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."

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