The 19 audio tracks, recorded in August of 2016, were chosen by Miz Sally. If she liked a tune consistently after I played it for her more than ten times, over a period of months, and responded by saying, “Oh, I like that one,” I would keep it in the pile. Any songs that she wavered on were cast aside.
In choosing and arranging the music for this recording, I began with a selection of tunes that I heard growing up in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I turned first to the tunes that I remembered being played on old, out of tune guitars at square dances and fish fries or sung a cappella at church socials with “dinner on the ground.” We included a few of these for this collection.
Miz Sally responded best to the old tunes like “Polly Wolly Doodle” and “Cindy, Cindy” that she had heard when she was a child and that she played for us for hours on end before I began elementary school. We used to play stacks of old, scratchy, red and yellow 78 RPM records on the old phonograph at my grandmother’s house.
After choosing the best of these songs, I re-wrote and arranged them so they would be personal for Miz Sally (this is what I called my mom and I used her name whenever I could). Over time, I adjusted the tunings and pitch for her enjoyment of these tunes as I came to realize that Miz Sally’s dementia had changed her sensitivity to sounds, loud and soft, as well as to pitch, high and low. I shaped them to fit her.
For example, I tuned my National Reso-phonic 12 string guitar to low E or low B and my six string National Reso-phonics to low C or low F. On a few tracks I added a Cello for an extra low tone and avoided “sharp” hard-hitting percussion or extreme high tones, although we did use a musical saw on one track (it’s very mellow).
Watching Miz Sally’s frustrations and the many changes that have come over her as the dementia took a firmer hold on her mind, I wrote one song for this recording about her struggle to hold onto her memories and to musically address the question: “Where do memories go?”
“Bluebird Memory” is my image of Miz Sally’s life, her memories caught, down in a deep valley, between the devil and the deep blue sea. A hard place to find and an even harder place to get to. I have always heard that a bluebird could fly away like Noah’s dove and bring us back glad tidings, happy news and maybe even, memories that we thought were lost. Miz Sally seems to be waiting for her bluebird to bring her back a memory so that she can start all over again.
In the southern culture that I grew up in, the bluebird has always been a messenger and symbolized good fortune, both the literal bluebird, and the U.S. postal airmail “bluebird,” that thin single page of lined paper that folded over to form a self-sealing all-in-one-envelope-letter. Miz Sally wrote hundreds of those over the years and we received stacks of them in return from my Uncle Jack when he was away in the US Army back in 1961. He drew little cartoons inside of his, which Miz Sally always showed to us when they arrived. He signed his bluebird with a little drawing of a dog saying, “Love from your homesick hound dog.”
“Get Along Home Sally, Sally” is a song about the average day in Miz Sally’s life with dementia. The chorus goes, “Get along home, get along home. Get along home Sally, Sally everything’s gonna be alright.”
Miz Sally beamed the first time that she listened to it, tapping her foot and clapping her hands. With a big smile on her face she shouted, “That’s about me! He’s singing about me! He’s singing about Sally!” My sister Renee and I both were crying and laughing at the sight of Miz Sally enjoying herself so much while listening to “her song.” She didn’t want to stop and it was hard to get her to go to bed that night.
My sister, Renee Trusty, was the one who suggested creating a DVD combining both the music and Miz Sally’s drawings. She always has great ideas, so we did just that. Kermit Carvell and I animated the 19 tracks, which are mostly slide shows of Miz Sally’s drawings designed for viewing in an old box-style television frame.
Miz Sally, like many with dementia, does not see well and her reaction to the frameless, large-screen televisions, which project life-size images into the home, is often fear and confusion. She mistakes the screen images for strangers in the living room, so we decided to enclose those images into an old television frame so that it might “seem” more familiar.
This old box-style TV presentation makes it easy for someone with dementia to watch and may awaken some far distant memories of time long past, when images flickered across the screen of their old black and white TV set with aluminum foil wrapped around the rabbit ear antennas, picking up two and a half stations, filled with snow and horizontal lines.
Besides music and drawing, Miz Sally enjoys stories, too. The story “171 lb. Hog” is a story about the time that our family of four hauled a 171-pound hog from my grandmother’s house down in New Orleans back up to Summit, Mississippi in the trunk of a four door Fiat 1500. Miz Sally may not remember that time exactly, but she enjoys the story and the sounds in the present, and she laughs in all the right places.
Miz Sally can’t always connect words with the expression on her face but in her world of “the present” feelings count the most. She greets us in the mornings with a hug saying, “I’m so glad to see you,” as we give her a hot towel to press to her face which she enjoys to the fullest. She giggles with delight when pulling up the sheets of her warm bed before sleep or shivers and complains bitterly if her bed is too cold.
Miz Sally’s dementia has forced her to live very much in the present. Her grasp of even one minute into the past is loose at best and nonexistent on most days. This condition is frustrating for all. She forgets that she just ate, often cannot find her room and may not recognize it once she does find it.
When she is having a “good day,” Miz Sally seems to focus her full attention on the task at hand; whether it is wrestling with a bowl of Cheerios, petting her yellow cat or just getting her flip-flops to stay on her feet as she sits at the table holding out her hands admiring her red, manicured finger nails. That seems to be where her mind is but when asked she will have no idea where her mind was.
Sometimes Miz Sally’s mind gets caught-up in a loop, stuck on a thought or a question that she just can’t shake. A question which she might ask over and over, for hours at a time, without caring about the answer given. On a good day, we might find a way to distract her. On a bad day, even her favorite chocolate does no good. It is like her mind has traveled to some far off distant place and left her body behind in a mass of confusion. Music and drawings help her with all that.
My sister, Renee Trusty, is the primary caregiver for Miz Sally. Words fail me and I cannot express my heartfelt thanks enough to her and her family. Her husband, Mark and youngest daughter, Savannah, share their home, their time and take part with Renee in the hard work of caring for Miz Sally. I appreciate their support too. In spite of the loss of our dad, Big Steve, in 2013 and Miz Sally’s dementia, Renee has managed the task of caregiving and homemaking along with running her own business. She’s a marvel.