Music has always been in my Father’s DNA.
While growing up on a tobacco farm in Grainger County, Tennessee, my Father took to guitar strings like bees take to honey. He sang hymns in the small country church his family attended and was always a captive audience when the local men gathered around to play guitar, banjo and harmonica. The most memorable player was a fellow by the name of Tack, who, according to my Father could make a fiddle flat out sing. During the day, Tack worked at a furniture company, where everything was still made by hand. His job was to hammer tacks into the wood, and to work quickly, he would hold tacks in his mouth to keep his rhythm going, hence the nickname. But in the evenings, those fingers would fly across the fiddle strings at the admiration and fascination of all.
Music was a language all its own for my Father, resonating with his soul. And wherever he went, the music went with him. He began attending Grace Arbor, an adult respite program, just five years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and enjoyed everything about it. But what he loved most was the last part of the day when songbooks were passed out and everyone sang tunes they learned as teenagers. He gravitated to whatever instrument was being played and kept time with handclaps or the tambourine. Whenever a local band make a guest appearance, he would always walk straight up to them after they finished playing to talk about Tack and the days my Father played guitar.
My Father enjoyed sing-a-long time at Grace Arbor for ten years. And then it stopped.
The pandemic that choked the world put a screeching halt to this ministry we dearly love in March. The directors and volunteers devised a plan B, delivering weekly activity boxes to all the participants and hosting devotions, bingo, sing-a-longs and other online activities. The boxes are filled with crafts and handwritten cards for my Dad from volunteers telling him how much they miss him and can’t wait to be together again. But the lack of social interaction has caused my Father and other participants to withdraw and even regress.
So Friday morning, Grace Arbor brought the music to my Dad. Bedecked in face masks, the director and a handful of volunteers showed up for a sing-a-long in our front yard. Despite a a grogginess from medication, my Father enjoyed every minute of it, especially when Lew strummed Folsom Prison Blues on his guitar.
They were speaking my Father’s native tongue. For those few golden moments, these dear friends showered my Father with love and song, showing him how much they missed him. And despite the late stage of Alzheimer’s, and the social distancing, their sweet music penetrated my Father’s heart and brought an enormous smile to his face. They sang to his soul. And how fitting that they would speak the language he’s known his whole life.