My youngest daughter, Amanda is expecting her second child. My grandchild count is going up to number six and I am so excited. I’m calling and texting; probably driving my poor child crazy! As a matter of fact, I called her less than an hour ago for an update. She had informed me earlier that she was going to get a massage, hoping that it would speed things along. I wanted to know how it went.
I asked, “How did your surgery go?”
Amanda laughed. “Surgery?”
I laughed, too…out of embarrassment. “I meant to say, ‘massage’!” I had already done this type of thing several times, today. I hate to admit: it has become a daily thing. It scares me.
I told my husband, James, “I hope I’m not getting Alzheimer’s.”
Really, it is a fear of mine. It is a back-seated fear that sometimes likes to hop up front and take me for a drive. When I tell people that I mean to say one word but another comes out and I don’t know why, I usually get a response along these lines:
“I do that, too.”
“It’s probably stress.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it.”
I wonder if it could be the chemicals that we put in my body to get rid of the leukemia. I wonder if it is stress. What I fear is the “A” word. I’ve seen it up close and personal with my Nanny. I know that I want no part of it. Like I have any say in the matter!
We moved to a small farm east of Wolfe City, Texas when I was in the fifth grade. Happiness oozed out of my pores. I had wanted to live in the country ever since we had moved away when I was almost four. Country life gets in your blood. Even though I was young, I yearned for it. I begged for it. I prayed for it. I wanted a horse. I wanted to walk through the woods like I had behind my grandmother’s house. Finally, my dream was coming true. The joy was made even more abundant with the knowledge that Nanny and Pappaw (Edith and Jess Crowell, my father’s parents) lived inside the small town of Wolfe City. Our house and six acres were a mere fifteen minute drive from them. The church we would be attending was right across the street from their house on Sante Fe street. I could walk to their house after school if I wanted and I did, many times.
My first memory of things going wrong with my Nanny was when she cooked dinner for us all, one night. Nanny was an excellent cook. She was a fast cook, getting a meal on the table before most people could even get their pans out. She had cooked one of my favorites: chicken fried steak. She had everything cooked and was getting it on the table. She had this lost, worried look on her face as she paced around the kitchen, eyes scanning every nook and surface. Someone asked her what was wrong. She couldn’t find the steak she had cooked. Our search for the missing steak seemed to last a long time, probably because I was hungry. I remember thinking, “How could someone misplace something they had cooked?” I don’t remember where we found the lost dinner, but I know someone did. I didn’t starve.
Pappaw started getting blamed for lots of weird things. Nanny became scared of him. Now, I wonder how much of the stories were true and how many were a symptom of her condition, which was called “hardening of the arteries” at the time. I thought she would just be forgetful, like the steak incident. I didn’t know what was to come. None of us did. We were not equipped with knowledge or skills to handle the years to come. Our family had never heard of the word “Alzheimer’s”. Daddy and his siblings decided Pappaw needed to be in the nursing home. They were scared he was going to hurt Nanny.
Sadly, Pappaw didn’t live long in the nursing home. He quit going to the cafeteria to eat. He would beg to be taken home. He cried that nobody loved him. My uncle Billy thought he died of a broken heart. Maybe, he did. The day they told him he was going there, Pappaw begged my little brother, Brady, as he sat on the front porch of his home, not to let them take him there. That day haunts me still. Brady was in the third grade. I wonder what Pappaw thought he could do about it. I wonder what went through Brady’s young mind. Pappaw was actually crying. His generation didn’t do that much. It was hard to watch.
As time went on, Nanny got worse. One evening, she called our house in hysterics. There were things crawling all over her walls. She was scared. Of course, Daddy went to check on her, frightened himself of what he would find. We all loaded up and went with him as either moral support or back-up. I’m not sure which. When we all filed into her front door and the house had been thoroughly searched, it was decided that someone needed to stay with her. Nanny had a glazed, kind-of crazy look in her eyes. Daddy asked me to do it. I was in the sixth grade. I stayed with her. I even slept in the same bed with her. I laid on my back, staring into the darkness. Every eighteen-wheeler that went down the street in front of her house reminding me that I was not in my own bed, shared with my older sister, Tina. I was frightened. What would I be able to do if something bad did happen. I couldn’t drive. She didn’t even have a car, if I could!
Eventually, she went to live with her sister-in-law. That didn’t last long. Eva Lee couldn’t handle her. So, she came to live with us.
Our family lived in a small two bedroom, one bath house. My brother slept on the enclosed back porch. What do you do in a situation like that? Well, in our case, Daddy moved Nanny’s bed in my room that was already shared with Tina. He put Nanny’s on one wall, ours was pressed against the other. All of Nanny’s extra mattresses were piled on both beds, “Princess and the Pea” style. We had to climb up the mattress mountain every night after just witnessing the undressing of Nanny (a sight no child should see!!!). I guess she lost her modesty along with her memory because she had no qualms about whipping off that massive brassiere without evening turning her back to us!
She became fearful of baths; trying unsuccessfully to use Johnson’s Baby Powder and Right Guard deodorant as her method of daily hygiene. Daddy would use every kind way he could think of to persuade her to bathe, but she was oblivious to the need. She also became fearful of being alone. My mother now had two shadows. Nanny followed her everywhere. The tension in our tiny house became unbearable and Nanny finally ended up in a nursing home. Many times, she didn’t know who we were when we went to visit her. It seemed as though she sank deeper and deeper into her past, rocking her tin box of family photos in her lap like her last remaining child. The nurses said she would stand in the doorway of her room at night, calling for her young children to come in. I can’t imagine the world her mind became. I hope it was a happy one.
The disease may have a name, now but that doesn’t make it any more welcome. It is still the robber in our homes; taking the most precious thing we own.