Archive for October, 2010

Ingenuity and Elbow Grease

October 17, 2010

“I’m in trouble,” my mother said on the phone a couple weeks ago.

Immediately, my heart rate kicked up.  I didn’t remember ever hearing her say that.  She’s always been the strong one, the one who figures out the answers and is there to help me through my troubles.  She enjoys solving problems and taking care of those around her. She never needs help.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I’ve over-booked my festivals,” she said with such a serious tone that I tried to stifle my laugh.

“Why are you laughing?” she asked.  “That’s our beach money on the line.  If I lose this show, we might not be able to go to the Outer Banks.”

OK, this was serious.  I didn’t want to risk our beach trip. “What do you need me to do?” I asked.

“Do you or the boys have plans for October 16th?  Can one of you go to Palmyra and handle the St. Peter and Paul Church bazaar?”

“Don’t worry, one of us will take care of it,” I said.

I could feel her blood pressure go down over the phone.  She sighed deeply. “Thank you baby, I know how hard you work and you have so little time to yourself. I hate to impose on you.”

This statement stopped me. I wondered how many times she has needed me and not asked. She’s older now. I forget that.

The church allowed her to come set up her display on Friday afternoon, so all I had to do was show up at eight o’clock Saturday morning, sit behind the table, sell her preserved fare, bag the jars and collect a five dollar bill for each one, easy work.

Person after person came through the door, stopped by Mama’s table and asked where she was. “Oh please tell her I missed seeing her. She’s such a sweet lady.  She works so hard on all this stuff she sells.”

“I don’t see how she possibly makes a dime when you consider the cost of sugar and jars these days, not to mention her time.”

“What does she put in her Chow-Chow?”

“Oh my goodness, I haven’t seen End of the Garden Pickle since my Grandma made it.”

“Can you double bag. I want six jars.  I’ll probably send my husband back for more.  I have to go home and see exactly what I need for Thanksgiving.”

“How’s your step-father? I know your Mother’s been so worried about his health. She carries a big load on her shoulders.”

For six hours I not only sold items, but gained a new perspective on the impact my mother has on the lives of other people, people I don’t even know. 

“How did you do?” she asked me late last night on the phone.

“Pretty good I think,” I said.  “I sold one hundred and one jars.”

“You did do well for St. Peter and Paul’s,” she said.  “Let’s see, that’s five hundred and five dollars added to the nine hundred and sixty I made at Flippin Seaman’s Orchard for a grand total of, hold on let me get my calculator.  We did good baby, fourteen hundred and sixty-five dollars.”

“You did the work, Mama.  All I did was wrap, sell and smile like you taught me,” I said laughing.

“We’d have five hundred and five dollars less if you hadn’t come through for me though,” she said

“Outer Banks, here we come.” I said.

“Amazing what a few vegetables, strawberries, peaches, plums, sugar and elbow grease will get you,” she said.

“Ingenuity and elbow grease,” I said. “That should be your motto.”

“It’s helped us get to the beach every year,” she said.

It’s also taught me how to make my way in the world, I thought, as I told her I loved her and hung up the phone.

Some of Mama’s preserves


October 5, 2010

Most days, Jane sits slumped.  When alert, she shuffles her feet to propel the wheelchair forward. She wanders without purpose.  People pass her in the hallway on their way to meetings or in their haste to give a pill.  Sometimes she watches them.

“Good morning Jane,” the nurse says.

Jane looks up, and in about thirty seconds time, she responds,  “good morning.”

The nurse doesn’t hear her.  She’s turned the corner. Jane’s response is delayed. She has Alzheimer’s Disease.

Every day, we have a small group activity for residents with severe dementia.  We gather in a small circle in a quiet place at eleven o’clock in the morning.  We take turns introducing ourselves.  Sometimes members surprise us and say their name. 

We offer rhythm instruments.  Billy always takes the drum. He was a bass guitarist in an R&B band fifty years ago.  Pete likes the vibrating sizzle of the cymbals, Beth shakes a tambourine, Mary rings a bell, and Jane pushes the box away.  We turn on the CD player and an old familiar tune starts to play.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.  You make me happy when skies are gray.  You’ll never know dear how much I love you.  Please don’t take my sunshine away…”

These five people cannot put a coherent sentence together. If words come, they don’t fit.  Sometimes one word in a mouthful of sound is intelligible.  Music makes a difference though. It comes from another part of the brain.  Maybe music comes from the heart, because every one of these people with advanced dementia, sings this song, every word of it. It’s the same with Amazing Grace, Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, Over the Rainbow and Will the Circle Be Unbroken.  When the music is playing, they keep time.  Heads lift, eyes open, and voices sing.   

Jane dislikes this part of the program.  Noise bothers her, and although she mouths the words to songs, it’s easy to tell that she was not interested in attending the Municipal Band concerts in her home town. Acapella is more her style.  She jumps when Billy comes down hard on the drum, and sends a disgusted frown in Mary’s direction when the bell rings. 

We turn off the CD and put the instruments away.  This segment of the activity is always different.  Sometimes we pass around a prop for everyone to see and feel.  Yesterday, it was an old tin measuring cup.  We handed it to each person and asked what it was, if they remembered using one, what they did with it. 

Pete put the cup to his mouth.  We reminded him  about his years of drawing water from the well and taking a cool drink.  Beth said, “baking cakes.” She turned the cup over as if pouring measured milk or sugar. Mary held the handle, smiled, and closed her eyes. She likes coffee.  Billy banged the metal cup on the table with a beat, like a drum.  Jane said, “Stop that.”

This morning,  we chose a close up picture of a three month old baby to share.  He was smiling and his bright blue eyes sparkled from the page.  His fat cheeks invited a pinch and drool was shiny on his chin.  A wisp of hair stuck up on his round head. Jane was offered the prop first.  She took the laminated photo, brought it close to her face, smiled, and with no hesitation at all, said, “baby.”  Then, she  kissed  him. 

Today, we found what Jane likes best.