About two years ago, my friend Julie’s mom came to live with her after the untimely and totally unexpected death of Julie’s dad. Julie’s mom has Alzheimer’s, and the time is approaching when Julie will no longer be able to care for Donna at home.
Julie has been exploring the different memory care facilities in the area, and when I can, I go with her for moral support. It’s not an easy thing Julie is doing, and because I love her, I want to support her any way I can.
Yesterday we toured one facility together. The admin wahine took us into a couple of units, and there, completely unexpectedly, I had an experience that brought tears to my eyes and took me back over thirty years to the times when I used to sail with my friend Nancy’s ‘ohana to the neighbor islands from Honolulu.
Nancy’s mom is a free spirit. She did things that at the time I thought were scandalous… like wearing her bra as a bathing suit top. Now really. Out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, who was going to mind? Not the dolphins! But I thought she was fabulous (I still do) and I admired the way she could just be herself.
Janet loved to sing. She sang loud, and she sang wonderful songs. Her favorite was called “When It’s Roundup Time in Texas”, and as we sailed from Honolulu to Lahaina, or from Lahaina to Kawaihae, she’d sing it at the top of her lungs. We loved it, and it wasn’t long before Nancy, her sister and I were singing along. The best time to sing the song was when we each took turns at the helm; somehow the combination of watching the compass, feeling the wind in our hair, and rockin’ and rollin’ with the waves just lent itself to belting out the song as loud as we could. It’s a wonderful memory even now, and on the rare occasions when I get to see Janet, it seems natural for us all to sing the song together.
So yesterday, as Julie and I toured the facility, we heard an elderly man singing. He had a really nice voice, and in that place where memories have faded and once-vital people can no longer do the things they used to do, the sound of his voice brought smiles to our faces.
We walked towards the room where the man was sitting with a couple of his friends; he was wearing a cowboy hat, and singing, yes, you guessed it, “When It’s Roundup Time in Texas.” I went up to him and said, “I haven’t heard that song in years, but I used to sing it a lot when I was a teenager.” He looked at me and smiled, pausing in his singing for a minute. Then he began again, but he couldn’t remember the next line. So without even thinking about it, I joined in, providing the forgotten words.
He smiled up at me (by this time I had big-time wai maka), and as Julie and I were walking away to see the rest of the building, I could hear his sweet voice picking up the words of the song, not caring if anyone heard him or not…
“When it’s roundup time in Texas and the bloom is on the sage
How I long to be in Texas just a ridin’ on the range
I can smell the bacon frying, hear it sizzlin’ in the pan,
Hear the breakfast horn in the early morn drinkin’ coffee from a can.
“Just a ridin’, rockin’, ropin’, poundin’ leather all day long,
Just a seatin’, swearin’, smokin’, listen to a cowboy song.
How it beckons and I reckon I would work for any wage,
To be again, be free again, where the bloom is on the sage.”