Do I know where I am?

Peter was unusually silent. “Something wrong?” I asked. I was driving along a narrow road so could only glance at him.

The silence lengthened. “Do I know where I am?” he said at last.

Whoa, what?  “Do you mean this instant, here, on this road?”

“Yes.”

“Well, we just left Carolynn and Bill…we’re heading home…we’ll soon be in Waterville…” I paused to see if my words rang his bell. “Remember last week, on the way here, we had to stop for a parade in Waterville?”

Nothing.

I thought back to that Saturday. The long drive north had been uneventful until we got to Waterville (pop. 1,548), where we were blocked by a parade longer than the main thoroughfare. Stuck, twenty minutes away from Carolynn’s front door. I fumed, but Peter said, “It’s a pretty day. We’ve got time.”

“But I want to be there, not sitting here.” 

Forty minutes later we were zooming along the downhill drive to — whoops — Road Closed and Detour signs. “OK, I know how to get there from here, I used to bike along this road.” Several miles later I turned left onto another favorite bicycling road. “Do you remember? We used to ride along here a lot.”

Peter sighed. “You seem to know your way around.”

“We lived here seventeen years!”

“You did. I didn’t.”

A right at the next stop sign, then a quick left and we were on their street. “You sure know your way around,” Peter said again.

“We lived here seventeen years!

“I didn’t,” he insisted.

When I turned into their drive, he sat up straight and smiled. “I didn’t know we were coming here!” His eyes sparkled and when Carolynn and their two Westies ran toward us he chuckled. He knew where he was.

I laughed. “I’ve told you for weeks we were coming to see them…”

“I. Didn’t. Know.”

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Bill and Peter in front of a rock-hugging tree.

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Big Guy and/or It.

Throughout our visit, his usual confusion at being away from home eased a bit. After a couple of nights he was able to get from our bedroom to the bathroom and back without going into their room or Carolynn’s office. He didn’t even try to remember Duffy’s or Lily’s names, calling them instead “Big Guy” and/or “It.” He didn’t understand how to use the Wii remote to play golf or bowl with Bill, but he had fun trying. He could still keep track of the dominos played and plan moves accordingly. Bill took him fishing, golfing, and shopping; Carolynn and I took him to the farm stand; I took him to the Polish butcher and past our old house. He remembered the butcher, but had no memory of living in that house. It does look quite different — terrible — minus the two enormous maple trees in front.

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Bill, Lily and Duffy follow Peter around Moss Lake as if he knows the way.

But now, headed south again, Peter had asked if he knew where he was. I reminded him of all the things we’d done, his outings with Bill, our hike in the Adirondacks with the dogs. He shook his head. “Sorry, I just don’t remember.”

But I do. I remember a visit special for the girl-time with Carolynn and her friend Robin, a visit with friend Lisa, time off from caregiving thanks to Bill taking charge, and the laughs. Always the laughs.

I won’t forget.

Header photo: Walk in the Adirondack Park.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

‘When life gets you down … just keep swimming!’

Dory, the brilliant blue, wide-eyed tang fish who stars in “Finding Dory,” has a problem with memory loss much like my husband does. I’d forgotten that Dory was a supporting player in “Finding Nemo” (2003), so I didn’t realize forgetfulness was key to the storyline for the new movie when Leslie took us to see it.

Peter didn’t remember Nemo at all, even though we saw the movie in a theater and have watched the video several times. Nor did he remember “Finding Dory” on the Thursday after he’d seen it on Sunday. But he liked it all over again.

Dory, who hasn’t seen her parents in years, remembers the importance of family, but little else. We just enjoyed a week with family that was filled with raucous laughter and good food. Peter hasn’t forgotten the good times we’ve all had in the past, though specific memories have faded. He can’t even remember much about the past eight days.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 5.17.39 PMAnytime either of is down in the dumps, I look for reasons to laugh. According to Dory, swimming would help too…if Peter knew how to swim. He can’t even float, except two feet below the surface. That’s always makes me laugh, though he doesn’t think it’s funny at all

Credit: Disney•Pixar “Finding Dory” (2016)

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Why is there a bun in my oven?

There was a hamburger bun in the microwave oven when I opened it to warm my coffee. It was the second time this week.

I didn’t put it there, but I’m pretty sure I know who did. I can’t imagine what he had in mind.

imagesMy skinny little husband does eat as if he were eating for two, but a dried out bun in the oven was way beyond his new normal. I laughed.

No matter what, a good cup of coffee and a side of giggles really hit the spot at 10:30 on this miserable rainy May morning.

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Well, well, well.

“Hello,” I said to my husband when I came in the door.
“Hole in the ground,” he replied.
“What?” He often responds with something he thinks is funny.
“I thought you said, ‘Well.’”
“No, I said, ‘Hello.’”
“Oh well.” He grinned.
I laughed, but maybe you had to be there.

Peter explained this hole in the ground—the Grand Canyon—to a visitor who thought he was a guide who knew what he was talking about! (2011)

Peter explained this hole in the ground—the Grand Canyon—to a visitor who thought he was a guide who knew what he was talking about! (2011)

Header photo: At Yellowstone National Park.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Lefty’s is all right.

Our favorite restaurant, Lefty’s, recently moved to another location further along Main Street. I was eager to see it, and to eat there. The food is always good.

images-1When our friends Jerry and Shelia visited last week, I suggested we try the new place, but the men wanted a Guinness and fish and chips so they went to Red Robin. We ladies went shopping first, then to Lefty’s. While we chatted, a favorite waiter walked by. I was impressed,  I said. “Oh, is this the first time you’ve been here? Your husband was in last week,” he said. “He was with…”

“Bill,” I said “his companion. He didn’t say they’d been here, but then he doesn’t even remember what he’s eaten when they go out, much less where.”

He chuckled. “We always like to see him. He keeps us laughing.”

“That’s Pete,” Shelia said. “He’s been like that as long as I’ve known him.”

“He’s a good customer. We don’t even mind if he doesn’t pay…”

What? He leaves without paying?” I squeaked. “You do chase him and get the money, don’t you?” (Until a few months ago, Peter walked to Lefty’s by himself occasionally so I could see how it happened without Bill or me to watch him.)

“Nah, we love him, and it doesn’t matter. Evens out anyway because a couple of times he managed to pay twice somehow.”

I thanked him for the kindnesses. Shelia and I laughed, but really, I was embarrassed! Peter gets special service when he goes to Red Robin with Bill or me and now, obviously, he gets special treatment at Lefty’s, too.

As his ol’ granny would have said, “A bit of all right, that.”

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2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

‘Laughing all the way…’

“You’ve made my tea!” Peter had just come back from walking Nobby. He was surprised because I don’t usually make his multiple morning cups of tea.

“Yes, Leslie is coming by to pick you up in twenty minutes. She’s taking you shopping.”

“Why? Do I need to go shopping?”

“You don’t need to, but you always like to look,” I said. “You don’t have to buy anything.”

He grinned. “Oh, I get it. You put her up to this, didn’t you?”

“Nope. She just called and said she was taking you out. It’ll be fun.”

“Well, I love ya’ anyway, don’t I?” he said as he came towards me, arms outstretched for a hug.

I stalled him by pulling his jacket open to check if his shirt was clean. “Oh, you look good!” I said, surprised.

Without so much as a pause, he yanked my hoodie open, gave me his lecherous glance, and said, “You do too, Darlin’!”

I doubled over with laughter. He hasn’t forgotten how to lay it on. With his hug I handed him a generous supply of cash. Just in case he, you know, wanted to buy anything for anyone…for Christmas.


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Header photo: Collection of my mother’s christmas cards.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Friday the thirteenth wasn’t bad at all.

A spur o’moment lunch out was just what we needed yesterday after a tumultuous week. The day was bright, excitingly windy, and there was an invigorating nip in the air.

“Want to go out for lunch?” I called to Peter. He was holed up in the basement as usual.

“Yes!” He was ready in spirit instantly, but another half hour passed before he was ready physically. Oh, it’s not that he can’t do it, no, it’s that he changes his clothes more often than a high school girl getting ready for her first date.

Finally, I corralled him into the car. We headed to Salem, a short trip down the mountain. The scenic route, I’d decided — less trucks, fewer wind gusts, less taxing drive — but I entered the Interstate automatically. “Ah-h, forgot where I was going,” I grumbled.

“Now you know why I don’t drive anymore,” Peter said. I whipped off at the first exit and got back onto the quieter, prettier road.

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 1.44.29 PMPeter was as excited as a kid at Christmas when he realized we were headed to The Blue Apron. We were no sooner seated than he said, “Well, I see they still haven’t fixed the wall.” I turned to see what he meant, then noticed his twinkling eyes. I groaned at his worn joke. The walls are original old brick and they are lovely.

When the server came to take our drinks order, Peter said, “What beer do you have?” He listened carefully as she recited a long list of beers with inventive and mostly unrecognizable names. “I’ll have an IPA…I just wanted to hear you say all of them.” My apologetic glance said I-can’t-do-anything-with-him. She laughed.

Peter ordered the swordfish entree, not the luncheon serving, as she suggested, rather the dinner one. “Good,” I said, “I won’t have to fix dinner.” It was nearly 2:00 by then.

When she returned to ask how everything was, Peter said, “Oh, terrible…” He always does that, then waits to see if the server has heard what he’s said. She heard, but she already had his number and laughed. Some time later she returned, noted Peter’s near-empty beer and asked if he’d like another. “Yes, but not today, thank you,” he said.

I sat back, shocked, not that he’d said no, but because I’d never heard that one before. “I can’t believe you came up with a new line,” I said.

“I always say that when I’m out on me own. You’re never there when I’m out with me mates,” he insisted.

“Well, no-o, but you haven’t been out with them in years. Anyway, it’s new to me.”

We ordered desserts, lavender pistachio chiffon for Peter, espresso panna cotta for me. Peter was taken aback at how purple his was, but ate every bite. I could’ve eaten two more panna cottas. “Two more,” Peter said, nodding toward my empty cup when the server came back.

“Really?” she asked. I shook my head and rolled my eyes towards my husband. “You really have your hands full, don’t you? she asked.

She got a big tip.

Header photo: The Blue Apron’s brick wall.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Oh, IOU!

Funny, the things Peter can remember. He has always had a vast repertoire of quips and come-backs, but recently he’s even added one or two. Several  months ago I was mad at him about something, then later realized I was in the wrong. “I owe you an apology,” I said.

He came right back at me. “That’ll be ten cents, please,” he said.

I laughed because he was so quick and so funny, and he laughed because he was pleased with himself.

Happened again this week. Even though I should never blame him for anything because he can’t remember what’s gone before, I was furious that he’d pulled up a fulsome Black-Eyed Susan that had been flourishing in the corner of my herb garden. “You pulled those tendrils off after I asked you to leave them alone,” I fussed.

“What did I do?” He had no idea what I was talking about. I showed him the plant, withered, literally, on the vine.  “Sorry,” he said, and I knew he meant it, though he still didn’t understand.

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 3.02.08 PMYesterday, after days of pounding rain, I noticed that the plant had revived. Peter hadn’t destroyed it, Mother Nature had. She’d withheld rain for several weeks, then flooded us with it. My Black-Eyed Susan slurped at the puddles .

“I owe you an apology,” I said, pointing at the yellow flowers beaming by the fence.

“That’ll be ten cents,” he said, still clueless, but quick-quipped as always.

Header photo: Our garden fence at dusk.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Where the laughs come from.

“Take off everything but your underwear,” the nurse said, handing Peter a gown. We were at the dermatologist’s office and she’d just finished asking him a list of questions. The only one he could answer was his birthdate. “Oh, I get it, you brought your wife so she could answer the questions for you, didn’t you?” she laughed. “Doctor J will be in shortly,” she said as she left the room.

Peter looked at me. “What am I supposed to do?”
“Take everything off except your underwear,” I told him.
He took his shirt off. “Is this enough?”
“No, everything but your underwear.”
As he stripped off his trousers he said, “Good thing I wore underwear today.”
I burst out laughing. I never know where the laughs will come from, only that they’ll come.

Next he took his shoes and socks off. As he bent down to put them under the chair where he’d draped his clothes he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror on the door. “What the heck?” he said, grabbing his shirt to hide behind. “Oh, I thought that was a window. I was going to cover myself up,” he sputtered, laughing at himself.
When I stood up to tie his gown in back, he said, “I guess that’s why you’re here, to tie this thing. What do people do if they’re by themselves?”
“They either bring me along or let it all hang out,” I told him.

Doctor J came in and examined Peter carefully. He has had several suspicious spots removed in the past several years, as well as a large squamous cell carcinoma. Peter always asks, “What causes them?”
“Sun damage mostly.”
“Pfft, I’m never in the sun,” my husband will scoff, blowing off the expert opinion.
After the doctor zapped a couple places, he pronounced Peter good to go for another six months.
“Six months? I have to come back in six months?” He couldn’t believe it. “Why?”
“Because you have precancerous spots,” the doctor explained. “We need to keep a check on them.”
“What causes them?”

After he dressed he looked down at his shoes and asked where his socks were. I looked at him and hoped for the light bulb moment. “They’re in you’re shoes,” I said finally.
“Wasn’t that clever of me to put them there?” He watched me to see if I’d laugh. I did.

Header photo: Peter walking, not in the sun.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Answer the phone already!

The home care manager with our health insurance company —  I’ll call her “K” — phones each month and asks for Peter. Since my husband will neither answer nor talk on the phone, I take her questions. Or if I’m busy, I’ll say the timing isn’t convenient. I hope she doesn’t get upset when I put her off. She sounds very sweet, and she is just doing her job.

Yesterday was different. When she called, I simply handed the phone to him. He glared at me. “Hello?” He was wary. “Oh, so far, so good,” he said, his stock answer these days when anyone asks how he is. When he answered “Six each morning,”  I knew she’d asked about his medications. “What do I take every day?” he stage-whispered to me. I was up to my elbows in sudsy water cleaning cupboards, so I yanked a drawer open and showed him the prescription bottles so he could read them off.

Next she asked about his exercise. “Yes, the dog still walks me every day, twice a day. Yes, nursing homes every week…no, oh no, not for me! Nobby visits the people who live there. No, they don’t want to see me,” he laughed.

She already knew all the particulars from talking to me, but I was glad I’d made him take the call because it forced him to talk. I constantly try to engage him, to draw him out. It’s exhausting.

“K” had a few more things up her sleeve. “Hm, let me ask the wife,” he said. I glared at him. He knows — he hasn’t forgotten this — that I HATE being called “the wife.”  “Do I have any doctor appointments?” he mouthed as if it was a secret. I told him the dates.

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 12.02.10 PMThen came the routine cognitive impairment questions: day of week, month, year? Peter thought she asked because she didn’t know, so he walked over to the dry erase board I update every morning. “No you don’t,” I yelped, quickly wiping the board clean with my finger. “She wants to know if you know!” He tried to get around the corner to the calendar, but I blocked that too. “You sneaky devil,” I said. Of course I laughed.

He chuckled and told her, “My wife [he didn’t say the wife this time] won’t let me look at the calendar, but I know it’s August…um, tenth? Year? I know it’s two-thousand-something…thirteen? Oh-h, twenty-fifteen! Already?”

I’m sure the conversation left her laughing. It did me.

 

Header photo: JodyWissing, Digital Fondue, (11/16/10)

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.