Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I'm a Fast Learner

My friends and I are getting to the age where our parents are getting older and more prone to illness. Let me tell you, if your parents are in good health fall down on your knees right now and count your blessings. In our case, Hank and I both have mothers (well of course we have mothers, we didn't just APPEAR....you know what I meant) who can be challenging, but I'll let him tell his own stories.

My 39-year old Downs Syndrome brother Ned, a delight to all who know him, lives with my mother who is 80 and suffering from dementia. They will eventually have to move to a different living situation but in the meantime, we have a wonderful lady, Tess, who helps mother out everyday and who I declare is an angel dropped right down from heaven to keep me from losing my mind.

I was seven when Ned was born and Mother loved and protected him fiercely as well she should. He was a very sick baby. She and my daddy would alternate 24 hours shifts at the hospital in Charleston (90 miles away from my childhood home), not once ever leaving that little baby alone until he was able to come home at around four months. My grandmother and assorted aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors soldiered on at home, keeping my little 2nd grade world moving along with nary a hitch. Mother gave herself and her life over entirely to Ned's care and it has been thus for almost 40 years now. She's done a wonderful job with him...he is a character in this world!

Mother, by her own admission, was distracted but nevertheless I was raised properly as all good belles are, with lots of attention from lots of people. I don't remember being unhappy one single moment and probably got TOO much attention, hence the reason I love the limelight so much as an adult!! One of our little old ladies, Miss Peggy, is the mother of my best childhood friend and was a tremendous influence on the person I became. Miss Peggy, along with my grandmother and my daddy's late sister Zoie, are the women from my youth that I have the most fondness for. Mother did not care so much for Zoie....as a matter of fact, in her mind, the worst insult she can level to this day is to say, "You are JUST like Zoie!!!" I take it as a complement...a HIGH complement.

As mother progresses further into the dementia, she has trouble remembering what we discussed five minutes ago, but can remember in vivid detail what happened 50 or 60 years ago. She is often anxious, and for awhile I would try to reason with her...that was idiotic on my part...she cannot be reasoned with on certain days when the least little thing can throw her into a tailspin. I try my best to go with the flow but it can be hard, and sometimes strangers get really confused (and amused) when they overhear our conversations. Here's one from a doctor's office waiting room recently...

B = Me and M = Mother

M: Did you see that man who just walked out of the door?

B: Yes ma'am

M: He looks like Frank Boykin? Do you remember Frank Boykin?

B: Now remind me who that is?

M: He was the school principal from Point Pleasant who I dated when I first started teaching school.

(I must interject here, that her first year of teaching was 1948 or 49. I wasn't born until 1961.)

B: No ma'am, I don't believe I remember him. (in a perfect world the conversation would have ended right here.)

M: Yes you DO...I dated Frank and then I met your daddy when I moved to Hamilton. Now I KNOW you remember Frank. We took all those seniors on their class trip to Niagara Falls and oh my goodness, they misbehaved shamefully. I was so mad because we were supposed to stop in New York City and Frank just told that bus driver to head straight for South Carolina...didn't that man look just like Frank Boykin??

B: (here I make a big mistake trying to reason with her) Mother, how could I remember him....I wasn't born....you hadn't even MET daddy. I've never heard you mention Frank Boykin.

(by now everybody in the waiting room is fully engaged in our little conversation...waiting rooms are boring, I really can't blame them)

M: You DO TO remember Frank Boykin!!!!!!!!! I don't know why you have to be so difficult...I don't want to hurt your feelings but you are JUST like Zoie. JUST LIKE HER...She was one of the most difficult people I have EVER met and you are JUST like her. I hope you're happy!

(I made every effort to look properly chastised and picked up a magazine...three minutes later...I SWEAR...)

M: Did you see that man who just walked out of the door?

B: Yes ma'am

M: He looks like Frank Boykin? Do you remember Frank Boykin?

B: You know, I was just sitting here thinking that he reminded me of Frank...Frank from Point Pleasant, right? Do you remember that trip to Niagara Falls?

(I'm a fast learner...)


  1. Oh, that's a funny story, but ... your poor mom - how sweet she has such a wonderful daughter as you!!!

    Point Pleasant - is that in West Virginia?

    Have a good evening - Kellan

  2. Love your blog! We are almost neighbors! :)
    That story made me laugh, and yes, you are a quick learner! Years ago I was the activity director in a nursing home and learned very quickly to "play" along to avoid getting some of the residents upset!

  3. I understand your story. My mother suffers normal pressure hydrocephalus which has caused problems with her short-term memory. At times it drives us all crazy but her the most. She gets very frustrated because she knows she might have asked me a question 5-10 minutes ago but also worries that she might not and so she asks again. Most times I answer as if she hasn't repeated a qestion for her peace of mind. I feel so very blessed to have my mother around as I can tell from your post you feel the same about yours.

    Have a great day!

  4. What a sweet story. I did a lot of going along with the story with my grandfather before he passed away. One of the times he didn't know me right off and when he finally figured out who I was, he looked me up and down and noticed I had gained weight. He told me, "you've been eating corn dogs and fat back?"

  5. Bitter and sweet words woven together into a charming post. Thank you for sharing this.

  6. You ARE a fast learner! This is both delightful and also terribly poignant. Those of us who have had the transition from being kid to parent of our parent can recognize all too well the sadness and frustration, yet knowing it's just what IS.

    Beautifully stated.

  7. amusing but so sad at the same time.

  8. A delightful story - your sense of humour shines through but never detracts from the sadness of the tale with which I am very familiar.
    This is my first visit - from WOW. So glad I came!

  9. Belle,
    I'm a Southern Belle myself, lived my whole life in Gawgah. I love this post, not only for the content but for your craft as well. My mother passed away 10 years ago, and I know how you feel.


  10. Funny and sweet...in just the right doses, too! Loved it!


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