Sunday, May 22, 2011

Happy 95th Birthday Grandma!

Today was Grandma's 95th birthday. She had an incredible day. There is a lot more to say about it, so I'll write an update tomorrow when I'm not so tired. I at least had to post "Happy Birthday" on the blog before the day is over.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Tourist

You know how it is when you have a house-guest visiting from out of town? Not your best friend, but a random friend, an acquaintance? You try to show them a good time, introduce them to your close friends and hope they'll integrate well, make them feel at home in your residence, and at the same time you have to continue with your own day to day responsibilities.

They've done their Google-ing and Yelping and maybe they've even brought a travel guidebook along. Therefore they ask silly questions—about your town and about you. They are armed with random facts and tidbits so obscure, academic or irrelevant to daily life that you either have to do your own share of Googl-ing or more fun—make stuff up. The quantity of questions after a couple of days is closely proportionate to the ounces of alcohol I have to consume in order to keep my sarcastic answers to minimum. I have a low tolerance. Then when you duck away to go to work you can only hope your answers, their search results and their Encounter guide will keep them smiling on their daily adventure.

I have not yet had the pleasure of having a house guest in Fountain Inn, in-fact I've had very few visitors in general, so I get a little more-than-usual of my entertainment fix from movies. Last weekend I called my sister to come over and watch a movie with me, but her husband and kids were away for the weekend so she opted for some much-needed alone time. When I asked her if she wanted to come over and watch "The Tourist" with me her response was nothing short of amazing. She asked, "Is that what we're calling Grandma these days or is that the name of a movie?".  I laughed harder that I had in a while, mainly because my sister was serious, but also because it hit me how befitting it is to an Alzheimer's patient trying to get by in "our" world. They really are mostly lost most of the time in a foreign land. And the trains that run back to a safe, familiar place, do so with decreasing frequency, sans schedule.

From what I've read and have been told by friends who have experienced this horrid disease with a family member, my Grandma is just like the rest of them. It's like they all took the same tour, and came away with the same food stained T-shirt. They also all have the same guidebook printed in a language that most of the rest of us can not understand. And their questions and comments—wow...all day long. Where are the kids? Are those cars or cows? Look at all the cars! Look at how tall the trees are around here! Have you seen the kids? Is someone crying? I'm 94 years old. I'm 54 years old. I AM NOT 94 YEARS OLD!!!! I want my Mumma! (One can age decades and find the fountain of youth all within a matter of minutes). I wonder where everybody is. Where is everybody? Are you gonna take me home? (Asked every time we return to our house, where just the two of us live, after going anywhere).

And then there are the stories "from home" that they like to tell. My grandma told me the other day about the time I got shot when I was a baby and how she cried all the way home. And of course there is the repeated story about the lady at church who shot grandma in the wrist, and how the priest punished the woman. The other day grandma was shot in the mouth and then there was the time my grandpa got shot in the field. If you listen long enough you'll probably find you've taken a bullet or two yourself (or you'll want to by the time you go home).

As anyone who lives in a famous city and the well-traveled know, there are travelers and there are tourists. And we've all been tourists. Whether it was our first trip to California or our first trip to Japan, there is that time either you realize (or you don't, but everyone local realizes for you) that you are wearing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, taking too many photos of the signage and menus, or worse, you actually can't figure out how to use the toilet. At a point in life when I felt I had earned the status of traveler, pretty much internationally, (yeah, ignorance is bliss) I became the worst kind of tourist. Driving across the middle of Bali on the way to the east side of the island, I had to make a two-sie. We asked our driver, Katut (of course. now knowing), to stop at the nearest toilet. He pulled over on the side of the road next to a shack where a woman was doing field work. After smiling and smiling and asking for me in Balinese if I could use the toilet the woman replied and smiled and smiled and pointed me toward another small shack. I crossed a small field, walked in, two chickens ran out.

I had to go bad.  It was blindingly bright outside. There was no door to the shack, but the little light that leaked in and the contrast in the otherwise unlit shack made it hard to see exactly what was going on with the two troughs of water, one with a wooden ladle. I doubt a light would have helped my western-toilet reasoning mind much anyway. There was no tp, of course. I had absolutely no idea what to do. I still don't, so to this day I am horrified by the thought that I most likely defecated in their drinking water or at best used their dirty toilet water to wash my bum, with the wooden scoop that may have been their drinking water ladle. I can image the stories they tell (if they are still alive to tell stories), and I imagine tourists taking photos of the sign in the middle of nowhere that reads, "No Public Restroom", in English.

There's nothing like a foreign restroom to turn one into a tourist. In fact Grandma encounters this on a daily basis. I drive the wheelchair up to the narrow bathroom door where she has to disembark and use the walker to get to the toilet. Nine times out of ten she has to ask for directions, and when the trip involves a twosie, well, let's just say it's one of those adventures-gone-wrong, but everyone gets out alive, if not weary. And thank god for adult diapers.

I apologize for the potty humor and the detail and the fact that there is likely to be more in the future. Hygiene and restroom duty is a major part of care-giving. It's a reality that many of you will be faced with in your life, kinda like getting your "junk-touched" by airport security.

I could run with this Tourist/Alzheimer metaphor ad nauseum, but this tour guide needs to eat. You are now free to move about the interweb. Please come visit us.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Happy Would-Be 74th Anniversary

Today, May 1, 2011, would have been my Grandma Helen and Grandpa John's 74th Wedding Anniversary. Grandpa passed away in August of 2001, so they had 64 and a half years of marriage. If you read my last post, you got to see some amazing pictures of them in the 70s, and you know how much she misses him. I didn't take her to visit his grave today. Oddly, it didn't cross my mind until right now and now I feel a little guilty. But I did ask her some questions about how they met and how he proposed and I got some answers that I never knew before.

*As always on this blog, to see the photos larger you can click on them and then use your browsers "back" button to get back to this post.

First I asked, "Grandma, how did you and Grandpa meet?".

She looked at me puzzled, so I then asked, "Helen, how did you meet your husband?".

I am learning from some online reading and from a couple of books that Alzheimer's is actually causing the patient to think they are in an earlier period of time sometimes. It is why they often can't recognize people. If they are in their 40s in their mind at the moment, they will have no idea who you are and "Grandma" will make no sense. I've learned so much in the last month, and day to day understanding is much better for me now.

So, anyways, she told me that they met at a dance when she was 18. He was a good dancer and she was shy about dancing because she had big feet. But she had fun. Everyone loved him because he was so much fun and liked to sing and dance.

Then I asked her how he proposed. I really wasn't expecting to get much of an answer on this for some reason. Maybe because no one in my family has a good proposal story. Well, this is what she told me...

She was baking and her hands were covered in flour. He walked up and said, "Let me see those hands!". She laughed and held out her dusty hands and he rubbed them back and forth between his hands and then he said,  "look at them now" and she looked at her palms. He said, "Turn them over!", and when she did there was a diamond ring on her finger. And he asked, "Will you be my cook?". And she said, "I'll be your cook and your baker if you'll be a good husband". And that was that. She said they were engaged about 8 months. They were married a few weeks before her 21st birthday in 1937 in Gilman, Wisconsin.

Now, my grandma has a lot of trouble with words these days. He may have asked, "Will you be my wife?" or "Will you marry me?". Who knows now, but it was a cute story and she enjoyed telling it.

They had 8 children, 26 grandchildren and numerous great grand-children and great, great grandchildren. Happy 74th Anniversary. They're still together in her heart and in her mind, so I think that's still reason for it to count.

And speaking of anniversaries. Grandma and I had our one-month living together anniversary on Thursday. More soon.