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Posts Tagged ‘forgetting’

old fashioned canned food

Once a multi-talented woman, Alzheimer's took away Irene's ability to do any of the things she was so talented at, including canning food.

My mother, as I have mentioned before, was a multi-talented woman.  I doubt there was anything she couldn’t do once she set her mind to it.  I recall as a little girl someone had given us their old couch shortly after she and Dad moved the family to San Francisco in the middle of The Great Depression.  You might say the springs of its life had sprung.  Not only the springs in the foundation, but the springs in the three cushions bulged in every which direction – no foam rubber back then.  For a family who was without a couch, however, it was better than no couch, but its sorry-looking condition didn’t last long.

She went to the library and found herself a book about upholstery.  Little by little she tore the whole thing apart, bought some twine, fabric and several boxes of carpet tacks.  Following directions from the book it was only a few weeks before she had all of the springs retied, cushions and sofa sewed and/or tacked in place with a new fabric. Abracadabra!  We had a “new” chesterfield, as a sofa was often referred to way back then.  That’s just a sampling of all the things she continually did to make our rented “flat” a home.

In the kitchen she bottled a goodly supply of fruit, made jam and stored staples to make sure we would always have something to eat during an emergency, such as my dad being without work.  Mama also read books on nutrition.  A well-balanced meal with the necessary food groups became part of the way she cooked and served my father and her three growing daughters.  She had saved her spare nickels and dimes to purchase a set of waterless cookware to preserve each vitamin found in the food she bought.  Every so often we pleaded for fried potatoes like Aunt Esther made, but Mama was firm in her knowledge that potatoes cooked with the skins – and steamed — in three tablespoons of water were better for us that those occasional greasy fried potatoes at Aunt Esther’s house.   I know we didn’t appreciate her chosen, healthy lifestyle, but I’m also certain we were the beneficiaries of her good, nourishing meals.

Life, though, wasn’t all steamed potatoes and veggies, she made delicious bread and the very best Parker House rolls in the world.  No matter how hard we girls tried as adults nothing we made compared to them.  With no convenience foods and no boxed cake mixes, any desserts Mama made were from scratch.  Furthermore, the fruit from the jars in the dead of winter was a treat in itself.  So was the jam, especially when spread on one of the Parker House rolls.

Even though we resisted, my sisters and I grew up knowing what was nutritious and what wasn’t.  Who could have believed grocery markets of the future would be flooded with everything one might want packed into a box with more vitamins in the cardboard than in the food inside.  With her example before us and our acquired knowledge of nutrition, we three girls continued with most of her ways when we married and began our families, keeping in mind, always, what was good for us and what wasn’t – perhaps allowing our children a little exposure to what is commonly known as junk food.

When she and dad left San Francisco and retired to “The Little Farm” in Sonoma County, she continued with her healthy lifestyle.  Planting additional fruit trees and a vegetable garden, my mother fashioned them after what she had known in her youth and young adulthood. Back then, everything was organic, grown in nature’s own way, but no one had put a name on it.  Her modern-day garden was cared for in the same way long before it became the popular thing to do and had a special name, and summer visits from Mom and Dad always included a few buckets filled with fresh-from-the-garden produce.

They had a wonderful 20-plus years of retirement before we realized she was becoming mentally ill, and my father  recognized the need to move closer to us.  “She just doesn’t do much of anything anymore,” he sadly explained, adding that he was having problems with his own health. A few years prior she had forgotten about the fruit trees, overgrown bushes and her garden, spending her time reading, something which had always been one of her great pleasures.  It appeared she had lost all motivation in continuing with so many of the other joys where she had been so capable.  I visited one day while she was still making an effort to do some of her favorite things.  On the work table in her sewing room I found a small platform rocking chair.  She had managed to remove the old covering getting it down to the bare frame.  I commented about her work and asked to see the new fabric she was planning to use, hoping to spark an interest.  Dismally, she asked if I would take it home.  “I don’t know how to do this anymore.” she stated.  “Can you finish it?   Being my mother’s daughter, I could, and I did, covering it with a pale blue fabric dotted with small pink flowers.  It was perfect next to our fireplace.

When they were ready to move I spent a week with them packing.  My niece, Dee, who lived in the area, came to help.   Stimulated by our activity, Mama bustled around with a bit of excitement much like her old self.  She supervised in her own way and actually made a few good decisions about what we should pack and what we could toss.  I was pleased with her participation.

When meal time approached Mama said she would prepare dinner for us if we wanted to keep on working.  Dee and I agreed and she scurried off to the kitchen.  Several minutes later she returned with a spoon filled with cooked ground beef for us to taste.  “What else do you think this needs?” she asked.  We both took a taste as Mama looked on.  Had I not know the ground beef was fresh I believe I would have declined dinner.  Neither Dee nor I could figure out what she had added to make it taste so awful. In response to her question I suggested, “Tomato sauce, add a can of tomato sauce.”  “Maybe a bit more salt,” advised Dee.  Off she went, back to the kitchen.  Dee and I looked at one another as she asked, “How can anyone make hamburger taste so bad?”

It wasn’t long before she called us to dinner.  Dad wolfed it down with no comment.  Perhaps he was getting used to her loss in creating quality cuisine.  Dee and I stared at our plates filled with non-descript food.  Looking around, we spotted a few empty cans and some trimmings from vegetables, so we felt assured dinner wasn’t going to do us in.  Good, it was not, but we muddled through.  Besides, we were hungry.

Alzheimer’s does that to people.  No matter how capable Mama had been, AD was taking it all away.  Over the next year or so her decline picked up speed, and when my father no longer could identify his food he took over the cooking.  “I’ve done it before and I can do it again,” he stated in a matter-of-fact manner.  Eventually, it became necessary to hire a caregiver to be with them for the remainder of their lives.  Besides caring for Mama and her child-like ways, Jayne also did the cooking.

I think often of Mama and the example she set, of the security we felt during the dark times of the Depression as she made sure there was food in her larder for us and comforts in our home.  Perhaps it wasn’t what we thought we wanted, and at times it probably lacked in abundance, but we felt secure.  We weren’t really aware of their struggle – only in retrospect did we grasp the fear and uncertainty they must have felt.  With adult understanding, we were – and are — filled with the utmost admiration.

I am grateful so much of her has stayed with me.  I know that when I pull out my jars, lids and cold-pack canner as the apricots ripen on our tree or when I stir a kettle filled with bubbling applesauce, Mama is not far away – watching and pleased that her daughters have learned about being self-reliant, about making do with what we have, or doing without.

There seems to be an ebb and flow with economics in this life which, at times, renders us to be more frugal than we might want to be.  No one knew better than Mama how to deal with difficult times, and she handed that legacy down to her three girls. Recently, I have noticed the small, blue platform rocker next to my fireplace is getting rather shabby.  Years have slipped by since I brought the bare frame home at Mama’s request.  Perhaps instead of replacing it, though, I think I’ll just recover it – again — using the knowledge and skills that I not only inherited — but observed and learned from my wise and talented mother.

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Alzheimer's is like a one-way sign to nowhere.

Alzheimer's is like a one-way street to nowhere.

When he didn’t remember the water gurgling from the ground on our dream property, I was stunned. Purchased in the late 90s with thoughts of building a country home,  Ken seemed to be without further confusion regarding our future. He still talked about drawing plans as soon as he found someone who could give him the structural details he needed for trusses.  The building site overlooked rolling hills covered with heritage oaks and pine trees extending to a distant lake, and then blending into more misty greens and rolling hills eventually vanishing into the skyline beyond.  Whether we were watching the sunset or just drinking in the magnificence spread before us it was everything we had wanted for our retirement years.  His life-long goal:  to design and build our own home in the country.  Would it still be practical knowing what I suspected?  Only time would tell.

The difficult part about Alzheimer’s is that when you don’t remember something, you don’t remember that you don’t remember. Years ago, Ken vowed he was not going to have the end of his life be like that of his parents.  I have since wondered if he was aware of his forgetfulness – his confusion — aware of how often he had seen the gurgling water which fed the pond.  If he suspected, in the least little way, was he concerned about what might lay ahead for the two of us?  Or could it have been his procrastinating nature, or, as he claimed, was it the difficulty in finding someone to build trusses which caused several years delay in his settling down and actually drawing the house plans.  These kinds of questions can never be answered.

Ken was of the old school of engineering where everyone still used a slide rule, tee squares and a bulky drafting machine. With the computer age looming over the horizon, his firm was just getting acquainted with the practicality of introducing this new “intelligence” into the business.  Desk-size models they were not; their first computer purchase was the size of a king-size freezer chest.  Furthermore, computer-assisted drawings (CADs) to replace the drafting department would be a thing for the up-and-coming generation of engineers, and Ken would be retired before computers became a “must have” in many businesses. No matter; whatever it was that motivated him to get started on the project, his finally doing so came as a pleasant surprise. Could the possibility of finding a truss builder just 60 miles away have given him a jump start?  A new resolve to stop procrastinating, or did he feel a sense of urgency that time was running out?  Nevertheless, he finished the drawings for our proposed building even though it was several years after the water gurgling incident.  His ability to pick up his tools of the trade and accomplish the tedious work of creating accurate drawings was a bit of a reprieve for me (and a novelty to the planning department who were used to seeing only CADs).  Nevertheless, I was more than pleased.  Perhaps we could go forward after all. Yet, I had to acknowledge my observations.   It wasn’t as if there were no more memory-loss incidents.  There were many which I doubt he noticed – or did he?  Troubled, I once said to him, “I worry when you forget things.”  His usual answer was flippant, “I only remember what’s important.”

He made an appointment with our insurance agent whose office was on a familiar street, yet Ken couldn’t find it.  Even parking the car and walking to follow a sequence of numbers he couldn’t find the address.  It was my guess the number he was looking for was across the street and he had forgotten about odd and even numbering, so he returned home.  I also began drawing maps for him to visit friends who lived nearby.  He missed luncheon dates with volunteer committees because he couldn’t find the restaurant although I reminded him we had been there. “There are too many places to eat in that shopping center,” he complained, “so I gave up.”

I felt stymied, and what was there for me to say?  Should I remind him that it appeared he was heading down the same path his parents had traveled?  Was he aware of his own forgetting – his confusion – or was he in denial?  I recognized the signs and most of the time I chose not to remind him and we didn’t talk about it – at least not in depth.  I just continued to allow it to happen.  Isn’t that’s a silly statement?  I wasn’t allowing anything.  There was nothing I could do to stop it.

In January of 2004 we paid our first visit to the neurologist.  I explained what I had observed and added I was trying to avoid the “A” word.  He prescribed Aricept and agreed that, for a while, we could avoid the “A” word and see what happened during the next 12 months.  The following January the doctor told us that Ken did, indeed, have Alzheimer’s. Slowly, our life began to move in another direction, one we never would have chosen: a turbulent, unchartered one-way street to nowhere.

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/cbroders/5632294511/.

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This is who I am: Ann Romick or Mrs. Kenneth Romick as I appear on the bill from Macy’s. However, my birth certificate reads differently with the name Mabel preceding Ann. For many years now, I have used my middle name, Ann, as my pen name.  The trouble with being Mabel is that it is a very difficult name to live with, and I have found that Ann, being a bit on the bland side of the rather zesty innuendoes my first named often generates, makes introductions more comfortable.  Besides, I have found that “Ann” is more reader and editor friendly. Yet, I am who I am, and if I were nameless I would still be me. 

That said, my writings are not about my name, but about living with Alzheimer’s disease which will not only include both me and Ken, but generations of family.  Remembering and appreciating the past and learning to live with, understand and accept the present can bring both joy and sorrow. The writings, memories and musings involve our parents, friends, aunts and uncles, and our children, and a glimpse of the circumstances which tie us all together.   

Ken and I have been battling his Alzheimer’s since January of 2004. Actually, I have known of its high probability for much longer as both of his parents were victims as is his sister, Loretta. I first noticed signs of Ken forgetting in the late 1990s. There were small indications: forgetting things we had done, some of the places we had been, but the glaring forgetfulness was his inability to find the homes of our children who had lived in their same houses for years. Somehow, he couldn’t remember how to get there without my help.

Finally, we visited a neurologist. I shared what I knew, but added, “Perhaps we can just say he is forgetful.” So for a year we pretended nothing was wrong. In 2005, the diagnosis was confirmed: my husband had Alzheimer’s. Even though I could see it was coming, it was an awful blow; no longer was it “maybe” Ken has Alzheimer’s. It was now chiseled in stone.

My life had become a constant struggle, and this will be somewhat of a journal which I will write on a regular basis.  Writing is therapy for me which allows me to read my own thoughts giving me a broader perspective of caregivers who are caring for their loved ones no matter what the disease.  Some days, thank goodness, are rather uneventful.  Meanwhile, and on good days, I will look for, appreciate and count each and every blessings.

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