Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Guns and the death of our children

I admit it. I hate guns and would ban them from this world, if I were in control. But I am not. So, I am willing to compromise in order to save at least one more child, parent, grandparent, brother, sister, wife, husband, human being from death by gun.

Hunting rifles and that is it.

- If you have a compulsion to kill defenseless animals, have at it. Go through a background check, purchase a hunting gun or rifle, take hunter safety lessons and store it, unloaded, in a locked cabinet. Do everything you can to keep your gun secure and away from causing harm.

- Any other type of weapon that requires bullets should be banned from our shores. Killing another human is never good. I know, I know -- police need guns. But I always thought they were trained to wound a suspect or use other means to subdue someone -- with stun guns, mace and the like -- and killing was the last resort.

I would make this a worldwide requirement but for now, let's concentrate on the health of the USA, our land of the free and home of the brave.

And let's be smart about placing blame for the mess we are in, today. I blame our government. Yes, I fault the NRA for denying our country has serious gun problems and for their scare tactics they employ to  keep so many otherwise reasonable citizens armed and ready for aggression.

No, I don't blame the public that buys into the idea that they are protecting themselves and loved ones by keeping a gun. I don't think most of these people are dumb or stupid. Instead they are doing what they believe is right among their community of friends and family.

Billions are spent on this gun campaign. People are encouraged to arm themselves,  Theme park-like shooting ranges are opening for families and children. It is a disease. It is a sickness and has nothing to do with protecting rights or ourselves. Depending on a gun is as addicting and dangerous as smoking.

Reading this toddler shoots mother I wonder what thinking went into this mom's decision to have a loaded gun in her purse while shopping with her 2-year-old child. She never meant harm for herself or her child. She was protecting them, she thought. But instead, this young woman enabled  this tragic scenario. She is gone from life on Earth. she's left her child motherless and having to grow up knowing what happened. This is just one sad story out of many and it doesn't make sense.

I don't blame Walmart or assume this women's lack of intelligence just because she was shopping there, as some did when the story first broke and nothing was published about her. We will never get to a healthy compromise until people quit assuming so much about one another.

I guess the notion is to fight fire with fire. But that's ridiculous in so many ways. Does such destruction amount to security?

Why do we have a government that can't act on the public's behalf? Instead they seek studies when the facts are staring them in their faces. Lawmakers waste precious lives and time while taking money from groups that support rampant gun ownership. This study that is months overdue should be a no-brainer, yet, CDC looks into kids/guns.




Sunday, December 28, 2014

A good cheering up

This post is part of a log of phone conversations between me and my mother who has dementia. We are reminiscing and catching up. Mom is 90 and moved from the family farmhouse to a sort of assisted living apartment in upstate New York. I live in Florida. We have not had much contact for several years until I started calling her every few days, in August. My goal is to reconnect with her, be someone who will listen to her and share memories. These posts include parts of our conversations I feel important to write about such as events and things she wants to discuss from her life, her family and growing old. She so enjoys our phone calls. Her memory comes and goes. It seems like she has more alert days since I started calling, but that may be my wishful thinking. I am learning a lot about her status in life and how it's changed over the years from being the strong maternal figure to an elderly person who at times feels forgotten as well as forgetful.

I caught mom being sad when I called her last evening (Saturday). She said, "Is this Antsy Nancy? Because I was just thinking about you. I feel so bad right now, I don't have anyone to talk to, no one wants me, I don't have any friends.They just don't understand my dementia. I was hoping you would call or thinking I should call you."

Catching her in this mood turns into a great conversation with her upbeat, relieved and feeling better about her life. She is more lucid, her thoughts not so clouded, when she has hit her emotional bottom. I've learned how to get her out of the ditch and on to the high road on these occasions, at least for a little while.

I let her voice her hurt and she does have some good points. More on that later. Mom needs to tell someone how she feels and what bothers her most, in order to get through the mood. By now, I can predict her next sentence and can verbally help her get past the explanation as to why she is sad. Once it is said, she can relax a little and maybe move on until the next valley of sadness occurs.

The first good laugh, I got out of her was when I told her something funny that happened to me that afternoon. When I went to the mail box, a neighbor was there, getting his mail. He and his wife are quiet, keep-to-themselves people. A bit different from us. He got a new lawn mower last fall and loves to talk about it, even though he didn't get to use it much before the weather cooled. I offered it was a lovely and warm day. He agreed. To be funny I added that he might have to get his lawn mower out with this weather. Well, he started laughing and inadvertently farted. Of course, I acted like I didn't notice, but nearly lost it laughing when he immediately grabbed the rear end of his pants and headed for his house.

Now, that was just right to get mom laughing. Just telling her about it made me laugh with tears. As always, she had her take on the event. "He was probably holding on until he got to the bathroom," was her first thoughts as she giggled. "There are all kinds of people in this world. Everything is out there. Writers can find their characters in people. They don't have to dream someone up, because they already exist," adding I just told a very funny story.

Mom has a cold, with a lot of coughing. It is cold outside, the sidewalk stones are popping up leaving corners and edges sticking up. And the sun sets at 4:49 p.m. these days, which makes it difficult taking her dog out for an evening walk. These are gripes that I can spin from. That is where we restart our conversation with memories and more pleasant topics.

Mom's cold. Always. Every Christmas holiday, mom would spend days and weeks baking, cooking, decorating, shopping and everything else that needed to be done to meet the traditions of Christmas. By about two days before Christmas, she would have a terrible cold and by Christmas Day, laryngitis. I don't remember mom not having a cold on Christmas -- or being able to speak above a whisper. When I brought that up, mom laughed, "I guess you are right. That was a busy time of the year and I got through it. I guess now my body is just used to having a cold every Christmas. I remember being happy back then, with family home and lots of food."

The biggest reason for mom's depression is winter. It is cold, walking her dog is hard when she is afraid of falling and it gets dark so early. She wants to be somewhere else, where it is warm and the sun shines. But that isn't happening this year. She is ninety years old, frail and doesn't go anywhere without Marley, her dog. I suggested the real problem is mom is a warm weather person and has never really liked winter. she thought about it and had to agree. We are focusing on springtime and how she will be very happy, once winter is done.

We did some more memory lane traveling and talked about summers, being outside on the farm. When I was first able to help with lawn mowing, we used a push mower to cut a front, side and back lawn, which wasn't too bad and I shared the duty with my older brother (he did most of the work). The, as summers passed, mom gradually expanded the yards and lawn areas to include 
small flower gardens, everywhere. We graduated to a couple of power mowers and eventually a ride on. Mom, dad, Dick myself and Jim did our part to keep the lawns in estate worthy shape. It meant someone cutting every day. When all of the lawns had been cut, we would start over. This was all summer long. Lucky for me I grew up and left home by the time they dug the pond and turned that whole area into a large are that needed regular mowing.

She remembers it was her plan to go at the lawn expansion gradually, so as not to upset my dad who already had more than enough work to keep busy. She always loved gardening and we had two big vegetable gardens, plus a strawberry patch and apple orchard. But she always wanted to grow flowers. She would plant anything anyone gave or she would find growing wild, from gladiolas to Japanese Lantern. It all turned into a very lush and beautiful yard. "I will always remember my beautiful flowers," she says. I can fell her smile through the phone.

About those people who she thinks don't like her, I suggested she spend more time having happy thoughts about the ones she loves and knows they love her. 

She hates having dementia and knows it is robbing her of thoughts, memories and making her do and say things she later regrets, even though she doesn't remember doing or saying those things.  I have softened on my attitude about that. I know what her personality is like. When she was younger she could be judgmental and harsh. Looking back and talking to her about her years growing up, I see that she had things happening that made her angry, but she couldn't speak out. Also, her mother, who I loved dearly, wasn't always the best role model for her nor did she treat her children fairly. Mom only hints at that. There is something deep about thoughts, opinions and what is appropriate.

"I could go out and buy myself some beer and get drunk," mom says (and I don't remember what we were talking about to bring this on). "But I am not a drinker. My father made beer in the cellar and people use to come to our house in the middle of the night to get beer from him. I didn't like it. It scared me." Turns out this was during Prohibition and she was afraid her father would be caught or worse. Later she was a member of the WCTU.

I told her when I was little, we were at their friends' house and the man made beer in his cellar. When I asked her what beer tasted like, she replied, "Rat poop."  She said she's lost touch with that family. She remembered all of their names including the son-in-law, Skip. I don't know if this is right, but she says his parents never bothered to give him a "real" name, just named him Skip. "Maybe they wanted to skip this one or something," she says, and then adds she was just kidding.

Referring to someone, mom said, "He doesn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out, if he did." It cracks me up when she says stuff like this because she NEVER did in front of us kids.

While we were talking mom was having fun with her calendar. My brother Dennis and his wife Vicki spent Christmas Eve afternoon at mom's organizing her by cutting down on the number of address books she was using to one and updating the phone numbers for her. She keeps up as much as possible by calendar and Dennis said she had five of them going at once. He cut her down to one and gave her a big black marker to X out the days, so she would know what day it is. I had to keep reminding her not to go on an X spree and end up in January, already. She loves Dennis and he is devoted to her.

I have more thoughts about this conversation and will share them in a new post. 

We talked for an hour and we had lots of laughs. She was feeling much better and at ease with things. I promised to call again today and she promised to remember to go to church.

"I love you, mom."

"I love you too, sweetheart."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

When it's Christmas

This post is part of a log of phone conversations between me and my mother who has dementia. We are reminiscing and catching up. Mom is 90 and moved from the family farmhouse to a sort of assisted living apartment in upstate New York. I live in Florida. We have not had much contact for several years until I started calling her every few days, in August. My goal is to reconnect with her, be someone who will listen to her and share memories. These posts include parts of our conversations I feel important to write about such as events and things she wants to discuss from her life, her family and growing old. She so enjoys our phone calls. Her memory comes and goes. It seems like she has more alert days since I started calling, but that may be my wishful thinking. I am learning a lot about her status in life and how it's changed over the years from being the strong maternal figure to an elderly person who at times feels forgotten as well as forgetful.

If you sent mom a Christmas card, she never got it. Or, doesn't remember getting it. Nor did she realize Christmas Day is Thursday, when we talked Monday evening. She went on about going to my brother's for Christmas and she is hoping he moved to the farm house which has been vacant since she was moved to an apartment in a senior complex. She can't get over that. She planned to live in the old house forever, and keep dad's memory alive, living with her in the house where he was born.

It is the way our conversations have been going -- from total resignation and wanting to give the property to the local volunteer fire department to living in a dream where she returns to her Tara (Gone With the Wind). She let a few "dream" things slip when we talked last night. Like she wants Dennis and Vicki to move into the farm house, so maybe she can live with them there. They already have a home, but that is beside the point.

She has more reasons for wanting to move. I am getting just her side, but she thinks the management at her apartment complex is conspiring against her  -- and her dog. According to mom, the new manager brought up things that are in her records and from the past, that shouldn't be brought up. Like her moving in with a dog, her taking the dog into community rooms that are off limits to pets in respect to residents with allergies and some other things she told me about, but I won't mention. She feels like it is a vendetta against her to bring up a list of things that happened, maybe years ago, every time something goes wrong.

Mom blames it on dementia. And this is where it gets tricky. Mom has it, knows she has it. She says she doesn't always know what she is saying, doing or who she is talking to and may not be acting appropriately. She didn't say it that way, but this is what mom meant. She thinks people who deal with people like herself should be more understanding and professional in the way they handle an incident.

Mom's gone from worrying that the management at her complex is consorting to get rid of her, to where she now hates them and is trying to dream up an escape. And I don't know the answer.

Mom told me she was very confused, but now, she thinks things are becoming clearer. I wish it were so.

Anyway, if you call her or someone else you know who has dementia to wish them a happy holiday, they probably won't remember your call -- or who you are, If you are in the neighborhood and drop by, they likely won't remember the visit. So, maybe do it for yourself. Share a memory with them and pass it on.

"I love you, mom." "I love you, too, sweetheart." Merry Christmas and Happy holidays to all.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Illumination

I want to share a post I just published on Antsy Artist Redux. It is about having ideas that turn in to creating great things, objects and experiences. We have wonderful neighbors like Liz and Horst Goeller, who are dedicated to filling our neighborhood with awe and wonder each holiday season. Their ever-growing outdoor light display brings so much enjoyment and inspiration to our retirement community. I started with an idea and grows on new ideas.

I had an idea to honor them. My idea was small and took little to make happen. Well, read on ... Ideas.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Catching up

This post is part of a log of phone conversations between me and my mother who has dementia. We are reminiscing and catching up. Mom is 90 and moved from the family farmhouse to a sort of assisted living apartment in upstate New York. I live in Florida. We have not had much contact for several years until I started calling her every few days, in August. My goal is to reconnect with her, be someone who will listen to her and share memories. These posts include parts of our conversations I feel important to write about such as events and things she wants to discuss from her life, her family and growing old. She so enjoys our phone calls. Her memory comes and goes. It seems like she has more alert days since I started calling, but that may be my wishful thinking. I am learning a lot about her status in life and how it's changed over the years from being the strong maternal figure to an elderly person who at times feels forgotten as well as forgetful.

Finally had a long talk Wednesday with my brother Dennis and his wife Vicki. Mom has been in a funk for the past few weeks over problems she's having at her complex about her dog and wanting to go south for the winter, but it isn't happening. I was worried about her and also wondering what was real or imagined from things she's telling me.

Dennis lives nearest to her and has become her caretaker, as well as guardian of the farmhouse which hasn't collapsed or fallen to the ground, as mom's friends described to her. She had a pleasant and sad surprise on Thanksgiving Day.

When she told me she had Thanksgiving dinner at the farm with Dennis and Vicki, I thought she was dreaming that, but found out later it was all true. Vicki says they intended to take the meal to mom's apartment, but since mom has been in such a low mood about problems there lately, they decided to take her to the farm, let her see that while it isn't in great shape, it is still standing.

Mom was excited about the whole event. But for a while she thought Dennis had moved in and was going to live there. That tickled her. She wants so much to have Dad's birthplace restored and someone from the family living there. Then she realized that wasn't the case, that they had turned on the power for the day in order to have dinner. Her happiness turned to despair. She was relieved that what her friend told her about the house was a huge exaggeration, but she felt sadness to know it stands empty.

So that was a bright spot and sad realization for her.

She talks about dying a lot, to me and to Dennis. She says she feels unwanted and forgotten. She wishes her family would call her -- she even has a plan.

"Why don't they get together and plan to it so one person calls me one day and another, the next. They don't have to call me all of the time. Just call and talk, like you do (me). It means so much. I don't have anyone to talk to. Other people who live here have family and friends that visit and call. I have Dennis and he takes such good care of me. He makes sure I have my medicines, keeps an eye on my refrigerator and goes to the grocery store whenever I need something.

"Liz takes care of my finances and does a lot of other things for me, but she lives so far away. I wish I could go stay with her this winter, but it doesn't look like that will happen."

Same with Jim who owns the farm property and the expenses that come with it. She'd like to stay with him in Florida, but Vicki says the logistics of getting her and her dog to either home is too problematic. She is starting to realize this and it isn't sitting well.

In the meantime, she has been very upset with her neighbors in the complex as she thinks there is a conspiracy to get rid of her and her dog. There is the problem of her taking Marley into community rooms in the complex, where the dog could shed hair. She understands there are others living there who have allergies. Or kind of. Now, she says, she can no longer take Marley on the elevator and must use the back stairway to come and go with Marley. I think she was never allowed to take the dog into the community rooms.

She thinks her neighbors are out to get her, because they wanted her apartment, but timing was in her favor when Liz applied and did the paperwork for it. It is impossible to know exactly what's going on. She tells Dennis the same things she tells me and he finds it credible.

I don't know. I found it amusing the other day when she said, "They never liked my dog. Ever since I moved in. Right after I moved in, she had puppies. How would I know she was pregnant."

She doesn't go to dinner with her friends anymore -- she thinks they are angry about something she said or did. Dennis says it is because she's stubborn. Her friends have been frequenting a different restaurant on Friday evenings and mom wants to go to the place where she gets great fish fries.

Glad to talk to Dennis and clear some things up. He visits her and checks on the farm every few days. I appreciate all he does for mom. He is the youngest of six kids and she's always depended on him.

I can see she is more desperate as winter approaches. She spends a lot of time outside during warmer weather. There is more to do and see, like the youngsters playing on the sports fields just outside her window. Or the weekly concerts and events in the park across the street. She and Marley are able to sit for a whole afternoon on a bench and watch traffic. Now, it is cold. She is afraid she might fall on the slippery sidewalk or Marley's feet will freeze.

My wish is to get her through the next few months. She will be happier when Spring rolls around.
We are still having nice long conversations about twice a week and I will keep everyone up to date.

"I love you, mom."

"I love you, too, sweetheart."
.

Friday, November 14, 2014

We talk, but not much is new

This post is part of a log of phone conversations between me and my mother who has dementia. We are reminiscing and catching up. Mom is 90 and moved from the family farmhouse to a sort of assisted living apartment in upstate New York. I live in Florida. We have not had much contact for several years until I started calling her every few days, in August. My goal is to reconnect with her, be someone who will listen to her and share memories. These posts include parts of our conversations I feel important to write about such as events and things she wants to discuss from her life, her family and growing old. She so enjoys our phone calls. Her memory comes and goes. It seems like she has more alert days since I started calling, but that may be my wishful thinking. I am learning a lot about her status in life and how it's changed over the years from being the strong maternal figure to an elderly person who at times feels forgotten as well as forgetful.

We've talked three times, since my last post and there isn't much to report. Mom did have an exciting afternoon on Thursday. While she was outside with her dog Marley, a taxi pulled up at her complex to drop off a fare. It was a woman mom didn't recognize, but soon had an encounter with her.

Apparently (according to mom) the woman may be a new resident, as she couldn't remember which apartment was hers, or on which floor. So, mom decided to fulfill her good deed for the day and took on the task of helping this woman get home. I don't know why mom didn't look for the staff's help. The woman did have her key, so I assume they went door to door, until they found one that would open. I spared myself the details, because mom was so proud to help someone else and if I started asking for details, mom might get too confused to enjoy telling me about her escapade. I hope it ended up with the right woman in the right apartment.

She is forever holding out hope for a reprieve from the ice, snow and cold winter ahead. She thinks my sister Liz is coming on Friday, each Friday. She prays that Liz will take her home with her to South Carolina, where her dog won't get frozen feet and the sidewalks won't be slippery. She had conflicts the last time she went south for the winter and says she is no longer welcome, but she holds out hope.

She is telling me about another incident over the dog hair. Says she is in trouble because they (residents) found a hair on a couch in a community area and blamed her and her dog. She told me the same thing a couple of weeks ago. Each time, she says it just happened yesterday. This week, I asked her how she found out, who told her about her being accused. She can't remember who told her or how she found out -- just that she hasn't had her dog on that couch. Maybe the hair was on her clothes, but she hasn't sat on the couch lately and thinks the hair was from some other woman. Besides, according to mom, the room is meant for relaxing. "If I want to lay down, I will just go lay down on my own couch."

But there is more to it. She thinks everyone around her is against her. I kept telling her to forget about it, nothing bad is going to happen to her. She worries that they all want her apartment because it is the largest and best one in the complex. She thinks they envy her in a bad way. She seems to be isolating herself from the rest, because of her own imagination.

She's also rehashing troubles she thinks have happened between her and her best friend, Velma. I personally believe she's just worn her friend out with imagined conflicts. She says they haven't been going out to eat and she really misses the Friday night Fish Fry at her favorite restaurant in east Olean.

This is how much of our conversation goes, anymore. With the exception of her harrowing adventure of helping another old soul find her apartment, which she couldn't wait to tell me about, she starts out depressed, bored and not at all happy with most of her kids. She's even said, "I should kill myself." That's just attention-getting talk, by the way. Once she gets it all out, she perks up and is grateful to have me there for venting.

Yesterday was the day of the month for the free food distribution at the church, next door. Mom says the people that run it convinced her she qualified for the food and should take advantage, noting everyone in her building is eligible. She's been reluctantly taking the box of fruit, vegetables and other staples and thinks she shouldn't because she gets Meals on Wheels each week day and has money to buy her own food. She thinks the food should be given to someone else who really needs it. In the past she would put the food box in the community room for others to take or give it to my brother Dennis when he came to with medicine refills or to go shopping for her. I told her before she should accept the food and stock her cupboard for the winter ahead. She says she can always go the the sub shop to eat.

Well, Thursday they put the sign out about the food boxes being available and she didn't go over to the church to get hers. She decided not to take it. She watched from her window, as people went in and out of the church all afternoon, picking up their food boxes. Something seemed eerie about her decision, after all, she did enjoy getting the food and sharing it with others.

Mom told me Liz had arranged through some charitable group, for someone to come and do some things for her. I have no idea what the helper is suppose to do, but mom wasn't happy with the green bananas this person got her at the grocery store. Mom told her Dennis can do her shopping, he gets better looking bananas. She says the person hasn't returned since.

Mom was happy about one thing on Thursday evening her complex had a monthly meeting that includes coffee and dessert. It was getting near the time for the meeting when we were talking, so she was eager to get off the phone, even though she enjoys our chats. We made plans, of sorts, to talk again on the weekend.

I love you, mom. I love you too, sweetheart.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lazy Day Tuesday

This post is part of a log of phone conversations between me and my mother who has dementia. We are reminiscing and catching up. Mom is 90 and moved from the family farmhouse to a sort of assisted living apartment in upstate New York. I live in Florida. We have not had much contact for several years until I started calling her every few days, in August. My goal is to reconnect with her, be someone who will listen to her and share memories. These posts include parts of our conversations I feel important to write about such as events and things she wants to discuss from her life, her family and growing old. She so enjoys our phone calls. Her memory comes and goes. It seems like she has more alert days since I started calling, but that may be my wishful thinking. I am learning a lot about her status in life and how it's changed over the years from being the strong maternal figure to an elderly person who at times feels forgotten as well as forgetful.

Well it took a few days to catch mom at home. I called her a few times Sunday evening, but she was elsewhere. Then I got tired and forgot to try again until it would've been too late for us to enjoy a very long visit. Tried again on Monday evening and the same thing. On Tuesday, we connected after lunch and before she would be heading out to watch and wave at the passing school buses. By the way, mom told me there are so many buses because some of the children are taken to Allegany for classes, and they pass by twice a day, as well as the regular school buses.

"I'm lazy, today," mom starts out. "This is one of those days where I would rather take a nap, than take a walk."

That is a big deal because her walks are precious. She takes her dog out for a stroll and for Marley to do her business, at least four times a day. She doesn't watch TV because there is never anything worth watching. Besides, she says, "Why waste my money on electricity?" Her other interest is reading, but she needs large-print books these days. The library has some, but not many are available. She thinks it is mostly because a lot of other people need the large-print versions, as well.

"Oh, I am just discouraged with this dementia. I am afraid I will get put into a home or a place where I can't get out for walks, have my own place or have my dog. That scares me, so much. I wouldn't want to live like that"

We did talk about this and her fears a few times during our conversation. We went over some things she's done recently, like getting her seasonal clothes separated and put away in an organized manner. She says she keeps her apartment in order and makes sure she eats the right foods, while considering her diabetes. She manages her dog. She makes it a point to spend as much time away from her apartment, by either going out with friends or visiting and doing puzzles in the community room with her neighbors. She can call my brother Dennis or rely on her neighbors to pick up things she needs at the store.

I asked her why she thinks something like this is about to happen. She doesn't know where it comes from. Mostly just fear. Thoughts that turn into possibilities. Vibes she thinks she gets from other people. She knows the dementia makes it impossible sometimes to separate what is real and what is imagined. That makes her worry, even though she knows she is doing a pretty good job of taking care of herself.

After we talked about the things she can control, including her everyday stuff, I told her to stop worrying about having to give up her apartment. That shouldn't be an issue right now. I told her to instead keep doing the best she can, enjoy every day and be more open about her fears with people who are in control of making those decisions.

Another worry is over her relationship with her best friend. When I said I tried calling her on Monday night she replied that they'd gone out to eat in Eldred, and that it was a bad experience.  Apparently mom did something that upset her friend and others, but mom doesn't remember what happened or doing what they said she did. She wasn't going to talk about it anymore, except that the whole thing is very upsetting. Now she doesn't expect to be going with her friend again. I quizzed her about this. She admits she really isn't sure what happened, if anything. Maybe it was another one of those worried thoughts creeping into her reality.

"I guess I am having a pity party," mom says. " They use to say that. Pity party. Thank you for calling me. Sometimes, I just need someone to talk to, about things I don't feel like talking about with someone else."

Back to the school buses. Mom says they go by for about an hour every school day. It is chilly out today and a little windy. Not snowing cold, but fall going into winter cold. She will go in a while, to watch the bus procession. She worries about Marley's little feet getting cold from walking on the pavement. They sit on a porch swing just outside the building and there is a wall that protects them from some of the wind.

Winter. It isn't like the old days, when she would brave the cold winds to help shovel a pathway to the car or barns. Didn't matter if it was near blizzard conditions, back then. She drove three or four treacherous miles to the grocery store for food or to one of her cleaning jobs. It was doable then.

Again, I reassure her, that things will be okay. Don't spend time worrying. (Me of all people, telling someone this.) She agrees and we move on.

We talked about Halloween, again. She is really looking forward to the children in town stopping by at her complex for a load of sweets. Residents bring bags of candy to the community room and somehow it gets passed out to the kids. "We all sit and watch as they pass by," says Mom. "Some of the kids come over and shake our hands."

We talked about an old neighbor, Jo Dunbar. She was the most creative person I knew, growing up. Every holiday was so special at her house. When is was 7 or 8, I went to a Halloween party at the Dunbar's. I bobbed for apples and nearly drowned myself trying to bite into one. Also, the water was freezing.

"Her popcorn balls," mom says. "She made the best popcorn balls. Everybody went to their house, for those popcorn balls." I'd forgotten about them. I never had them before and couldn't imagine someone making such a delightful treat.

Mom said she was bored. I recollected a time when I was 4 years old. It was summer and I came into the kitchen and slumped down in a chair. Mom was peeling something, maybe apples. I said I didn't have anything to do. "It's a nice day out," she told me. "Go outside. Lay down on the lawn and look up at the beautiful blue sky and big white clouds. Make a note in your mind that you will always remember this day."

At that age, well I just went and did what she said to do. I am 67 years old and I not only remember, I can feel, see and smell it. I can smell the fresh cut grass and feel the warm breeze. I see the bluest sky and big white puffs of clouds, just beyond the spreading branches and bright green leaves of the maple tree. I heard birds tweeting and bugs buzzing. I have forgotten so many things over the years. A lot of things that seemed far more important, at the time. So thank you mom for that great idea. I will never forget that day.

She talked about when she went to Manhattan for Eastern Star statewide conventions. I joke about how dad would always come home and tell  people he had a stiff neck from looking up at the tall buildings. Whenever he did that, I thought he was serious. Mom says that was his shtick. That before he went to Europe during World War II, he was stationed on Long Island and he spent a lot of time in the city. He and his army pals would bum a ride into New York. The thing about the tall buildings was one of his jokes.

We spent an hour on the phone, which is becoming the average length of our calls. It was getting time for mom to man the bus patrol and she was in a much better mood. Told her I would call again in a few days and she thanked me again for calling.

"You know, I shouldn't feel bad," she says. "My kids, except for Dennis have moved away. There are others who live here, who don't have anyone. My children call me. Well some of them, Ah, wait. You are Antsy Nancy? I was just going to tell you that Antsy Nancy calls me."

I enjoy this, she says and I agree. We'll talk again in a few days or when I catch her home.

I love you, mom. I love you, too sweetheart.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mom's getting organized Parts 1 and 2

This post is part of a log of phone conversations between me and my mother who has dementia. We are reminiscing and catching up. Mom is 90 and moved from the family farmhouse to a sort of assisted living apartment in upstate New York. I live in Florida. We have not had much contact for several years until I started calling her every few days, in August. My goal is to reconnect with her, be someone who will listen to her and share memories. These posts include parts of our conversations I feel important to write about such as events and things she wants to discuss from her life, her family and growing old. She so enjoys our phone calls. Her memory comes and goes. It seems like she has more alert days since I started calling, but that may be my wishful thinking. I am learning a lot about her status in life and how it's changed over the years from being the strong maternal figure to an elderly person who at times feels forgotten as well as forgetful.

I've been busy this week, getting my Etsy shop stocked for the holidays. And, I didn't have time to spare to write a post after talking to mom on Sunday. It's probably going to be like this for the next several weeks. I will try to keep up, though.

We had a nice hour-long conversation both on Sunday and last night (Thursday). Turns out the theme for each visit are connected, so here goes with parts 1 and 2.

"My closets are a mess," mom starts off. "I have a lot of space. There is a big closet at the entryway, one in the hall by my bathroom and a big closet in my bedroom. I have a nice bedroom set with a bureau and chest of drawers. The problem is I have my summer and winter clothes mixed together and I really need to get organized or I will be in big trouble."

So, what she did was pull everything out of her closets and drawers. That is what I gathered, but I may be exaggerating.Then she began sorting and making piles. Summer shirts here. Long-sleeved shirts and sweatshirts, there. She was ready to take a break when I called. Actually, her dog Marley crawled up onto her bed shortly after I called.

"I need to get my clothes organized. I can't stand the thought of winter coming, but it is and I want to move my summer stuff, so my heavier clothing is easy to get to. Jackets, coats in the entryway closet. I think I should have my summer things together, in case I get to go south when it gets cold and the sidewalks are too slippery for me to walk.

"I also want to sort through my things, to see if what I need. I wear sweatshirts a lot when it gets cold and they do wear out from all washing. So, I will get Dennis (my brother) to take me shopping for things I think I will need."

Mom sat down to chat with me. She'd been thinking about a few things. She thought of dad wearing the hood, mask and outfit, he put on whenever he disturbed the bees in the beehive as he took honey. She said he used an extractor to take honey from the waxy comb. Even though he wore all of this protection, the enraged bees would find skin and sting him. As much as he didn't look forward to this task and I don't know how many times a year it had to be done, he would do it, get stung and have sore itchy bumps, for the love of honey.

"You know, I can how the bees felt," she offers. "You are stealing their work. They spread the pollen. They don't want to share their honey."

She talked about going to church with dad's mother, my grandma Whitney. Mom recalls grandma in her "Chrysler with the big side wheels." I think she meant the wheels were exposed and not covered by the car body.

She tells me how Marley wants to chase the squirrels, so she stays clear of the park across the street when they walk. Marley also, has their regular route memorized, so when mom turns early to head home, Marley pulls on the leash, as if to tell mom she's going the wrong way.

Mom says men are so dependent on women. She isn't so happy that her best friend has a boyfriend. She accepts it, though and says she (mom) has no interest in a relationship like that. Says she has Marley to keep her company.

They -- mom and her dog Marley - have their routine. Each afternoon, they take a seat on a bench in front of mom's complex and watch the school buses, trucks and car go by. Mom says she not only recognizes the vehicles that pass by every day, but she even knows the order in which they go by. She thinks it is because most of them are coming home from work, at about the same time everyday. Now that amazes me.

She gave me a tour of her bedroom -- her stuffed animals, anyway. She doesn't remember where they came from, but she describes her bear or monkey (she called it both) that wears a straw hat and denim overall shorts and a rabbit that is stuffed. She also has a little clock that she loves, but that isn't the one she uses as it is too small for her to read the time. Instead she has a clock with big numbers.

We talked about some other issues she has and then said our good nights to each other.

So, now it is Thursday evening and guess what mom is doing. She's still shifting piles of clothes, still trying to get organized. I said I was surprised she was still at that task and she says it is taking more time than she thought it would, because her helper came to do her laundry and she ended up with another big pile to sort.

At first on Thursday, mom was very blue. She says nobody wants her. We talked about more issues and she finally perked up.

Mom had gone out to eat that evening with he friend Velma and Morey to Red's and Trudy's. She really wanted to go to her favorite restaurant in Olean for a fish fry and wondered why they didn't go there instead. She went on about wanting to go out somewhere for a real meal with salad, not a hamburger. I asked her what she had and she said some soup.

 I reminded her that it was Thursday and it took a few more reminders before she understood the connection. Finally near the end of our conversation, she put it together.

"Today's Thursday," she said. "We can only get the fish on Friday. I kept thinking today was Friday.She (Velma) must have something else to do tomorrow. She is always doing stuff with her family or has to go for medical treatment to Buffalo."

Mom was relived there wasn't a big conspiracy that kept her from her favorite fish fry. She decided to call her friend and see if they were going out again on Friday. If not she was going to ask Dennis if he would go out for fish fry with her. "I like to go out once in a while, but it is hard when you are by yourself."

I reminded her about the book she gave me when I was 4 or 5 years old. It was called Nurse Nancy, and it had a page of various shaped bandaids in it. I really did enjoy the book -- mostly the band aids. Mom remembered it and how she had to get because I was Nancy. We didn't talk about it, but I also remember all of the time I was growing up she wanted me to be a nurse. I even took some nursing courses when I lived in Massachusetts and decided I would make a terrible nurse.

Mom talked about her father making his own beer in the cellar. She says in the winter, neighbor kids would get into the cellar and steal bottles of beer. It was evident in the spring because the kids would hear something, maybe her dad, and they would run, dropping bottles in the snow. Once the snow melted in spring the yard would be littered with beer bottles. She thought that was pretty funny.

"I don't like beer," mom said. "But, I like a little wine." I told her the acid in wine makes my stomach hurt and I gave up beer, and all alcohol a few years ago.

We talked again about friends, family, losing some and losing touch with others. Sometimes the dementia is to blame, she says for putting someone at a distance. I suggested change has to come in the form of understanding and forgiveness.

We agreed our conversations are important to both of us. After all , the best gift anyone can offer is the gift of time. And we've been spending a lot of it reminiscing and sharing our thoughts.

"I love you, mom."

"I love you, too, sweetheart."

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Falling leaves and mixed signals

This post is part of a log of phone conversations between me and my mother who has dementia. We are reminiscing and catching up. Mom is 90 and moved from the family farmhouse to a sort of assisted living apartment in upstate New York. I live in Florida. We have not had much contact for several years until I started calling her every few days, in August. My goal is to reconnect with her, be someone who will listen to her and share memories. These posts include parts of our conversations I feel important to write about such as events and things she wants to discuss from her life, her family and growing old. She so enjoys our phone calls. Her memory comes and goes. It seems like she has more alert days since I started calling, but that may be my wishful thinking. I am learning a lot about her status in life and how it's changed over the years from being the strong maternal figure to an elderly person who at times feels forgotten as well as forgetful.


Mom and Marley
It was 8:10 p.m.when I called mom on Wednesday. It is a good time to catch her as she's finished her daily rituals of walking, car counting, eating and avoiding TV. So, she is ready for a long visit.

"I did a lot of walking today," she recounts. "I have always done a lot of walking. When I was growing up we never had a car. Never even thought much about and we all walked wherever we had to go. I watched the school buses go by and waved back at the kids who waved at me. It is pretty nice out, this week. Cooler, sweatshirt weather, but still sunny. 

"The leaves are turning beautiful colors and falling. I started picking some up every time I go out. Now I have a box full. I don't know why. They are just so pretty and I love to look at all of the reds and orange colors."

I told her that when Maia's daughter, Taryn, was younger, Maia ordered a huge box of maple leaves from someone up North. Taryn's class had a fall party and Maia got the leaves so the Florida kids could make a leaf pile to jump in. It was a hit.

Mom laughed, "I'm not sending a box of leaves anywhere. I'll have to think of something to do with them." (I guess she thought that was a hint.) 

We talked about the huge maple trees that lined the driveway at the farm. They were massive and beautiful. But they got old and one by one had to be cut down. I quickly realized it wasn't a good subject as mom started in again lamenting about having to leave her home and that, according to her friends, the house fell down. She can't bring herself to go see it and she trusts what they tell her. She talked about dad and how he would be so hurt, since that was the house he was born in and he put his life into the farm.

I got her back on track by asking what else she'd done that day. 

After supper, she'd gone downstairs to the community room to work on puzzles, but no one was there. "They are all stuck on TV," she sighed. "I can't stand it, anymore. I feel like turning on the TV is a waste of electricity."

Instead she sat near a window, by herself and resumed her favorite pastime -- watching traffic. Someone would pop in occasionally. She thinks to make sure she was okay. Mom finally went back to her apartment, shortly before I called.

Then another subject that keeps coming up. "Liz is coming on Friday," mom says. "I don't know why she is coming, maybe to take me back to Myrtle Beach for the winter. She worries about me falling on the ice. She has something planned. I don't know what." 

I don't have the heart to tell her my sister Liz told me she doesn't have plans to go there and probably won't be going again until spring. 

Mom gets confused enough. Now she isn't sure about the dog hair problem between her and her friend. She said last week that she got dog hair on the seat of her friend's new car and not getting invited out to dinner with her and her boyfriend. On Wednesday mom said Velma denied ever saying anything about dog hair and didn't know what mom was talking about. Mom admits she may have gotten something else mixed up. A month or so ago she told me a similar story that involved someone else, a car and dog hair. When she told me about the problem between her and Velma, I thought either something was amiss or mom needed to stop rolling around with her dog. I reiterate, mom gets confused. There is a lot she says that is her side of the story or maybe incorrect due to the dementia, that I do not write about. I will  try to correct or further explain information that may have errors. It is difficult since the only person I am speaking to on these subjects is mom.

I lost phone connection twice with her and had to call back. Happens often and I explained that to her every time I called back. She wanted to take the blame because sometimes she accidentally hangs the phone up by pressing too hard with her ear. I tell her, I want to take the blame, because it is my phone that is the problem. We get a laugh out of arguing over who gets to be at fault. 

She talked about dad again. About when they went to Alabama to visit his brother, Art. His brother was quite a storyteller and had convinced his neighbors that dad was a veterinarian. Dad kept wondering why they all called him "Doc." He soon found out when one of them who owned a horse farm asked dad if he could look at an ailing horse. The funny part is dad grew up on the farm when you did your own vet work. So, he actually knew what was wrong with the man's horse and how to treat it, without chemicals or drugs. He was the hero. He didn't let his tale-telling brother down. And he was glad to get out of there before the patients started lining up.

But something weird happened as we talked about dad. At first, she told me how she would climb the steps into the attic and sleep in the dormer windows at night. From there she could see down the street and the traffic on the main road. She felt safe sleeping in the attic. 

Then she went on to talk about how dad always worked so hard when he was a carpenter on the railroad. And a lot of times he wouldn't be able to get home, had to sleep in camp cars and stay away for several days

It was like she was tying the two thoughts together. That when she was sleeping in the attic dormer window happened the same time dad was away and working for the railroad.

I asked if she meant sleeping there more recently, after dad had died. She kind of snapped back and agreed with me. I wonder if those were her thoughts and dreams after he died, as she watched from the dormer window, for dad to come home from work.

We changed the subject. Mom says she got a job in the school cafeteria (Bolivar) just before she left to marry dad. And she loved it, because she's always loved baking and cooking. "We canned corn all summer. What a job that was. The health inspector would never let you do that nowadays. We had corn everywhere. I cut the corn off of the cob. I liked it, It was fun."

I got her to talk about making her famous fudge, but don't try making it based on this recipe.

"I've been thinking about making fudge," mom says. "The recipe? Well I start with sugar, three cups, and a half a cup or so of margarine or shortening (I remember her using Fluffo, that stuff that looks like butter). Then add a little milk, I use canned milk now. You don't need much, just thin it out, a little. Put on the stove and stir it until the mixture starts boiling.

"I don't remember how long it takes. (I chime in, long enough to take a bath.) I don't know about that. I've been known to fall asleep in the bath tub" mom laughs. "That only happened a couple of times. Couldn't sleep when the water got cold."

I tease her saying, when we were little kids, that was probably the only place you could go to get a break from us. "That's right, I would get into the tub to get some privacy."

Back to the fudge. "You can tell it is done cooking when you put the spoon in and pull it out, and it makes a puddle, like that."

A couple of problems, she forgot about adding cocoa powder with the sugar and peanut butter and vanilla after the cooking. Oh, and you put the hot pan into a sink filled with cold water and stir, stir, stir until the mixture's surface is shiny. She sent me the recipe once and either it was flawed or I was flawed. Didn't turn out like hers. Now I can't find it.

I reminded her about our conversation on Sunday and that she told me Heather stopped by for a visit while mom was sitting outside. I asked if she remembered Heather taking pictures and, of course she didn't remember that (or their conversation.) I told her Heather had sent the photos to me by computer. Mom was so excited. When I told her Heather used her phone, mom became disappointed because she wanted to see the pictures, but thought they were in Heather's phone and couldn't be printed. I promised to make her a set and send them asap. Heather, you made the old gal happy.

Mom told me how much she enjoys our conversations and all of our reminiscing. She says she's anxious to get the pictures of her and her dog, but is so grateful for the happy memories we are sharing.

Her thought for the evening, "Memories are something pictures can't show."

This WAS a long conversation and we enjoyed it.

"Mom, I love you."

"I love you, too, sweetheart."

Monday, October 13, 2014

Counting cars kind of day

This post is part of a log of phone conversations between me and my mother who has dementia. We are reminiscing and catching up. Mom is 90 and moved from the family farmhouse to a sort of assisted living apartment in upstate New York. I live in Florida. We have not had much contact for several years until I started calling her every few days, in August. My goal is to reconnect with her, be someone who will listen to her and share memories. These posts include parts of our conversations I feel important to write about such as events and things she wants to discuss from her life, her family and growing old. She so enjoys our phone calls. Her memory comes and goes. It seems like she has more alert days since I started calling, but that may be my wishful thinking. I am learning a lot about her status in life and how it's changed over the years from being the strong maternal figure to an elderly person who at times feels forgotten as well as forgetful.

Thanks to my nephew's wife, Heather Whitney for taking some great pictures of mom on Sunday morning while mom and Marley sat on their favorite bench, watching traffic and counting cars.

Hazel Whitney
When I called mom Sunday afternoon she told me my brother Dick's son's wife stopped by to visit. Her memory, well we know. I asked if she meant Heather, which she did. Mom said she thought Heather was driving by and saw mom, so she stopped to talk. I asked what they talked about and mom couldn't remember that part. Heather had offered to take some pictures of mom for me. Since, mom couldn't remember their conversation, I didn't bother to ask about picture-taking. So, it was a nice surprise to get these wonderful photos today from Heather.

"I was counting cars," mom said. I asked how many? "I forgot how many. But it is a beautiful day out there. Cooler now. What are we going into?" It is fall, I reminded her. Soon it will be winter. "Yes, that's right. The summer concerts in the park across the street are done for this year. I'm looking out my window right now at the sports fields and the grass is bright green. I guess the kids are busy doing other things today. There aren't any games going on." I remind her it is Sunday and they are probably off doing family things.

Mom and Marley
 "I really appreciate you calling me," mom went on. "One of my friends died. She was in an ambulance, on the way to Buffalo. They couldn't save her. She died in the ambulance. I feel so sad. One of the kids -- Nancy, I think was friends with her daughter." I replied that I am Nancy and asked the name. Mom couldn't remember her friend's name. She thought the daughter was Linda. Between the two of us, we couldn't figure out who she was talking about. I scanned the local paper's obits online, but didn't see anyone familiar.

Her feeling of loss was extended to include the farmhouse, which she said has collapsed. She hasn't actually returned to the farm nor seen what condition the house is in, these days. Old neighbors and friends told her it is in bad shape.

She turned the conversation to being hungry and that she was planning to walk to the nearby Subway in a while for a sandwich. "I don't have any food in my apartment. Well, she does have cereal, but nothing like soup or meal-worthy food. She gets Meals on Wheels at noon time each day, but they don't deliver on weekends. She ran out of soup and ate the rest of her Meals on Wheels leftovers.

Enjoying a fall day in the sun.
What about Dennis (my brother), I asked? Doesn't he shop for you? "Yes he gets stuff, when I ask him to. He comes and looks in my fridge. Maybe he's looking for pop. I have neighbors who get things for me when they go to the store." I tried to stress how important it is for her to have food on hand and that she needs to eat a good diet. She thinks she does. She relies on the Meals on Wheels meals and says the portions are large enough to account for two meals. She has cereal and bananas for breakfast everyday. And she goes out with friends or to the nearby sub shop for occasional meals. Nevertheless, I told her, she needs to stock up, especially with winter and bad weather coming in the next few months. She agreed and told me she will write a list for Dennis.

Okay, so once again it is another week and she is looking forward to a visit from my sister, Liz. At least she thinks it is this week that Liz will be in town. I've heard this for two or three weeks now, but the visit hasn't happened yet. Mom gets confused -- she keeps telling people that I am coming to visit and I keep reminding her, I am not.

Mom and Marley counting cars.

"I can't watch TV anymore," mom sighs. "It's always the same thing. Nothing ever changes. Over and over. They need to get new writers."

I asked again if she'd received the photos I sent her two weeks ago. "Were they old pictures from years ago?" Some were, but mostly pictures of the girls, me the flowers and birds in our yard. "Maybe they are here and I laid them down somewhere. I can't remember. I don't know if I got them or not, but I will try to find them." Mom said she does that, now. Brings something like mail in and puts it down. She forgets about it and loses it.

"I need to clean my apartment." I said that's no fun and she disagrees, because she is afraid the complex management will find out her place is dirty and they would get rid of her. I reassure her that won't happen. Well, she also doesn't want anyone else to see her place when it isn't clean. I remind her that she's already done a lifetime of cleaning. 

"That's right. I cleaned Mrs Damon's house for years." You also cleaned up after a husband, six kids and dad's parents, I said. "Everyone has to do that. I have to keep busy, keep moving, find something to do or else.

"When I was young I always walked. I always played sports. I was in the band and I loved that." She played the flute. I wanted to play flute in band, but they kept giving me other instruments that I didn't want to play like the coronet (didn't want ugly blisters on my lips) and the clarinet (sounded like a duck call to me). I did play piano, but never very well. My brother Dick wanted to play drums and I don't know why, but they tried to get him interested in another instrument, so he gave up on music. On the other hand, Dick's daughter, Erin is the percussionist in the family. My brother Len had the musical talent. He played the French horn and organ.

Let's see now, we talked about Cuba cheese and politicians. Mom thinks that her county has the best of both. Cuba cheese is hands down good and I agree with that one. She says the politicians at least do what they promise to do. She calls them active and up to date. Mom thinks she has the inside scoop as she was an active member of the Board of Elections for many years. I am not going to remind her about how she tried to talk me out of registering as a Democrat the first time I voted.

"There are only four registered democrats and everyone knows who they are. They will know if you register Democrat." Not a good reason, mom.

The conversation went back to food and mom's decision to go to the sub shop as she was in the mood and hungry. We said our goodbye. Mom said she loves our talks. I told her I would call on Wednesday and she said she would write that down. Hah. 

"I love you, mom."

"I love you, too, sweetheart."

Friday, October 10, 2014

Paper Chaise Lounge: Hello there!

Paper Chaise Lounge: Hello there!: A gray fox paid a brief visit to our back yard this morning. I was in our living room when I heard my wife Nancy say, "Oh wow, ther...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Forgot her Pepsi

This post is part of a log of phone conversations between me and my mother who has dementia. We are reminiscing and catching up. Mom is 90 and moved from the family farmhouse to a sort of assisted living apartment in upstate New York. I live in Florida. We have not had much contact for several years until I started calling her every few days, in August. My goal is to reconnect with her, be someone who will listen to her and share memories. These posts include parts of our conversations I feel important to write about such as events and things she wants to discuss from her life, her family and growing old. She so enjoys our phone calls. Her memory comes and goes. It seems like she has more alert days since I started calling, but that may be my wishful thinking. I am learning a lot about her status in life and how it's changed over the years from being the strong maternal figure to an elderly person who at times feels forgotten as well as forgetful.

Mom was bummed on Sunday, when we talked. She'd walked the half mile to the grocery store to pick up a few things. That got her into hot water with the staff at her complex. They don't want her wandering so far away. Her short walks around the building, next door to church or a few doors away to the sub shop are within reason. But taking off without letting anyone know, isn't well received. But she wasn't bummed out for getting into trouble. Turns out, the most important item on her non-existent list was Diet Pepsi -- and she forgot it.

Diet Pepsi was always her drink of choice. We never had Coke in the house. Maybe root beer, but not Coke. Mom made root beer a few times and that was quite a chore. She used herbs and roots like sassafras. I don't remember how it tasted or if I ever even tried it. I do remember she had a bottle capper contraption and I think she reused glass bottles (yay). Of course she had wooden cases to hold the bottles of root beer, which we dragged around the lawn so the brew would get the right amount of sun, without having the bottles blow up. Back then, there was just one kind of Pepsi and I bet she would've attempted making her own, if she had the recipe. I don't think she made root beer very often. The whole process was time consuming and a bit of a hassle.

So, she was in trouble for the unauthorized trip, but that didn't bother her much. She'd gone to church, walked the dog, walked to the grocery store and stopped on her way home at the sub shop for a visit and to get a sub to take home. 

She was in a hopeful mood all day, as the weather cooled and she realized the upcoming season is winter. Hopeful somehow she'd get to go South. I just let her go on about the likelihood of that happening. I asked if she got the pictures I sent her. She didn't think so and still didn't think she got them when I talked to her again today (Wednesday). She said she'd check around her apartment as sometimes she lays things down and things become lost. Oh well, I tried.

Most of Sunday's conversation was a rehash. We did talk about winter, and how it is different when you are a kid. I used to spend an entire day outside, especially when the ice skating was good. A few of my friends and I would spend hours shoveling snow off the ice-covered swamp or the Mill Pond. Most of the time it would take so long, we would have little time to actually skate. But it was fun and of course we'd be soaking wet and freezing by supper time.

For some reason we talked about one of dad's old pals, Earl Kinney. He was always at the farm on Saturdays, while his wife Arlene worked at WT Grants. He would go hunting, I guess -- never paid that much attention. I asked mom how Earl never knew his wife Arlene smoked cigarettes. Everyone else knew and you could smell it on her. Mom sighed and said he probably did know, but sometimes it is best not to say anything, than to constantly fight about it.

So, today, she reported her mood as feeling lonesome and discouraged. Between her best friend not wanting to take mom in her car anymore because of the dog hair and mom's preoccupation over  going to a warmer climate for the winter, she's lonesome and discouraged. 

I get her off those subjects to talk about the weather. She says it is chilly. The sun is shining and there isn't any wind. It is bright and nice, so she is able to take her usual walks with her dog, Marley. I called at eleven. Her big trip of the day is at mid afternoon when she sits on a bench and watches traffic. she sees some kind of pattern in the traffic, but I didn't understand what she meant. Something about a line of vans, she thinks are traveling together.

Then the school buses start streaming by and she waves at the kids on the buses.

She talked about cold weather and how it can snow any day now. She remembers one time when someone was having the family Thanksgiving at their house and the weather was so bad, snow so deep, no one could get got out. I remembered a few Halloweens where we dressed like bums in order to wear a lot of clothes to keep dry and warm.

I told her about my first trick or treating experience. My brother Dick and a friend took me and a neighbor out. I think I was 6 or 7. Dick told us he didn't want to be seen with us little brats, so they would hide behind a tree, while we went to the door. Dick was 12 or 13. At every house, the people would say they couldn't believe our parents let us go trick or treating by ourselves. I would point to the trees and tell them my brother was hiding. The people would laugh and give us an extra treat for my brother. I shared some of the extra treats with him.

Mom liked that story. Her dog started barking at her door and she wasn't sure if it was Meals on Wheels, the super to finally fix her closet door or a guest. Made her a bit anxious. We said our love yous and goodbyes. Until our next visit.





Sunday, October 5, 2014

Doggone Dog Hair

This post is part of a log of phone conversations between me and my mother who has dementia. We are reminiscing and catching up. Mom is 90 and moved from the family farmhouse to a sort of assisted living apartment in upstate New York. I live in Florida. We have not had much contact for several years until I started calling her every few days, in August. My goal is to reconnect with her, be someone who will listen to her and share memories. These posts include parts of our conversations I feel important to write about such as events and things she wants to discuss from her life, her family and growing old. She so enjoys our phone calls. Her memory comes and goes. It seems like she has more alert days since I started calling, but that may be my wishful thinking. I am learning a lot about her status in life and how it's changed over the years from being the strong maternal figure to an elderly person who at times feels forgotten as well as forgetful.

I talked to mom twice this week and plan to call her again tonight. Not much new has come from our conversations or anything I can post here. She is preoccupied these days about having to spend the winter in upstate New York. She wants to be where it is warm, but things that have transpired between mom, my brother and his wife, and my sister and her husband, has made stays with them improbable. At least that is what she says. I don't have any direct knowledge of what happened and mom's memory can't always be trusted -- she admits that.

So, we talk about mostly her dog and how Marley isn't liking the fall weather already. Mom is afraid for her dog's feet when the sidewalks get icy. She's hoping Liz will change her mind. She hopes she will come and get her. Bring her back to her house in South Carolina and all will be fine.

Mom is not so happy about the latest with her friend who is dating Morey, the guy who lived on the corner of our street. Morey bought her friend a new car, mom says, and now they aren't inviting mom along for going to dinner or Red's and Trudy's. Why? Because, mom says, Morey found a dog hair in the new car and doesn't want mom inside the car, anymore. I asked how the hair got there and Mom said her friend told her it was on mom's clothes. So, she's sad, hurt, frustrated and not getting to go out for fish fries and pie.

The door on her entryway closet fell off its track several days ago. She left a message for the janitor to fix it, but he hasn't done so, yet. She talked about putting it in her hallway, to get attention. I convinced her not to, because it is heavy and she might get hurt. Little frustration going on.

When I talked to her on Wednesday, she she was excited because, she said, Liz was coming to visit, she thought on Friday. Mom said Liz called and asked her if she got her letter, but mom hadn't. I asked if she got the photos I sent her. She didn't think so. I don't know about the letter from Liz, but she still hadn't received the photos when we talked again on Saturday. She said, "If I got them, they would be laying out someplace around here and I don't see anything,"

We talked about the change in season and mom told me when she and dad were first married, they didn't have window screens or screen doors. Being on the farm, there were flies in the summer and they always got into the house. "I would laugh at Leslie," she said. "He would come home from work (carpenter on the railroad) and take a nap on the couch. The flies were so bad, he would take the newspaper apart and cover himself with the pages to keep the flies from bothering him. I thought that was so funny."

I told mom when I was little, dad would attached a big piece of cotton to the screen door. I thought it looked like a big scoop of mashed potatoes. She laughed about that and went on to explain the cotton was soaked in "fly spray."

 Mom credits grandma Whitney, dad's mother, for getting mom involved with church. She said while she was growing up her family never went to church. Come to think of it, I don't remember her parents, her siblings or my cousins on that side of our family going to church. Mom was a pillar of the church when we were growing up, so the idea of her not being immersed with church is hard to fathom.

We talked about Halloween, apple cider and chocolate. Mom loves chocolate BTW, especially her chocolate peanut butter fudge. She still makes some but rarely because of the diabetes. I teased about how she use to make fudge. Put everything in the pan, turn on the gas burner to just the right temperature and then she would take bath. She would always emerge, just in time to take the fudge off the stove, power stir it and pour into the pan. It was always perfect; even the grandkids remember those days.

Mom told me she was going to a potluck supper on Thursday, in the community room. She said when she first moved to her complex she was on a committee for the suppers. They asked her to bring a dessert. She didn't have what the were expecting or the ingredients. One of her neighbors at the time, had a family member pick up what ever it was for mom. After that, mom opted to chip in for things like coffee and paper supplies for the suppers.

She talked about Halloween. Mom enjoys Halloween at her complex. The residents contribute candy that's put in a large bowl. Local children file in and out to grab a handful of sweets. She remembered how my brother Jim would ration his candy and still have some left several months later. I told her, I would go for the chocolate first and the candy I'd collected was gone with in a few days. Mom said I must have gotten my love for chocolate from her. It is still hard to resist.

We talked about flowers on the farm. Mom was champion at flower gardens. We listed our favorites -- Japanese Lanterns, Dahlias, Lilacs and Lilies of the Valley (they bloomed on my birthday.) I told her the petunias were my least favorites. She would send my out to pull off the dead blooms that reminded me of used hankies. Yuck.

Mom said she is getting tired of television. I remind her she hasn't watched it in so long, she must have been tired of it a long time ago. She laughed and added there isn't anything worth watching.

We talked about the old days when we use to listen to the Bonnie's games on the radio. Saint Bonaventure basketball. We couldn't remember the announcer's name, but he was great, for painting the picture. Basketball is fast and would be hard to relate what's happening on the spot. He was great, though. I will never forget the year they ended up third in the nation. We listened to every game. Mom says they aren't terrible, but never had a team like that since. It was certainly more fun to listen to the games on the radio, than watch games these days that have ads every few minutes or having to be told that "this foul is brought to you by Pizza Hut" or "this field goal is sponsored by" so-and-so.

Anyway, I think we are up to date for now. I am calling again this evening and hoping she eventually gets all of those photos we sent.

I love you, mom. I love you, too, sweetheart.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Day out with friends

This post is part of a log of phone conversations between me and my mother who has dementia. We are reminiscing and catching up. Mom is 90 and moved from the family farmhouse to a sort of assisted living apartment in upstate New York. I live in Florida. We have not had much contact for several years until I started calling her every few days, in August. My goal is to reconnect with her, be someone who will listen to her and share memories. These posts include parts of our conversations I feel important to write about such as events and things she wants to discuss from her life, her family and growing old. She so enjoys our phone calls. Her memory comes and goes. It seems like she has more alert days since I started calling, but that may be my wishful thinking. I am learning a lot about her status in life and how it's changed over the years from being the strong maternal figure to an elderly person who at times feels forgotten as well as forgetful.


Mom had a good day on Sunday. She walked Marley, her dog, went to church, had lunch at a friend's house, came home for a bit, then went out again to another  friend's home for a late afternoon/evening visit. At least I think that all happened. I called her after 5 p.m. and she was waiting for a ride. She told me to call back around n9, so I did.

At 9 she was bubbling over and anxious to talk. I was thinking she'd be ready for bed, but no, she wanted to talk, So we did. The cooler fall weather is making her more anxious about spending another winter in Portville. She'd rather be in the south where it's warmer and she could avoid icy sidewalks. My sister lives in South Carolina and a brother is in West Palm Beach. She stayed at both homes a couple of years ago, but got herself in trouble with some remarks she made. Now, she says, she isn't welcome back. She has two arguments about the issue. She says it has to do with the dementia. She says she doesn't remember saying what she was later told she said. I know, this is hard to follow. This is something she talks about repeatedly. Some days she is desperate to undo the harm so she can enjoy a warm winter. Other days, she is resolved to endure another cold and snowy season.

We were on the phone for an hour and much of the conversation was reruns earlier calls. I could tell she just wanted to talk, to have someone to talk to, even if it meant repeating things, until an interesting topic came up. She mused about the potted mum plant she has on her table. She wants to plant it outside, once the wine-colored blooms fade. She would plant it in the cemetery, but says no one would take care of it and she wouldn't ever get back to see it. Mom was superb at growing things outdoors, but not so good with indoor plants. "I don't know where this plant came from." mom says. I remind her she's had it since my sister Liz last visited, so I am sure it was a gift from Liz. "Oh yes, probably. She's always good at stuff like that."

Mom talked about how much she loved visiting New York City in the 1960s when she was a big mucky muck in the Eastern Star. They had a statewide conference in the city and mom took in as many sights as possible in one week. She told me this story which is a little mixed up, about an incident at Rockefeller Center. They were at a function and she needed to go upstairs for some papers she needed. I gather she was wearing a white evening gown, as was the custom  during Eastern Star rituals. She got on an elevator and at the last second, one of the musicians from the orchestra hopped in, too. She said he had a uniform on and she knew he was with the band. As soon as the door closed, the elevator got stuck and wouldn't move up or down. She was trying not to get all upset and the man was on the elevator phone getting help. She says at one point he made a joke on the phone. He said they were getting along fine and may end up getting married. Remember -- white evening gown. She says she got so flustered over that. I nearly forgot to mention how my brother Len teased for her to visit Marvel Comics while she was in the City.

She talked about how much she loved her job working for John, my sister's first husband, at his shoe store. She'd worked on the farm and cleaned other people's homes over the years. So, working at the shoe store was the only out-in-the-real-world job she ever held. It all started when John needed someone to help out, while employees were off for the night and he was alone in the store.

Mom ran the upstairs part of the store where they sold odds and ends. One time a woman mom knew came in and bought two pairs of shoes. A few days later, someone from her family brought them back, saying the woman couldn't afford them, It was a mess, to mom. Something she says that got her into trouble. Another time a boy who came in to buy sneakers insisted on a pair that mom told him were too small. He started kicking and screaming, so his mother went ahead over mom's caution and bought the sneakers. The father returned in a few days throwing just as much of a fit over the fact that the shoes gave his kid blisters and blamed mom for letting his wife buy them. Another mishap.

Then there was the mayhem with really big shoe sales events. People would end up returning  shoes that weren't even pairs or were two different sizes. Shoppers would tear boxes open and shoes were dumped all over the floor.

But despite all of this, she loved going to work, meeting people and getting paid.

She loves her apartment and is now asking when I am coming for a visit. I tell her, I don't have any plans right now to travel there and that we have our phone conversations to keep us together. "Well, I am afraid I messed up." mom says. "I told Liz and some other people that you were coming to visit me." I replied it was okay, just tell him we got confused. She pressed the issue a little and I told her maybe someday, but I have no plans, for now. We agreed our phone conversations make up for a visit.

I wished her a good night's sleep. (I was more tired than she seemed to be.) We'll talk again in a couple of days. Until then, "I love you, mom."  "I love you, too, sweetheart."


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ostracized for sore throat

I was lucky to catch mom at home around 6 p.m. on Wednesday. She likes being outside, observing traffic and people, especially during the week when the school kids are playing football on the fields next to her complex. When she comes in, she likes going to the community room where she can be with other residents, to chat and work puzzles.

But today, she returned to her apartment in a huff after a resident went into a rage when mom mentioned she had a sore throat. "She's one of these who think they are perfect," mom says. "Her family is perfect. Well no one is perfect in this world. I said I have a sore throat and she went on and on about how I shouldn't be around (spreading germs). It is my sinuses draining. I'm not sick."

Mom sounds a little hoarse like she did six weeks ago. She spends a lot of time outdoors and does have allergies to pollen, etc. The last time, mom ground up some aspirin and gargled with it. Her throat and voice were back to normal the next daytime we talked. "If I have to, I will have Dennis (my brother) take me to the emergency room, but I don't like the way they pile a bunch of medicine on you these days, unnecessarily." I understand that. I've had migraines since fourth grade. Turns out it had to do with my teachers' perfume. Over the years, I did try different medications and settled on Tylenol. But, I finally figured out something. If I take Tylenol, the migraine subsides in about a half an hour. If I don't take anything, the headaches subsides in about a half an hour. I believe some meds I was given for migraines actually prolonged the headache.

Back to mom. So she was nonplussed about the incident, but her mood changed once we started talking about the rest of her day. Of course, she was busy people watching. She ended up with a beautiful quilt, left behind by a resident who moved out. People leave food and things in the community room for others to take. Mom was admiring the quilt when a neighbor told her to take it before someone else grabbed it. She was considering whether she will keep it to use on her bed or give it to my sister Liz. As we talked she was thinking about that quilt and liking how it would look on her bed.

"I have this beautiful bedroom set and I can't remember where it came from." says Mom. I am pretty sure it was mine. Nice mahogany set I bought at an auction, when I was back at the farm, before moving to Florida. Mom continues, saying she thinks there is something special about the set, but can't remember. We've talked about it before. I didn't say anything, this time.

Mom mentions the lady downstairs again and how people do things without thinking. How they hurt someone's feelings. She refers to Christ being crucified and how he offered forgiveness. "Forgive them, for they know not what they do."

We turned to bringing up good times, fun memories. Picnics and summer outings. We had fun when we camped at Allegany State Park. Someone lent dad this large tent. My brother Dick and one of his friends slept in a pup tent. My friend Sharron O'Neil came along, too.

I started this part of the conversation by asking mom if she remembered how we brought this huge tub of night crawlers in dirt to use for fishing. The first night we were there, raccoons discovered the worms and picked every worm out. The next morning we discovered a tub of dirt and no worms for fishing. We had to break down and buy worms. Can you imagine farmers having to buy worms?

Mom loved that story and went on to talk about going to the area in the park they called the dump. The were barrels of garbage around and a bonfire going. Everyone went there to see the bears. Seems like there were usually a family or two on hand to check the barrels for food. People would bring food for the bears. One man stuck marshmallows on the end of a fishing pole and held it out for the bears to grab. His wife took pictures of it. Dad, who was a jokester to a fault, found a twig and moved it withh is foot until it touched the leg of the woman taking pictures. She jumped and screamed. What a lark. Mom enjoyed watching the bears, but some people made her nervous when the tried to get too close to the bears. It was a fun weekend, though. Don and Marie Witter and kids camped next to us.
We went fishing, swimming, hiking and had a lot of great picnic food.

We also talked about our outings to Letchworth State Park. Most notable to me were the times we went when I was 4 or 5 years old. First, on our way there, we had to take a little detour to look at the bottle tree. Years before, someone had stuck a bottle on the end of a small limb and the tree grew up, even had leaves growing inside the bottle. It became a tradition and people put many bottles on the tree's limbs. The tree actually survived and thrived. This was one of dad's favorite pilgrimages. The last time I was there, the whole thing had gone downhill. Someone got the bright idea of simply tying bottles to the limbs. Made a mockery of the original creation.

Times at Letchworth were generally fun. Once we went with friends visiting from Long Island. Sparky, Betty and their son, "Sonny." Mom and dad met them when dad was in the Army during WWII. Mom stayed with them when she went to visit dad before he shipped out. Sparky's real name was Adolph, but that wasn't a popular name at that time. Sonny was a gullible kid and would do anything Dick told him to do. One time Dick told him he could fly by jumping off our upstairs porch. The tied a sheet around his neck, his cape like Superman. He did jump and nearly broke something. Another time, the pair used Dick's bee-bee gun to shoot broken match sticks into my chest and stomach. Mom nearly fainted seeing her 4-year-old walking into the house with matchsticks plugged into her body. Dad hurriedly pulled them out. It didn't hurt until I saw horror in mom's face. I do remember I was bleeding and my father was yelling at my brother.

Sonny also jumped onto the back of my grandfather's work horse, "Dick." My brother neglected to tell him the horse would head straight for the woods. Of course, Sonny got knocked off by the first tree limb he and the horse encountered.

The day we spent with them at Letchworth was certainly memorable. First of all, while walking along the gorge trails, Dick and Sonny spotted something on the ledge, beyond the safety rail and decided to crawl down and get it. At four years old, I was so frightened to see them practically dangling where they shouldn't be in the first place. Everyone was screaming for them to get back to where they were suppose to be before they fell or got caught. Maybe Dick thought he could pull one over on Sonny with some of these antics, but it seems like Dick always got sucked into doing the crazy stuff, too.

We were having a lot of laughs remembering all of this. Then mom told me later that day at Letchworth, while the picnic was being made, mom discovered Dick and Sonny were selling the corn she brought to other families in the picnic grove.

That reminded me of a story my grandma Whitney use to tell about one of their family picnics. One time they were having a picnic and the kids ran off to play while the adults were setting it up. After a while my dad was getting hungry and started back to get food. On his way he saw a table set up and (said) he thought it was his family gathering. Well these people had fried chicken, so dad sat down and ate. The others just stared at him and never said a word. When he was done, he stood up and left. Dad always claimed he didn't know he sat at the wrong table, until he finished eating. We think it had to do with the chicken.

"I've always loved picnics," mom confesses. I agree. Being with friends and family, outside on a warm sunny day, eating great homemade food and making memories that last a lifetime -- can't beat it.

I need to go and make dinner, I told mom. We talked for a couple more minutes. She wrote down my phone number, again. Wrote done that I was calling her on Saturday, And she told me how she loved visiting me in Massachusetts, loved visiting the girls in Florida and is so grateful, we've reconnected.

"My sore throat is going away," mom said.  "I  probably just needed to do more talking.  I've enjoyed this so much. Remembering old times and talking about them. We didn't have much, but we made the best of what we had."

I love you mom. I love you, too, sweetheart.