Thursday, September 29, 2016

Meems' Hit Parade

As I mentioned in my last post, I have a Spotify playlist on my phone titled "Mom's Favorites."   To keep her brain juicy and active, I will from time to time ask her to name great songs that she remembers.  Sometimes she draws a blank.  Other times, a random tune pops into her head, and I immediately add it to the list.

Here's a little Casey Kasem countdown for your afternoon entertainment.

Starting with #10...

10.  You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want To Do It)

This song reminds me of the story she tells about dating a Filipino after the war.  I call him Phil Ipino.  He played in a dance band.  Her daddy told her that she could marry Phil, but that he (her dad) would have to get a 2nd job to support them.  She has told this story all of my life.  The main character became a Filipino a couple of years ago.  Until then, he was a regular old guy.  Hmmm.  She dated a Filipino right after WWII in Nachitodoches, TX.  I'll bet.

9.  Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)

I downloaded the Glenn Miller version with the long big band intro.  My favorite part - "No-No-No-No!"  I had never really listened to the lyrics before.  Now that I've heard the song about 27 times, I have fallen in love with it.  It's a song about being separated by war and the fear that your guy will fall in love with some cute, blonde German chick.  "You're on your own where there is no phone, and I can't keep tabs on you!"  I wonder what present-day lyrics would read.  I doubt that there would be mention of sitting under any kind of fruit tree.  "No-No-No-No!"

8.  Mi Mancherai (randomly picked) - Andrea Bocelli

She wanted a song by that blind guy with the pretty voice.

7.  Edelweiss (From The Sound of Music)

I added this one.  She likes show tunes.  I love Christopher Plummer.

6.  I Could Have Danced All Night (From My Fair Lady)

I thought that she would recognize it.  She didn't.  She kept asking me if it was a song from Wicked.

5.  Popular (From Wicked)

She is a huge fan of Wicked.  She thinks that this song is HEEEE-larious.  I sing "But, not quite as popular as MEEEEEEEEMS!" at the end.  She likes that.

4.  My Strongest Suit (From Aida)

She and I saw Elton John's Aida on Broadway years ago.  This song has very funny, clever lyrics.  Again, she thinks this song is HEEEE-larious.

Now We're Getting to the Good Stuff...

3.  Always - Deanna Durbin

Meems sang this at a friend's wedding.  That's one life event that is forever forged in her memory.

2.  When the Lights Go On Again - Vera Lynn

"When the lights go on again all over the world, and the boys are home again all over the world..."  Meems sang this at her high school graduation in 1940.  Her big brother, Jimmy, was away fighting that war.  According to Mom, "ALL the boys were gone."  One of her teachers told her that her voice sounded just like Deanna Durbin's which would by today's standards would have been Barbra Streisand or Celine Dion.  Another forged memory.

Here it is, folks!  
Meems' numero uno (for no apparent reason) request!

1.  76 Six Trombones (From The Music Man)

I. Have. No. Idea.  I didn't grow up hearing Mom belting out, "Double bell euphoniums and big bassoons!  EACH BASSOON!  Having his BIG FAT SAY!"  But every single time, I get out my phone and ask her for requests from her playlist she murmurs, "76 Trombones."  That is, until yesterday when I tried to authenticate this request by videoing her.

Actually, 76 Trombones digs down to a memory planted deeply within her cerebrum.  My sister.  "Kathy sure loved the silver trombone I bought her."  My little blonde-headed sister with a smile that glinted silver with braces chose to play the trombone when she joined the band way back in Junior High.  After a couple of years of playing with a rented trombone, Mom decided that Kathy was serious about tromboning.  Our little mother saved up her school teacher salary and bought Kathy a silver trombone.  They were both so proud of it.  I hated that thing.  Its belches echoed loudly throughout our tiny house.  

However, I do wish I still had that trombone.  I'd take it to Wedgewood South every afternoon and let Meems hold it in her lap.  We'd listen to 76 Trombones, and she'd smile and smile.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

8:00, 12:00, and 5:00

4:10 PM.  Nearly Suppertime.

I go by to see Meems every afternoon between 3 and 4.  At Wedgewood South, they have special activities at 2 in the afternoon, so I wait until the afternoon lull for my visit.  

Sometimes we sit in the large common area and watch "Deal or No Deal."  My "depression child" mother always advises the contestants to take the first lowball deal that is offered.  "But Mom!  There might be a million bucks in the case he selected!  He can't settle for $8500!"  "Eighty-five hundred dollars is better than nothing," she murmurs.

Other days we go sit out in the shade of the porch so that Mom can feel the breeze on her pink cheeks and hear the birds trilling in the trees.  I made a playlist of Mom's favorite tunes on my phone.  I won't tell you what her numero uno favorite is.  There is a whole other blog coming with that amusing tidbit.  We sing.  We reminisce.

Before long, Meems reaches over to her left wrist and holds her watch face up close to her eyes.  "Is it almost dinnertime?" she'll ask.  A quick glance at my watch reveals that she has more than an hour until chow time.  "Nope!  You've got lots of time to enjoy my presence!"  "Well.  I don't like to be late.  I like to be there early."  I tease her by telling her that the commute from the porch to the dinner table is all of about 30 seconds long.  "We can leave in 59 minutes and have time to spare!"  She quiets for a bit.

Two minutes later.  "Is it almost dinnertime?"

The funny thing is, she's not asking because she's hungry.  In fact, the caregivers have to encourage her to "take 3 more bites" before she can have her dessert.  It's not about being hungry.  It's about predictability.  Five minutes after the meal is over, she will not be able to remember what she ate.  Not even what she had for dessert.  Sometimes when I'm with her at meal time, she'll ask me mid-meal if she's eating  breakfast or dinner.  The fact that there is a hunk of meat loaf suspended in midair on her fork does not provide the slightest context clue that she might be in the middle of supper.

She does know this.  "We eat at 8:00, 12:00 and 5:00."  Every time she tells me this as if it's news hot off the press, I feel a twinge of comfort knowing that she still has a bit of a time table in her mind.  That simple bit of awareness means that part of my mom is still in there.  She can still sing most of the national anthem and she knows what time meals are served.  

If she's showing off, she can tell you that they have "Fun and Fitness" in the mornings and a fun activity in the afternoon.  I felt especially proud one day when she was able to tell me that she had to be at the "movies" (aka chapel) at 2:00 because they were going to watch a movie about a dolphin with no tail.  AND, they got FREE popcorn and a coke at the movie!

I remember when my boys had to learn our home address in kindergarten.  I made up a chant.  "Fifty SIX oh FIVE Eighty FOURTH..Street."  I was so proud when each boy learned that tidbit of useful information.  I get that same feeling of pride when Mom remembers the tail-less dolphin and the times for meals.  I almost jumped with joy last week when she recited my home phone number for no apparent reason.  And, like so long ago with my little boys she felt pretty proud, too.

At the end of my visit when I start to say goodbye, I know exactly what she's going to ask.  "Will you roll me to the table?"  "But, Mom, wouldn't you rather sit by the TV?  It's about 50 minutes until supper."  "No.  I don't like to be late."  So, I roll her to the table and lock the wheels of her wheelchair.  Slowly, she brings the terry cloth bib Wilshire Place so thoughtfully provides around her neck and gently presses the velcro together.  I give her lots of hugs and kisses before asking, "When are you going to see me again?"  "Tomorrow!" she replies beaming.  "That's right!  Tomorrow!"

Then, I walk towards the door.  I usually take one more look back at her.  She's facing a wall.  Her tablemates won't be wheeled in for a long while.  She's totally content to stare at nothing or simply cat nap.  The lump in my throat almost chokes me every time.  

She's content.  She knows what time meals are served.  She can call me at home and sing the national anthem to me anytime she pleases.  She still enjoys movies, popcorn and Coke.  I feel honored to still have time with her here on earth.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Purse

Her favorite.  "It goes with everything." 

No matter how many times I've explained to Meems that Wedgewood South is an "all-inclusive resort" that doesn't allow tipping, she just feels better if she has her purse with her at all times.  Every now and then, she thinks she's eating in a school cafeteria and feels compelled to give $1.25 to the lunch lady.  The purse.  It's common for women with dementia to hold on to this last vestige of identity.  And, the contents of those purses fascinate me.

A toddler fills her purse with small toys and gummy bears and, perhaps, a TV remote.  During the twilight years as the mind begins to dim, purses tend to become more and more empty except for the occasional random penny coated with lint, an ancient gum wrapper, or a wadded piece of Kleenex.  The tug of the weight of a handbag resting in the crook of an arm provides security and identity to  both toddler and senior alike.  But for an elderly lady with days upon days filled with the feeling that something is missing, a handbag becomes more of a lovey or a pacifier.

One of the ladies that lives in the "all-inclusive" resort with Meems dresses immaculately.  Coordinating blouses and pants, sometimes with a nice jacket, are her trademarks.  She wears rather large clip-on earrings that are ornate and colorful.  Same earrings every day.  I've heard tell that the small purse that she carries daily is totally and completely empty.  She regularly takes up her purse and wanders the facility asking "Is this where I live?" and "Can you show me which apartment is mine?"  

About a month ago, a broken hip left her wheelchair bound.  Her purse, now nestled next to her lap, has become her constant companion like a lap dog.  Same neat, matchy-matchy clothing.  Same earbobs.

Meems' near empty purse has a hollow echo.  I can tell you with 97% absolute certainty what you would find in it on any given day:  2-3 wadded up pieces of Kleenex, her huge plastic dark glasses that she wears over her regular glasses, a tube of coral lipstick, and, in the matching coin purse that came with the bag, quarters.  Lots and lots of quarters.  If you've already guessed that she likes to sit out on the porch on sunny days, feels undressed without lip color and has a constantly runny nose, you are very astute.  I'll bet the quarters have you baffled.

Bingo Winnings
At Wedgewood South, Bingos and Blackouts are rewarded with quarters.  My mother is very good at Bingo.  She can't even read the numbers on the cards, and she's good at Bingo.  Her coin purse is heavy with her winnings.  Every week or two, I put the quarters in a baggie and bring them home for safe keeping.  I stack them in 4's so that I can keep a tally of her earnings in my mind at all times.  She's up to $15.  Really, she's up to about $20.  I gave my niece, Kelly, about 20 quarters a while back to use as laundry money.  "Mom!  You're up to $20 in Bingo winnings!"  That always gets a triumphant smile.

The 3% of uncertainty regarding what else might be in her purse is reserved for any random thing that she happens to absently throw in her bag like a few checkers used to cover the giant numbers on the Bingo cards or a used dinner napkin or a "Happy Fourth of July!" card she received in the mail.  It is those unexpected treasures that make my heart smile.

At the age of 90, if the building catches on fire, Kleenex, king-sized dark glasses, a tube of coral lipstick, a few quarters and a couple of red checkers will be all she needs to navigate the world.  Life is easy.  Life is simple.  I've got her back.  My purse, thank goodness, is pretty full.


Meems had a very special visitor this weekend.  Our friend, Laura Ard, flew down from DC to spend time with her.  Laura lived next door t...