Gero-Punk Reflections: Mom’s Music

An essay by guest Gero-Punk

Patsy Jacobs

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When it was just me and my mother at home she would play records.  She had a million records, or so it seemed.  I didn’t know the names of some of the singers that sang from the old red and white phonograph.  When she listened to Al Jolson or Enrico Caruso she would crank up “Victor Victrola.”  I think I was 4 years old when my brother told me that “Victor” was not the phonograph’s first name.  He looked like a Victor to me with his funny birthday hat.   Sometimes the men that sang had deep voices and actually made me stop playing with my teddy bear with the checkered  pants and missing right eye.  When Victor was playing he sounded faraway and scratchy.  Victor sang “Mammy” or “Nearer My God to Thee.”

My mother could blend her voice with that of the record and it was lovely.  I wondered once why her voice was not on one of those records.    She stood in the kitchen ironing and when it was lively music she would dance.  When it was a sad song she would slow her movements and the ties on her apron seemed to sway slowly in rhythmic movements of the air.  Sometimes my dad would come home for lunch and I would peek around the corner as my parents danced slowly to “Always.”  I delighted in watching their loving embrace and kiss at the end of that song.   Sometimes my father would pick me up and the three of us would dance around and around.  Sometimes my teddy bear would join us.

I was never really inquisitive with her about who these singers were, but my mother would say “This is Gordon MacRae.”  Or: “That was Dick Haymes, isn’t he just a beautiful singer?”   Sometimes it was a woman singer and my mother could sing the harmony.  Sometimes I thought my mother sang much better than some of those female singers.   Once when I had been bitten by too many chiggers, she rocked me in the rocker and sang “My Curly Headed Baby.”

I got a call from my mother’s neighbor that she had fallen and that I needed to come over as soon as I could.  The bus ride over was strange.  It seemed to have wings of haste.  I had on one of my brother’s old USC shirts and one of his funniest original songs floating around in my head.    I walked the block from where the bus let me off and when I put the key in the keyhole, I heard her soft voice greeting me as always: “Is that you?”

“Yes, mom.”  I said.

I made the decision to call 911 because she was talking strange.  She was sitting on the toilet drinking a protein drink and smoking a cigarette.   She was asking me all sorts of strange questions about her neighbor.  She was wondering if that woman had come and taken all of her clothes out of her closet.  I told her that the woman next door had never been in her house and all of her personal clothes were indeed hanging in her closet.  She even asked me why I had brought my own “blue washer and dryer” over and replaced hers.  I took her blood sugar and it was 81 so she was sort of low, but not enough to make her say these strange things.  I assured her that it was her Maytag washer and her General Electric dryer in the laundry room.  She looked at me as if she really didn’t believe me.

Mom was in the emergency room telling the nurse and the doctor that her neighbor and sixteen other people were in her house singing and making such a racket that she was about to yell at them.  She told the doctor that the people wouldn’t let her have her glasses because she wouldn’t need them anymore.  They were singing “Old Man River” and then she said they changed the lyrics to “Mamye was going to jail”.  This was the first time I had ever heard my mother say such strange things.

The doctor ordered a CT scan of her head because my mother said that she bumped it when she fell.  She actually had the nurse convinced that she was at some sort of church meeting where people were condemning her for “all the bad things she had done in her life,” as she said.  I made sure to tell the nurse and the doctor out in the hall that mom lives alone, she did not have an evangelical church group in her house condemning her for past wickedness.  She hadn’t any past wickedness.  And the neighbor did not take my mother’s clothes out of the closet.  I had talked with her two nights before and she had told me about my brother calling to let her know that my sister-in-law was having cataract surgery.  She talked to her grandson and everything was okay in the Robinson house as far as I knew.  I mentioned that we were a very normal family.  I stayed with her most of the night until they took her up to the purgatorial room where I could not be with her.

I walked to her house and waited for their call so they could tell me what room she was in.

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Bio for Patsy Jacobs: My parents never faltered in telling me that I can do anything that was in my heart, with a heart. I was born in Arkansas and moved with my family to California when I was almost eight.  When my father got a job here in Oregon, I was reluctant to leave and actually told them that I would stay long enough to get them settled.  I have lived in Oregon a little over 33 years.  I am currently a student at Marylhurst University finishing my bachelor’s degree with a desire to continue in the MAIS program with a concentration in gerontology. I started my working life as a certified nursing assistant and eventually became activity director per an insistent residential vote and the constant badgering of the administrator for weeks until he agreed to interview me for the position.  Retirement just gave me the time to pursue a dream to complete a degree and go on from there. I am a storyteller amongst other things.   As I pursue writing, I have come to realize that it is the stories that my elders gave me that inspire me to write.  Those closest to me gave me my wings in some respect.  If my “roots” are what inspire me then I must be in the right place.  Who am I? This question gives me gateway for exploration and a realization that I want my voice heard.  Writing is one thing, but the pleasure of readers is another, and those that listen give me the greatest joy. I currently live in Salem, Oregon with my husband.   Robbie and I have been married 23 years.  I live with 7 cats, all homeless at one time in the lives.

About Jenny Sasser, Ph.D.

I am a freelance educational gerontologist, writer, community activist and facilitator. As of 12/21/15, I am former Chair of the Department of Human Sciences and Director of Gerontology at Marylhurst University. I joined the faculty as an adjunct member of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program in 1997 and since that time, I've been involved in designing many on-campus and web-based courses and programs for adult learners, including in Gerontology. As an undergraduate I attended Willamette University, graduating Cum Laude in Psychology and Music; my interdisciplinary graduate studies at University of Oregon and Oregon State University focused on the Human Sciences, with specialization areas in adult development and aging, women’s studies, and critical social theory and alternative research methodologies. My dissertation became part of a book published in 1996 and co-authored with Dr. Janet Lee--Blood Stories: Menarche and the Politics of the Female Body in Contemporary US Society. Over the past fifteen years I have been involved in inquiry in the areas of creativity in later life; older women's embodiment; sexuality and aging; critical Gerontological theory; transformational adult learning practices; and cross-generational collaborative inquiry. I am co-author, with Dr. Harry R. Moody of Aging: Concepts and Controversies (8th edition). I live in Portland, Oregon with my dog Happy. My daughter Isobel is a Sophomore at Bard College in New York state. I have been on the planet 49 years.
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