Every winter, my mother brings in the potted plants from the back porch and arranges them into a mini-jungle in the windowed dining room, sometimes bringing with them a creature or two, and sometimes more—perhaps the dining room isn’t the best place for a family of spiders, but I’m sure the spiders didn’t mind as much as we did. One year, the transplanted guests included a green lizard, much to the chagrin of my Herpetophobic mother, but to the great amusement of Grandma Lois, who took it upon herself to make sure the lizard was well-fed during his stay at the Casa de Brown.
We soon began discovering tiny scraps of napkin in the plants, holding little crumbs; crackers, red onion, hamburger, noodles, pop-tarts. I imagined the lizard as the rat in Charlotte’s Web, sniffing among the smorgasbord of human food, rolling around on its fat green belly, swearing off insects forever in favor of these rich delicacies, really living the high life. We saw the lizard every once in a while, generally just its tail extending like an antennae from the jade plant, or leaping between leaves of the trailing ivy plant. My brother’s attempts to capture and imprison the lizard were futile; any sudden movement and the lizard disappeared behind Grandma Etta’s china cabinet. All winter, we regarded the lizard as a sixth member of the family, inviting it to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners (it appeared not to like sweet potatoes at all, which means it was more closely related to me than anyone else) and turning on a heat lamp at night when Dad turned the thermostat down to sixty degrees (of this, I was jealous and thought surely Dad liked the lizard more than me).
Grandma Lois, though, seemed to be concerned with only the lizard’s nutrition; when March came around, and the threat of frost became less real and Mom moved the plants back to the porch, G-Lo continued to leave the scraps of napkin on the floor, just in case the lizard had taken up permanent residence in the china cabinet. For three weeks, the scraps accumulated, untouched by slithery tongue, until the late-spring frost hit, and the plants returned inside for another week. Though the lizard was nowhere to be found, Grandma’s hospitality continued with new zeal, now including bottlecaps full of skim milk, whole crackers, and half-eaten chocolate kisses (surely a whole kiss would have been much too much for a lizard that size).
When Mom decided that spring was finally, definitely upon us, she again moved the plants outside, repotting when necessary, and it was then that she finally saw what had become of our beloved lizard. Turning over a bushy plant to loosen the roots, our green friend fell out onto the porch, weak, emaciated, and confused. Too surprised to even be afraid, Mom watched as he limped away in search of real, however bland, lizard nutrition, without a second thought to G-Lo’s undying generosity.
My mother is a thief. A dirty, rob-from-the-elderly thief so low down she’s begun stealing reading glasses from her own mother-in-law. Why would she do this? Spite? Fashion? They are not exactly Prada frames so we doubt she has intentions to pawn them… In short, WE HAVE NO IDEA why Mom would steal Grandma’s glasses. But she has, in the World According to G-Lo.
Grandma Lois lives in a fog of suspicion. She hides things from her family members so they won’t steal them, then forgets where she hid them, then accuses us of stealing them, i.e. the key to her wardrobe. Other times, we think her mind time-warps and she doesn’t know where all these clothes came from, and where her old clothes (from the ‘60s and ‘70s, mind you) went. And still other times, her mind just plain old warps, and suddenly she can’t sleep on this mattress anymore. She wants her old mattress back, you know, the one David (other son) stole from her in the middle of the night.
One of the main reasons she moved out of David’s house is because she was accusing him of stealing damn near everything she misplaced. We were worried that when Grandma moved in, Jordan would be the first target of the accusations, living two doors down and sharing a bathroom with her. And while Jordan did steal her dentures (pawned), her toothbrush (spite), and her comb (fashion), she never seemed to notice. They got in a spat here and there, but nothing to this extent.
Family isn’t even sure which glasses she has lost, but she’s so convinced they’ve been stolen that she called 911 about it, got flustered, and hung up. 911 called back right after and Mom was completely blindsided. They took the phone out of her room after that, which only made her angrier, and she threatened to walk to David’s house in Winterville (about 20 minutes away by car). So they gave her the phone back, and now she picks up every call to monitor it, in case Mom’s going to talk about the glasses.
When I called a couple days ago, Grandma picked up first, recognized it was me, didn’t even say hello to me, and then Mom picked up.
Mom: “Mom, I’ve got it.”
G-Lo: “Who is it?”
Mom: “It’s Arrie, she wants to talk to me.”
G-Lo: “Oh, I bet you’re gonna tell her about stealing my stuff, huh?”
Mom: “Mom, please hang up.”
Mom: “Mom, hang up the phone. It’s for me.”
She’s just so angry. Dad is convinced she has some sort of split-personality disorder, but I think he just wants to badly for this to be a fixable problem. That if we add one more pill to her morning cocktail things will be okay. Unfortunately we are afraid the only thing that will snap her out of this is a serious medical problem, a fall or a stay in the hospital. Something to get her mind off her glasses. That, of course, would set off a whole new ripple of problems.
After seeing Spiderman 3 a few days ago, I think Grandma has been attacked by the black sticky stuff. It attaches to her anger, and amplifies every bit of malady that Grandma’s ever been afflicted with. Poor little Grandma Lois, she doesn’t even get the emo hair or the cool black outfit. Or the hot red-head.
What bothers me most is that we are never sure what she's going to forget, and what she's going to remember. She and Mom made up, and had a nice walk, but as soon as she enters her room (the Bermuda Triangle of sanity) she forgets being happy and goes right back to pissed off. I could come in her room naked with my head covered in bees and yelling obscenities, and not be guaranteed she'd remember any of it. What if I was in a horrible accident and I dialed home, and spoke my last words to her? She'd be the first to know, and always, always the last to know.
Last week, Mom left me the following voicemail:
"Hey sweetheart, your dad and I just wanted to tell you that Grandma is engaging in her favorite pastime these days, which is sitting at the kitchen table, reading Tar River Poetry, which is her new favorite book. She can't figure out how your name got in it, but whatever, she just thinks it is the funniest thing she's ever read. She doesn't laugh out loud, but she is just taken by it. So you can tell the powers that be that they engaged an 89 year old woman with Alzheimer's who can't remember a thing, but she is just totally taken by the poetry journal. So, it's a good thing."
And I nearly died because I know it is the same amused, jangling-keys-in-front-of-a-baby expression that she has when she's watching TV. I can't even imagine what she thinks she's reading. This is a professional, literary journal. of poetry. Hell, freshmen in college don't even "get" a lot of contemporary poetry, much less "like" it. But there's Grandma Lois, reading over and over the same poems and being totally baffled each time by words like "demopolis" and "curatives." Amused but not having a freakin' clue what it all means.
I'm with ya, Grandma Lois.
The funny thing about old people with Alzheimers is that they don't EVER think there's anything wrong with them. Rather, if they're not in pain RIGHT NOW, they can't remember that they've ever been in pain. Ever. Which leads to some interesting "Take your cough medicine or you'll keep us all awake tonight" / "I cain't remember the last time I coughed" conversations.
So it was dentist time. On her last visit to the dentist, they had discovered a little cavity. Now, Grandma wears a "pahtial" on her bottom teeth, which she lovingly and conveniently leaves lying out in the bathroom sometimes for Brother or I to find in the morning. Thanks, G-Lo.
Since G-Lo has about fifteen doctors appointments a week, it's a little hard for Mom and Dad to get to each one. Since I lived at home over the summer, I stepped up like a good granddaughter and drove Miss Daisy a few times. Her appointment was at 1pm. Around 10am, Mom calls and tells me to start getting her ready to go. Knowing the office was only about 10 minutes away, I was a little confused as to why I needed to start so early, but I went upstairs and reminded her about her appointment. Swear to god, what followed was probably the first time I wanted to punch my grandmother, if only to knock her out and put her in the car.
"Grandma, you remember you have a dentist appointment today, right?"
"What?! I don't have to go to the dentist."
"Yes you do. You have a cavity."
"I don't have anything wrong with my teeth. They don't hurt."
"I know, but it's a little one. They need to fill it before your tooth falls out and you need more dentures."
"Well, I'm not going to go." (Hands on her hips, frowning.)
"Yes, yes you are."
"No, I'm not going to go."
"Well you have to. The appointment is already made, and we can't miss it."
"Says the dentist."
"Well I'm not going to the dentist."
"Yes you are."
"Why do I have to go?" (Truly puzzled.)
"Because you have a cavity."
"I don't have any such thing."
"Yes. you do."
"Well I'm not going to go."
At this point she started pouting like a five year old so I left the doorway I had been hanging in and went to call Mom. Encouraged, I put the phone down and went back upstairs (about ten minutes later).
"Mom says you have to go to the dentist."
"What?! The dentist?"
"Yes, you have an appointment today. You have a cavity."
"I don't have any such thing." (Truly puzzled.)
et cetera, et cetera.
We fought for, swear to god, thirty minutes over whether or not she had to go to the dentist. She pouted. She stamped her foot. She locked me out of her room.
After an unsuccessful bout with a bobby pin (much harder than it looks), I called Mom back. This time I left her hanging on the line.
*bang bang bang*
"Grandma, why is your door locked?"
"It's locked? Oh gosh! I don't know why I locked it!" (Truly puzzled.)
"Mom wants to talk to you. Here, Mom's on the phone."
"Rita? Hey ... What? ... I don't need to-- ... I don't have any-- ... Oh, well, okay. *giggles* Okay, bye bye."
My mother is a miracle worker.
The actual dentist appointment was less interesting, basically consisting of G-Lo repeating to the hygenist how beautiful and sweet I am, and the hygenist smiling curtly and paging the dentist feverishly.
And then, because she was so good, I bought her ice cream.
While going through my senior pictures from five years ago, I ran across Dad's photos from his childhood, including a good many of Grandma Lois. I added a few to older entries (the Rooster entry, the Bathroom entry, and the Drunk Toddler entry). But here's one that I really just can't stop studying. It's just so... 1960s South.
( My granddad looked like Milkman DanCollapse )
I keep looking at all four family members separately. Uncle David on the left is so mischevious looking, like he's going to take the car later that night and drink and smoke at the drive-in.
Grandpa O'neil was enormously tall and skinny. I love the way he has his hands around David and Lois, pulling them into him like he wants to keep them close--he would leave them a few years later for another woman. G Lo still talks about the women he ran around with as "the whores." (It's the closest she gets to cursing, other than talking about a cow's "twin tit.")
That's my dad in the front, almost 10 years old, and now I'm especially glad Brother got my Dad's ears and not I. And Grandma just looks so precious. What a perfect '60s housewife. What's funny is that she still dresses just like that. Polyester plaid pants and capris, cardigans, and a scarf when she goes out into the weather. Hell, she probably still has that outfit.
One thing that sucks about Mother Nature is that she missed the memo on resealable packaging. I mean, even socks come in a resealable zipper pouch, why don't bananas??
One thing that mystifies us about Grandma Lois is her method of leftover preservation. Or lack there-of. I guess G-Lo grew up in the days of refrigerating your milk in the creek. She loves to eat, but she eats like a very tiny little animal. She hates to waste any food at all, so when she only eats half of her cheese toast for breakfast, the logical action in her mind is to give the rest to the cat. But not, like, mixed with cat food or anything. She just dumps the cheese toast in the cat's bowl. Well, Lily doesn't like cheese toast.
And seeing as how Grandma Lo is the sole dishwasher/kitchen cleaner in the house, she tends to put up a lot of the leftovers after dinner. Yes, we have saran wrap. Yes, we have plastic baggies. Tupperware. Tinfoil. She doesn't use ANY of that!! She'll wrap up a corn cob in a paper towel and hide it in the cheese drawer in the fridge. She'll pour baked beans into a glass and put it under the toaster.
And after dinner, she likes to enjoy a snack. When she goes upstairs she'll take with her a few cookies, a banana, or an apple. Actually I should rephrase that. A few cookies, one poptart, half of a banana, or an apple. She leaves one poptart in the package (Brother loves when she does that) or leaves HALF OF A BANANA IN THE PEEL. IN THE FRUIT BOWL. She'll kiss us goodnight with an apple in her hand and say, "I just want a little bit, I'm just gonna eat half of it." Leaving the four of us wondering, of course, what the hell she does with the other half of the apple. I'm imagining the chicken-under-the-bed scene from Girl, Interrupted. Well, sometimes she decides she doesn't want any of the apple, so she just leaves it on the stairs.
Then wonders where they all came from.
The bathroom seems to be a kind of Twilight Zone for Grandma Lo, only minus the trippy music and plus the sound of peeing. Things happen in the bathroom, behind a (sometimes, praise God) closed door, that we Browns may never know the full extent of. Curious clues to the goings-on include:
+Wrappers to chocolate candies appear in toilet. (Although this does shed light on the tiny brown streaks on the wall that really, really made me nauseated. How chocolate ends up on a wall or why one would want to eat chocolate in a bathroom, well, those are still mysteries.)
+Toilet is never, ever flushed. (I suspect that she is trying to conserve water, the old, "If it's yellow, let it mellow" rule, which is the most disgusting rule ever, more disgusting than the "30 second" rule adopted by many in college.)
+When I get home late at night I sometimes get home right around the time of Grandma Lo's nighttime potty break. She never ever closes the door all the way. Why is the sound of peeing loudest at night? Why do I suddenly want to go to lots of loud concerts and lose my hearing completely?
+A small metal statue of a ship appeared on the back of the toilet one day. The next day it was overturned on the bottom shelf of her dressing table. The next day it was in the trash can. That night, it had returned to the back of the toilet. I can only imagine her rationale for each location. (Brother later confessed that he had discovered the ship in the trash can and rescued it from its papery demise, because it was a perfectly good statue of a ship, and had no place in a trash can. I agree. Naturally the best place for a statue of a ship is the back of a toilet.)
+(This is my second worst story involving Grandma Lo and the bathroom. I have to take a deep breath and find my zen place before I can even start typing.)
The number one piece of advice in the Brown House is to always lock the door when you're using the upstairs bathroom. This was not always the case; Dad worried that someone would slip, fall, and consequently die behind the locked door. Well, slipping, falling, and dying would have been a better fate than getting out of the shower one morning and realizing that, in your hurry, you'd forgotten to lock the door, and your grandmother had been in to use the restroom, unaware of your presence in the shower, with you in the shower, picking your nose, shaving your crotch, whatever the hell you were doing, and neither of you had any idea. Did she really not notice my clothes strewn all over the place, the foggy mirror, the steamy air, the SHOWER RUNNING?? It makes me feel even worse to think, what if she DID notice, how embarassed did she feel? I have developed OCD with the bathroom door, and you should too.
+(This is my first worst story involving Grandma Lo and the bathroom, mostly because it involves a large helping of guilt with a side of seeing my grandmother naked.)
I leave for work at varied times in the morning, sometimes 930, sometimes 10, sometimes 1030. And G-Lo gets up whenever her hip stops hurting so bad, so sometimes we clash in our race for the bathroom in the morning. If I hit Snooze one too many times, I could be stuck having to use the downstairs bathroom, which isn't that bad, except that none of my stuff is in it, and my hair ends up being a foot tall because Mom uses Volumizing shampoo. Anyway, one particular morning I didn't have the opportunity to hit Snooze because I was already late, and when I reached the bathroom door, already angry, I was exactly the opposite of elated to hear the splash splash splash of Grandma Lois' bath. Actually "bath" is too generous a term. I don't know that she actually takes baths. I never hear the water running for long enough to fill the bath, and I've seen a large pan under the tub. I think she spongebathes. I know this is a pretty awful image but bear with me, for I own stock in the "bad mental pictures" category.
So I'm angry. I've resigned myself to the fact that I don't have time for a shower anyway, all I want is my toothbrush and my jewelry and I can leave for work. So I stand in my doorway for a few minutes, banging my head against the door frame, staring at the bathroom door, clenching my fists and silently screaming at myself. Then I hear water running. Oh, good, she's almost done. I hear the chchchchch of teeth being brushed. More water running. A toilet flush (miracles!). More water running. I'm staring at the clock and I should have left five minutes ago. Finally after a minute of silence (which I take for clothes being put on the body), I knock on the door. "Grandma, I just need to grab something, are you almost done?" Enter, Guilt. I can tell this flusters her. She drops something. She stutters and says, "Hold on, I just have to brush my teeth, I'll be out in, I'll be out soon, you can have it." I do one of those silent screams like in the movies and I shake my fists beside my face and want to have convulsions. "I just need to grab something, I don't need to use the bathroom, can I just come in for a second?" She's really confused and I feel really bad but I'm so mad, I'm so bothered that I'm five minutes late. "H-hold on, I'll be out in just a minute."
A minute later the door unlocks and I perk up like a vulture about to descend on a dead rabbit. The door opens, and there in all her 88 year old glory, stands Grandma Lois, clad in a bathrobe with absolutely no front on it. If I ever wondered what my grandmother looked like naked (which I never have, why would anyone??), well, now I know.
+Oh, and the penny? The penny is still there.
( Lucky for you, she"s clothed in this picture.Collapse )
I'm writing from a hotel room in Greenville, North Carolina. Holiday Inn Express, actually, so I should be able to build rockets and human genomes by the time we leave tomorrow. I'm here because I'm looking for an apartment to move into in three weeks. Right now I'm waiting on Mom to get back with beer and some Chinese (maybe, or Mexican, if Greenville is anything like Athens) delivery human to bring us beef and chicken. Blah, blah, on to G-Lo.
As we were leaving the house yesterday, Grandma Lois was in the kitchen, in her pink housecoat, washing dishes. She doesn't respond well to people leaving her for more than a few hours; you can sense a little panic in her voice when she notices your bags on the kitchen table, no matter how many times you've told her your plans. She asked three times, "Well do you have any friends up there?" Well, no, Grandma, thanks for rubbing that in deep. Not a soul.
It wasn't until I got up here and started thinking about how long I'll be here (two years, at least). I started thinking about how her health and general well-being has deteriorated just in the six months that I've been back home. She fell a few times, and those wounds haven't fully healed. There was the trip up the stairs that nearly broke her foot (and required me to trim very long, very gross toenails), the fall in the kitchen that started her hip pain. She takes more pills than more cancer patients. The reality that I'm facing is that, sometime within the next two years, she might die.
The truth is that every time I come home late after work and see lights on in the living room, I'm afraid I'm going to walk in the living room and see my relatives from my dad's side gathered around a pot of coffee. They say she's in relatively good health; her ears are where they should be for someone her age, and her eyes are pretty good for her age--she reads the normal-sized Readers Digest--but Jesus, her age is 88. And as happy as she is, she has so many nights of lying awake, thinking about her dead relatives, that I'm afraid when the Man in Black comes, she'd really rather be with them than us. When her hip hurts so bad in the morning and she lies crying in her bed, face scrunched up infantile in pain, I wonder if the thought crosses her mind that she'd really rather die.
I'm not sure, should I ever write this book, how to end it, but I refuse to use the cowardly writer's way out.
I just heard a rooster crow in Grandma Lois' room and I took it as a sign that I needed to write.
See, Grandma Lo collects things. (If you know anything about my family you'll realize, this is where it all comes from. Let's just say my family has 14 1954-56 Buicks, a hundred Red Rock Cola bottles, and enough memorabilia from both to start an advertising campaign all over again. Yes, I think I will definitely make a new post about this and just work Grandma Lo into it somehow.)
Among G-Lo's collections are magnets, salt-and-pepper shakers, and chickens. Fake chickens, mind you, but I guess they remind her of growing up on the farm and raising real chickens. But it's chicken everything. Door mats. Pillows. Figurines. Embroidered chickens, painted chickens. She has a framed chicken made out of dried beans. When March 31 rolls around and you're clueless as to a birthday gift, go to Walmart and find a chicken Something. Apparently that's what we (her entire family) have been doing for the past 30 years.
The last addition to the Chicken Club was a rooster with a very sensitive motion sensor on it, that crows every time you hit it or bump the table or walk angrily by it or breathe on it or look in its general direction. We thought this would be a great idea, kind of like a Tickle Me Elmo for the elderly, senile chicken lover. Interactive! How could we go wrong?
Well Grandma Lois hates the damned thing. But she won't turn it off. One of the high points of my day is sitting in my bedroom, listening only to the still of the house and the clicking of my keyboard under my fingernails, when all of a sudden, "COCKaDOOdleDOOOOoooo!" Followed by my sweet Christian grandmother saying very loudly, "Shit. You damn rooster."
( When your rooster crows at the break of dawn...Collapse )
Sometimes, when I open Grandma Lo's door to check on her during the day, I stand there in the doorway and watch her. She has no peripheral vision, really, so I could do jumping jacks dressed in a clown suit and she'd never notice me there. And really I do worry about her being at home alone, since she has a one track field of vision and it's pretty easy to dodge her if you need to.
Anyway I stand there and watch her watching TV. I hate using the word "random" because people rarely use that word correctly. But Grandma Lois' TV choices are pretty damn random. One day she'll be watching soap operas ("progr'ms"), not the ones on CBS that I basically grew up on, Guiding Light, The Bold and the Beautiful, and the like, but whatever she happens to stop on. Sometime's she's watching CMT. Those are pretty acceptable television viewing choices for an 88 year old woman. But I've caught her watching G4, the gaming channel, QVC, the God channel, and Telemundo, for god's sake.
The best part about standing in the doorway is seeing the expression on her face. It's always the same. She's like a baby with jingling keys in front of her face. Mouth slack open in a smile, eyes all wrinkled and amused at the bright flashing colors on the screen. I'm almost certain that if I changed the channel mid-blink, she wouldn't notice the difference.
I wonder what it's like to be her. Sometimes I think senility is like always being kind of drunk. You laugh a lot, you don't remember what the hell you were just talking about, and you sometimes get really sad thinking about your past. But it's also a reversion to childhood. You're easily amused and you have to be taken care of. Gift buying is easy for her; I could buy her the same stuffed bunny for the next ... however many... years and she'd be just as thrilled as the year before. But when I think about her mind, her minute-to-minute thought process, the first thing that I come up with is bubble wrap. Like she's rolled up in bubble wrap, and she's confused. Why am I in bubble wrap? This doesn't make sense at all. Her hearing is insulated; she has no awareness of what's happening around her.
And now I'm imagining a drunk three year old, in a cloud of big-bubble bubble wrap, bumping around the living room, laughing and crying and not even noticing the impairment of the bubble wrap, not realizing it wasn't always there, no way of remembering what it's like to remember.
( Hilarious and heartbreaking.Collapse )
I hear the jingle of her door opening and start concentrating really hard on refreshing Myspace so by the time she makes it to my door I look busy.
"Oh, I didn't know where you was, I didn't know if you were in here or not, I haven't heard from you today."
I smile and refresh Myspace again. I don't see anything in her hands so I'm hoping she doesn't have anything to give me.
"Arrie, I wanted to ask you somethin'."
"Is that your penny in the bathroom?"
I stare at her blankly for half a second and furrow my brow for half a second before saying, "I guess so, yeah."
Actually I know it's "my" penny. Actually it was a penny that was in my bed and wound up stuck to my ass, made it all the way to the bathroom, fell off in the shower, and was thrown over the curtain to the sink, where apparently it's been intriguing Grandma Lo for weeks now.
"Can I have it? I have a few old pennies I've been collectin', and it looks like it's pretty old."
"Yeah, you can have it."
The next day I check on the penny in question; it's from 1993 and it's still there, despite Grandma Lo's many trips to the bathroom in the past 24 hours. I have never seen this Old Penny Collection, although the bathroom would be a suitable place for it; the bathroom is also home to a penny that I swallowed when I was little, which is now glued to a wooden decoration from some beach on the wall. Apparently her hoarding habits were in full swing even before we realized.
Let me just reiterate that last idea.
I swallowed a penny and it is now glued to the wall.
Moving on, I would also like to point out that this exact scene has now been acted out twice this week. The penny is still there.
My name is Arrie and I'm writing about my Grandma Lois. Grandma Lo is 88 years old. I don't actually call her Grandma Lo but in beginning this blog I realized that it sounds really cute.
Here's the thing about me: I'm 22, I graduated college in December, and I'm living at home again until I leave for grad school in August. I've been writing this novel in my head for six months now, and I finally took the easy way out and created a blog out of it.
Here's the thing about Grandma Lois: She's got Alzheimers. And I think it's driving the family crazy.
You're also going to hear about Jordan, my 17 year old brother, Rita and Lamar, our parents, and Maggie the Cat. You'll hear an awful lot about Maggie. (We do, anyway.) Although when G Lo talks about her, she's Miss Kitty. And she's the blackest cat she ever saw.
So stay tuned. Log in tomorrow for tales about the apples on the stairs, those mysterious reappearing ships, and chocolate in the bathroom.