A Weekly Column
Joseph Walker

In the Memory and Honor of Bernard Sanford Walker Sr. 1910 -- 2004


For those who were there, it is a moment frozen in time, never to be forgotten.

It was my father's 90th birthday, and 30 or so of us had gathered at the Alzheimer's care center where he lived to celebrate with him. He seemed unusually bright and cheery as he was greeted, hugged and loved by his wife, his brother, four of his eight children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His brightest smile came when he saw his eldest surviving son, Dick, for the first time in three years. Although he couldn't articulate what he was feeling, you could just see the flash of recognition and feel the wave of emotion.

There were lots of photos, a couple of brief speeches, a little entertainment and, of course, birthday cake and ice cream. Dad seemed to enjoy it all -- especially the cake and ice cream.

And then suddenly, it was time to go. No one was anxious to leave -- least of all Dad -- but meal time at the care center was fast approaching, and we needed to clear the dining room. There was just time for one more rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday to You."

"No -- wait," someone suggested. "Let's sing something that Dad can sing with us."

On the surface, that seemed ludicrous. Although Dad was quite alert through the event, coherent expression from him was limited to two- and three-word sentences: "I'm fine," "How are you?" and "Oh, no." He couldn't remember the names of those nearest and dearest to him; asking him to participate in a sing-along was an exercise in futility. Wasn't it?

A different song was selected, one of Dad's favorites from years gone by: "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." Just the mention of the song was enough to evoke tender feelings from those of us who remember the many times it was sung at family gatherings and as a way of passing the time during long family trips. In my mind, I can still hear the melodic blending of Dad's bold and brassy bass with Mom's rich alto resonating in the old Impala as we musically made our away across the California desert to visit family members on the Coast.

All eyes were focused on Dad as we began singing:

"Let me call you Sweetheart, I'm in love with you."

His lips began forming the words of lyrics indelibly etched somewhere in his mind.

"Let me hear you whisper that you love me, too."

His eyebrows arched. His eyes sparkled.

"Keep the love light burning in your eyes so blue."

I was kneeling close to him, and could hear him singing. It wasn't the strong, vibrant voice that had embarrassed me as it boomed out mercilessly in countless church meetings through the years. But it was unmistakably Dad's voice.

"Let me call you Sweetheart, I'm in love with you."

He smiled happily as we harmoniously reached the end of the song. Tears moistened most eyes as we savored the magic of the moment. For a few measures, at least, Dad was Dad again, leading the family in singing one of our old favorite songs.

I've thought about that moment a lot since then. There is real power in the music of our lives. I'm not sure I understand it, but there is something dramatic that happens when words and melodies mingle in our minds. It is burned into our consciousness. It becomes part of who we are and what we think -- for good or ill -- freezing moments in time.

Never to be forgotten.

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Joseph Walker

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