Today’s post came from an email I received recently from my favorite cousin, Tracy. We were pen-pals as kids, she living in New York, and I in California. Her mother, my aunt, now has Alzheimer’s disease. What follows are some of Tracy’s thoughts on memory in the wake of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month (September). Posted gratefully with permission.
Memories are funny things. I’ve recently had conversations with my sister and my father about how we all can experience the same exact moment and remember it so differently. Specifically, it was about when my sister Kelly and I got our ears pierced when I was 12, she 16. It’s a touchy subject in our family and my sister is still furious. Interestingly, we all have a different memory from each other on how we finally got my dad to agree. He was vehemently opposed to piercings, and my sister had been pleading for years.
In my mind, I went to him and negotiated by saying I’d pay for it myself. He has no memory of that, and my sister is adamant that was not how it happened. [Well what DID convince him if not my appeal to fiscal responsibility?] I told them it really didn’t matter what actually happened; what mattered was how I remembered it, and it was how I chose to continue to remember it. That is MY memory. And a good, funny memory it is for me.
My mom decided to get hers done at the same time, then walked into the house with her hair over her ears when we got home. I mean, what was she thinking? She could hide that for the rest of her life? No- my mother knew exactly what she was doing. I remember her voice and her sly conspiratorial smile to us before she walked into the house. I remember it like it was yesterday. My mother had a smile that could embrace you and take you with her. She was adventurous and supportive and made you think you could do anything.
Case in point: It’s crazy to me now to think it was a good idea to grab 4 kids in the wagon and camper and head to California or Mexico in the ’70s. For my father, who had not been far from his home town, she made it all seem not so crazy. I remember vividly going to a bullfight in Mexico and my older brother Rick being given a tail of one of the bulls- a coveted prize from the matador.
Coveted at least until we were detained at the border as they went through our things. Now, maybe it wasn’t all that dramatic, and maybe there weren’t guns being aimed at us as I worried we would be thrown in jail for smuggling in that tail. But that’s my memory.
I remember going through Mesa Verde with Dad hauling my brother Brian in a backpack on his back. I vividly remember climbing a ladder to go down into a kiva and up the side of the cliff dwellings. I remember the side trips that I’m sure were historical but only remembering the kid with the chicken. All four of the kids remember the kid with the chicken. The memories are jumbled, inaccurate and sometimes exaggerated. But they are MY memories of adventure and intrigue. I cling to them as they get farther away and more faded.
This summer our family took a 22 day trip on Route 66 and the National Parks of the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Utah’s arches, Colorado. We did every Junior Park Ranger program there was. We “hiked” with Will on Bill’s back into the Grand Canyon in 110 degrees. My kids climbed the ladders down into a kiva and up the side of the cliff. We rode horses in the snow in July.
I’m not gonna lie. I held my breath through a lot of this trip. The Jeep we took in the back country of Canyonlands was terrifying, but as the kids giggled, strapped into their carseats in the open air when we were at a 45 degree angle, I channeled my mother, grit my teeth, smiled and agreed that this was the best roller coaster ever! It was adventurous.
In Alzheimer’s, your brain can’t make new memories. Memories seem to be in reverse with the most recent being most fleeting and those older hanging on for dear life until they ultimately disappear. So our summer was based on the idea that we needed to imprint as many memories as we could NOW. I want the summer of 2011 to be their “summer of 1972.” I want Colleen and Will to have crazy, adventurous moments to look back on.
Last weekend we walked the Memory Walk for the 15th time in 16 years. Team Heart & Soles raised an unbelievable $8,888.45!! Thank you to all of you near and far who helped financially and/or emotionally. My kids thank you for being part of their memories as they reflected on past walks. They know it’s a sad day for their mother but that she grits her teeth, smiles and makes it an adventure- just like their grandmother would have done. They gave out pin wheeling flowers this year. It was amazing seeing the kids all raising them – it was a symbol of hope, of the future, of imprinting memories.
With all my Heart & Sole-
Psst. This coming Tuesday, October 4th, is when hundreds of bloggers, including me, are going to post about The Girl Effect. Join us?