Saturday, November 27, 2010

"My Beautiful Mommy"

It's a Saturday morning and I'm arriving at mother's a little later than usual. I am putting my Christmas tree up today and need to run to Walmart to buy some extra decorations. Thinking that I will have a few moments to myself, possibly stopping to grab a quick breakfast and just enjoy my alone time, I will tell mother that I can't stay long.

Mother has been complaining of her knee bothering her for the past several days and is taking her time getting to the door. I can hear her faint voice calling out "I'm coming, slow, but sure." As she opens the door, I hear her thanking the dog Annie for being patient till she could make it up to let her out. As far as mother's physical condition, her knee is the worst ailment she has, other than a little high blood pressure.

One look in her eyes and I can see that she has had a long night. Placing her pills in her hand and a red plastic cup full of water, I tell her to take her medicine. She answers with the same questions, "just what in the world are these pills for?" "Who told me to take these pills," and so on. As she sits at the kitchen table, she give me a quick look and asks if I had heard about the people looking for her last night. Naturally I knew that there had been no such event going on, so I tell her she had been dreaming. "Did you not hear them talking about it on the scanner?" she asks. "No mother, nobody was talking about you on the scanner and nobody was looking for you last night!" "O yes they were, I was lost all night long" she says. Wanting to get out of this conversation, so I can leave and get to my little stow away to Wally World, I move on over to the bar when I catch a glimpse of two old photographs. One is of mother and three of her remaining siblings, taken on the day of her sister Louise's funeral, back in the late 60's. I inquire as to where the pictures came from, since I had not seen this particular photograph in years. "You know that place we rent up in the valley sometimes" she says, "well I was rummaging through some things and found those there." Knowing that mother had not been anywhere last night and confident that she had never rented a place up in the valley, I wanted no part of this conversation, knowing that my time was passing by and my shopping was not getting done while I was listening to this nonsense.

Thanksgiving Day was two days ago and all the family had come for dinner and a visit, I knew that my sister Sue who usually gives mother her Saturday shower, would not be coming back today. I suddenly feel guilty about my simple needs and begin to plead with mother to come and take a shower. After twenty minutes or so of begging and pleading, she finally agrees to get up and comply with my wishes, grumbling all the way back to her bath. She undresses for her shower as I lean over the tub to turn the water on. I suddenly heard giggles coming from behind. Asking what she was doing, I somehow knew what the answer would be. "If you just knew what I was thinking, you bent over there and all, I doubt you'd be so quick to ask." I told her that I could just imagine what she was thinking and she assured me that my thoughts were right, "She'd like to give me a good kick in the butt while I had it turned up there" she said. Not being detered by her childish remarks, I assist her into the shower and allow her to do the honors.

It's not too long before she's through, so I carefully escort her out and to her bedroom. Sitting on the bed, I take a good look at my mother and her aged body. Pity comes over me as a small voice reminds me that this person who sits before me is the same person who had once bathed and dressed me as a child, giving of herself so unselfishly and even though she had been all but accommodating to me this morning, I feel the need to remind her of how beautiful she is and has been in years gone by and call her "my beautiful mommy." I can see that she flourishes at the sound of my words. I wonder why I can't and don't give her this small homage more often.

Suddenly, I no longer feel pleasure in my shopping trip for tree decorations. Somehow, it doesn't seem important anymore. As I close mother's door behind me, I thank God for His gentle reminder of the things in my life that are really important.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Memory Lane

Today is hair day for mother. I scurry to get my afternoon errands ran and head on down to her house, arriving an hour early so we can run to the local bank before it's time to drop her off at Linda's for her hair appointment. Thinking that I have allowed just enough time, I suddenly find us pulling out of the bank with a few minutes short an hour on our hands. For some reason, I have had a longing to take mother on a trip down memory lane for some time now, so I quickly turn the car in the direction of Lynn, NC.

It isn't long before we arrive at the entrance of Skyuka road where I lived, some 30 years ago. Located just at the entrance is the old building where as a child, I had slipped away without permission on my pony Dolly, to buy candy and sodas one hot summer's day, only to reap the consequences from mother as I returned.

As we travel on up the road, I see the house of old church friends of mother and daddy's. I ask if she remembers who lived there, "Not really" she snaps. "Russell and Betty" I say, "Russell and Betty who?" she says. Years ago, the Gibson family attended Pacolet Baptist Church. Mother and daddy soon became friends with the Constances; Russell, Betty and teenage daughter, Patsy. Russell worked at a bank in Tryon, NC and compared to a young mechanic like my dad, had considerable means. Every Sunday night, my sister Sue and I, two other friends whose dad was a banker as well, would jump into Patsy's mustang convertible and head up to "the Willows" for a cheeseburger. On this particular night, my mom had warned us that daddy was a little short an insurance payment and not to be asking for money to finance our usual trip. Not knowing this information, our banker's daughters begin to beg my dad when the answer "no" was given. Daddy, being the proud man he was, reached deep into his wallet and pulled out a folded twenty dollar bill and handed it over. Eyes meeting my mothers, I knew that there would be a price to pay worth far more than twenty dollars, when we got home.

Driving by, I glance at the driveway which leads to the fancy houses where my sister and I peddled our bikes, selling girl scout cookies many years ago. Continuing on, mother sees through the woods; the house of my childhood friend "Shem." Now this wasn't her real name. It's unclear as to how "Sue Cannon" came about this childhood name, but to this very day, her name is "Shem" to the Gibson girls.

Around the curve is a bridge which holds painful memories for me. My bicycle brakes had given way, some half a mile up the road and I had taken a frightening trip all the way down. Sister Sue running close behind ending on a rocky place in the creek beneath the bridge. Luckily, a bruise to my forearm muscle was the only casualty. A high bank still stands on the side of the road where I had climbed up, thinking I was a big girl, only to refuse to come down until sister Sue ran home for mother's trusty arms to rescue me. It isn't long before we arrive at the old Gibson home place. The house doesn't look the same as my memory holds. The first thing I notice is the absence of the mailbox. Mother comments that a new shed has been built behind the house and seems very uninterested in seeing the place which housed her precious family for many years.

Heading on out, we pass the family cemetery where my dad, sister and mother's family have been laid to rest. I ask her if she'd like to stop, but she seems annoyed, commenting only on the beautiful red leaves of a nearby tree. Next is the old swimming hole, "the cathole" where snakes and muddy creek bottom held no danger for mother's children. I remember pulling my first tooth sitting on the side of the road in our old '54 blue ford while everybody enjoyed a Sunday afternoon splash at "the cathole." Just up the road is "Mountain Shadows." As a little girl, mother and I would shake walnuts from a tree and crack them on huge rocks which stood in the field.

It's not long before we near the end of Skyuka road, only to see the house of my good friend Joan; the one who stole my homecoming crown one October night back in '71. Finally we pass the house of my first teacher crush. Biology might have been difficult for many, but for me, it was the highlight of my day.

Our journey down Skyuka road has come to an end. Mother is disturbed at our long trip and more than ready to keep her hair appointment. I'm not sure who it was that needed this trip the most, me or mother. As I drive on to Linda's, I think ahead in time and wonder which of my children will do the honors of driving me down "memory lane" one day.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Dementia, the Trickster"

It's a beautiful morning and I am on my way to mother's house to do my usual chores. My oldest Granddaughter Savannah has spent the night with me and rides in the passenger seat, texting her friends and oblivious to her surroundings.

I have called mother so she will be sure to open the door for me when I arrive. I'm on a tight schedule this morning since I'll be dropping Savannah off at school before going to work.

Mother answers the phone, and I can tell right off that it might not be a good morning. In a childlike voice, I hear my mother questioning her presence in a stranger's house. If you read my blogs often, you will remember that mother has a tendency on certain days, to think she is living in someone else's house. Well, today is no different.

"Where in the world am I at Jean?" She asks. "Mother you're at your house, just hang up and come to the side kitchen door and I'll be there soon." "Where's the kitchen at?" she adds. I tell her to walk down the hall and the kitchen is on the right and walk to the coffee pot and I'll be standing at the door directly to her right. She hangs the phone up and I pull up to the house. Banging on the side door, I see no life or light. I begin to call and call. Finally, a light comes on and appearing before me is my mother, carrying a bundle of bed clothing. She opens the door and I naturally ask "what in the world are you doing with that?" "Well, it's the only thing I see in this house that belongs to me!" she answers.

The two belongings that mother has chosen to flee with is interesting to me. Rolled up into a huge ball is an old flowery bedspread which used to adorn hers and my dad's bed at our old home place and an Indian throw, which she lays in the floor for her dog Annie to sleep on.

I can't help but chuckle as I try to convince her that this is her house. She will not budge. Hurling her usual comments at me, I call for her to come into the living room. She obliges me and walks over to the fireplace.

Sitting on the mantel is a whole line of family pictures. I point to each one and tell her who they are. This is a trick which has worked for me in the past when mother won't believe she's in her own house. I begin with my daughter Hannah, then my nephews daughter Andee, telling her short stories about each one as to convince her that she belongs here. Up next is several wedding pictures of my nephew Brandon and his wife Amanda. Sometime last year, mother began saying that she wasn't aware that Brandon had married. Brandon's mother and my sister-in-law Dianne, had brought some pictures up, which were placed on the mantel for mother to see that Brandon indeed had married, when she started in saying that she wasn't aware of it, even though she had attended the wedding alongside the rest of us, and had special honors bestowed upon her as the grandmother of the groom.

The last picture I point out, is a picture of mother and her late husband Yates. She reaches up with a puzzled look on her face and asks "Are the people who live in this house related to Yates?" I naturally ask "why?" "Well, they have a picture of us on their mantle." Seeing that I am getting nowhere fast, I look at my watch and see that I'm late and have not done any of my morning deeds. I plead and plead with mother to understand that this is her house and that she has lived here for the past 18 years. Unrelenting, I tell her that I have to go. I feel uneasy about leaving her in this state, but promise to call as soon as I get to work.

As I arrive, I am anxious to get in the door and give her a call. While dialing her number, I wonder what the verdict will be; will this be her house or not? "Hello" she says. "Well, do you believe that this is your house now mother?" I ask. "Yes, Jeaner" she teases, I've been looking at the furniture in here and I think I remember having a loveseat and couch the same color as these." Even though she isn't completely convinced, I know that it will only take a while before she shakes off this foolish notion of being in someone else's house.

Later in the day, another call is made to mother, and the same question is asked. She tells me that she can't understand why she would think that this is not her home. I have no answers which will satisfy her. There are some days when you have to tell her the truth; "dementia was playing a trick on you." Today, was one of them.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What's in a Recipe?

It's a Sunday afternoon and I have just got back from an out of town baby shower with my sister Sue and her daughter, Shelly. Since I'm facing a very busy upcoming week, I decide to stop by the grocery store and do mother's weekly grocery chore. My sister and niece head on to mother's before traveling back to Asheville, North Carolina.

As I arrive at mother's house with groceries in tow, my niece Shelly quickly comes to my rescue and begins putting the grocery items in their prospective place.

Mother has a drawer that is reserved purposely for her coffee and Hershey bars. I suddenly hear Shelly shriek and make my way over to see just what it is that has produced this reaction. Peering into the drawer, I can see disgusting little bugs which have made their home in mother's candy crumbs and coffee filters. As we investigate further, there are a lot of old papers jammed in the back of this drawer. Shelly begins to pull long lost memorabilia out, one by one. An old drivers license of mother's husband Yates was the first to appear. Next was a Carrot Cake recipe, tattered yet still legible. As I have mentioned in earlier posts. Mother was infamous for her wonderful heart and hand made cakes. This Carrot Cake recipe was a treasure in itself and was a family favorite.

I recall a tale of my nephew Lewie's birthday. He had requested a Carrot Cake to be made by his mother, which was my oldest sister, Doris. Next to my mother, Doris was the best cook of all us girls. If she didn't know how to make something, she'd find out from mother and would usually produce a pretty good replica. On this special occasion, Doris had asked mother for her Carrot Cake recipe so she could present her oldest son a beautiful, three layer, cake adorned with mother's Cream Cheese melt in your mouth, frosting. The day had finally arrived and mother had planned a dinner on Saturday for her grandson, Lewie's birthday. All his favorite foods had been prepared except for the birthday cake and Doris was to bring it with her. We all awaited her arrival, anxious to see how the cake had turned out. As she made her way up mother's sidewalk, we could see nothing of a beautiful Carrot Cake, only a plastic bag, dangling from her hand. "Here it is" she said, as she laid the bag on the counter top. With inquiring eyes, we began to move closer to get a good peek at just what it was that she had brought. One look at her Carrot Cake atrocity, and gasps turned to laughter. Doris began to tell the story of how her cake had crumbled into a million pieces, right along with her hopes of baking the perfect cake for her oldest son's birthday.

As Shelly continued to empty the drawer, there appeared before me, one last item. I blinked my eyes and could not believe what I was seeing. For years, my sisters and I had searched for mother's Lemon Pound Cake recipe. I had tried making many variations of this cake but none seemed to come close to mother's. I could just see that recipe in my mind, written on the cardboard backing which came out of a pack of pantyhose, packaged back in the day. I couldn't wait to grab that recipe and claim it to be mine! Remembering that my sister Sue sat on the front porch in innocence, not knowing what I planned to swipe, I rethought the situation and decided to see if she'd like a copy. With a yes to my question, I quickly wrote it out and hurried home to stow away my prize.

Today, I have made mother's Lemon Pound Cake for the first time. With a few minor deviations,it was completed. It wasn't perfect, but with practice, I think I will be able to recreate this family treat for years to come.

So many things have been stolen from my mother and family since Dementia came on the scene, but today, something so small and seemingly unimportant as a Lemon Pound Cake recipe, has given us a little back.