|Camera:||Canon EOS 5D|
As a teenager, she could water ski on one ski better than I did on two. But, for the record, just about everyone water skied better on one ski than I did on two, but she water skied better than all of them combined.
She moved in and out of the wake of my brother’s boat like a controlled rocket and later on in life would organize her life in similar fashion. She was one of my best friends and we couldn’t have been more opposite: she was organized and neat and athletic and I was, well…not any of those things. Each time she donned her work out clothes, I was somewhere in the world earning my credentials as a Zen Sloth Master.
In mid-life, she became a runner on autumn roads near her house and then a power-walker around the nearby reservoir.
She was always in motion.
Today, at 65, she is still capable of going up and down basement stairs like a young girl, but no longer is sure what it is she is supposed to do after reaching the bottom step.
When my mother died in 2001, she opened her home to our family and friends as the cemetery was a half a mile from her house. She made my mother’s fish chowder as a surprise. (This involves fish heads, people–even I don’t make it.)
Walking into her kitchen and smelling that chowder broke my composure in those mysterious ways that familiar music chords or aromas of childhood can do. “Oh, thank you so much, ” I said to her, blubbering into the creamy stock.
Two weeks ago, I visited her (I live an hour away) but she did not remember I was coming and was not particularly happy to see me. She was agitated because of something down in the basement– a pipe she said–and though I went down to look with her, nothing seemed wrong and I was at a loss as to how to help.
And, for the record again, anyone seeking my plumbing counsel is already in trouble.
She kept going up and down the basement stairs trying to explain what she was worried about but her language skills have been severely mangled by her dementia and we ended up out in the yard with her pointing to the outside faucet.
When I made the brilliant suggestion of calling a plumber, she just waved that idea away like a mosquito. She remembers being more competent than a plumber and, before this disease hit, she was.
She went to the refrigerator and took out two cooked chicken breasts and began chopping them up. I thought initially maybe she did remember I was coming because chicken salad was usually what she made us for lunch. But, soon after putting in some mayonnaise, she brought the whole bowl over and put it in front of me with the big spoon still in it.
I kept talking about something or other and got up and went to the refrigerator to scout out some bread and found the entire frig just about empty and the only bread to be seen was some sad moldy pita bread in its plastic wrapper.
By the time I walked back to the table, she had gone back down to the basement to check on the pipes and when she came back up again she sat down at the table.
She looked at the bowl of chicken salad and said, “What’s that?”
I got her a plate and a fork and gave her some chicken salad and, then, began eating from the bowl she gave me while she contemplated the plate in front of her.
My composure broke again on this day in her kitchen but this time, not from gratitude and nostalgia, but from the cruelty that exists in the world and in the future of far too many of us.
She didn’t see my blubbering this time because she had to go back down to the basement.
©Pat Coakley 2009
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