for all eternity just to see and talk to him again-


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tx6MQ7tmgSc

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Sweet story, jay.

A son on a ladder with a Dad (firmly grounded) handing him the necessary tools.

You have been blessed.

A message to your minions?

Never disparage the elder generation.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

As my Mother used to say " getting old, is not easy " now I know more about that meaning, sad but a part of life's cycle. Be thankful for the good days.  

2geniuses
2geniuses

Beautiful story Jay. 


My Dad has a similar story. He served in Korea as a radio operator. He began his collection of jazz vinyl at the commissary. He worked on an air base and was on call 24/7 to man his post. He and his buddies shared a turntable and listened to Miles, Bird, Brubeck etc to fill the down time. He shipped his substantial collection home ahead of his boat journey and one day passed these gems on to me. 


He no longer has a turntable or the wherewithal to play music on demand. I have this CD burner that allows me to record vinyl onto CDs. I have begun to record his records and mail him a CD. The simple pleasure of checking the mail and receiving an unexpected package (something from which he derives great joy) brings startling moments of clarity. He calls me up and regales me with tales of traveling to Atlanta from Athens (G.I. Bill!) to hear a jazz hero in person. 


An especially poignant story involves the sad fact that the University refused to allow Dave Brubeck to play on campus because there was a black musician in his group. Needless to say, Brubeck found a replacement gig in Atlanta and my Dad and his eventual wife followed them to the show.


60+ years later, these vinyl records still sound amazing. 

My Dad also amazes me to this day.



Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Skydog, glad you're here for this.

I was thinking about the Who's "A Quick One (While He's Away)" mini-opera, and what it'd be like for someone to actually try to cover it.

Well, these guys did a few years back. 

Granted it takes six men to do what the Who did with four, but it's still a pretty amazing live performance.

And Skydog, if you don't think the drumming is awesome, well maybe there's something wrong with one of us.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpF8Dw_YmL8

skydog12
skydog12

@Visual_Cortex

Uh huh, drummer is bad. Keith Moon is hard to emulate because he over plays so severely.

Not many bands could have incorporated his style in their tunes, but the Who sure did.


I think it was Charlie Watts who said Keith Moon could not have made it with many bands because he couldn`t swing/groove.


But, he could do what what did real good.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@skydog12 @Visual_Cortex

Well, shows what I know about drumming, which ain't much. All I seem to know for sure from my sporadic live playing is some are better than others at herding cats.

skydog12
skydog12

@Visual_Cortex @skydog12

It`s all good VC, till it ain`t.


I would have been a good porn judge. I know it when I see it. 

I draw the line at goats.

skydog12
skydog12

Good read Jay. We are dealing with the same beast with my wife`s mother. 6 years, but she is hanging tough.

My mother in law looks forward to her weekly sing along sessions at the nursing home. It`s the only thing that brings the spark back in her eyes.

Fan4500
Fan4500

Sorry to hear about your dad. Dealing with the same myself.

I'll keep them in my prayers.


fatleo
fatleo

Thanks for the insight into your Dad -- may both your Mother and you be blessed with more moments like this before you have to give him back .

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Wonderful story, one that resonates with all too many of us who've had similar challenges with our own folks.

As for your musical selection, I was so sure that this outfit was the same that gave us the original "Istanbul Not Constantinople"... alas, 'twas this similarly-named outfit from around the same era.

But what the heck, it's a fun track as well, even if it probably didn't inspire Brian Wilson.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wcze7EGorOk 

Gmare
Gmare

Thanks for this, Jay. When my mom was close to death, a member of her church visited with his guitar & began playing whatever any of us in the room requested, including many old standards from years ago. My mom lay quietly, smiling as we all sang along. What a wonderful gift & ministry that man brought to all of us.

Paul42
Paul42

That was touching, especially when one hopes for moments like that because they are no longer normal.  

Thank you.

Cherokee51
Cherokee51

Thanks Jay.  My dad passed away last Christmas, suffering from dementia.


One of the ways we reached him, though, in his last years, was through his love of Merle Haggard.  One of his favorites; thanks for giving me the opportunity to share.



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-AD_6S60HQ


Paul42
Paul42

@Cherokee51 Cherokee51
My first post this morning was thanks to you for that video you shared last night.  I don't want to veer from the atmosphere of this thread, so all I'll say here is "well done and thank you."

bleary75
bleary75

Thank you for sharing.  Best wishes for your family

Deplorable Veteran
Deplorable Veteran

Prayers for your Father, Jay .   Maybe there will be a cure someday .

Kamchak
Kamchak

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vftrFScJ60c

Daddy falls asleep in the living room
On the sofa with the TV on
Sometimes he waits for a phone call from me
Sometimes he waits too long
But I still think of the people and the place that he loves
How much longer will they be around
Till its ashes to ashes, dust to dust
For that old coyote town.

DaltonbywayofBickley
DaltonbywayofBickley

Dang, son. I'm so glad you, your Mom and your Dad got to have that moment. May it not be the last.

HDB0329
HDB0329

....as one who lost his mother to Alzheimers' six years ago, traveling down that long, dark path can be heartbreaking...but those simple moments that allow a person to rediscover themselves become long-lasting memories!!


....cherish those moments, Jay......

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

Jay, that is a wonderful story about your father.  It's good to read for those who don't have to cope with the disease yet, but think about it. And you gave your mother a great gift too: briefly, her husband back again.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

A prayer for your father, your mother, and for you and your entire family, Jay.  My mother died 10 years ago in the late stages of Alzheimer's Disease, after having coped with it for a decade. She had some penetrating clarity, even at the end. 


In her coffin, she looked beautiful and as mentally whole a woman as she had been before Alzheimer's had set in.  I know that it was not simply the result of make-up by the mortician. She had passed, and her whole self had returned.