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.