This little essay was prompted by some posts at my friend Elizabeth Gaucher’s blog Esse Diem
What I remember most about my grandmother is that she didn’t remember. She couldn’t remember how many brothers and sisters she had, or that her bra went under her clothes, or my name. I was twelve when she died, eleven or so when she and my grandfather moved from West Virginia to my hometown in Georgia. They had come for a Christmas visit and what quickly became clear was that my grandfather’s fifty plus years of smoking had caught up with him. He was dying from lung cancer and could no longer care for her.
Because she was mostly gone from us by then, I loved hearing stories about her. Stories she told me herself, from her own childhood, which was more preset to her than we were. Before she and my grandfather eloped, she taught the children of coal miners. They would come to school with buckets full of something that was supposed to be lunch, and my grandmother would have brought a banana for hers. I remember her telling me how she would be sitting at her desk and look out into the eyes of those hungry children, and she would cut up that banana into tiny bites, one for each little boy and girl in her class. I could easily imagine her visiting with her lady friends while rolling bandages for the Red Cross during the war; it was harder for me to believe that she sewed all my mother’s clothes when Mom was a little girl. I thought it was simply exotic that she had run off with my grandfather to get married.
We had to put Grandmamma in a nursing home soon after they came. She escaped once. They found her two miles away at the local college campus, wandering around. She was a wanderer. I can still see her in her nightgown, pacing up and down the halls of the home. I can still hear the scuffle of slippers on linoleum. Not too long before they came to be with us, she wandered away from her West Virginia home. The police finally found her and bought her back. Granddaddy told us that she got out of the police car, bounded up the front steps and into the house announcing, “Mac, I want you to meet my new friends!”
Alzheimer’s can haunt a family. It has haunted ours, but we are less afraid now that my own mother has lived well passed the age my grandmother was when she became ill. We lost both my grandparents within the span of a year. Those losses were huge of course, but it was a good year. Because they were with us it was a good year. And that is how I do, and I will, remember it.