‘What do I want?’

Peter and I spent the morning of June 6 at the Commemoration of the Normandy Invasion at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. We’ve visited many times in the sixteen years since it opened. We go because we remember D-Day. Well, I do. Peter doesn’t remember much anymore, but I’d hoped the grandeur of the place would spark a memory.

A soft breeze wafted around us as we walked up the alleé and through the immense granite Overlord Arch. Above us, Allied flags flapped in the wind. As we gazed out at the awe-inspiring depiction of a Normandy beach, a soldier fighting to gain the cliff, another sprawled in the sea, Peter said, “We’ve never been here before, have we?”

* * *

After the ceremony we went to Roanoke for lunch. When I drove into Montano’s parking lot, his eyes lit up. “I know where I am now,” he said. We were seated quickly at one of Theresa’s tables. After so many Montano’s lunches, she knows us.

She patted Peter on the shoulder. “You remember, we don’t have Guinness on tap anymore,” she said, apologizing.

He shook his head, and finally settled on another choice. When she returned with his beer, she said, “Ready to order? Too many decisions, I know.”

He looked at me. “What do I want?”

“Fish and chips.”

“Yes, that’s what I want.”

When Theresa brought our food, he asked me about the contents of the three little cups on his plate.

“Tartar sauce. Horseradish sauce. Malt vinegar,” I said, pointing to each. “You use malt vinegar. It goes on the fish and chips.”

He dipped his spoon into the tartar sauce. “Oh, that’s good,” he said. Once upon a time, he wouldn’t even have tasted tartar sauce. “Too sweet,” he would’ve said. He dipped his spoon in again. “I could eat it all.”

He wrinkled his nose at the horseradish sauce, but then, he picked up the container of vinegar, put it to his lips…and…

NO-O! Don’t drink the vinegar!” I yelped. Too late.

He shuddered. His eyes watered. “Bl-l-l-ech! Wasn’t supposed to drink it, was I?”  He laughed and choked at the same time.

I couldn’t help but laugh at the look on his face. “You’re supposed to sprinkle it on the fish and chips.”

He did “sprinkle” the remaining vinegar, but then, to add to my shock, he plastered the fish with tartar sauce. By that point, I guess I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d licked the container clean.

We’re reflected in the granite Overlord Arch in Bedford.

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-10-14-53-am

 

Header: Monument at front of National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, Virginia

‘Try to remember and if you remember then follow.’

Peter held up handful of baby carrots. “These are cold,” he said.

“You just took them out of the fridge.”

“Yes…but…feel them.”

Uh oh, the fridge was playing tricks again. Sometimes the crisper drawer turns its contents into veggie popsicles. “Here, I’ll put them in the sun on the windowsill,” I said.

Peter carried on making his lunch which never varies: beef or pastrami sandwich with splotches of Coleman’s mustard and margarine, plus a few carrots, a pile of crisps, and any fruit I sneak onto his plate. He reached into the bag of carrots. “These are cold,” he said.

“Yes, look, some are thawing.” I pointed to the cup sitting in the sun.

“What would I do without you to keep me straight?” he said, shaking his head and laughing.

“I guess you’d be eating a lot of frozen carrots,” I said.

As a learn-by-doing caregiver, I try to make my husband continue to do whatever he can. If I were to let him slide, his downward progression would be much faster I believe. Friends are amazed that he still walks the dog — “Nobby walks me twice a day,” he says — and that he  mows the grass, also twice a day sometimes. And he continue to pick up sticks and comb the rugs’ fringe with whatever implement he can find.

Yesterday I caught him using an antique silver meat fork for the job. Not only was it too hefty for the aging fringe, I didn’t like the idea of using a pretty old fork on a rug. I yelped. He stormed off. I immediately felt guilty. He was back within minutes to ask if I needed any help.

“Why don’t you walk Nobby?”

“He walks me twice a day.”

“I know. He’s ready to take you right now.” The dog flopped his tail hopefully.

“Oh, wait, you could get fish while you’re out,” I said. I’d written down what I wanted from the fish ladies.

“Where are they now?” he asked.

“Across from the rugby field…”

“Right, I remember. What do you want again?

“It’s on that paper. Take it with you.”

“Don’t worry, I will. Where are…?”

“Across from the rugby field.”

“Right.” Nobby led Peter out of the house. The door slammed.

I sat down in front of the computer. I had a few minutes to write! The door slammed again. I heard Peter behind me. “Across from the rugby field,” I said without waiting to hear the question. He chuckled. The door slammed.

Keeping my cool is nearly impossible sometimes, but when I think how frustrating it must be for him to try to remember simple instructions, I simmer down.

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Carrots thaw, Peter mows, and in his right hand, he holds a bunch of sticks.

 

The National Society of Newspaper Columnists contest winner, 2016 —
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category.

There’s always something worse.

Peter asked his usual question, “What do I order here?” I gave my usual answer, “Beef.” We were at Lefty’s, a favorite restaurant, and we were hungry. I wasted no time ordering steak au poivre for him, Asian chicken salad for me.

He gazed out the big windows. “Looks like afternoon,” he said. “The sky is so blue.” Cloudless skies delight him.

“Technically, it is afternoon,” I said. “It’s not even five-thirty.”

“I never know what time it is anymore.” He looked at his watch. “Looks like daytime,” he said.

“It is daytime,” I said.

He followed the script engraved on his brain. “Any news from ‘upstate,’ or have I already asked?”

“Well, yes, you have, and, no, no news.”

“Any good movies on?” He realized that was another routine question and he smiled when I shook my head.

He looked at me, eyes questioning, mouth downturned. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Oh, just thinking how I am now and how I used to be. I can’t even talk anymore.”

“You never talked,” I reminded him, “and besides, you’re doing OK, a lot better than some. There are worse things.”

“Worse for you maybe,” he said, with a teasing smile, “but not for me.” For some reason, that made us laugh and his downcast moment was erased. Forgotten.

When our meal arrived, he reached for the salt and pepper. As always, he salted and peppered liberally without first tasting his food. One of my pet peeves.

“You are peppering your steak au poivre,” I said.

He shrugged. “So?”

“It is pepper steak,” I said.

He laughed, I sneezed, we laughed together.

Unknown

It was a date.

“I know what the date it,” Peter said suddenly, “but I don’t know the day.”  We were having coffee at our favorite bakery. We go there fairly often, but this was a special day.

“Mmm,” I said, “what is the date then?”

He nodded towards the large hanging blackboard that had specials listed. February 26, 2016 was written across the top. His birthday.

Version 2

I laughed. “That’s why we’re here. It’s your birthday. And it’s Friday by the way.”

Version 2

“My birthday? I didn’t know…”

“You didn’t know even when I said ‘Happy Birthday’ when you got up, nor from the message I put on your board…?”

“When was that?”

“First thing this morning,” I said.

“Oh, that was a long time ago.” Thirty seconds is a long time ago for him these days.

It turned out to be one of his best birthdays ever, I think. We went to see the newly released “Eddie the Eagle” followed by fish and chips at Red Robin. I figured the movie — about the young Englishman who decided to compete as a ski jumper in the 1988 Calgary Olympics — would be a sure bet. And it was. Most films with English overtones catch Peter’s fancy, and this one laugh-out-loud funny and punctuated with Olympian excitement and hope. We laughed at Eddy who had no fear, and groaned and yelped at his spectacular crashes. We trained and strained with him as he worked toward his goal. The movie was the perfect antidote for the week I’d had, and a perfect birthday treat  for my husband.

Later, he pronounced his fish and chips “good as always.” We even shared Chocolate “Fruffles”™ to drench in fruit “ketchup” and whipped creme. What’s not to love?

“So you liked the movie, then?” I said. “Good, wasn’t it?”

“What movie?” he asked, then shook his head disgustedly. “Sorry, I’m sorry. I don’t remember.” I gave him clues — “English…skiing…Olympics…Eagle” — but nothing sparked his memory.

He noticed his message board for the first time when we got home. Later, he jotted a note to me: THANK YOU.

Even if he couldn’t recall what he was thanking me for, that made my day.

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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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Chips, a food group unto itself.

Fish ‘n’ chips. Egg ‘n’ chips. Sausage ‘n’ chips.

I could rotate those three meals every night of the week and get no complaints from my English husband. Not only are they are his favorite meals, but he forgets from one meal to the next what he ate the day before. If I added in bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, and roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, I’d be a star.

Screen shot 2014-09-13 at 11.16.35 AMIn England, chips (French fries) are as iconic as a nice cuppa tea. Brits eat chips with anything. We’ve even had them served with pizza and a spicy Indian meal.

Around here, Red Robin has the best fish and chips, Peter says. We went there for lunch recently and sat at the bar, as always. The bartender, a sweet young woman and one of his favorites, asked, “The usual?”
Peter turned to me. “What beer do I have?”
I said Guinness, but the barmaid shook her head slightly. “Only in bottles.”
“What do you have then?” he asked as he got up to look at the taps.
She was already drawing a sample of another beer. “This is the one you like,” she said, as she handed it to him to taste.
“Yes! A pint of that,” he agreed, licking his lips.
I whispered to her, “Do you do that every time he’s here?” (Peter and companion Bill have lunch there at least twice a month.) She nodded yes, but flapped her hand as if to say, that’s OK.
images-1But then he confounded both of us when he ordered a burger and chips, instead of fish and chips.

While we were eating, a waitress came by and tapped him on the shoulder. “You haven’t been in for a while,” she said with a giggle. “We’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too, darlin’,” he said, as I knew he would. “Why aren’t you behind the bar today?”
They were short a waitress, she explained, so she had to fill in.

Then along came the manager. “Whad you doin’ to me, man?” he asked. “I don’ know who you are when you don’ order fish and chips!”
“Oh, I’ve got ‘the wife’ with me this time,” he said, as if I forced him to have a burger instead of marginally better-for-him fried fish. He knows how it riles me to be called the wife, and he does it to see my eyes shoot sparks. Of all the things he’s forgotten in recent years, he hasn’t forgotten that.

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Header photo: Holly Exley Illustration, London, UK.

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.

 

Rhubarb! Rhubarb! Rhubarb!

Peter loves the stringy vegetable that is served as a dessert: in rhubarb pie,   rhubarb Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 9.39.50 AMcrumble, Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 9.31.15 AMrhubarb coffee cakes, rhubarb compote and rhubarb sauce, to name just a few. And, if you’re English, like my husband, you like your rhubarb sauce with Bird’s Custard.

I love rhubarb too. Our neighbors keep us supplied throughout the season. The final bunch Jeff delivered was last evening’s dessert. Peter ate his right after dinner. When he offered to serve mine, I said I’d wait a while.

After the evening news I went upstairs to take a shower. The shower didn’t take long, but I fiddled around straightening my closet and folding the last of the laundry. When I came back down, ready to watch “The Great British Bake-Off,” I was ready for my dessert. Peter was washing the pan I’d left it in.

“Where’s my rhubarb?” I asked. “Did you eat my rhubarb?”

“Don’t remember,” he said. “Sorry.” Humph, I don’t think he was sorry — he was licking his lips — but I know he didn’t remember!

I can forgive a lot of things, but eating my rhubarb isn’t one of them. From now on, I’ll have to camouflage my portion somehow. I already write our names on bananas, and mark the McVitie’s Digestive biscuit packages “his” and “hers.”

Rhubarb is often paired with strawberries in pies, though there are those rhubarb purists who consider the combination a “rather unhappy marriage.” Peter and I agree with the purists.

 

Header photo: Local Roots Food Tours, Sacramento, CA
Rhubarb pie photo: Nubi, Heidi Murphy 6/4/15
Other photos: webcam grab

 

Is someone here?

My longtime friend Bonnie and her husband Paul visited us for a couple of days last week. They were on their way from Florida to his high school reunion in Ohio.

Bonnie had emailed several times the weeks before. She wanted to make sure it was OK for them to stay with us. “Will it upset Peter?” she wondered. “Please tell us. We understand completely. We could get a hotel room.”

I reassured her that Peter remembered they were coming, though he wasn’t sure he remembered them. They were here two years ago and he’d met them at several of our class reunions, but as he says, he can’t remember what he had for breakfast.

During the days leading up to their visit Peter was extra helpful. We’d had workmen here for a week fixing our sagging carport. Sawdust and grime had drifted into the house, crusting everything. I vacuumed and dusted while Peter scrubbed the bathtub and tidied the flower beds. He mowed the yard almost willingly.

They arrived on time, well, a minute late actually. She texted an hour earlier that their GPS said they’d arrive at 12:11. They rolled in at 12:12. But what’s a minute between old friends?

It was a pleasant, sunny day, so we ate lunch on the terrace. Then Bonnie and I chattered and reminisced the whole afternoon like two women of a certain age who have known each other for all but the first two years of their lives. Paul chimed in now and then because he knew some of the people we talked about, and Peter listened, smiling. We carried on through dinner and sat outside until the lightning bugs’ glow wasn’t bright enough for us to clear the table.

Back inside, Bonnie pulled out the eight millimeter movie film she’d brought along. She had never seen it, but she’d checked beforehand to make sure I still had my dad’s old projector. The film showed her learning to walk and on through Christmases and birthdays to the age of six or seven.

Peter laughed at us laughing with tears in our eyes.

The next morning I was having my second cup of coffee when Peter came downstairs. He looked puzzled. “What’s going on upstairs?” he asked. “Is someone in the bathroom?”

I chuckled. “Well, it’s either Bonnie or Paul,” I said.

He was still confused.

“Bonnie and Paul…they got here yesterday!” No matter how enjoyable the day and evening had been, he could not remember that we had overnight guests.

He slathered his usual two slices of toast with Keillor & Sons orange marmalade, poured coffee into his big green mug, and sat down to read the paper. He reads the paper again every afternoon because he forgets the news he’s read hours earlier. And he truly can’t remember what he has for breakfast, even though he has the same thing day after day after day.

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Gold Coreopsis brightens shady spots, while Black-Eyed Susan vine (at top) seems to glow in the dark.

 

 

Note: A good time to laugh is anytime you can.

Adventures. That’s what my friend Joanne and I called our treks to out-of-the-way places for lunch, sight-seeing or shopping. Sometimes we were gone most of the day. That stopped when I realized I couldn’t leave my husband on his own for so long. So one day Jo and I decided we’d walk right around the corner to Lefty’s for lunch.

“Peter, come with us,” Joanne said.

“No, no, I’m good,” he said. I knew he really didn’t want to listen to us chatter the way we do.

The restaurant is quite small, so we went early to beat the lunch crowd. Our mouths were going faster than the traffic outside when I, facing the street, saw Peter walk past.

“Wonder where he’s going?” I said. I wasn’t worried because he often walks to the grocery a block further. We took our time over lunch. When we got up to leave, I glanced at a table a few feet away, and there sat my husband, his back to us, with a beer in front of him.

Neither Joanne nor I saw him come in. We sidled over to his table and I slid into the chair beside him. “Can I take your order, Sir?” I asked.

He was startled. “I’ve already eaten,” he said, straight-faced. Joanne started laughing.

“I saw you walk past an hour ago.”

“I came back…!”

“Didn’t you see us?” I asked.

“No, didn’t you see me?”

“No, but you must have looked right at us when you came in…”

“I didn’t see you.”

That shouldn’t have surprised me. It isn’t unusual for my husband to come into the room and not see me sitting on the sofa. I wasn’t surprised that we hadn’t seen him since we were at a right angle to his table and his back was to us.

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Artist Rebecca Murtagh’s, Post-it notes installation, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY

A few weeks later, our friends Jerry and Shelia were here. We were going to Lefty’s for dinner, and I told them about Peter not seeing Joanne and me there one lunchtime. They laughed, as did Peter, though I was sure he didn’t remember the day. I stage-whispered to Jerry, “Good stuff for my blog.” He nodded. I should have made a note.

We went around the corner, and while we waited for our food we amused ourselves trying to identify the photos of famous lefties beside our table. We knew da Vinci and Rembrandt, Einstein and Edison, but were stymied by a man I thought was Woodrow Wilson (Henry Ford), and a woman who, we found out, was Helen Keller. Peter joked he’d never met any of them.

As we carried on like the old friends we are, I suddenly thought, this is good stuff, too, but the idea I’d had a few hours earlier hadn’t stuck. I asked Jerry if he remembered my idea.

“Unh uh…oh, Lefty’s!” he blurted.

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Shelia hooted. “You two can’t remember the story and we’re in the restaurant where it happened!” She looked at my husband and laughed. “Pete, who has memory problems now, hm?”

Shared laughs are the best.

 

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 Screen shot 2015-04-18 at 1.02.30 PMArt Fry, co-creator of Post-It® notes, started using the “light tack” notes — 3M’s “solution without a problem” — to mark his hymnal at choir practice. Art’s bright idea is one I use to help Peter, and should use to help myself!