Monday, January 19, 2015

Mom loved biology

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 would rather have snow than the frigid cold. We keep reading about the heavy snowfall and blizzards in the western New York/northeastern Pennsylvania area, but mom says there hasn't been much snow and she would welcome it over the near zero cold. Of course, She has a theory about it. Mom says when it snows, it doesn't feel as cold, so it could be her imagination. She admits she doesn't really know. I started to explain it has to do with the air being too dry for snowflakes to form and really cold temperatures are associated with high pressure and dry air.

I was getting lost in my own explanation and said it is science, chemistry.

"I loved chemistry when I was in school," she said. "Or wait. No, I didn't take chemistry, it was biology. I loved biology." 

"Did you cut up a cat?" I asked. 

"No, I don't think it was cat, but we probably cut up something." mom responded. We had the best school and we had so much that the other schools didn't. Bolivar built a big new school, With all of the new facilities (at that time). I loved school. We had everything for learning."

Back to the cold weather. When I called, mom had just hung up from talking to my brother Jim, who calls her every Sunday evening. She says he must get tired of hearing her grumble about the cold. She admits she's coming to grips with the reality that she will just have to ride out this winter. She thinks it isn't fair for everyone to leave her in the cold, like that, except for Vicki and Dennis, my brother and sister-in-law.

I remind her that spring is another six weeks or so away and then comes the weather she loves most. That led to more discussion about her calendar.

"What month is this?" she asks. "January," I tell her. "Where is your calendar? Have you been marking off the days?"

"My calendar is all marked up and I don't know why I did it. Is today Sunday?" Yes. "Is it the 18th?" Yes. "Well Monday is all marked up. I wrote something on it and can't read what it says." It's Martin Luther King Jr. Day. "Oh, 'I wrote there won't be a meal delivered.' They don't deliver Meals on Wheels  on holidays. Well, I can go to the sub shop for a sandwich, Just hope the sidewalks aren't too slippery."

I asked her if she had some canned soup on hand. We've had this conversation a few times. She says there are leftovers and adds, this is something I have to work on (whatever that meant). I think she has stuff in her cupboard, but didn't want to go looking, right then.

By then, she moved on to a stack of pictures she was looking through. They'd been tucked away in a drawer and she brought them out and was thinking about making a photo album. Pictures I sent her months ago, that she thought were never delivered to her are mixed in with many puppy pictures taken while she was still living in the farm house.

"Oh my, this one is of three puppies and the mother, all eating out of a mixing bowl," she tells me. "Wow. One, two, three, four, five puppies. That must have been the last bunch. They are by the fire place. They are so cute. I want to put these in an album, but I don't have one. I do have two spiral note books. Maybe I can use one of them to make an album." For now, she will try to figure out how to uncurl them, so they lay flat. We decide she can lay them on a table and weight them with something heavy. She's going to work on that

"I love dogs, " mom sighs. "They are my favorite animals." I remind her of the time when I was in high school and ended up with a monkey.

Mom's response was, "Oh god."  I replied, yes, that wasn't a good experience. "How did you get it? I can't remember that part."

I explained how I baby sat for the local vet's family. Someone brought him a squirrel money in a cage and said his wife was making him get rid of it. Looked cute. I expressed interest and told them my parents would let us have any kind of pet we wanted as long as we took care of it, which was true until the monkey incident.

Mom did vividly remember that it was miserable, was stinking and messy and the only people it liked was her and Kirk, a family friend. As for mom, the feeling wasn't mutual. The monkey would ball it's food and other stuff up and throw it at it's cage bars. It couldn't be let out of the cage because it went wild and would bite anyone trying to catch it. 

"What ever happened to it?" she asked. Dad finally gave it to someone who lived in Vandalia. They lived on Route 17, which was the major road and well traveled in those days. They had some kind of animal attraction/exhibit set up alongside the road. 

I explained, when I asked where he took the monkey, dad replied, "I gave him to a traveling zoo that never goes anywhere."  I told mom, he probably just said that, but she insisted that is what he had done. That area was part of his route for his job of calling on farmers for Purina, so it made sense. Anyway, she couldn't imagine him doing anything else and the traveling zoo, seemed like a perfect solution. I just wondered why he wouldn't take us to see this place. Hope the poor monkey found a good home.

From then on the new rule was we could have any pet we wanted as long as we took care of it and both mom and dad gave their approval.

While we were talking she was sitting in a chair and tossing a tennis ball down the hallway for Marley, her dog to retrieve. "She likes this game and that is how she gets her exercise when we can't go out after dark, when it is cold. She gets her exercise and I, my arm is getting exercise, too. I got in trouble before, with the man who lived down stairs, under me. I didn't realize the bouncing ball made so much noise, until he told me. He's moved and his place is empty.

Mom did ask who I was a couple of times. She does that every time we talk. When I say I am Antsy Nancy, she now claims she made that name up for me. It was getting on and mom said she was going to have a snack and go to bed.

"You don't know how much your calls mean to me, I was grumpy and now I feel better. It is nice to talk about different things. I don't ever get any phone calls and don't get to visit very much." 

I told mom, it is something I enjoy. After all, we share many years worth of memories, many good ones. So why not dwell on the past and good times, while we can.

"I love you mom."

"I love you too, dear."


  1. So sparely written...wonderful. I only wish I could write something like this but my Mom died 11 years ago--still miss her.

  2. Thanks Gail. I am sorry for your loss.


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