PRESERVE YOUR MEMORIES

 

Scrapbooks! 

More than 40 years ago, Simon & Garfunkel recorded a song on their album, “Bookends.” It was a minute and a half piece about a photograph that said, “Preserve your memories. They’re all that’s left you.” How were they so wise at only 27?

I am a hoarder of memories. For 50 some years, I have lugged boxes full of photos and memorabilia from as far back as 1880 when my Great Granny was born. I have newspaper clippings from the 1920’s, all the way through to my youngest’s recent 21st birthday. Right now, I figure that there are 140 years on my dining room table. I even found the receipt from my first dinner date with my husband! That’s a lot of ‘baggage’ to carry around and yet? Mostly, it’s a treasure trove of lives fully lived over many generations.

 For the last several weeks, I have culled through the photos, letters, articles and cards of those many years. I am making scrapbooks so that my children might enjoy looking at them one day. Yes, they’re old fashioned but there is something about holding a moment in your hand: the tiny tooth my child first lost, a sketch my grandmother drew of her horse at 16, the letter my great grandmother wrote to her daughter when she married.

 Of course, there are many pictures of people that I do not recognize at all. There are even pictures of ME that I don’t recognize as me. There are also cards and letters from people whose names I don’t recall either. But I’ve decided that it really does not matter what you can’t remember. It is what you cannot forget that is important. So, capture and hold your memories for the generations behind you yet to come.

 Don’t wait until dementia sets in to tell your story. These days, there are many ways to preserve your past from homemade videos to personal historians who can capture your life stories for generations to come. Here is one site from a friend of mine: https://www.perfectmemoirs.com. Bob Dylan once said, “Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.” Well actually, if you make a scrapbook, you almost can!

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LOVE STORY

love-story

Forget Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal.  Randall and Joan have a love story far more poignant.  They have been married exactly as long as I have been alive:  63 years.  When Joan’s mom first laid eyes on Randall back in 1952 at church, she whispered in her daughter’s ear, “That is the boy you are going to marry.”  She was right.

 Three children, several grand and great-grand children later, they are still together.  They still hold hands.  Despite the fact that Randall uses a walker, he still holds the car door open for Joan when she gets in, then shuffles to the back, folds his walker into the trunk and eases into the driver’s seat.  Every afternoon, he drives Joan to Starbucks and they each get a simple coffee and sit together at a table in the center.  They love people watching and being, “out in the world.”

 A few months ago, their three daughters decided that they needed to sell their home of 40 years and move into an assisted-living facility.  That was probably a good decision.  However, Randall, having once studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, absolutely HATES the food there pronouncing it, “tasteless as cardboard.”  As a result, he has demanded the food portion of his bill back from the facility and instead, takes Joan out for most of their meals. 

Clearly, Joan is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and each time we meet, asks me the same, exact questions as if she were a 33 1/3 LP going around in circles.  When I ask Randall how he is coping, he confesses that he is, “worried I will outlive my retirement savings.”  Then he adds, “Look, I know I’m not going to get any better than I am right now.  So, every night when I go to bed, I pray, ‘Lord I am ready whenever you are.’  But at the same time, I also pray that I will be able to care for Joan as long as she lives.”

 There is no greater love I’ve witnessed than his for her but here is what distresses me most.  Their daughters have told him “several times” that they, “don’t like” his going to Starbucks every day.  They complain that, “It is too expensive.”  If I ever meet them, I will give them more than a piece of my mind.  I might just turn them over my knee and give them a good spanking.      

 

 

 

 

 

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HERE’S TO THE ‘OLD’ NEW YEAR

 New Year’s Eve finds me sitting alone in an old house dress with rolled up socks and the dog curled at my left hip.  As I reflect on the ‘old’ year passing in my final blog for 2011, firecrackers pop in the distance.  My teenagers are off with friends and my husband is long in bed.  So, before 2012 dawns, a few “Thank You’s” for these last 365 days:

 First, to my husband of 31 years who appreciates the ‘little’ things I do, like filling the espresso machine with fresh coffee every morning and holding up my half of the heart whenever we say, “Good-Bye.”  Every now and then I let him edit these—but not tonight.

 To my oldest daughter who begged and begged for that puppy that I never wanted last Christmas.  Your little Skylar, who has now become my sole responsibility since you left for college, has brought me unimaginable joy, laughter & companionship.  A year ago I would not have believed it possible.

 To my youngest daughter who reminds me often that I am old, thank you for sharing what young is really like in all its’ ups and downs.  You make me glad that I am exactly the age that I am.  Thank you also for showing me a harder way to do my piano scales.  It should keep my fingers nimble for at least a few more years.

 To Lorenzo, our church janitor, who brought me flowers on Mother’s Day but was never able to give them to me because I was a ‘no show.’  My Sundays are never quite complete without his, big hug.

 To all of the strangers who motioned me across sidewalks, let me merge in front of you in difficult traffic, or waved and smiled at me from a distance; the ones I chatted with in lines from Starbucks to airline counters or dressing rooms in clothing stores:  Thank You for those brief, joyful seconds.  Without the warmth and camaraderie from strangers, my days would be as empty as a soundstage from an old movie set.  No lights.  No camera.  No action.

 Finally, to the 2,000 new readers of my blog from America & Canada to Australia & Brazil:  Thank You for taking a few minutes in your day to share a part of mine.  May EVERY day of your 2012 be a photograph you want to take and keep close to your heart.

Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a non-fiction memoir of her grandmother’s descent into Alzheimer’s.  http://www.helen-hudson.com.

 

 

 

TIME CHANGES EVERYTHING

Everywhere you go nowadays you see ‘kids’ taking care of their elderly parents.  That wasn’t the case when I wrote, “Kissing Tomatoes,” 10 years ago.  At the time, publishers said, “Love the writing but no one will buy it.  Who cares about Alzheimer’s?”  Well, time changes everything. 

Just today, the woman in front of me at the pharmacy counter was waiting for her mother to write a check.  Dowager-humped and small, her shaky hand extended from a wrinkled, arthritic arm.  The wait for all of us was almost interminable.

Every few seconds, the daughter looked around nervously, then straightened her shoulders as if to keep herself from getting the hump her mother has.  She was so embarrassed holding up our line that I made small talk.

“Well, looks like you get to do all the shopping while Mom pays the bills.” 

She brightened slightly.  “Yes, we’ve always loved shopping together.  Just takes longer now.”

“No worries,” I replied.  “We’ll be there ourselves one day.” 

An hour later I dashed back to the same store for something I had forgotten.  The man ahead of me was turning his pockets inside out for change and holding a single bottle of water.

“I just need twelve more cents, right?” he asked in a nervous voice.  He was sweating and his face so flushed, that I feared he might be having a heart attack.

“Goodness,” I said to the clerk, “I’ll pay for his water.”     

“Oh no.  Can’t let you do that,” the man said.  “I have it here somewhere.”  He began searching his back pockets.  “I’m taking care of my mom,” he suddenly blurted.  “Never thought it would be this hard.  She’s driving me crazy.”

“How wonderful,” I replied.  “After all of those years she raised you, now you are caring for her.”

“Yeah, but the only problem is I can’t spank HER!” he laughed.

His car was parked next to mine.  As he jumped behind the wheel, I waved at the old gal next to him.  “Mom!” he yelled, “This lady just paid for my water.”  “How nice,” she said.  “And how nice that your son is looking after you,” I added.  “Oh, not for long,” she confided.  “The doctor said this thing I have will be over very soon.”  I glanced at the man.  He shook his head.  Yeah, time changes everything—especially us.

GET A LIFE!!!

When my oldest first said these three words to me I really was speechless.  Then I laughed.  After I wiped the incredulous look off my face I just stared into her then 16 year-old eyes and said:  “I have one but unfortunately for you, you’re a BIG part of it.”  Now if you have teenagers and haven’t heard this yet—trust me—you will.  And, if you are a parent of ANY sort you know one thing for sure:  Your life hasn’t been YOURS since that first cry.

Some parents simply cannot handle the reality of that.  It’s just too all-consuming.  Casey Anthony comes to mind.  But most of us adapted piece by piece, year by year as our offspring grew.  Then one day we realized that even our simplest thoughts almost always include our children.

Teenagers aren’t cool with that.  They so desperately want to be free and on their own that sometimes just looking at them sends them into a frenzy.  This afternoon, while driving my youngest, I was warned, “Don’t talk to me!”  So, I didn’t point out the cool clouds that were stretching across the purple sky ahead of the oncoming storm or the funny, looking dog being walked by the funnier looking woman.  Just drove in silence.

 I remember being her age.  When my grandmother drove me places I even hunkered down in the seat if I saw anyone I knew.  Just couldn’t wait to be ON MY OWN.  It didn’t help that hers was always the slowest car on the road.  The worst thing, of course, was running into a friend when she was with me.  If it were a boy, I fairly died inside.

Somewhere along the line, though, I grew up and thanked her for all those rides.  Had lots of adventures.  Saw some of the world.   Graduated from college.  Had a career—then another career.  Fell in love.  Married.  You know the rest.

I have 40 years of memories BEFORE my kids were born.  Way I figure it, they have a LOT of catching up to do to REALLY get ‘A LIFE.’  Yup, (and it makes me smile just thinkin’ about it) I had a life.  Still do.  Only it isn’t just MINE anymore.

 http://www.helen-hudson.com 

SHHH!! DON’T TELL!!

 While rinsing the chlorine off this morning in the YMCA shower, a gaggle of giggling little girls squeezed altogether in the open stall next to me.  Although several others were open, they chose to rinse off together.  Like spies on a secret mission, they peeked out from behind their vinyl curtain as if to be sure the coast was clear.  Then the giggling stopped and the whispering began. 

“My aunt is visiting us,” confided the first.  “She’s the one with the gray hair.  She is very, very old.. . .but don’t tell anyone!”

“Why not?” asked the smallest in a whisper.

“It’s a secret.”

“Oh,” they all seemed to understand at once.

Then one broke the silence:  “How old is she?”

“Oh, pretty old, I think,” the first replied.  “Like my dad’s age.”

“That’s not old,” piped the third.  “My dad isn’t old but his mother is REALLY, REALLY old.  She’s my grandmother.”

“All grandmothers are old,” added the fourth. 

“How come?” asked another.

“They have to be cuz if they weren’t we wouldn’t be here.”

At that moment, I turned off the water and pulled back my shower curtain.  As I stepped out, four pairs of very wide eyes looked up at me.

“You’re so right,” I told them.  “Without grandmothers we wouldn’t be here—and don’t worry I won’t tell anyone how very, very old your aunt is.”

“Okay,” said the girl, “Cause she would really kill me.”

“No worries,” I said, “Considering there are about 400 people out there today, I will never even know who she is.”

“Phew,” said her friend as I left.  “That was close.”

 

 

 

 

WALK LIKE A MAN!

My husband ruptured a disc in his back several weeks ago.  Despite the many pain medications his doctor has proffered, he is still in agony and barely able to navigate from bedroom to kitchen.  So, on the eve of our 31st anniversary, I drove to purchase him a cane.   

As I parked at Walgreens, a very, tall man was getting into the car next to me.  Suntanned and well-groomed, I noticed that he still had some dark hair in his sideburns that refused to go white.  Figured he was an ex-athlete, likely basketball.  When I noticed he had a crutch under each arm, I assumed he injured himself playing sports.

“You look about 6’ 7”,” I said as we came face to face.

“I used to be,” he replied, “until I shrunk.”

It was only then I realized he was missing an entire leg.  At 17, while driving a tractor on his dad’s farm, he was thrown off into the oncoming scythe of the thresher.  Said he has a prosthesis but it’s “a lot more comfortable without it.”  No wonder.  Even without his leg, he moves like a WHOLE man.

As we part, I imagine what my own 17 would have been like with only one leg.  I was crazy for dancing and twirled and twisted across too many floors to remember.  While I can no longer do the limbo, I can still dance.  Made me walk taller just thinking about it.

Driving home with a new, blue cane for my husband, I am grateful he has both legs though he can’t use them well now.  I think of the woman I met with Alzheimer’s who cannot walk, not because she lacks legs, but has forgotten how.  I remember the boy I met in college who was born with no legs. 

At the corner, a young man with pants so low that I can see the heart tattoo on his right buttock, waits for the light to change.  When it does, he shuffles slowly across in the slouched-style of an old man.  I want to roll down the window and yell, “Walk Like A Man!”  So I do.  He straightens to attention as if shot by a rifle.  As his eyes meet mine, I smile and add, “While you still can.”  (Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,”a memoir of the years she and her husband cared for her grandmother with Alzheimer’s). 

http://www.helen-hudson.com