My grandmother has had Alzheimer’s for the past several years. I’m told that she’s dying and doesn’t have much time left. My family has been sending me pictures and updates while I’ve been away and it has me thinking of the past.
We have always called her Grandmother. Everyone did, even if she wasn’t their grandmother. I never thought anything of it. In hindsight it sounds pretty formal and proper. I suppose she was in her own way. At the table, if we didn’t want to eat something, she wanted us to say “I don’t like it, but I’ll eat it anyway” and when we wanted to get up but others were still seated we had to ask, “May I be excused?”
She and my grandfather traveled the world and valued experiences over things. I don’t think they bought or replaced any one thing unless it was absolutely necessary, but went to every continent except Antartica. They would come back from their trips and show all of us grandkids slides of the photos they took. There’s over 40 boxes of slides, each with travel notes. When I went home for Christmas, we watched a few of them with her even though she wasn’t aware of what was going on. It brought back memories of being in awe of the far away places I saw while staring up at the projector screen in the living room of their house. I’m sure it had something to do with the fact I chose Egypt as the first place to try out my new passport.
Grandmother was an artist. We would draw and paint at her house and she would show us things she had done in the past. She had a pile of paintings and drawings in the attic. She would also take us on nature walks and we’d press the flowers and plants in between pages of an old phone book. She had a box of old clothes and kimonos for us to put on, clomp around the house, and of course get our picture taken. We heard her ‘wap, wap’ on her gigantic loom in the warm basement and saw the amazing rugs she made with it. The garden that took up half the yard was filled with food and flowers, and all I ever saw her use was the little trowel in her gardening gloves. She invented ice cream soup, which was fruit mixed with slightly melted ice cream. Her homemade ice tea was Grandmothers Ice Tea; there was nothing like it and if you didn’t grow up on it, you probably weren’t into it.
She made us laugh. She said “tinkle” and “plupas” when referring to going to the bathroom. We scrunched up our nose when she put olive oil on her face. She had a very distinct way of clearing her throat and placing her hands while praying that we would try to imitate. Her daily exercises were unlike anything we had ever seen and we were sure she had made them up herself. We heard she swam every morning the backyard pool was open, even when it was freezing out, sometimes in her birthday suit??
Summers growing up were spent at her and my grandfathers house. They had a pool and there always seemed to be tons of kids over. She would be outside, in her big sun hat. Her ice tea, the ice cream soup, and watermelon slices were always there too. We knew only to go inside if we were all dried off and only if we had to go to the bathroom. After we were done swimming, all the toys had to be fished out of the pool and the towels in the bath house – not hung up over the railings.
Grandmother knew a lot of things. She had this notebook with all sorts of lists and facts. She taught me how to write out and say Japanese numbers. I still remember them. She did the crossword every day to keep her mind sharp. I remember her telling us that it was important to exercise your brain, and that Alzheimer’s ran in her family so she wanted to do whatever she could to fight it. It came on slowly and took over until it now leaves her all but lifeless. I’m not there to see the worst of it now, but I have been remembering the good times and I think that is what she would want us all to do.
Update: Grandmother passed away just two days after writing this, on March 28, 2016.