Friday, March 20, 2015

Mom turns 91

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 91 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 is getting older and the Universe keeps changing.

When I talked to mom on Thursday, she asked the usual question, "What month is it?' 

"March," I replied. "Tomorrow is the first day of Spring." She chimed in, "Ooh, tomorrow is my birthday."

No, tomorrow is March 20th, I told her. Saturday is March 21st and it will be your birthday. 

"Well, why did they change the day? It's always been on my birthday, ever since I was born. Everyone knew that if it was the first day of Spring, it was my birthday."

I started to explain science in layman's terms, by talking about how time is changing. That smarter people than us knew all along that something in the sky, somewhere in outer space, somehow has altered the amount of time there is in our seasons. Winter is getting shorter and summer is longer. So, for the last 20 years or so, the calendar setters change the date of when it happens, every year and some years it will happen on mom's birthday.

Well, I told her most of this and she wasn't really paying attention. It was fine for the first 75 or so years of her life, why not leave these things alone.

Despite that bit of news, mom was in a pretty good mood. There was still snow everywhere. The athletic field outside her window was still white. There were still snowbanks along the streets, mounds of plowed snow that are just starting to melt. Trees are bare and summer is still  months away. The sap is running, maple syrup season has begun. 

Mom said she was just doing some thinking, when I called. She was remembering old times, visiting me when I lived in Massachusetts. She was in a remembering mood.

"Use to be families did things together. We did a lot together, as a family. Now everyone expects the school or the church to come up with things to do. We went on picnics, went fishing,  Maybe it wasn't much, but we did stuff together." 

My memories regarding this subject are somewhat different, but this is how she sees the past. 

Somehow, she wound the conversation around to how she misses her kids. If she had her way, she 
would travel. She would, "float around," from child to child, staying and visiting for a while and then move on to the next in line. After all, she has six of them and a couple months here and there, should work fine. Yikes.

"Oh, I am missing my family and how it was when they were growing up. I get lonesome and 
I have a pity party for myself. Then I get these ideas."

It was time to get her back to the remembering mood.

First, I wanted to get up to date and I asked her about her cuts and bumps from the fall she took, last month. "It is healing up. My hand looks better. The cut over my eye healed, but now I have a bump there, that hurts when I touch it. 

"I don't remember how it happened. I was helping this lady or something. I thought I was doing a good deed, but every body else didn't think so."

"Speaking of cuts over your eye," I said, "what about the time Dick hit me in the head with the baseball bat?" she chuckled, then waited to hear more. 

My brother Dick was in the side yard hitting a baseball. I was four and he was nine. I was the sucker sister who ran to retrieve the ball after he hit it several feet. I stood in front of him and he told me to get behind him or I would get hit by the ball. Being the good sister, I ran around and stood -- directly behind him. He didn't realize how close. He threw the ball in the air and swung the bat over his shoulder to take a swing. When he did this the bat smacked me across the forehead. There was blood and mom getting so upset. Dad worked on the railroad, this was the middle of the week and he was out of town. It was in the evening. 

Mom called the family doctor, whose office was at his home. She managed to get me there. He had to sew up the gash which meant three stitches in my eyebrow. Dr. Cash enlisted mom to help him. One look at him sewing my head and mom was white as ghost.

I remember hearing her softly say, "I am going to faint." Then his big voice boomed, "Put your head between your knees, Hazel." 

She did, or at least tried to do that. I was never sure if he was trying to give her something to do or amuse me. Seeing her in such a funny position got my attention.

When I finished retelling that story mom laughed and said she did remember it. However, then she said, "We had some good times." My response was, getting hit in the head with a baseball bat and having to get stitches wasn't a good time for me. "That's right, but we did have some other good times."

I told mom that granddaughter Taryn is in Paris this week on a tour arranged by her French teacher. she's in middle school. "I always wanted to go there," mom said. 

She went on to talk about my dad and the war. She said he did quite a lot of traveling while he was there, after the war ended. He was stationed in France and Germany and made some friends. He went to Italy and other parts of Europe.She wasn't sure if he was in Paris. I told her he was and spent most of his time in France. He got to choose my name, Nancy after Nancy, France Yes, there is a Nancy, France. He said it was pretty city.

For years mom wrote back and forth with people dad made friends but finally lost contact. "I don't know what I did with those letters. Probably threw them out, but I wish I had kept them."

I asked her how she felt while he was gone and fighting a war. "I worried all of the time. So many bad things happened in the war. A lot of young men were lost and left grieving families. It was the happiest day when he came home."

Mom said she was going to coffee hour downstairs in the community room, in a bit. "There is something going on tonight. I don't remember what, but I have my coffee cup sitting here with a spoon in it and some money. So, it must be a get together. They have them ever so often. Someone brings cakes or cookies -- stuff I shouldn't eat, but just a little won't hurt. Probably starts at six. 

We'd talked for an hour and it was going on 5:30. "I will let you go so you can get ready," I said.

"I'm ready. I will go early, so I don't miss anything." 

"I will call you Saturday, on your birthday. Don't forget to enjoy the first day Spring.

"I love you, mom."

"I love you too, dear."

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