She used to teach vacation bible school in her backyard. About Zacchaeus and the tree and she pumped us full of red Kool-Aid and homemade cookies.
She made biscuits that were small and flat and had her finger marks on top from where she’d plop them on the pan with a little pat. She always made a special tiny one for Jen.
She drove me to great-Grandma’s to visit and then we’d always drive a little further and walk on the beach. On the way home we’d stop for peaches and boiled peanuts and Pepsi and any other garbage I wanted to eat. Circus Peanuts. Sugar Babies.
She was beautiful, and feisty, and super competitive, and proper, and her house was always clean. Thursday was for cleaning bathrooms. Mom and I still follow the Johnny-Pot-Thursday rule.
She took Brad and me to the hardware store and bought us baby ducks. She probably didn’t think that one through. She ended up raising two baby ducks until they were grown, and we released the one that lived (one wasn’t so lucky), over in Hornet’s Nest Park. I’m pretty sure its still alive. 32 years later.
She hated, hated, hated church potlucks. And flies. And sitting still.
She worked in a jewelry store in the nicest mall in the city. She took me with her there all the time, gave me coins for the fountain. And Freedent gum. She had navy blue velvet seats in her Cadillac and my hair would get static-y and stand on end. She drove really fast.
Every year we went to Sears and got brass Christmas ornaments with our names engraved on them. I still have every single one.
She made incredible fried chicken.
She has been married 64 years to one special Henry. I think the longevity of the marriage is testament to the fried chicken.
She taught me to shell butter beans and snap green beans and shuck corn. Mom and I would sit with her on the back patio and grab handfuls from a bucket and snap and fill pastel colored Tupperware bowls. Then they would can it all… and I was afraid of that scary hissing pot. I still am.
She used to drag me to her Sunday school class. Most of the time she taught, sometimes some other old lady did. She made me talk to people. Chit chat about the weather, or my dress, or my small life. I hated it. But I sat there, proud to be with her.
She made my clothes.
She gave me a Cabbage Patch Doll when my parents had gotten divorced and life was terrible and that doll was all I wanted in the world. Besides to be normal, and to not have frizzy hair.
I ran away to her house one time. I was mad and I jumped on my yellow bike and rode eleven miles down the busiest streets in town, to her arms. She made me a snack and let me cry and promptly loaded me up on her pontoon boat and took me right back home.
She had a middle drawer in the cherry dresser that was just for us. Every time we went to her house it was filled with some small treasure. Little Golden Books. Barbie clothes. M&M’s. This dresser also had a drawer of silk scarves, and scarves, and scarves. I don’t think I remember her ever wearing one… but she had a thousand. They smelled like her.
We sat on her back porch steps and rubbed eucalyptus, spearmint, scrubby goop on our feet and Granddaddy squirted it all off with a garden hose. This is a favorite memory.
Figuring It Out
We started to recognize that something wasn’t right with her about twelve years ago. She would repeat the same thing several times in a span of a few minutes. She was forgetful, leaving out ingredients or burning things when she tried to cook. And lordy, she’d probably be so mad for me to tell you… but she quit wearing a bra. For a woman that NEVER came out of her bedroom (even for coffee) before a shower, hair and make up done AND dressed for the day….so when she let the boobs go free it was pretty alarming. Fast forward a few years and she’d get pretty snippy if she didn’t get her way, not because she was being hateful, but because she was just confused and frustrated. Granddaddy had to quit letting her drive, she quit gardening, quit quilting, quit crocheting. She couldn’t remember how. They decided to move to a town-home in an adult community, and she started giving away valuables like her good china….. to Goodwill, before we even knew. The cherry bedroom furniture I’d slept on a thousand nights, gone. Family pictures, gone. Expensive jewelry, pieces we knew she loved, gone. Mom started visiting nearly every day. You couldn’t take her to a store very easily because she’d wander off. Fast forward a few more years and she started refusing meals, the answer to every question was no, and she’d get in a huff over something and try to leave the house. My Granddaddy had cared for her for 64 years, but when she started wandering down the highway, it was time to intervene. For a few months the family took turns on stake out… parked outside ready to redirect or intercept her if she came stomping out, carrying an armful of clothes and her purse. She was irrational, and she couldn’t remember any names, she’d never be able to tell someone where she lived if she wandered away. She was starting to put on multiple pairs of pants at a time, and she’d quit bathing. Toileting became a major issue. Granddaddy had to put locks on the doors to keep her from running away, and that was when we knew it was time. She needed medicine that she refused to take from us. She needed professional care, and Granddaddy did such a good job for as long as he could. In April she went to live in a dementia care ward at a nursing facility. We celebrate brief flashes of recognition and days without tears. She just turned 80 last week… and she is here with us in body, but we were robbed of her mind far too soon. Two hip fractures within two months, and she declined in free fall. She has plateaued a bit for now, but she is in hospice care, and I know one day soon I will not be able to go and hug her, or tell her I love her. I wish I could turn back the clock 30 years, and teach her all the things I’ve read, all that I’ve learned about how dementia is stealing our grandparents. Her life, short of a miracle, can not be saved… but I think I know her well enough to know that she’d want me to tell you how to save yours.
Keep Your Faculties On.
How Not To Die, by Dr. Michael Greger…. stop whatever you are doing and buy it right now. You don’t even have to leave your house. Then READ it. I promise you, it is CAPTIVATING. So again, I am not a doctor. I can help nudge you along by imploring you to make healthier choices, but ultimately the journey to wellness is a path you gotta forge on your own.
You have probably heard that eating meats and cheese and fatty foods can clog your arteries to your heart. These foods contain plaques that build up within the walls of our arteries and restrict blood flow, wreaking all sorts of vascular havoc. The heart can’t get enough blood, and blocked arteries lead to heart attacks. And super expensive surgeries. That’s my non-doctor nutshell version. Well…. fasten your seat belt, because this is about to spin your head clean off your body. What if we take the same information we know about heart disease, and apply it to brain diseases? They aren’t just genetic. You don’t HAVE to get Alzheimer’s just because your mom or grandma did. All you need is to be armed with the knowledge and then you can DO something about it! So here’s what’s up: think of Alzheimer’s and dementia as a ‘brain attack’, the same way you think about heart disease causing a ‘heart attack’. Both diseases are caused by clogged veins, but Alzheimer’s and dementia are caused by plaque buildup in arteries in your brain. And how do we not get fatty deposits in our brains….? DON’T EAT THE STUFF THAT CAUSES IT in the first place. Dementia can take decades to develop, and here’s the kicker – while you can reverse heart disease, you can’t reverse dementia. HOWEVER, a diet rich in plants (fruits and vegetables) (ahem, not deep fried, or dipped in ranch) and eating considerably less meat, dairy, and eggs, can seriously slow the progression. You could eat only plants and avoid it all together… but I know, that’s just crazy talk. Because bacon. Insert eye roll here.
Thank you for reading my blog if you made it this far. This was a particularly blithery one, and it did not start out as a post about my Grammy or dementia… but I hope you find the information helpful and will do some research of your own. Get the book. Seriously, the info is life saving! The blog this week was supposed to be a funnier post about ‘Turning Off Mommy-Mode’ and how to connect/stay connected with your spouse. I guess I’ll write about that next week. As promised, here is a wildly embarrassing picture of me from the 7th-ish grade. I tormented Steve earlier this week on Facebook, so this is my comeuppance.
Thank you again for all the support, likes, shares, and comments. It means so much to me!! -B.