February 15, 2015
The Old Ballgame
by Carrie Jackson
The song was written in 1908, sixteen years before he was born. The words are simple but the melody jumps all over, making continuity difficult for my underdeveloped vocal chords. But he could always carry a tune, and for some reason it’s his favorite, so we sing it over and over.
Our repertoire used to be broader. Bye Bye Blackbird, Me and Bobby McGee, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. But now, when I begin those, he mumbles “idontknowthatone” even though I think he does.
It’s been three days since my last visit and I’m hoping things are stable. As I sign in at the nursing home, I try to ignore the stench of plastic, sanitary products, and institution food. Making my way to the Alzheimer’s unit, I take a deep breath to compose myself. I punch the code, and the doors swing open – he’s in the first room and I can immediately hear him yelling at the television. I shut it off, sit down on the bed, and take his hand.
“Is that better?” I ask. Although he doesn’t know my name, he usually can recall my face and the yelling stops. “Where are we going?” he inquires, looking for me to answer that question and everything else that plagues his thoughts, or lack-there-of. “On a field trip,” I reply, and unlock the wheelchair to turn him around. I push him down the hall and try to drown out the confused wails of the other residents. We make it to the main dining room, where there is an ancient, out-of-tune piano. Although it’s been more than a decade since I quit lessons, I open the music and start plucking. I look to him for a sign of recognition, to see if he can pick out the tune, but his eyes are blank. So I begin singing.
“Take me out to the ballgame,
Take me out to the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack-
I don’t care if I ever get back!
For it’s root, root root for the Cubbies,
If they don’t win it’s a shame-
For it’s One! Two! Three strikes you’re out!
At the old ballgame.”
And even though he barely speaks, he chimes in. And even though he grew up in Boston, he shouts, “CUBBIES!” And even though he’s been swearing all morning, he starts to smile.
“Shall we sing it again?” And he nods, so we do. His smile has lifted my heart, and I sing a little louder this time. Soon we are shouting as loud as a soft-spoken thirty one year old woman and debilitated eighty five year old man can, and the others in the room look over and smile. After a few more rounds, he is exhausted. I hold his hand for a moment and we sit before packing up the music and turning to leave.
I push him back to his room and tell him that the Cubs have won two in a row. He still knows enough to be impressed. I get him settled, put West Side Story in the VCR, then kneel next to him. “I love you, Dad. More than anything. I’ll be back next week and we can play again.” And even though his eyes are following Maria dancing on TV, he gives me a silent nod and I think I see the hint of a smile on his face.
Carrie Jackson is an Evanston-based writer and relentless Alzheimer’s advocate. She was in her early twenties when her father was diagnosed with the disease, and was his primary caregiver for eight years until his death in 2012. Carrie has spoken at fundraisers and town hall meetings, presented at conferences and workshops, and lobbied in Springfield. She serves as a Chair on the Junior Board of the Alzheimer’s Association and has been a Chair for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s for two years. She is a Certified Dementia Practitioner and an Alzheimer’s support group facilitator. One of Carrie’s essays was published in the best-selling book, “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias.” Her other loves are yoga, swimming, laughing, and wine. CarrieJacksonWrites.com