Bill Moore love letterTime travel only happens in the movies – for now – but recently Bill Moore, age 90, and Alice Barker, age 102, had a rare opportunity to re-visit the past thanks to the kindness of some new friends. Both Bill and Alice lost track of precious mementoes from a special time in their lives, and thoughtful strangers reunited them with their memories. Telling personal stories reduces stress and builds strong bonds of friendship, and that’s positive for people of any age. Walking down memory lane with loved ones lets caregivers and homecare companions strengthen relationships and find the inspiration to make new memories together.

A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on, as Mark Twain said, but a long-lost love letter can take a strange route indeed to rejoin its writer. Bill Moore, of Aurora, Colorado, was courting Bernadean Gibson in 1945 while he was at war in Europe, and letters were his only means of pitching woo. Bill must have done something right, because he and Bernadean were married for 63 years before she passed in 2010, and she saved every one of his billets-doux from the front. But somehow, according to her daughter, the letters were lost, and while the family treasures the copies they have, the originals, so full of meaning, were assumed gone forever. But in February of this year, a woman browsing a thrift store in Westminster, Colorado, Ilene Ortiz, opened a vinyl record sleeve – a fittingly old-school hiding place – and found one of Bill’s original love letters to his war-time sweetheart tucked inside. As he read the letter that began, “My darling, lovable, alluring, Bernadean,” Bill Moore cried, as no doubt his darling Bernadean did 70 years ago when she first opened it. Ilene tracked Bill down, and returned the letter to him, making for a touching re-reading of the long-lost letter.

Alice Barker was a chorus line dancer in the 1930’s and 1940’s, a star of the Harlem Renaissance at clubs like The Apollo, The Cotton Club, and Zanzibar. She danced with legends: Frank Sinatra, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, and Gene Kelly. She even appeared in movies, commercials and early TV shows, including movies now called ‘soundies.’ Not only had she lost her mementos, pictures and show biz memorabilia, but she’d never had the opportunity to see herself on screen, an unimaginable scenario today when every passerby has a video camera in their pocket. Alice lives today in a nursing home in Brooklyn, and one of her regular visitors, a volunteer who brings his therapy dog to visit, knew someone who knew a historian of black female performers, who had been looking for Alice for years. This trio – the volunteer David Shuff; the nursing home’s recreational director, Gail Campbell; and the jazz historian Mark Cantor – made this possible for Alice. They brought three of Alice’s ‘soundies’ in from the archive and she saw them, and herself, on screen for the first time. You can see the video of her reaction on YouTube, which deservedly went viral.

 

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