DALTON, Ga. — What started as a social-media savvy way to preserve a memory soon turned viral and garnered more than half a million views and shares for a north Georgia man and his mother, whose life with Alzheimer’s makes remembering the good times all the more important.
"She may be 88 and have Alzheimer's now, but to me, she's still the best guitar player and singer ever," Kelly Ridings said.
Ridings, a Dalton native, has been singing with his mother, Julia, since he was a small child.
Earlier this month, while he was visiting his mother at Tranquility of Dalton, the assisted living facility she calls home, they were singing together when Ridings realized he'd never shot video of the two performing together. So he set up his phone on a nearby table and recorded two videos, including one of them performing "Praying," a song made famous by country singer Vern Gosdin.
"It was close to Mother's Day, and that's a very appropriate song. It's a song we do well together," he said. "But it's really special to me because that was a song they (the quartet his parents performed with) sang. I'd sing two or three songs before they came on, then they'd do a set. I remember hearing them sing that song so many times as a kid."
He went home that night and posted the videos to his Facebook page.
"I was doing it mainly to save a memory. I know that Facebook will pop up something you posted a year ago or five years ago or something like that, and I thought it would be great when that happened," he said. "I thought maybe 50 people would look at it. There are people who know I sing, and I'm sure there are people who remember mom singing, and I thought they'd be interested but that's it."
When he woke up the next morning, he saw that a couple of thousand people had watched the video of them singing "Praying."
"That was surprising, but I figured it was one of those things that would spread for a little bit, then die down pretty quickly," he said.
By the time he checked Facebook again at lunchtime, several million people had viewed the video.
"Not long after that, I got a call from a friend who said, 'Do you realize this is going to go viral?' I said, 'I think technically it already has gone viral,'" he said.
That same day, Tori Green came into work at Tranquility.
"Everybody was talking about it," she said. "We tell (Julia) she's a celebrity and that just cracks her up."
Ridings said he isn't sure how many people have seen the video because it has been shared more than half a million times just on Facebook. Meanwhile, TV stations, country music publications and others have picked it up and placed it on their websites.
"When people watch it there, it doesn't show up in my count," he said.
Julia Ridings grew up in a musical family. She and her husband, Lowell, formed a quartet with Elmer and Louise Drain. The quartet played for years around north Georgia.
"Mom played flat top (guitar). Elmer played flat top, too, but with banjo picks on his fingers. On the weekend, they'd sit around the table and rehearse, and that's where I learned to sing with them," Kelly Ridings said.
Julia says she is a bit surprised that after all of those years of performing she has become something of a celebrity at the age of 88.
"I never dreamed of that," she said.
Besides the views and the shares, people have left hundreds of thousands of comments on Ridings' Facebook page. Ridings said one common theme in the comments is how music binds people together, especially family members.
Beau Patton, activities director at Tranquility, says he isn't surprised the video of the mother and son singing together went viral.
"She is such a precious lady," he said. "We try to do singing every day, and because she has such a talent and such an enthusiasm for music she's gotten more of our residents out and taking part. I've found that often when people can remember nothing else they can still remember old songs."
Oliver writes for the Dalton, Georgia Daily Citizen.