As the months of quarantine dragged on, I worried that he might not remember who I was when he saw me again. Desperate to reach him, unable to touch him, I videotaped “Summertime” from the show “Porgy and Bess,” the same song I sang to my daughter when she was born, and posted it on Facebook.
"One of those mornings. You'll get up and sing. Then you'll spread your wings and take to the skies. But until this morning nothing can hurt you. With papa and mom ready." Mom told me dad smiled approvingly when he did that "This is Estelle," he said. Encouraged by his reaction, I made it more personal by singing songs to him over the phone.
In between visits to my mom's, my dad receives physiotherapy to straighten his limping gait (after breaking his hip while bowling almost a decade ago). He also accompanies the other residents of his floor on socially distant walks in the inner courtyard, to watch films and for music and memory courses. And we have our calls.
I call him during the day and avoid the sunset hours in the late afternoon and evening when many Alzheimer's patients tend to get disoriented and confused. He used to give me requests like I was a DJ, but now he lets me choose the songs. We've got show songs like "Sunrise, Sunset", "Climb Every Mountain" and nursery rhymes like "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and even daddy's favorite song "Camp Granada", Allan Sherman's ode to sleep, covered camp. “Hello Muddah, hello Faddah. Here I am at Camp Granada. The camp is very entertaining. And they say we'll have fun when it stops raining. "
My daughter's night camp was canceled this summer. Instead, we spent time on the beach – and it flooded me with childhood memories of family outings. One day while I was walking in the sand with my daughter, watching the ebb and flow of the tide, I glanced at the joy I had felt jumping over the waves with Papa, his hand holding mine.
The last time we called, I told Dad how much I loved these carefree times from childhood. "I'm sorry, Estelle, I don't remember," he said in a cracking voice. "I forget a lot of things." "That's okay, papa." I was also upset that a memory dear to me had broken out of Dad's mind. But I knew how to get him back. "Do you want to hear a song?" "Sure," he replied. I chose "daylight saving time". I don't lose the irony that at the end of his life I'll sing the same song for dad that I sang for my daughter at the beginning of her life. But singing dad is not an investment in the future, but a tribute to the past.
"Summer. And life is simple. Fish are jumping. And the cotton is high. Oh, your daddy is rich and your mother is handsome. So, quiet little baby. Don't cry."