Sally Magnusson is the daughter of celebrated journalist, Mamie Baird, and broadcaster Magnus Magnusson. Her account of her mother's descent into dementia has been widely praisedby Prospect Team / February 19, 2014 / Leave a comment
Magnus and Mamie Magnusson with baby Sally
The below extract from Where Memories Go comes towards the end of this moving memoir when Sally’s once fiercely intellectual mother, Mamie, is rendered unrecognisable by the ravages of her failing mind like a “boat broken free from its moorings”. After their father died in 2007, Sally and her sisters vowed to care for their increasingly incoherent mother at home—a decision which brings many challenges alongside occasional moments of joy. In order to stop Mamie slipping into a painful lethargy, the family keep her in their centre of lives, diverting her mind with music, chatter and old stories.
It is a measure of my current desperation that I now offer late-night recitals on the electric piano which Topsy, who really can play the thing, has moved into your bedroom from her own place. The last time I made it through a piece of music from beginning to end was Fur Elise at the age of 15. Now I am amazed and gratified to find that my halting stab at a Sonata in C, played at a more funereal pace than Mozart could have dreamed his semiquavers capable of, will calm you. Sometimes you even join in from the pillow, holding the note patiently until I locate some approximation on the keyboard. “That’s nice,” you say, closing your eyes in what looks improbably like bliss, as deaf to the limitations of my musical accomplishments as you always were.
I should also remind myself, Mum, that without entirely meaning to you can still be hilarious company.
On Easter Day there is a clatter at your front door. In hurtle a gang of my children, home for the holiday weekend and keen to spend some time with me. You look vaguely at your three eldest grandchildren sprawled around the room and mutter to me sotto voce, “When did you start taking such an interest in these people?”
“Mum, I’m their mother.”
“Are you really?” you say. “Well, don’t tell anyone.”
When the kids have gone, I take you to sit at the kitchen table while I make the tea. “Do you mind if I say something to the bread-bin?” you remark conversationally.
“Not at all, Mum. Go right ahead.”
You look at it pensively, while I wait with bated breath for your address to the bread-bin.
“There’s a lot goes on inside there, isn’t there?” is what you come out with at last.
“Well, not last time I looked,” I say, rallying. “Just a couple of loaves of bread.” A thought strikes. “Is this you telling me, by any chance, that you don’t want bread for your tea?”
“I suppose so.”
“Or that you do?”
You laugh, and I laugh, and I have no idea whether you want bread for your tea or not. What I do know is that there is nowhere on earth I would rather be right now than giggling with you, darling mother, over a burgeoning relationship with the kitchen accessories.
At other times, though, the humour is more knowing and not nearly so funny. You are capable of coming out with a line so quick, so deft and so terrifyingly apposite that it stabs like a scalpel.
“This is a great all-round dish,” I tell you cheerfully one morning, spooning porridge and mashed banana into your mouth. “It’s got oats for energy. It’s got fruit for vitamins. And it’s got milk for, er, something else.”
“And it’s got Mamie,” you whip back. “Nobody knows what she’s for, either.”
Where Memories Go: Why Dementia Changes Everything by Sally Magnusson is out now in Two Roads hardback, priced £16.99 and is also available as an ebook.