Better than words?


When I spend time with Mavis she struggles, trying to understand where she is, because my presence reminds her that she once lived otherwise. It is always a circular conversation. She remembers the fact of her married life but not the actual events, so we first establish the facts of my father’s death and then recall their first meeting in turn, over and over. She wonders how many children there were and where they are now. Sometimes she has to concentrate to know that I am one of her children. Meanwhile she overflows with images of the main street in Dayboro in the 1930s, the grocery shop, the blacksmith, the milk factory where she would meet Charlie Doyle to get a ride back with her ice creams wrapped in newspaper. But thinking about anything more recent reminds her that she has lost her freedom and that makes her discontented.

But today was easier because the live-in cat followed us out into the garden and we spent our time stroking and cooing fondly. She was relaxed and happy. Meanwhile, from the dining room an old Chris Isaak album was drifting, and above it the beautifully pitched soprano of another of the ladies, improvising in tune, in time, in musically balanced phrases. This lady can’t finish a spoken phrase, let alone a sentence, and only speaks at all because she still needs to connect. She often worries. But her singing is very free and lovely – though it still irritated Mum, she hears a bit too much of it…

The silky coat of the tabby cat and the sweet freebling made me consider where comfort and happiness can be found. I was thinking of all the time spent chasing for things and status and travel and more things, and then looking at Mavis patting the cat and listening to her sorority sister singing her song and I realised the comfort of music and the company of animals are both sensual, non-verbal. Perhaps when we leave the too-clearly defined realm of sensible speaking, when we stop trying to make sense and start using our senses it is easier to find ease, pleasure, joy? Maybe words get in the way? Not easy for a word lover to admit…

The photo is Mavis and her sister Ellie at Dayboro in the early 40s

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