excerpt from: the little girl with a bow in her hair
Following our little sing-along, we ordered a homemade breakfast. We ate, and I paid the waitress. One by one the three of us slid out of the booth and walked out the door to continue our journey.
We approached the car and I asked if Baba would like to sit in the front with me. ‘Oh no, let Anne sit in the front’ she said. ‘I’m fine in the back’.
‘Okay, let’s get outta here’ I smiled and said. We belted ourselves in and we were off.
I found the exit to the 401 quite easily, which was almost inconceivable, as I have never had any sense of direction, and we merged on to the highway.
Mom and Baba seemed tired, so I put in a CD jam packed with ‘oldies’. The first song was Al Jolson singing ‘You made me love you’. Needless to say we all started singing along. I turned down the volume when Baba said; ‘I loved him. I wish I had seen him live. You know my father worked in a theatre when I was a child. He was a cleaner and I, as the oldest and who could speak English, used to help him every night.’
‘Really? I said. You must have seen many movies’.
‘Oh no Dear, not that kind of theatre. In those days we had live shows, they were called burlesque’.
In my mind, I thought, really, a strip show? I can’t believe Baba was allowed in at her age.
‘A nudie show, Baba?’
She laughed and said ‘no, it was more like a variety show’.
‘The nicest lady was Gypsy Rose Lee’. You know, she could do things with her fan that no one else could.’
‘What?’ I said.
‘She was able to strip off all her clothes and you never saw anything. She was so kind and would always say hi to me when she would walk through the theatre during rehearsals.’
‘Wow! I said. I didn’t know that’.
‘Yes and I bet you didn’t’ know that Mickey Rooney held the door open for me, did you?’
‘Ah… no, I didn’t.’
‘Oh, he was such a good lookin’ fella, and so nice.’
I looked over at Mom and asked her if she knew that story.
‘Yes, your Baba used to tell me that story when I was a kid.’
‘That’s really cool, Baba. Did you meet anyone else?’
‘I met King Edward just before he left as King to marry that divorced American lady. He was sooooo handsome. He came to Canada for a visit, and I was in the crowd waiting with flowers in my hand. I was close enough to hand them to him and he gave me a big smile. Oh my… so very good looking, oh, those were the days!’
Noticing that Baba seemed to be getting tired, I turned the music back up and ‘Can’t take my eyes off of you’ sung by Englebert Humperdinck began to play.
I heard a sniffle and looked over at Mom. There was a tear trickling down her cheek.
‘Oh Anne, Baba said, remember you and Ray used to dance to that song? You were the best dancers.’
Mom closed her eyes and nodded.
I had put a few Englebert songs on the playlist thinking my Mom would love them, but now I wasn’t sure that was a good idea. I knew Englebert was Mom’s favourite, but never expected the songs to make her cry. I felt horrible.
‘You want me to change the song, Mom?’
She shook her head and quietly began to sing along.
At this point, Baba also became very quiet.
We three sat quietly, each conjuring up memories of Dad, when Baba said, ‘Awww, Anne it’s okay, we all miss him. Paula, your father was a gem and a very handsome man at that. He always had a smile and was so friendly with everyone.’
‘Yeah, I know, Baba.’
I thought to myself, great, I had depressed both Mom and Baba, way to go Paula! The song ended and the next song that came on was ‘Boogie Woogie, Bugle Boy’, by the Andrews Sisters.
‘Oh my, they were such great singers’, Baba said.
‘Remember, Anne? You and Mary used to dance the ‘jitterbug’ together at our house to this song.’
‘You danced the jitterbug, Mom?’
She looked over at me smiling and said ‘I have many talents, you know.’
We drove the unattractive and tedious highway and I thought to myself, how well we all complimented each other. But I couldn’t get a picture out of my mind, Mom repeatedly turning the song list in the jukebox. Why was she doing that? Was that a sign of things to come? She seemed fine now, but what else would I discover about this disease named ‘Alzheimer’s’?