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Even before my memories of her started to fade, her memories of me had left without warning.
Spending the night at grandma’s was the best. A pool outside, always ice cream in the freezer, ginger ale with every meal, and a magic lamp that with a light touch of a finger, there was light; and to a five year old it was pure magic. There was Big Red gum in her kitchen cabinet right as you walked into her house, lemonade in the pantry waiting to be made into a frozen dream on a stick, a large dining room table where our family gathered every once in a while to talk over a steaming pot of goulash. My grandparents on the ends of the table, my sister and I on one side, and my parents on the other laughing as my grandfather’s Birds of South Carolina clock cooed at us informing us yet another hour had rolled by.
We were yet to know what was happening inside my grandmother’s mind which at that very moment would eliminate her memory forever.
It started slowly with her forgetting little things like her favorite TV station and her beloved Prissy, a puppy at the time. They swam together in the backyard, watched TV, ate ice cream, and tended to her ruby red roses. What about her family? She had known us all her life and her soul mate, my grandfather. When her episodes of memory loss started becoming more frequent he stuck by her side trying the best he could. I was six years old at the time and did not notice anything wrong with my grandmother until…one day my father and I went to visit my grandparents. My grandfather answered the door with a worried look on his face. With short exchange of words, my grandfather walked away leaving the door frame open for my entry, but before I could take one more step the front door was slammed shut. “Catherine,” my dad turned and looked down so our eyes met. “Nannie is not feeling well today, we’ll come back and visit soon.” Once we were in the car I asked what was wrong with her. He told me some big word I did not understand, and with a confused face I asked what it meant. “She has forgotten some things,” he told me.
The next time I saw my grandfather he had bruises. Did he fall I wondered? Sadly no, my grandmother had forgotten who he was that day and why she was in his house. She grabbed her purse and hit him until he let go of her, anything in her reach was snatched up and thrown at my grandfather. This was why I was stopped from entering their home.
I cannot help but think what would have happened if I had made it through the doorway that day. Would she have remembered me? Would she have remembered my father? Would she have beaten me like she did my grandfather? And if she did, would she have realized who I was and stopped? But I’m glad my father stopped me that day because if she did hurt me, I would not remember her as the loving person she was, but the sick, violent person, she became when her “monster” was on the loose.
It was my grandfather’s decision; her new home, Spring Arbor; the assisted living community for adults who wish to maintain an independent life style, but need help doing so. Sounds kind of nice, but the truth is she lived in the building behind it, the Alzheimer’s Cottage. There people with Alzheimer’s could live with others and get the help they needed. We went to visit her every now and then. We should have visited more often because it is right down the street. I hated going to see here there because it smelled of old people stuff like, denture paste, gross cafeteria food, and laundry detergent.
As I walked in and glanced down the hall there would go my grandmother mumbling to herself while walking down the long hallway. I chased after her yelling, “Nannie I’m here, slow down.” She turned and mumbled to me. I never really could understand, only my grandfather could tell what she wanted. Right then I realized she did not know who I was, I said, “It’s me, Catherine, Big Red,” which is the nickname she gave me. From then on she never remembered me, I was just a stranger who gave her hugs and came to see her every now and then. The hardest part was when we visited and the other adults living in the cottage recognized us while my own grandmother did not.
Thanksgiving break, 2001, my mom was driving home in our blue Volvo station wagon. As we turned on to India Hook my mother turned the music down and told us she had something to tell us. My sister broke down in tears, me trying to comfort her not really understanding as I was only seven years old at the time. We passed the cottage where my grandmother had been living to see my father’s car parked outside. It had all happened so fast.
There was a different feeling in her room now, as even though she had passed away, she was still there. I opened her dresser to find her final piece of Big Red gum, as if she knew I would look for it. Her Alzheimer’s got the best of her and sucked the life right out of her. Her memory slowly faded more and more as time went on. And the day she passed was like the day when she forgot everything.
I was seven years old and did not know about life or death. All I knew was my grandmother would no longer be with us. Every time I go to remember there’s a foggy essence blocking my view. It’s hard to remember but so easy to forget. But with the good times on instant re-play in my mind I will never fully forget my Nannie.