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During her recent visit and before Marvalee sang her songs for Ken, she and I talked about the two people we loved, their Alzheimer’s and where it had taken them.  “Mama has become so mean,” Marvalee lamented, saddened by her statement.  “I guess deep down inside, she had a mean streak in her personality.”  I understood why she might reach that conclusion.  It’s hard to watch these people who have led such rich, full, and often charitable lives become less than who they were, eventually becoming virtual strangers.  Strangers we often don’t like.

“Oh Marvalee,” I said, “You mother didn’t have a mean bone in her whole 105 pounds.”  I remembered Eva strumming her ukulele and singing, dressed in a colorful muumuu, a flower decorating her dark hair which flowed free as a girl and as a mother of four was styled into a bun.  Even after the band dissolved, she put on her muumuu, placed a flower in her hair, picked up her ukulele and spent the day at rest homes and care facilities entertaining the patients.  “Your mother was a kind, gentle woman,” I told my troubled guest.  “She isn’t a mean person, nor is Ken – at least not in their hearts.”

I recounted an afternoon when I had taken Ken with me to buy a new refrigerator shelf for one of our rentals.   It was a parts store where we had become frequent customers.  Tony, the associate looked up our needed replacement chatting as usual, almost bantering to Ken as he had in the past.  Silence prevailed, and being puzzled Tony glanced at me.  “Alzheimer’s,” I mouthed.  Puzzlement changed into dismay as he said, “I’m so sorry.  He’s the nicest guy in the world.”  I nodded in agreement as Tony wrapped the shelf and volunteered to carry it to our car. 

 “Let me tell you who the mean ones are,” I continued, recalling an accident of many years ago when the four-year-old son of our mutual friends ran between two parked cars and was struck down.  Slammed onto the street by an oncoming car, Robert was seriously hurt.  At the hospital, he lay unconscious, the doctors doing all they could possibly do to stabilize him while his parents hovered nearby wondering if he would even survive.

“Before I finish Robert’s story, let me remind you of my own son ,Kevin, who, at 18, also suffered because of a disastrous automobile accident.  Not like Robert’s accident, but badly injured when he was thrown from a little VW onto a highway in the middle of Idaho.  But like Robert, he too lay unconscious while the doctor in a very small town hospital worked to save his life.

“So what did these two accidents have in common?” I asked.  Marvalee listened while I continued.  “With Robert stabilized, but still unconscious he called out words like, ‘shut up,’ and ‘stupid.’  Words which his parents had told him were not nice words to use.  To a four-year-old, they were profane.

“Years later when my 18-year-old lay unconscious, he too called out profanity.  His naughty words, however, were much more advanced than those of Robert, and typical of a young adult male. As concerned as we were about the seriousness of his condition,” I explained, “Ken and I were a tad embarrassed as Kevin blurted out all the cuss words he knew turning the air in the hospital a bit blue.  ‘Don’t be embarrassed,’ the doctor counseled, ‘that’s base man calling out.  He’s hurt and he’s angry, and he’s venting.’  Robert had done the same thing with his words of ‘stupid,’ and ‘shut up.’  Even though he was just a boy, base boy was angry, hurt and venting.”

Summing it all together as best I could I assured Marvalee that the meanness was not some long-suppressed personality trait of Ken or Eva, but base man and base woman.  There are times when they are not only confused, but angry and no doubt frightened; both of them locked away in a mad world of nothingness.  Their meanness allows them to not only defend themselves, but being mean is also a way to vent.

 “Of course,” I concluded, “the application of base man and base woman as part of the Alzheimer’s disease is only my opinion.  But I take comfort in believing that both Ken and Eva are not fundamentally mean, but have always been two of the nicest people in the world.”

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