One day a gentleman came to the Memory Matters front door and introduced himself to us. John Ratliff explained that both he and his 13-year-old daughter Amélie played musical instruments and would be delighted to play and entertain our participants. As has been well reported already they have become really popular volunteers, and the participants love them, and both the staff and volunteers eagerly anticipate their next visit!
Over the past few months, I have come to know John, his lovely wife Marie and Amélie as friends. It is not just their music that sets them apart, and that is simply terrific (!), it is their warmth, human kindness and a gift for connecting positively with everyone they meet. So it is with great pleasure I am publishing a short essay by John Ratliff who I have learned can write as well as he can play. This family story provides insight into why John and Amélie are the people we know them to be.
When I was a little boy my mother and I often made the trip across the Walt Whitman bridge from our little house in suburban New Jersey to visit my grandfather. Mom knew all the cobblestone streets in West Philadelphia by heart. My grandfather still lived in the same row house that my mother had grown up in on 53rd street. I can still picture him sitting in his big red chair with the brass tacks outlining the front arms in a circular pattern as he watched Liberace on TV.
At the time, I couldn’t understand what it was that my grandfather liked about the show. It was also beyond my comprehension to grasp why my mother’s eyes always welled up with tears as we said goodbye each time to head back over the bridge in her little grey VW bug.
Looking back now I completely understand.
My grandfather was dying of cancer. Even though they kept the diagnosis from him, deep down inside, he knew. The flamboyant piano player lifted my grandfather’s spirits. If only for half an hour, the old man was transported out of that red chair and the body which had betrayed him into a world of beautiful music, humor, unconditional acceptance and love. At the time, Liberace was the highest paid performer in the world. All the classical music critics trashed him in their reviews but they all completely missed the point. He made a connection with his audience, he touched their hearts, looked into their eyes and transported them to another world. Even if just for a few brief minutes each week, he made them smile and helped them forget.
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