Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Music to My Ears

Music has the ability to bring joy into our hearts and give us happy feet when the beat calls for dancing. Music has always been a part of my life although I can’t play an instrument and have a hard time carrying a tune. My mom, brother Jimmy, and other family members take their music to several area nursing homes on a regular basis.

Monthly concerts in nursing homes is a natural way for my mom to share her love of music. Her entire family was musical and entertained at every family gathering with down home country and gospel music. That was a different time and different era in my life. On Saturdays, we visited Grandma and Grandpa Whittle and played with cousins while the grownups filled the night air with the sounds of music. Get-togethers were the norm instead of the exception they are now.

Even after I married, the musical way of life continued. Jim’s family was chocked full of musicians and at every opportunity, guitars, fiddles, banjos, were taken out of cases and kitchen chairs clustered together while everyone sang and played their favorite tunes.

One day last week, on an otherwise normal day, I felt a real longing to visit with my mom. First, I called to make sure she was home, and then made the hour drive to visit. My brother Jimmy was there, and just like old times, he and Mom played some of their old favorites and a few new ones. The music took me back—sometimes to childhood. When mom sang “The Way I Am” it reminded me of Jim before dementia.

Music was therapy for Jim and he played his guitar every morning. He loved gospel, country, and cowboy songs. Even after he lost the ability to play, he still enjoyed listening. For a long time, he carried a Walkman to listen to his favorite tunes. At the nursing home, we turned his TV to the Country Music Channel and kept a drawer full of his favorite music cassettes.

Music provides a nonmedical method to decrease agitation and behavioral problems in people with dementia. Music is effective in all stages of the disease and can stimulate happy memories even in the late stages. It is important to fit the music to the person. While one person might appreciate big band, others might prefer jazz, country, gospel, or old time rock and roll.

Music elevates mood and stimulates memory for everyone. Just last week, I saw a question on Facebook asking if anyone remembered Gordon Lightfoot and could name one of his songs. I paused the show I was watching, The Blacklist, and felt compelled to answer the question. The posts were full of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” but the Gordon Lightfoot song that always meant the most to me was “Sundown.” It had been years since I heard the song, but I instantly thought of Jim and when my kids were young. Jim used to sing that song and it always makes me think of the seventies—Jim with his sideburns and me with long straight hair parted in the middle. The song ignites memories of youth, love, hard but happy times. I typed in “Sundown” and restarted my movie. About two minutes later, Gordon Lightfoot’s smooth voice began singing “Sundown.” Memories upon memories. I thought it just a little beyond strange that the song followed so quickly on the heels of the Facebook question.

I believe that when music plays a big part of life, it can be a way to connect with people who no longer share our physical world. Was it just a coincidence that I saw a question that led to a specific song more than three decades old and then heard it on a TV show within minutes of each other? Maybe. Maybe not. It could have been a gentle auditory reminder that our life force doesn’t end with death.

In my quiet house the only sound I hear right now with my physical ears is the gurgling of the refrigerator and the buzzing of an impatient dryer. But in my mind, I still hear soul soothing echoes of laughter and music from long ago.

copyright © Feb. 2014 by L. S. Fisher

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

On the Scent: The Memory Connection

Our sense of smell is a door that opens our memories. Sometimes the actual scent can be elusive, while the memory is strong. Yesterday, I walked into a room and for some reason it reminded me of a funeral home. That isn’t exactly a good memory, and I’m not even sure what it was that made me think of it. Sometimes, a certain combination of floral arrangements will ignite that memory for me, but this room had no flowers in it.

On a better note, one of my favorite scents is coffee. That signifies the beginnings of most of the days of my life. It’s like waking up to a new page in a favorite book. Coffee and Jim are intertwined in my memory. He loved his coffee, drank it half a cup at a time so that it stayed hot. To this day, if my coffee isn’t hot, I can’t drink it.

After shaves and perfumes can be associated with certain people. I saw a movie one time, I think it was The Notebook, where a man tried to find the scent that his wife wore and couldn’t find it. Eventually, he realized the smell was shampoo instead of perfume. Smell is our strongest connection to those special people in our memories whether it is cologne or just the smell of their skin.

I hate the smell of Vick’s Vapor-rub. It makes me think of being miserable with a cold when I was a kid. That’s why I only use Mentholatum for stuffy head colds. For the same reason, I can’t stand the smell of wintergreen—Pepto-Bismol. It does come in a cherry flavor now, but I’m sure the smell of that would make me think of cough syrup. How about the distinctive smell of the doctor’s office? Don’t notice that so much anymore, but Dr. Hoffa’s office had a scent like no other place and a whiff of that antiseptic/medicine smell will take me back in a heartbeat.

Our brains link countless smells to events. Does the smell of popcorn make you think of going to the movies? Does a dank odor make you think of the showers after gym class in school?

Because of the known connection between scent and memory, researchers have developed an oPhone. Its cylinder shape is nothing like a regular phone and you can’t use it to have a conversation with another person. Instead of sounds, the emails, tweets, and texts are odors. It has an oChip that produces over 300 scents now, but eventually it will produce many more. The scents are complex—not just a single odor, but more like real life where a combination of odors makes a memory.

The oPhone is currently being used to provide a “sensory experience” in a coffee shop in Paris—sort of smell before you buy. The hopes are that the oPhone has more value than a gimmicky marketing tool. In fact, with the close association between smell and memory, it is believed that the oPhone could stimulate memory in people with Alzheimer’s.

Since it may be a long time before this product is available, you could try your own sniff tests to see if it will jog your loved one’s memory. No one knows the scents that bring back favorite memories more than you.

The smell of a fresh baked cinnamon roll makes me think of my wonderful mother-in-law. She’s long gone, but the smell of her homemade baked goods live in my brain associated with the smell of cinnamon. Of course, that would call for a good cup of coffee from the pot that seemed to have no bottom. Her house was always filled with baked goods and love. I can hear the laughter, the sounds of a pitch game, and Jim strumming his guitar in the background. I can plainly smell the memory.

copyright © February 2014 by L. S. Fisher

 Source: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/272565.php

Monday, February 10, 2014

Success and Failure Olympian Style

My idea of a quad is to become completely engrossed in the Olympics every four years. Now that I have a DVR, I can pretty much watch every minute of televised action. I find myself sitting in front of the TV at midnight watching the luge. Hello, don’t they all pretty much look alike rocketing down an ice slide at 80 miles per hour?

What about that skateboarding? Those folks are crazy. They risk  life and limb for a shot at the gold. And one little mess-up—a bad landing after spinning, flipping, performing death-defying antics in the air—and  all is for nothing. What about that girl that broke her helmet? She looked like she was out cold, but about the time help arrived, she was back on her feet snowboarding to the finish line.  Of course, she had failed to get a medal or a decent score, but what a picture of success to see someone overcome that type of fall. What about the athletes who are broken and pinned back together, performing with broken ribs, recovering from surgery, or performing with a shot of Novocain to dull the pain?

Watching the Olympics really has made me think about the perception of success and failure. One person’s bronze medal means failure while signifying another person’s success. Of course, I always want to see the United States snag the gold, but, hey, when you compete against the best athletes in the world, you can’t always expect to be top dog.

Contests are won and lost by one-hundredths of a second. It seems strange for commentators to talk about how a lap in speed skating is slow if it is over 30 seconds. Olga Graf, from Russia, was spurred on by the home-country crowd and was pleased as punch to win a bronze medal.

On the other hand, a bronze medal had the USA’s mogul star Hannah Kearney in tears. She expected gold, not bronze. She was so emotional she couldn’t finish the interview, but turned her head as the tears flowed. Everyone wants gold, even silver just doesn’t seem good enough. You almost have to admire someone who so firmly believes he or she is so good that it is unfair that another person in the world is a few nanoseconds faster or can jump a tad higher, or was just plain having a good day to offset your bad one.

Bode Miller missed the podium in the men’s downhill, but in a way considered his run a success. He met his main objective: “Not kill myself was the primary (objective).”

My favorite event is figure skating, and we had a treat this year with the new team event. The good news was that we had some excellent skaters that dug us out of the hole made by the first two skaters. Davis  and White along with Ashley Wagner  put the USA in the top five teams to vie for medals. The bad news was that with the scoring system, we could never get higher than bronze. The Ashley Wagner frown that has gone viral on the Internet is not because of the bronze, but because of a much lower score than she expected.

For some who have no hopes of winning, the Olympic experience is reward enough. Take the Cool Running Jamaican bobsled team. A simple thing like losing their luggage, and equipment, on the trip over didn’t deter them from having a good time. They just smile and everyone loves them. They are successes without a medal of any color.

It’s no wonder with the pressure to perform nerves can overcome athletes chosen to represent their country in the Olympics. We all know that confidence trumps nerves every time. It isn’t always the best of the best that turn in the outstanding performance. It may be the person with no expectations, no pressure.

We can learn a lesson from the Olympians: If you “fail” to be the best, it is still a giant leap above those who let fear of failure take them out of the competition.
copyright © Feb 2014 by L.S. Fisher

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Today and Yesterday

Grandpa Everett Whittle and mules Jack and Pete
Today has become a lazy Sunday morning. Between the ice and small layer of snow, the world seems to be at a complete standstill. At least I am personally at a standstill since there’s no way I’m venturing out.

This hasn’t been the weekend I planned, for sure. I thought Saturday would be spent watching my oldest granddaughter play in a basketball tournament, but when the roads became hazardous with ice, they cancelled the tourney. Today should have been Writers’ Guild, but that, too, was cancelled.

After watching Joel Osteen, I picked up an old magazine—part of my retirement plan is to read and recycle all the magazines that have been “saved” for reading—and saw an article “Where Have the Quail Gone?” That question has plagued me for years along with where have all the whippoorwills gone? Or for that matter, what the heck has happened to the cottontails?

When I was growing up, the night was full of the quail’s “bob-bob white” call harmonized by “whippoorwill.” I’m not sure when the sounds disappeared from the night, I just know it has been a long time, and I miss the music of their calls drawing me back to simpler yesterdays.

Rabbits were never that plentiful in the Ozarks where I grew up, but when I moved north of Sedalia, rabbits were everywhere. It was not unusual to see dozens of them on a single trip to town. Now? I’ve seen one rabbit this winter.

I miss the night sounds of my youth and the cottontail’s footprints in the snow. It may just seem like small losses, but several small losses add up to big ones.

We know the major losses in life are the people and places we loved. Last week, I pulled up Facebook to see pictures of my Grandpa Capps and my Grandpa Whittle on the same day. Funny, how many of the photos I remember seeing, while others I had never seen before. My brother posted a picture of my Grandpa Whittle with his mules. What were the mules’ names? For some reason, this question plagued me along with where have all the bobwhites, whippoorwills, and rabbits gone.

I asked the question, and when I had no response, I dredged up the names “Jack and Jenny.” No one on Facebook knew the answer so I called my mom. She consulted with my Aunt Lebetta and they came up with Jack and Pete. That sounded right to me.

Old photos are keys that unlock forgotten memories. They are strong reminders of people long lost. Seeing a photo of my grandma makes me remember how her hair felt when she let me braid it for her. After I braided it, surely not as neatly as she could have, she would pin her hair in coils on her head and push in tortoise shell combs.

I was close to the three grandparents who lived close to me. I regret that I never knew my Grandma Capps who lived in Kansas. I’ve read her stories in the family genealogy book and admire her for her struggles and hardships in life. She told the stories of her youth and not so much about when she raised a large family as a divorced mom during a time when that wasn’t as usual, or acceptable, as it is today.

Loss is around us. When the house is silent as it is now, and the yard barren and empty, no cars passing by on the road, loss is evident. It seemed that no matter how bad the roads, Jim would have been out on them. Before we lived next door to his mom’s house, we would have ventured out. She would have a pot of coffee on, homemade biscuits in the oven, and a big skillet of gravy cooking.

My Bisquick biscuits and gravy tasted good this morning, although they fell short of the real-deal that lives in my memories of the yesterdays of my life. But the thing is, the way to deal with loss is to make new and better memories by living each day to the fullest. I may be stuck at home, but that’s not a bad thing.

Family is a phone call, an Internet click away. I have work to do, and I’m happy and healthy. Yesterday lives in my memory, today is what I make of it, and tomorrow is full of adventure.

Copyright © February 2014 by L. S. Fisher