Don’t deal him out.

When I left Peter one afternoon, I stopped to chat with the wife of another resident. We compared notes, as we’ve done before, and agreed that the year just past, for both of us and our spouses, had been terrible. She’s a woman who tries to look on the bright side too, so we’ve shared laughs over the months as well.

I told her I’d just reintroduced Peter to cribbage and that it had been more successful than I expected. “He remembered enough about the game to play fairly well,” I told her. “I never could play very well, so he’s at my skill level now.” 

“Well then, what did you think about our husbands’ poker game last week?” 

“Poker? Peter doesn’t even know how to play!” I was astonished. At Christmas the family poker players drag him to Leslie and Martin’s kitchen table and coach him.

She explained that our husbands and another resident had played one afternoon. “They had beer, chips and dip, laughed and carried on as if they’d been pals for years. They seemed to know what they were doing.”

“Could they hear each other?” 

She shook her head and laughed. “Didn’t matter, they had a terrific time.” 

“That’s wonderful! I hadn’t heard about it, but you just made my day!” I drove home with a big smile on my face.

Ol’ Poker Face Pete looks like he’s ready to ‘fold.’

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 
 
 
 
Header photo: freepik

Two points for a pair.

Sir John Suckling invented cribbage in early 1600s England. The game, still popular in pubs, is played with one deck of cards, a cribbage board and colored pegs with which to keep score.

Cribbage is somewhat complicated, but even more than the game itself, the odd terms and conventions confuse beginners. This isn’t surprising considering that the country of origin gives its villages such whimsical names as Pucklechurch, Nether Wallop and Great Snoring. Cribbage terms—his Nob, box, the crib, right Jack and Muggins—confuse as well.  A Muggins, for example, is called when a player doesn’t calculate her score correctly— the difference in points is awarded to the opponent. Good thing for me we’ve never followed that rule.

Peter and I used to play a lot of cribbage. He teased relentlessly when I forgot whose turn it was to play after a “go” or whose turn to cut the cards or, for that matter, even to remember when to cut the cards. In my never ending attempt to keep him engaged now, I wondered if he would try to play again. He surprised me.

Without going further into the myriad details and quirks of the game—this isn’t meant to instruct after all—I’ll just say that Peter plays way better than I thought he would. He remembers to offer the dealer, me, a chance cut the deck and to cut for the “turn-up,” while I remember which direction to peg. He never remembers which color is his and often—on purpose I’m sure—moves my red peg ahead if he and his blue peg are behind.

At first he didn’t seem to remember that a hand with four ten-count cards, a five, and a five turned up was an “even ‘doz,” his words for 12 points. But when I used the phrase I saw the tiniest spark in his eyes that said, oh-h, yeseven ‘doz

Mickey M  kibitzes.

When I forget to add extra points for a hand that is all the same suit (four) or that also matches the turn up suit (five) Peter reminds me with a sly look. I never have been able to remember that when “his Nob” is turned up the dealer gets two points.

He’s remembered the custom to knock sharply on the table to signal either that he can’t play or doesn’t want to cut. Another niggly convention I seldom recall.

It has worked out that whenever we play one of us remembers what the other forgets. Peg two points for the pair we are!

One day I suggested we play Rummy for a change. Nearly every hand, Peter forgot he needed to lay down at least a run of three or three of a kind. It confuses him when I remind him that he can draw from the discard pile if he wants a certain card and is able to play it with something in his hand. I’d just discarded a queen when he asked, “Can I pick that Queen up?”

“Yes, but you have to play her with at least two other Queens, or the King and Jack of hearts.”

He studied his hand then, with a flourish, spread four Queens and three tens across the table.  “OUT!” he said.

I sputtered. “You fooled me again, you cheeky bugger.”

He loves to make me laugh and I love that he still tries.

Header: Peter and Nobby are featured on cards we use.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Morning walks clear the head.

For the past week a bad cold gripped my head, a cold I caught from my husband who still insists he didn’t have one. For once, I took my own advice and lay low, resting and drinking lots of tea, force-feeding Vitamin C in various forms. I was a real grump because I couldn’t go out and play in the first snow of the season. I even forfeited my daily walks, until this morning.

img_4730Mid-morning, I heard Peter tell Nobby it was time time for a walk. The dog has adopted his master’s ways, he is not a morning dog; he needs coaxing. “Will you wait for me to get dressed so I can go with you?” I yelled. I was still in snowflake pj’s and mommy robe.

Peter smiled. “Yes! Thank  you,” he said. As I dashed upstairs I heard him tell Nobby “she” is going with us so we don’t get lost. He sounded happy. I had to hurry or he’d forget and leave without me.

We walked for nearly an hour, not so far in distance, but slowed by the dog’s need to figure out who else had walked that way.

The fresh air — mild after last weekend’s snow and near zero temperatures — revived me. Ideas began to gel, solutions to problems began to surface. By the time we came in the door, I felt better than I had in more than a week.

While I poured coffee, Peter studied the dry erase board beside me. “Today is Sunday, isn’t it?” he asked.  I nodded, then noticed he was wiping “Saturday” and “14” off the board. I’d been so wrapped up in my thoughts earlier that I hadn’t updated the message first thing, something I always do.

“Yay, you know what day it is!” I said. He smiled proudly while I updated the day and date.

Leslie called a little later. Did we want to go to a matinee and then to eat after? Yes we did. I added that information and showed the message board to Peter. Slowly, he read the words out loud, then smiled. “Something to do on Sunday,” he said.

Smiles are hard to find some days, but they are always worth looking for.

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2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest, second place, blog category.

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Color me aqua.

Christmas 2015 is history. I “bah-humbugged” through the season, but the day itself was memorable for lots of reasons. Not only did Peter not remember it was the 25th, he didn’t know it was December.

For the first time in years, he gave me a present he selected, or perhaps “selected by omission” is a better way of saying it. Leslie took him shopping. She took him to one likely shop, but when he looked in the window, he said no. He walked next door  and went in. He’d never been in either place before.

She pointed out several sweaters but, rejecting those, he chose another in aqua. (Strange, because it’s a color he really dislikes.) Carolynn thought maybe he picked it because I wore an aqua sweater the night we met — I like that theory. I love the sweater, the color, and the white shirt he (or Leslie) chose for under it.

Next, they went to buy a card. When I opened it Christmas morning, I heard a lively voice say, “HI THERE.” We both startled. Leslie, watching, hooted. “Peter jumped every time he opened the card in the shop,” she said. By moving the snowman’s hat onto the snowman, LEDs flash and an orchestra plays the first phrases of “Sleigh Ride.”  What fun it was!

On December 26, Boxing Day in England and, not coincidentally, our anniversary, I spied a slim package under the tree. A very sweet card topped it, but I’ll keep the message to myself.

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The gift was a calendar, desk blotter-sized, to color. I don’t know which of them found it, but Leslie knows I’ve fallen in love with coloring all over again. Peter remembered enough about the childhood pastime to ask, “Is this enough? Shouldn’t I buy the…equipment…the stuff…to go with it?” Leslie said no, and told him, “Mom really has enough colored pencils and crayons.” (By my count, 150 coloring  implements, one art gum eraser.)

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The jolly snowman card was a hit with everyone on Christmas Day and the days since. I keep it on the kitchen table. Every time I open it, Peter jumps and we laugh.

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Memories of Christmas just past. Color me happy.

 

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.

 

Random kindnesses. Observed. Received.

A young man of twenty-five or so stood in front of me in the quick check-out lane at the grocery. In his right hand he held a plastic bag of groceries, in his left, red roses. When it was his turn he lay the roses carefully on the conveyor. “These are for you,” he said to the checker.

“What about the things in your hand?” she asked.

“No, I already paid for these earlier. The flowers are for you,” he explained. “You said you were having a bad day…”

She was flustered, but picked the flowers up and smelled them. “Really? For me?” She rang them up, he gave her cash and left quickly. She looked at me astounded. “It wasn’t that bad a day,” she said, “but now it’s a lot better.”

Random act of kindness, observed.

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Yesterday, following a week of bitter cold and snow, I was out early shoveling walks and driveway. A young man and his mother walked carefully towards me. He was holding her arm. We exchanged “Good mornings” and observations about the cold, then they got into the big gray pick-up truck that had been parked in front of our house, off and on, all week.

I kept shoveling.

Walks fiinished, I was working my way back along the drive when I noticed the truck had returned to the space carved amidst the plowed-up snow. “Hello again,” the man called out. “I thought I should introduce myself,” he said. “Hope you don’t mind me parking there, but I can’t get in and out of my driveway right now. It’s so steep and icy.”

No problem, I told him. Then he asked if he could finish shoveling our drive for me, and assured me it would be a pleasure to help.

I was gobsmacked. “Thanks,” I said, “but I actually like to shovel snow.” I explained we’d moved here from upstate New York and were used to deep snows. “Besides,” I said, “my husband will be out soon to finish this off.”

“You sure?” he asked. I nodded, he wished me a good day, and walked off.

Random act of kindness, received.

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When I told Peter about the incident, he wondered if I’d told the fellow that I like toDSC00781 shovel snow. “Yes, and I told him that if you didn’t get outside and do your part, I’d bury you in a snow drift and leave you until spring.” I handed him his jacket and shoved him towards the door.

I knew he’d laugh, and he did.

Picking up sticks is about control.

These days, my husband attends to specific tasks he sets for himself whether they need doing or not, repeating the steps carefully, obsessively. I bite my tongue and turn away because I want to scream, “Please do something that helps. I’m doing everything and you’re picking up *#! sticks!”

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When I sat down to write this post, he was doing it again, right outside my window — collecting twigs that were blown off the trees during two days of high wind. In his mind, I think, he knows tiny sticks are something he can still control.

In my mind, I wish he’d remember I asked him to mow the grass. Grass-cutting is on the list, a list he checks every thirty minutes or so, but never remembers. I learned long ago, as most wives do, nagging doesn’t work, dementia or no.

Ever since he retired, Peter has cleared the dishes willingly after dinner, but now he’s become obsessive about the task. He won’t leave the house to walk the dog unless the job is done, even when I tell him I’ll clear. To be honest, he doesn’t like the way I clean up! I’m not as fussy as he is.

He wipes our countertops endlessly to “polish” them, but to do it he uses any grungy cloth he finds under the sink from the supply I keep to wipe splatters off the floor. When I showed him the special granite-cleaning cloth he scoffed, so I use it secretly with the special cleaner when he’s not around. He gets very offended if I do or say anything that suggests he’s not done a job correctly.

Once, when I made an even worse-than-usual mess baking bread, I had to leave it to attend to something else. When I returned to the kitchen, it was spotless. “Wow! Thank you for cleaning up my ‘bread mess,’” I said.

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Peter’s eyes twinkled. He loves homemade bread. “Thank you for messing up my clean,” he said.

He’s still so quick, and of course I laughed.

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So, no matter how frustrated I get, I try very hard to remember that my husband can’t help what is happening to him. I know he’d give anything, even his entire Mickey Mouse collection, to turn the clock back to a time when he was in control of his life.