In the last year of Mum’s life I bought a rundown weatherboard house in a quiet country town an hour and a half’s drive from our usual residence. My intention in buying this house was to set up a combined studio space and carers retreat. Having a project to manage and a dream for the future was, as I’d hoped, a welcome mental respite for me, and about once a month provided an opportunity for Mum and I to be somewhere familiar but different. We both enjoyed the drive through the countryside, stopping for coffee half way at another country town along the way. As we drove we’d talk about random things, reminiscing about family, friends and good times gone by. This activity gave us both pleasure, and it gave me a surreptitious way of gauging how Mum’s memory was holding up. Mum had dementia, and while we both found this difficult in the day to day, on our regular drives we found much to celebrate. Like many women of her generation, Mum had lived through many of the tumultuous events of the 20th century, but she was never soured or embittered by what she had experienced. Her sweetness, and positive attitude thankfully survived to the very end.
Dementia does strange things to a personality. As more recent memories were stripped away, others were revealed often unexpectedly. And so it was I learned of an American soldier, a dance partner in the halcyon days of World War 2, whose name and family details she recalled vividly, while listening to a CD of the music of those times.
We did that a lot – listening to music. Sometimes the same CD for hours at an end. It was always fresh for her. As memories of those long ago dances were revealed, and the names of musicians such as Artie Shaw were bandied around, I secretly wondered whether my father had ever heard mention of this American Naval Cook or whether it was a private memory savoured by a lively 18 year old in a prevalent atmosphere of war and the loneliness of separation.
The song Mood Indigo was co-written and performed by Duke Ellington some time before Mum put on her dancing shoes, but it was one of the many Jazz pieces she recognised as we travelled to and fro… This glorious version features the great Ella Fitzgerald…
“I always get that mood indigo,
Since my baby said goodbye.
And in the evenin’ when the lights are low,
I’m so lonely I could cry.”