Dancing With Grace is written by veteran journalist Clement Mesenas, who is the Founding Editor of Pinoy Star and the author of two books: The Last Great Strike and Dissident Voices.
When memory fades, it’s best to recall the good times…
She struggles to recall an answer to my question. Her eyes glaze over, her lips tremble as she tries to force out a name. But it’s all in vain. She shakes her head, a silent No to my question if she could remember her husband’s name.
Grace (not her real name to protect her identity) is in her late 80s. She has dementia, and I had volunteered my services at this elder care center to get a bit of oral history from her. Her children might cherish knowing her thoughts when she is gone. The stimulation might also be good, I am told, to activate her brain cells.
I feel my journalistic skills in asking questions, the right ones hopefully, might come in useful, but alas probe as I did, and try as she might, I feel I have come up against a blank wall.
Some people do not like being questioned. One can detect when they are evading the question. They do not make eye contact. They tense up. Politicians do not have this problem – their answers roll off their tongue with ease. They will give you politically correct answers, motherhood statements that serve no purpose.
Grace, who had lived in a two-storey house leafy suburb of Bukit Timah as a young mother in a middle-class family, cannot recall that aspect of her life.
I decide to ditch my journalistic instincts. “Grace, you like nursery rhymes? You remember “Jack and Jill…” and off I went, reciting the poem I learned as a kid during the days of God save the King.
Grace’s eyes light up and she sings along with me, each word properly enunciated. She has a cultured voice.
Wow, I am encouraged. “Now, how among Wee Willy Winkie?” I ask.
Grace does not hesitate. “Wee Willy Winkie, runs through the town, upstairs and downstairs … in his nightgown”.
“Wasn’t he in his lady’s nightgown?” I ask.
Grace frowns at the naughty image I had conjured. She repeats: “In his nightgown”.
Abashed, I soldier on: “How about Little Jack Horner sat in a corner, eating his Christmas pie?”
This poem she liked. Grace goes on unaided, reciting the poem with full gusto. Up comes her finger as she reached the finale when Jack pulls out a plum from his pie.
Glory be, I have found the key to unlocking some of the memories of Grace’s distant past.
She does not remember her husband’s name. I try another tack. “What was the colour of his eyes, you must have looked into his eyes often.”
She thinks. “Brown, she says, after all of five seconds.
“What do you remember about him? Did he treat you well?”
She is quick with her answer. “He was a kind man,” she says. There is a light in her eyes. “He was always there for me. He has gone to heaven,” she adds that last bit, emphatically.
I am very touched. “Yes, Grace, a kind man… and do you recall what you enjoyed doing with him when you went out together.”
“Dancing,” she said.
I jog her memory. “Ballroom dancing? Quickstep?”
“Yes, yes,” she cries happily. “The foxtrot too. We had a wonderful time dancing”.
It took an hour for me to reach this happy level of conversation with Grace.
I look at her with all sincerity. “Grace, it’s been lovely chatting with you.”
She holds out her hands to me. They are wrinkled and spotted with age. But her nails stand out. They had been painted just before we met.
Your nails are beautiful Grace,” I say. “What’s this colour? Red?”
“Scarlet,” she says, waving her brightly coloured red nails.
And with that, she is off to join her dancing class, a big smile on her face. A frail woman, a slipping memory. But still nimble on her feet, that’s our Grace.
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