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."

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