Sunday, August 31, 2014

Short convo Saturday

I was busy with mermaids and such most of the day, so I didn't get a chance to call mom until a quarter to six. She'd just come up from downstairs to have something to eat and feed her dog. But she said she wanted to talk with me first.

"We were putting a puzzle together," she said. "They do about one a week. Sometimes they glue them together and hang on the walls, downstairs. Everyone else was going to back to their places to eat and then come back to work on the puzzle later. I am not that hungry but thought I should leave and eat now, too."

Mom walked her dog the usual number of times today, but her back is starting hurt. Same trouble from when she fell out of the car onto the pavement. It is her hip and back. I suggested she put a cold pack or ice on it, as mine seems to feel better faster when I use ice instead of heat for my sore back. Mom said, "a-huh" and that she has a big refrigerator with lots of ice in it. Seemed like her thoughts were wandering.

I asked her if the concert was fun. She replied telling me about how they have the concerts every week during the summer and about how they always go to Red's & Trudy's, but she isn't sure what they are doing to the diner -- renovating or building a new place. "You probably don't remember Red's & Trudy's." I tell her I do.

She says she likes working on the puzzles and it is supposed to be good for them to do. I asked what the puzzle was of -- What was the picture/subject? "Huh. Now you got me. I don't remember, but it was something really pretty. Creatures, maybe it was birds. It is a real nice puzzle. I'm going to write it down so I can tell you the next time we talk."

I asked about Jo Dunbar, a long time friend and neighbor. Mom said she passed away, maybe a year or so ago. She said it was sad, a shame, but she didn't say much else about her or their friendship.

I asked her if she remembered her beautiful favorite black cocktail dress she once had. I asked because I know she loved that dress and it looked so nice on her with its off the shoulder neckline, may have been black satin with a full skirt and stiff crinoline slip. She had that dress when I was young -- 7 or 8. She responded by talking about all of the gowns she had for Eastern Star which was a half dozen years later. I was  surprised she didn't remember that dress and that time in her life, because I thought she was pretty happy then. I wonder if she will bring it up some other time as she wants to work on remembering good times.

"Oh, oh. The dog is standing in the kitchen, looking at the refrigerator and looking at me, like saying 'What are you doing in there?'

"Dogs are great. Do you have a dog?" I reply no, a cat. "Cats are great, too. Any kind of pet. They know what you do or what you are suppose to be doing. She's thinking it's time for me to eat. When I eat, she eats. Yes, cats are good pets, unless they get out somehow and chase after the boys."

Mom describes her apartment: kitchen and long living room and dining area where she had her table and hutch. It has one bedroom and nice storage closet. She was lucky to get the nicest apartment, the one other people wanted, but she got it. She thinks some of the people living in her complex are jealous because she has the best apartment.

I tell her to go eat and I will call again tomorrow. We discuss what's the best time for me to call. Around six is best for her. She has church in the morning and then the walks with her dog. Some people tell her she doesn't need to walk her dog so often, but she doesn't want the dog to have an accident in the apartment. Besides, it gives mom something to do.

She tells me Liz is coming to see her soon, but she forgot when. According to mom, my sister will be staying with someone and she's coming for something, maybe about her education, mom doesn't remember. Liz will come to see her while she's in town and mom is hoping she will have enough time to take her clothes shopping. But if not, she says Dennis and Vicki will take to her to Walmart. She misses the clothes that guy threw out the time she fell asleep and left them in the dryer downstairs. The old manager tried to get some money for her to help pay for new clothes, but couldn't.

I tell her again to go eat and I will call tomorrow. She says "OK, dear" and then remembers she wanted to tell me about something that happened last night (Friday night). She says there was a power outage and  fire trucks were outside. She said a squirrel was walking on the power lines and somehow shorted something out.

"I've seen squirrels up there walking on the line before and nothing happened." I told her maybe it fell and touched two lines at once or something. She agreed that was probably what happened.

I tell her again to go eat. This time she says she is getting a little hungry. She said she is so happy that we are in contact with each other again. Said I am happy, too. With that we said our "love you goodbyes," until our next visit, Sunday. :)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Concert night for mom

Hazel Whitney: c.  Late 1930's.

It was 5:30 when I called mom on Wednesday She'd just come in from sitting outside and reading the paper.

"There's never anything in the paper, anymore," mom sighs. "Not much to read. But, I like to sit and watch the traffic. Tonight there is a concert in the park across the street. They have a summer concert series. I don't know if this is the last one. If it rains they move it to the Fire House, just up the street. And sometimes they have the concert there because some of the group don't want to play outside. Might be bad for their instruments or something. Looks like a nice night and they will be playing in the park.

"My friend Velma will come and pick me up. She always brings chairs. I don't know what we'll do after the concert. We always go the Red's and Trudy's... teas and pie or something, but they are closed. I don't know if they are renovating or building a new place, but they won't be open for a while."

After a night at the Roller Skating rink, mom would go to Red's and Trudy's with dad when they were dating. It was a popular teen hang out back in the '30's and '40's. I went there with friends in the 60's and my older brother most likely frequented R&T as a teen in the '50's.

Mom keeps bringing up Red's and Trudy's and I've been trying to remember the owner's name when I went there. Finally remembered. Told mom a guy named Hoppie (sp) ran the diner in my day.

"Hoppie Caya," she replied. "Oh, he still owns it. His family runs it now."

I was looking for his name on Google search just now -- to check his name spelling and found this great New York Times article about Red's & Trudy's (proper name). Hoppie or Hoppy is Fred Caya.

Here it is: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/19/travel/driving-halfway-there-a-family-stops-to-eat.html

Mom says she doesn't have anything to do. It's boring. She doesn't have many friends who drive and can go out to shop and stuff anymore. A lot of the people living in her complex have formed little groups of friends and do stuff together. She isn't friends with any of them. She says it would be nice to have someone to go with when she needs groceries. But she does have Dennis to take her shopping. Sometimes he takes her list and goes for her. "That's nice, but he doesn't know what size can I want or my brands."

Speaking of grocery shopping, she told me she got in trouble with a lot of people for hiking the quarter mile or so to the nearest grocery store on Tuesday. "Everyone said I shouldn't have walked that far. They said I might have fallen or got hurt. I like to walk, it didn't seem very far."

She said Dennis had come for a visit earlier that day (Wednesday).

We talked last week about her spending some of the money she thinks she has, for some new clothes. She's been thinking about that since and went through her wardrobe. "The clothes I have are fine," she says with a chuckle. "I have enough to wear. I just get damned tired of my clothes."

Mom has been working on remembering. She says, after we talked on Sunday she spent some time thinking about how happy she was when visiting us in Massachusetts. Being with the girls and their summerlong visits to the farm. I've been trying to get her to expand beyond those thoughts. She's pretty content with these thoughts for now.

She went back to talking about her night out and if they would find another place to get some dessert. "There really isn't anything nearby. Even in Olean there is just these fancy places that cost an arm and a leg. Probably just come home after the concert."

I asked her about the Hot Shoppe which was near the farm and where I grew up. Fremmings (sp?), the people who lived in the castle-looking house next door to the drive-in diner, fell in love with the Hot Shoppe chain when they traveled to Florida. The diners that offered roller-skating car hop service were very popular in the 50's. So, when they returned home they built a copy of the chain and it was cash cow for many years. I've met people who lived in Pennsylvania that would drive quite a ways to shop at Westons Shopper City and dine at the Hot Shoppe.

Later the Gomez family bought the diner. The name was changed to Gomez Drive-in, later their daughter and her husband took over. Beyond that, I lost track of the place. Mom says it is long gone. She says the building finally fell apart. So going there for pie is not an option.

Oh yes, I reminded mom that her sister, Aunt B worked there as a carhop when I was still pretty young. I think she waited on cars wearing roller skates. Mom said she forgot all about that. Said Aunt B lived with us then, but I don't think she did -- at least not for very long.

Mom went into her take on what children are missing out on, these days. "I look at the young and they aren't getting what they need. Mothers work all day and kids don't get a good dinner. They come home from school and an older sister or baby-sitter watches them. Lot of times they eat stuff from a can. Children should have healthy meals." I asked what she thought they should be eating. She lists meat, mashed potatoes and gravy. Sounds like what I grew up on. She says a lot of kids do get free meals in school nowadays and that's a good thing. She likes getting Meals on Wheels five days a week, even though she doesn't think she qualifies for them. Somebody told her she did -- everyone living in her complex does.

I asked her if she remembered canning stuff from the garden. "Oh yes, we canned corn. We shucked it and I cut all of that corn off the cob." I reminded her of when she used to make root beer and we'd have to move the case of bottles around the yard to keep them out of the sun and from exploding. She laughed and said, "Oh yes." She was using that phrase more than usual and made me think she wasn't really remembering things I was bringing up.

For the first time in our string of calls, mom was ready to say goodbye. It was 6:05 p.m. Velma would be there to pick her up for the concert around 6:30. Mom wanted to grab a bite to eat and finish getting ready. I told her I would call again on Saturday. "That will be good," she says. "You just don't know what your calls mean to me." I think I do know.

We said our love yous and goodbyes. Have fun at the concert, mom.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Off day wondering

First of all, I want to share this wonderful post from the blog, Hands Free Mama, by Rachel Stafford.
http://www.handsfreemama.com/2014/08/26/how-to-change-someones-story//

It is interesting and in a peculiar way reminds me of my mom and her struggles with losing her memories and feeling lost in an environment (mental and physical) that feels foreign to her.

Today I am pausing to consider a few things.One, I had a queasy feeling when I learned mom was telling and retelling me the story about one of her great-grandchildren who was airlifted to Buffalo, after getting hit by a car -- but she said it turned out he fell down, that he wasn't hit and wasn't injured, except for a scratch on his leg. Every time she quotes what she says he told her -- that he tried to tell everyone the car didn't hit him.

Actually he was hit by a truck and did have injuries. He was airlifted to Buffalo for treatment. Fortunately, the young boy did not sustain serious injuries.

I began to wonder about other things she's said. I have knowledge about most of the stories she's shared with me. I don't want to start correcting her on details because I am afraid it would confuse her. I've encouraged her to talk. I am giving her my time and attention. Her biggest complaint is not having some who will listen. Who will just let her talk. So, my correcting her may turn into discouraging her. Even if things are twisted in her head and she doesn't know at this point if what she is saying is right or wrong, I need to be patient and listen. I can always fact-check later.

Mom told me, keeps repeatedly telling me she has dementia. I am not in contact with anyone else in the family who would know exactly what stage she is in and whether she has Alzheimer Disease. Been reading up on it and know dementia is a list of symptoms while Alzheimer is a disease. I feel uncomfortable asking if she's been diagnosed with Alzheimer Disease, because that is what dad had and I know she watched him suffer.

I am trying to find more information, like is there a chance to stave off the memory loss part with memory drills we've been doing. I know there is no reversing with the kind of dementia I expect she is suffering from, but what about slowing the process?

Right now I feel that if I can get her to remember something happy that happened, a day, a moment that she's lost, for just one minute. One of those times where she laughs, says oh yes and Leslie did this or my mother was there. If she is able to relive a memory just one more time, she and I have succeeded.

Since we started this recent round of phone call conversations I haven't witnessed severe mood swings or temper tirades, but  I believe she has them. She was angry with someone when I first called her one day and used language I've never heard from her. She calmed down, but I expect she isn't fun to be around when she is in a bad mood. Actually, I never wanted to be around her when she was angry. I remember when she would say some pretty harsh things. Now, she talks about getting herself in trouble with loved ones and says she has no control and doesn't remember what she said. I believe that, but I wonder if  mood swings and angry reactions intensifies for some personalities. For instance, a healthy person who "speaks their mind" when they are angry, may react with more vitriol, with dementia.

I respect the feelings and views of other family members who have experienced a different relationship with her, than me. I am doing this memory exercise for her sake and writing these posts for mine.

She wants to go south for the winter, but apparently said some mean things and she says she's not invited back where she had stayed. I don't know or want to know the content. I haven't heard her offering any apology for what she said. Well, she has made an off-handed one. I would think most people would apologize and feel a little contrite, even if they didn't remember the incident or what was said. It seems like she'a sorry for saying what's on her mind to the wrong person, which isn't an apology for what she said.

On the one hand I thought mom wanted to be a saint,when we were involved in each others' lives. She was always helping someone, making food for a family friend. She had the mi casa su casa attitude. Mom was the mother duck when it came to loving her grandchildren. She'd spread her wings around them, bake them cookies and take their side, occasionally against their parents. But she was judgmental. If you were the reason for her dissatisfaction, it was hurtful. So, for me, it came down to you stay and accept the good and the bad or you get as far away from it as possible.

Now, in her frailty of mind and body, she wants to remember the good times -- maybe even put lipstick on some of those memories. I don't see the harm in letting her pick and choose the parts of memories she wants to remember. Maybe I am doing the same thing.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Part 2 Sunday visit. Closer to winter brings worries

We have been talking every few days, but I decided to call two days in a row to see what she'd remember. Mom told me Saturday to call on Sunday between 5 and 6 p.m. I was late because of a fierce and thunderous rain storm that was sweeping through here during that hour and I had to wait until nearly 6:30 before phoning. That was fine, she told me, adding how grateful she is for being able to have these talks with me. I could tell she was waiting for my call and I am sure that is a good sign, with her failing memory.

She went on to tell me how she is getting more depressed every day. She'd love to spend winter in the South, in a warmer climate, but doesn't have a place to stay. It is a recurring conversation.

Mom worried about the cold and the snow. She loves to be outside and walking her dog. But says she is having trouble walking and thinks she will fall on an icy sidewalk, break her hip and wind up in a bed somewhere surrounded by old women. 

Now I know where I get it from.

She talks about regrets. Says she has a some, a few, she has to live with them. Adds (warns) others will have to live with theirs.

Mom wants to get a hold of dad's sister Theresa, but didn't know how to track her down. She's lived in a couple of different towns since mom last talked to her. I messaged Shawn (one of my brother Dick's sons) for help. He found her phone number and address, so I will send it to mom. My Aunt Theresa, 89, was dad's youngest sister. she lived with us while I was growing up.

Mom's first recalling for today was, as always, visiting me in Northampton. She loved those trips. And she loved when the girls came to visit her. "Did I pick them up at the airport in Buffalo?" she always says. I reply yes, you did. "I forgot did they come by bus?" No, they were on a plane. "Oh that's right."

This is a common part of our conversations, so I decided to expand on it, this evening. I reminded her they stayed with her for most of the summer. How summers were special to them and they loved being at the farm and with her. As I spoke, mom would chuckle and say, "That's right, Now I remember." I went on about how they loved the pond, doing things with Liz and how they adored their Aunt Betsy. "Everyone loved Betsy," she replied. They made lifetime friendships with their cousins, ate a lot of chocolate chip cookies. Well, they enjoyed coming to her house at least as much she enjoyed coming to ours.

Mom said she was always the driver for a lot of those trips. We all know about how dad loved to talk when he was driving and the more he talked the slower he would drive. Mom laughed, yes, he wasn't a very good driver for long trips. "I remember we were coming back from Florida one time. Dennis and his wife (Vicki) was with us. I drove for so long and was getting tired. I behind a car for a while and when it pulled off the highway at an exit, kept following it. I pulled off behind and was able to get back on, but I really scared everyone and myself."

I asked her about when they first met. We all know it was at the Skating Rink in Ceres. "He was one of the jokesters that would get in the middle of the floor and do crazy things." Apparently beyond that, she's not saying for today. She started talking about going skating in Wellsville and got sidetracked, remembered she'd worked for John selling shoes in Wellsville.

"Your calls are helping me to remember and it is so wonderful. I have had a good life and so many happy times. I want to think about them and remember."

We were talking about her birthday party and she started talking about when her sister Florence married Frank Dunshie. "They had the party at our house. Some neighbor kids spiked the drinks. Frank got so mad. Some people ended up drinking to much and they had to drive home. Frank was a big guy," she said. I agreed that from all I remember of him was that I wouldn't ever want to tangle with him. But he was an awfully nice person. Mom said it would take a lot to get Frank that mad and she never saw him like that. again.

"People do things for money. They do things for show. It is love that really counts. You should do things out of love."

"They don't realize how hard it is for me to work with this (dementia). I feel like an old shoe that was thrown in the back seat."

To bring her back to happy, I told her how much Stephanie and Maia love her. She's been talking a lot about her money and what she wants to do with it when she's gone. I stay out of that. I told her Maia's response was, Grandma should spend some money on herself. Buy clothes. I told her Maia said her grandma used to like buying bras at Bon Tons. Mom said, isn't that a clothing store? I replied yes and bras are clothes. That made her laugh and maybe, remember doing that. I agreed, she shouldn't go without the things she needs.

Mom said that made sense. She doesn't have a lot of clothes anymore. She said one time she was doing her laundry in the community laundry room. She put a load in the dryer and took some clothes up to her room to put away. She was tired and sat down for a minute, but fell asleep. By the time she woke up and went back for the rest of her clothes, they were gone. A man got mad at her for not getting her clothes out of the dryer. He took all of her clothes and threw them in the dumpster. A lot of nice things, not old things she says she'd bought in Myrtle Beach.

She says Maia is right, she needs some long shorts and few other things. Maybe Dennis and Vicki will take her shopping. She's wearing a size 14, btw.

I told her how I have been walking with a neighbor. Mom was glad to hear that because she LOVES to walk. "Sometimes I get this urge. I have to do something. I can't just sit. Walking is so good. I try to have good thoughts when I am walking. It makes me feel better."

Then she again says how much my calls mean to her. I acknowledge our talks are good for me, too.

Like it or not. Without mom, I wouldn't be me.

Please note:  A story mom told about Dick's son not getting hit by a car was incorrect. He was hit, injured and flown to Buffalo for treatment. She was confused.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Weekend conversations Part One: About me and about her

I caught mom at home a little after three on Saturday afternoon. She had been sitting outside with her dog. The day was beautiful and she decided to come back to her apartment to change into her sneakers before going for a walk.

"It is a very nice day," she tells me. "It is sunny and everybody is outside. I'm feeling good today and that's always a big event," she chuckles. "I think I told you about the big park across the street. It  is such a nice place and a lot of weddings are held there. There is a wedding going on right now and I was sitting out in front here with my dog, watching it. Just came back to change into my sneakers."

I asked if I should call back later. "Oh no, we can talk now and the walk will wait. Besides, my dog just laid down. I think she has other plans,"

The first part of our conversation is usually a lot of the same. At first she has to get her bearings. We've been talking every few days, but she gets confused over who I am. So, she asks and I remind her every few minutes in our conversation. She remembers half of her children. The ones she's been involved with the most over the past few years. With the rest of us there are vague memories, of certain times in her life. About me, she is stuck on the period of my life when I lived in Northampton, MA. When the girls were little and she would drive out to spend a few days with us. She'd always come with her to do list. Clean (always), cook, paint a room, put up new curtains. Those were the tasks she planned and thinking back, her payment for spending a few days with us. Oh, she loved New England. The beautiful houses, Stanley Park and quaint little towns. But, I believe number one was being with us. And I am afraid I didn't realize what it meant to her. We'd been at odds for a long time about almost everything. There would be glimpses, now and then of hope, when she would agree with me about bigotry, women's rights, war. Then her opinion would change and we would be back in our own corners again, for the next round. Crazy, it was. Over the years, this relationship was hurtful for both of us and I walked away.

Now I am reaching out to her. She says it isn't fair for someone to live 90 years and lose the ability to remember things. Good things, bad things, any things. Not being able to remember, getting everything confused, not knowing who she's talking to right now. It won't get any better, but she isn't going to stop trying. These are hard realizations and one reason why she's blue, most days.

Mom is right about that. She says her biggest sadness is living alone. She's always grateful for her little dog. It is company to an extent. "I miss Leslie, so much," she says of dad. "We were married for over 60 years. I've never been alone until now. I miss him and our life, so much. I don't have that, anymore. And I am 90 years old. I still get around, but I have to be careful not to fall. I don't drive anymore and I rely on friends who have cars for going out to eat. Dennis helps with doctors visits and getting my prescriptions, but he works and lives kind of far away. Yet, I spend so much time alone."

Mom misses how she and dad spent their lives raising a family, taking care of their parents and always working to keep the farm and the house in shape. Dad was born in that house and turned down some pretty nice job offers, because it would have meant moving.

Things we reminisced about: In the 1940's and '50's the best public transportation from Bolivar where her parents lived and our home in Westons, was the mail truck. I remember my grandparents riding it to visit us when I was small. I asked mom how that happened.

"I rode on the mail truck so often, they should've just put a stamp on me," she laughs. "The truck went back and forth everyday. (Not clear where the starting point was, but it went through Westons.) They had bags of mail in the back, where I would ride, and the truck would stop at every post office to drop off and pick up mail. That went on for years. For a lot of people that was the only way to get from one town to another.

"They didn't charge anything. We would tip them. I always gave the driver $1.50 or $2. That was a lot then. But I always appreciated being able to visit my mother, go home. We had a good life."

I told mom I would let her go, so she could get her walk in. She thanked me for calling her. Thanked me for letting her talk, which is something she's been missing. Thanked me for putting up with her forgetfulness. Thanked me for listening to her stories she tends to repeat.

"I wish others could understand how hard it is with dementia. I get frustrated and sad."

I am trying to understand. We made plans to talk again on Sunday afternoon (an hour or so from now). Until then.

"I love you, mom."

"Love you too, dear."


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Blue Day for Mom

Mom says she's discouraged with life. "No one comes to see me. But I go out and sit. I watch traffic, so, I do have something to do. And I have my dog. I know I shouldn't complain. Other people have more to complain about than I do."

The weather in Portville is really nice and better yet, there is a band concert this evening in the park across the street. Her friend Velma always comes to the concert and brings an extra chair for mom. They will sit and enjoy the music. Afterwards they go to Red's and Trudy's for pie or ice cream or something good. Mom says Velma has always been a good friend and stuck by her all of these years. I'll bet they were friends for more than 50 years.

She finally heard from Dennis. He didn't have car trouble -- that is what she thought happened. Instead he went to Nashville(?) or somewhere down there, with Vicki and the kids that go with her. I believe she means kids who are on the Drill Team Vicki instructs and takes to competitions. Mom says she thinks it was something that came up at the last minute. Dennis doesn't usually go on these trips, but maybe they needed someone to drive one of the cars, or something. Her words, not mine. He's home now and she is relieved.

We talked about dogs. This one, Marley, a Jack Russell is 7 or so, mom thinks. Dog is smart, like most dogs. "I've had quite a few Jack Russells and I just love them. I've had some people say they bite. About some little kid getting bit by one. But, I think it is because they are little dogs, kids start playing, pick it up and maybe hurt the dog. I don't know." I offer that dogs are like people. Even dogs of the same breed can have totally different personalities. She likes my line of thinking.

The first dog she remembers having was her mother and father's dog. Some woman had the dog and had to give it away. Her dad loved it and would take the dog along with him when he went into the woods to cut wood. She thinks something happened, it got hurt and died, or something while the dog was with grandpa in the woods. I asked her about Tippy, the fox terrier at Grandma Pire's house when I was little. I just remember it would growl a lot and had warts. It was pretty old and eventually died. Mom use to tell us Tippy was her dog until she married and moved away. But today, she didn't have much to say about Tippy, having trouble remembering.

We talked about cats, dogs and ponies that were a part of the Whitney legacy. I asked how it was that when I was little we always had cats in the house, but mom wouldn't allow dogs. Then later on there were always dogs in the house and no cats. She laughed over that question. "I probably knew your dad would have a lot of dogs in the house back then. Leslie got mad because one of the cats crawled up into the back of the couch and crapped. So the cats went back outside." I know the indoor dog thing happened when they started breeding den terriers. I added that as kids we brought bunnies to play with in the house. They raised them to eat. I said I could not eat a rabbit, because they are too cute. She reassured me the ones bred for meat weren't cute.

We talked about when Grandma Whitney died. I was with her. Mom talked about how grandma, who was bed ridden (unnecessarily) would sneak around the house when everyone else was asleep. She would mention something that was in another room and give herself away. I told mom some steps on the stairs would creak when someone stepped on them and I would hear grandma going up and down stairs for years. Later, years after she died, Stephanie would hear the stairs creak when she stayed at the farm and slept in my old room. I told her I don't believe in ghosts, but maybe the house does. That brought her to talk again about the house and how it is deteriorating.

That is something that makes her blue. she wants to go back to Florida for the winter, but got herself in trouble. "They don't understand the dementia. I said stuff, I didn't know I was saying and can't remember. Someday they will find out."

Back to cats. We talked about the time when dad worked for Ralston Purina, calling on farms, one farmer tried to give my dad a cat. Jokingly, Dad told him he only liked cats that didn't have tails. Big mistake. He was horrified when he returned a few weeks later. The farmer had cut the cat's tail off. He stuck the cat in a bag and said, "Here is your cat." Dad brought it home. When he opened the bag, the cat sprang out and headed for the woods, never to be seen again. I think dad learned a lesson -- but probably not as he was always a joker.

Dad also brought home a pony that was attacked by dogs and left blind in one eye from a fly infestation. When he saw the pony on a farm he was calling on, he knew he could help it. He told the owner to give the pony to him or dad would call the police on him for animal cruelty. The man told dad to take the pony. He did. He nursed it back to health and they had that pony for many years.

Mom loved my telling that story to her and helping her to remember. "Leslie loved animals."

We talked about how rough it was on dad when he worked on the railroad and had to spend a lot of time away from home. He spent a lot of time living on a train, usually in or near Buffalo, shoveling snow off of the tracks or doing carpentry work at different stations. I said it must have been tough for him because he never liked being away from home. She said she got to feel the same way: "I know. I used to get sad and want to go home, sometimes when we were away." I told her it must run in the family -- I used to get homesick, all of the time.

I asked her more about the Cartwrights and about other aunts and uncles besides Albert. "I had another uncle I liked even better. Uncle David -- they lived in Richburg and I loved going to their house and playing with my cousins." She retells me the story about thrashing beans, but it was at his house and not her grandma Cartwright's house. I think she got confused the other day and this version is right. "My step-grandfather Cartwright was mean. They built a room on the back of the house where he stayed. My real grandfather was very creative, a great musician." That was all she said about him. I didn't ask anymore questions about relatives, for today.

I asked about her happiest memories. "I have so many. I loved coming to New England to visit you. I loved the trips Leslie and took when he worked for Purina. Going to that beautiful place in New Hampshire. One place, maybe New Hampshire, some doctors had a convention before we got there and we had to wait for them to finish cleaning the rooms up. What a mess; bottles everywhere. You'd think smart people like doctors would know better.

"You are good for helping me remember. After you call, I start to think about good times. It is good."

I reminded her of her trips with the Eastern Star and when she got to spend a week in Manhattan. Or the trip to Alabama to visit dad's brother. "You know, there are people that never go out of the state and I have been to a lot of places. I have been so lucky."

She talks about Nancy (me) being in something to do with the Eastern Star. I remind her I am Nancy and I was in Constellation with Cindy Matteson and how we had to wear stupid prom dresses. "You must've felt pretty special," she chuckles.

She talks again about the ball fields behind her apartment complex. She likes to watch the kids play baseball or football, depending on the time of year. One day a young girl came and sat beside her and told mom that someone in her family had started the fire when the Mill (Purina Feed store) burned down in Portville. "The rats came running out all over in the streets. Some people were mad because they shot the rats. They had to -- it would've been a horrible mess for the nearby homes." She then went back to talking about the girl. Mom couldn't remember the family name, but the girl said she was sorry that it happened. Everything was destroyed, but the books. The store manager, Don Emmonds (sp?) had taken the books home to work on them.

That reminded me of the time Don worked in the Olean store before they moved to Portville and before my dad started working for Purina. Mom was driving a couple of us kids to the feed store. She made the huge mistake of saying Don was handsome. Well, the first thing I said to him was, "My mom has a crush on you."

I immediately knew I said the wrong thing. Mom's face was so red and she was very embarrassed. But today, when we talked about it, she just laughed and said, "Well he was handsome."

The girl who sat down by her and talked about the fire left. After a while she came back and gave mom a bouquet of flowers from the florist, next door. "The flowers were beautiful. I don't know why she gave them to me. She was so nice."

About now the dog starts barking and mom is excited because it might be time for Velma to arrive and time for their fun evening. We said our love yous and goodbyes. I told her I would call on the weekend and she said she is already looking forward to my call.

I am finding this to be an amazing experience. She and I are sharing memories that have to do with us. Maybe it is just me, but I feel like she is the person I wanted her to be, so many years ago.  I really think you would have a similar experience and be grateful for it. What she wants now, more than ever, is to relive the happy times with each of us. That's all. :)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mom's message today -- "We had a good Life."

I tried to reach mom with no luck on Sunday and found myself worrying that her sore throat on Friday turned into something more serious. It turns out there was an all-day music and entertainment event going on at the park and she was there. Funny how I would worry about her after all of the years we didn't speak.

I finally reached her this morning a little after 11. They have a coffee hour with the manager in the community room. At first she said they have it the first of the month (which it isn't) and later she said it was held every Monday. The purpose she says is to air any complaints, of which there aren't usually any. But, for those who attend, the hope is that someone will bring goodies, like donuts.

She'd just returned from the coffee hour -- with her mail and the letter I sent her last Wednesday. She was halfway through reading it when I called. She was liking the copy of my blog post about what she, me, Maia and Taryn wore for our first days of school in eighth grade. Taryn started today. She asked me a few times if I'd sent her a letter yet and I reminded her she was just reading it.

Mom enjoyed whatever was going on at the park on Sunday. Lots of music and stuff for old people to spend their money on, she says with a laugh. The weather isn't too chilly for her, yet. Sweatshirt weather. A lot was going on at the park, but she didn't elaborate, except that she couldn't take her dog, but she still enjoyed herself.

Her sore throat is gone -- she did a lot of gargling -- with salt.

She was waiting for her Meals on Wheels meal and it arrived while we were on the phone. She told the woman who delivered it that she was talking to her granddaughter. I guess that is better than having her think I am her sister. I asked if I should let her go so she could eat her lunch. She quickly said no, lunch would wait. "Unless you have to go," she said.

I asked if she cooks dinner for herself. "There is a nice sub shop, I can walk to and get a meatball sub. I usually have it for a couple of meals. The lunch they bring me at noon is a big meal, my main meal for the day. I go out to eat a lot, too."

I told her we had pancakes for breakfast yesterday, a regular Sunday thing for us. I told her it reminded me of Grandpa Pire and how he loved mastering the grill for family pancake suppers. She laughed and said looking back, she had a good life We talked about him later and she added it is hard now being by herself.

She brought up the farmhouse, again and how it is rotting away. Told me about the 3-car garage they built with a workshop in it. Really was a pole barn dad and some of his friends erected. And all of the things they'd done to improve the house over the years. It originally had gas lights. I told her I remember when they put in the upstairs bathroom. When I was a kid, there wasn't any heat upstairs, except for a small gas heater in one of the bedrooms. The kitchen was renovated about 1959 and a furnace was installed after I'd left home. "We had a good life," she said again.

She always likes to talk about visiting us in Massachusetts. She said she is enjoying remembering things that happened a long time a go. "I always say there is so much to remember, my head's so full. Sometimes I can't remember how old I am -- 90. I can't remember everything." Look at it this way, I told her. A 20-year-old only has 20 years worth of stuff to remember. She's got 90 years worth, which is a lot. She liked looking at it, that way.

She goes to the library which is not far down the street from where she lives. "I can't read as much as I use to, but I still like to read those plain novels." (Probably romance novels.) "My mother read to me and Bernie. We didn't have TV. I had an uncle (Albert Cartwright). He lived in Friendship and took care of the old folks. (her grandparents) He was very intelligent and would have been a great teacher. He never went to college. Instead he stayed home and Grandma Cartwright was mean, I think. He was lonely because the girl he fell in love with, jilted him. He would come to Bolivar, go downtown and come back with a huge bag of books. He loved to read." I asked if he was the uncle that gave my brother Jim several years' worth of Sports Illustrated magazines and he was. I kind of remember him.

She went on to talk about how the Cartwright's grew beans and at the end of the season they would take up the living room rug and dump the harvested beans on the floor. She and her cousins would have a fun time thrashing the beans by jumping up and down on them.

Speaking of lonesome, she said Aunt B was a upset about a particular incident and Mom thinks that's why she started smoking. I am pretty sure what she told me wasn't quite right, so I won't repeat it. I do know that Aunt B was going to nursing school in Buffalo -- something part of a Navy program. She was dating a guy, they fell in love and wanted to get married. But, he was Catholic and his parents forbade from marrying her, as she wasn't Catholic.

Mom tells me she and her friend go out on Wednesday's for fish fry at a restaurant near the tile company and then to Red's and Trudy's restaurant for a cup of tea and pie.. I asked her if she remembered stopping at the fruit market across from Red's and Trudy's to buy peanuts. Here is where she corrected me. The fruit market was Wilson's. Right next door to it was the Peanut Shop. She would stop for fresh roasted peanuts on our way to visit Grandma and Grandpa Pire every Sunday. She still likes peanuts and gets some to shell and eat, once in a while.

Back to Aunt B. Mom says she and grandma would take the train to Buffalo to visit Aunt B. She said she enjoyed train rides and Grandma really loved riding to Buffalo on the train. "I think I got passes for us to ride, because Leslie (dad) worked for the railroad then," she said. I took the train down south when Leslie was stationed in North Carolina. Marines would get on the train and everyone would give them their seat. One time this young man who was going into the Marines sat next to me and he was so sad he had to go and leave his girlfriend.

I told her about the time I stayed at Grandma Pire's and walked into the kitchen to see her smoking .I did a gasp and jaw drop. She said, "Damn it, now she'll tell her mother I was smoking." I never did figure out if I should tell on her and decided it would be best if I didn't tell. Well, mom had a good laugh at that. She says she was stunned, too, when she finally found out her mother smoked.

We talked about her siblings. Mostly about how her sister Hortense died. She was with a bunch of friends in a car riding in Ceres. They went too fast over bumpy railroad tracks. She was sitting on someone's lap and the car lurched from the bump and she flew up in the air and hit her head on the side of the car. They brought her home, then took her to a doctor, but she was dead. Hortense was her oldest sister. Her brother Jimmy was an aspiring singer. He was playing at a bar or restaurant one night and was walking home. Because it was dark he walked along a raised pathway along the side of the road. A car driven by someone from a well -to-do family in Wellsville swerved off the road, onto the pathway and ran over mom's brother. In both cases the family was devastated.

I told her about our moonflower plants and she wants pictures. "You must take after your grandpa." That reminded me of how every year, he strung strings from the ground to the roof, all along one side of their house. Then he planted Sweet peas that grew up the string lines. It was a gorgeous site. I mentioned how he grew the most amazing red potatoes and how people came from all over to buy bushel baskets full of them. "That was how he got money to buy seeds for next year's garden," mom said.

"We had a good life." Also, "Be thoughtful of others."

Today's conversation took 39 minutes. Will be talking to her in a couple of days. She wants to hear from all of us.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

August 15th conversation with Mom

When mom first answered the phone this afternoon she was rattled. I asked her if something was wrong and she responded, "Yes, I am having trouble and I can't get a hold of Dennis. I may need to go to the emergency room, ...", and then went on with some very rough language. I was stunned to hear her in such a rage and talking like that, so I will give the gist of that part of our conversation.I asked her twice what was wrong. She was mad because she has a sore throat and was feeling kind of warm, but couldn't get a hold of Dennis. Said stuff I won't mention. She resolved to lay on the couch with her dog and someone at her complex would help her if she asked.

She thanked me for calling her and she thinks it is helping her to recall memories. She asked, "Now who is this?" "Who am I talking to?" Who are you?" Over and over during our conversation. Also kept asking me if Liz called me, over and over. She wrote down my phone number (again) and told me to call Liz.

Repeated story about Dick's grandson and Mercy Flight, church next door, food program, park across the street.

On and off, she thought I was her sister. At some point in our conversation she calmed down about not being able to get in touch with Dennis and reversed some of the nasty things she said.

I reminded her about our her remembering her trip with dad to New Hampshire ~ 50 years ago to attend a Ralston Purina Convention. I told her I talked to Len who said they stayed at Wentworth-by-the-Sea. She agreed that was the name, it was so beautiful and Purina rented the whole resort. I told her it is now a Marriott Spa and I talked to the concierge who told me there is a wonderful history book written about the place. I asked mom if she is still able to read much and she said yes -- so I told her I would get the book and have it sent to her.

Then mom told me to write to her, even just a note so she could remember who she is talking to. She also keeps telling me she doesn't recognize my voice. Told her I am getting old, too.

I explained that I sent her a letter on Wednesday and she should get it in the next couple of days. She asked if I sent it to Portville Manor or to Westons. Told her to Portville Manor. She was excited about it, but afterwards, kept asking me to write to her, over and over.

Told her it was Len's birthday and that he was going to Las Vegas for his birthday. Her response was, "Now where does he live?" California. "Oh that's right. Isn't that where he went to school? He should call me. Tell him to call me." OK.

We go back to the therapy part of my call. I asked her what thoughts she had when she was growing up -- about what she wanted to be or do, what she wanted her life to be like. I could tell she'd been thinking and remembering things she wanted to talk about. She said, "Well that's hard. We didn't have anything."

Then she told me a story I'd never heard before. She said, "When we were little my mother would read to my sister and me. Parents don't read to their kids anymore." She lost me for a moment -- I wasn't sure what she was saying. Then she giggled and said, "We'd always ask when are you gonna get a baby? We didn't know anything, we thought she was suppose to have a baby, someone younger than us."

Next memory -- she started talking about Grandpa Pire and how he liked to drink -- but was a good father. Then she was telling me about a time when she was 12 or 13. I think both of her parents went to a big firemen's demonstration, parade, maybe convention with some other people. It was in the Lake region (Finger Lakes region?). She said it was night and all of a sudden they saw flashing red lights reflecting off the abutment down the street. It was the ambulance, bringing her mom home. It turned out she was in a car crammed with people and she was sitting on someone's lap. They drove through a stop sign and were hit by another car. Grandma was thrown out of the car and had injured her spine. Back then she wouldn't have gone to the hospital. They brought her in the house on a board and she had to lay flat for five or six weeks. The girls had to move her around with a sheet -- somehow. Mom's sister Lillian was by then off working in someone's home where she was given room and board. They got in touch with her and asked her to come and take care of their mom, because she and Aunt B were still in school and couldn't do it by themselves. She said it was a sad, scary, hard time for her.

Not a big story, but I never knew about this and for some reason, she wanted to share it with me.

Then she said she was feeling a little better and would lay down on the couch -- that her dog gives her little kisses, that dogs are smart, they know when you are not feeling good. She said she would gargle with aspirin. I told her to drink lots of liquids. She said she doesn't have whisky, but she has her favorite -- Pepsi. I asked her if she had tea and she said yes -- she could make cold tea.

She said she needs to eats bananas for potassium. I suggested potatoes and she said, "Really potatoes have potassium, well I just learned something new." She said she likes potatoes and I reminded about how I used to say "noot, noot, noot" when I was a child and wanted more potatoes.

Back to the whiskey -- she said she never drank it, but was around other people who did. I reminded her about Grandma Whitney and how she would always be having a heart attack when someone was arguing and the doctor said to give her a shot of whiskey. I screwed that up, but you guys know the story. Then we talked about the first and last time she drank whiskey -- one Christmas Eve she and dad were at a party before church. The host (Scottie) made a weak drink for mom and a double for dad. But she got his drink, by mistake. She was very drunk by the time they got to church. She sat next to the mayor. When it was time to leave her heel got caught in the steps and she fell down. She says her dress ended up over her head and her butt was sticking up in the air. "It was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me," she said. "I was hollering my heel is stuck and they just stood there looking at my butt."

Last of note -- on handwriting. I told her I typed the letter I sent because I am so used to typing and my handwriting is so bad anymore.She said hers is bad too -- I said she always had nice handwriting. She recalled learning the Palmer method in school -- having to make all of those circles and stay between the lines.

She asked one more time for my name. I told her Antsy Nancy and she laughed. I told her about Harry Rasey and when he was little how he called me Antsy because he couldn't pronounce Nancy.

Am calling her on Sunday. Hope she gets my letter tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mom conversation this morning

I called Mom around 11 a.m. She'd just come in from walking her dog. She walks the dog at least four times a day. She says she knows the cars by now, when they are coming from behind her. They all sound different, but she says, the same cars pass by at the same time everyday. Some brand new fancy ones and some clunkers that look like they are falling apart. I reminded her, we've  driven both kinds and she laughs.

At first she seemed muddled. I always say the same thing. "Hi mom, this is Nancy, your daughter." Her response this morning was, "Well, it is nice to have you call me." Then five minutes later she asks, "Who is this?"

She keeps talking about an idea she has that she wants to tell Jim about and was going to when she talked to him a few days ago. In fact, I talked her a few minutes before he called her on Sunday and she was going to bring it up when he called. Today, I asked her about it. She thought for a second and then said she must have forgotten about it when she was on the phone with him. Then she asked me, what is was she was going to tell him. She was more foggy and less focused today.

It's been raining in WNY, too. Mom said it had stopped long enough for her to get her walk completed, but

Sunday, August 10, 2014

August 10th talk with Mom

Please note: I found out on August 25th, that mom's recalling of something that happened as told in the third paragraph is not accurate  Mom said Dick's grandson was not hit by a car and mom had quite a story about what she thought happened. The youngster's mother told me her son was indeed hit by a truck and injured. 

 Talked to mom earlier for 20 minutes. She says she's been feeling blue. She's dreading the winter and worried what's to become of the farm. She apologized for forgetting and asked me my married name -- she wanted to write it down. I told her Whitney-Conway and she was glad I kept Whitney. I gave her my phone number in case she needed to get in touch. She has it somewhere -- I just wanted her to write it on her tablet, near my name, to help her out.

She ended up not going out to dinner with her friend Friday night; her friend had to go to Buffalo for medical reasons. Everyone has to go to Buffalo for a lot of medical-related stuff. It isn't close by, 60 some miles.

Mom said she took her dog for a walk and watched kids playing ball on the field behind her complex. Medi-vac lands there, when there is an emergency and of course they take them to Buffalo. "One day they landed and I didn't know until later that they took one of Dick's grandkids to Buffalo," mom said. " He was walking across the street, tripped and fell down. The car that was coming stopped. Well they (emergency services) thought he was hit by a car, even though he kept telling them he just fell down. Took him all the way to Buffalo and all he had was a scrape on his leg."

She is having headaches and itchy nose this weekend. Thinks it is the pollen.

I told her I was sewing all weekend. She was interested, so I explained how most of my time was spent redesigning my phone pouch.

We talked about the weather. She is worried about winter and not being able to take the cold.

Repeat -- about the winter she did spend down south and how her dementia got her in trouble.

Repeat -- She goes to the Presbyterian Church next door to her. There is an elevator, but she takes the stairs. She might get stuck in the elevator.

Repeat -- Has a beautiful park across the street, but can't take her dog there because the dog would chase one of the squirrels and make mom fall down. She hurt her hip a while ago and has trouble walking since. Was out with a bunch of friends and they were stuffed in the back seat. She was by the door. When someone opened the door, she popped out onto the concrete. Hip and back have bothered her ever since.

Talked about some other stuff that I am not going to write about now.

I am calling her again on Tuesday -- she wrote that down, too. She is enjoying our talks. I am, too.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Holding on to Our Memories

This past week I've spent time getting caught up with my mother who has diabetes and onset of dementia. We've barely spoken for many years now. I live in Florida and she's where she's always been in upstate New York. It was my decision to part ways and the reasons are too personal and complicated to explain. Mom turned 90 in March. My father had Alzheimer's disease and died a few years ago. Last year my younger sister moved away from our hometown becoming the fifth of six children to leave. All mom has left is my youngest brother who makes sure she doesn't miss any doctors' appointments, helps with errands and picks up her medications. There's been a lot of drama in our family. For the most part we are not as close as most other brothers and sisters. That doesn't mean anything to me, anymore.

A few days ago, out of the blue, I called to ask mom what she wore to school when she was in the 8th grade. I was doing a blog post about my granddaughter's back to school apparel and chose to compare our four generations and what kids wore. I can't explain why this call was easy to make, but on Wednesday, I did it. 

To my surprise, we had an enjoyable conversation. Mom was happy to hear from me, although she kept forgetting who I was. She told me about the dementia, repeated things, thought I was my cousin, then thought I was her sister -- but the more we talked, the better she seemed to remember. It occurred to me that if I called frequently and purposely brought up memories that directly related to what she was talking about, maybe I would be able to help her hang on to the past longer. 

We talked again today and she was bubbling with excitement. We talked about my siblings, memories of dad, our times on the farm that she had to leave for a small apartment. She asked about my brother, her son in California, except she couldn't remember where he's been. I told her he speaks Swedish and still loves to travel. I am realizing some things about myself, too. When we do yard work, I  think about how particular mom was about the way you cut the grass to precise edging around bushes, trees and sidewalks. I used to grumble at all of the extra work, but was also amazed at how wonderful our yard always looked. 

As I grow older my memories and thoughts are more about good things rather than bad. It now seems to be her focus, as well.

So, my intentions are to keep a log here, about our conversations. I believe this new relationship will be rewarding for me and I hope with all of my heart, rewarding for mom, too. Until next time -- hold tight your memories.