Look to the Rainbow


photo by Angela Marie Henriette

On St. Patrick’s Day, Lorin and I watched Finian’s Rainbow on the Turner Classic Movie station (TCM). Although it was rather dated and at times, flat-out bizarre, the spirit and the songs, as well as the wonderful pairing of Fred Astaire and Petula Clark as father and daughter from Ireland, kept us engrossed. I woke up this morning with the song “Look to the Rainbow” in my head, and it won’t let go.

That’s what neurologist and author Dr. Oliver Sacks would refer to as a “brainworm,” a bit of music that gets stuck in your head and repeats itself over and over again. I was saddened to hear that Dr. Sacks, a personal hero of mine, was diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier this year.

I started reading Dr. Sacks’ books after my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2010, including Musicophilia and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. You might know him from the film Awakenings (also one of his books) starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro; Robin Williams plays the Dr. Sacks character. I feel I have gotten to know the man through his books and his tremendous work with countless patients afflicted with various types of neurological disorders. He has devoted his life to research and the service of others. A life well-lived.

Dr. Sacks is one of the living reminders that we must continue to look to the rainbows in our lives, wherever they may appear, whether expected or unexpected, planned or un-. This is a reminder to myself and my friends and loved ones. Times are tough, but we are tougher.

Now for Fred and Petula:

Besame Mucho

tap dancer

photo: tapdance.org

(pseudonyms are used for the Actors Home residents and staff in this post)

On Saturday afternoons, Fran visits the Actors Home. She plays piano for the residents in the dining room of the Enhanced Unit. The Enhanced Unit is for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia; it’s where my mom lives. Fran’s husband was a resident here until he passed away several years ago, but she keeps coming back to entertain. Raymond takes the floor and dances when Fran plays “Besame Mucho.”

Gertie says, “Sexy!”

After “Besame,” Raymond walks out of the dining room briefly and returns to strut his stuff for “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Tea for Two.” When Fran starts playing “Willkommen” from Cabaret he says to her, “Come on, let’s go.”

Mom was very animated during Fran’s concert. She told me that “two terrible things” had happened: (1) Mouse (her stuffed animal cat, also the name of her real cat years ago) had gone missing during the pouring rain and had a gash in her side, and (2) the pink pillow her sister gave her disappeared.

“I’ll look for Mouse,” I said, “and I might have your pillow at home; I’ll look for it.”

That seemed to calm her down a bit.

I went to her room and found Mouse and gave her to Mom. She said, “That’s not Mouse, that’s Fizzledeewig.”

“Okay, well what does Mouse look like?”

“She’s small and all gray.”

“Okay, we’ll find her.”

Raymond was dancing again. Mom laughed and said, “He never gives up, no matter if he’s down. He keeps me going.”

I was jotting something down in my notepad, and he said to me, “Is everything alright?” He looked concerned.

“Yes, I’m just writing a note,” I said.

“Okay,” he said and went back to dancing near the piano.

After the concert, Mom and I returned to her room. Raymond walked in and said, pointing to a chair, “May I sit here?”


Mom wanted to go for another spin in her wheelchair, and I told him he could join us.

As we passed the nurse’s station where chairs are set up for the residents, he said, “Don’t go too far. Stay here.”

He seemed to want everyone in one central location, like a shepherd herding his flock, keeping them safe.

“Okay,” I said.

Another resident who shares a room with her husband was crying and reaching out her hand. Raymond gave her a knowing look.

“What’s wrong?” he said to her.

She continued crying and her husband held her hand; he smiled at me. I could tell Raymond wanted to console her.

Mom wanted to keep wheeling forward, so we did. One of the nurses directed Raymond toward a chair.

“He’s very sweet,” Mom said.

“Yes, he is.”

I said to James, one of the nurses, “Raymond’s quite a dancer. Was he a professional?”

“Yes, he was a tap dancer,” he said, smiling, “He danced with Fred Astaire.”

I would have liked to see him dance back in the day.

Gertie was being wheeled around by an aide and bawling inconsolably, saying, “Where is my daughter? Where is my daughter?”

Raymond looked puzzled and said, “I don’t understand why she’s so upset.”

He never seems to lose his cool, and he’s always on the move. He’s an entertainer, a comforter and a peacemaker. I’m happy to have met him, happy he is there to share his light with others, including me.

P.S. I found a small stuffed cat, all gray, at AC Moore. Hopefully Mom will recognize her as Mouse at our next visit. If not, that’s okay.