Tessie Lee Whitehead Stroud
May 17 1902– April 2 2002
My grandma Stroud loved music, guitar music especially. She could pick out some tunes and even taught me some chords and Wildwood Flower. Once during a visit, I laughed at someone on TV boisterously tapping their foot-or rather, their entire leg- in time to music. No outright mockery was intended on my part in my amusement, but it must not have seemed so to her. She gently reproached me by stating that ‘some people have music in them and they just can’t help moving’.
Some of her favorite artists were Merle Travis, Doc Watson, Chet Atkins and one she mentioned often- Elizabeth Cotten. They were all talented musicians. Ms. Cotten’s ability to play acoustic guitar left handed and upside down was a remarkable talent to add to her songwriting skills. It would be reasonably easy to figure out additional reasons why Ms. Cotten struck a chord (sorry, I had to) with Grandma and some of those would likely be right, or in the least, quite close to the mark. Grandma loved Ms. Cotten’s song Freight Train.
Read more about Elizabeth Cotten here:
Time goes on. Girl grew into teen and things caused less time to be spent at Grandma’s hearing her stories of ‘old times’ and music. Failed attempts to learn Freight Train and Wildwood Flower on the guitar became embarrassing, regardless of how good the teacher was.
The love of good acoustic music with good harmonies never faded.
The need came for Grandma to live in a nursing facility. She held up pretty good and needless to say enjoyed visits. She always seemed to have a joke or a good tease handy. Then time caught up with her and the body began to fail. Comments from her might be in the present or of something only she understood, from past days. Visits would end with her asking my Pa to play the train song. His piano repertoire didn’t include the train song.
Then, her medical condition worsened. Visits were more seldom than they should have been, and difficult not only for the visitor, but for her. She would look into her visitors face, who could see frustration and confusion in her eyes. It seemed as if she both recognized that she knew the familiarity of you, but didn’t know your name or exactly who you were. Her eyes would wander, or close in sleep, her mind wandering through the years of memories, or perhaps not wandering at all.
Coping with infirmities that come with the body’s aging, or sudden catastrophic illnesses are difficult for the person immediately affected and for those close to them. Who knows how the mind and senses work. How can we know for certain of what the ill and infirm are aware of, when others in the room think they are asleep or unaware of their surroundings? Somewhere deep inside themselves, do they feel that their mind is perfectly fine and hampered by a failing? Do they truly understand us, or do we appear and sound distant and unfamiliar? Do they dream of times that were good? We can only hope they do dream of pleasant things.
The last few times I saw Grandma, there were no gentle teases or jokes. She didn’t ask for the train song. I’m sorry she didn’t get to hear it one last time.
For those who suffer dementia, alzheimers, for the ill, for the infirm and for their caretakers, I dedicate this song. It’s not about illness, but some of the words can be viewed as eerily metaphoric for those whose minds visit other things and other times.
For my Grandma, Tessie Lee Whitehead Stroud