Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Gift of Grace

I was just speaking with my mother on the phone and she said she was cutting photos of decorating ideas out of a magazine earlier when she realized she had already cut the same photos out of the same magazine -- she bought the same magazine twice and didn't realize it. I laughed and called her "Grace," which has become code for, "early onset Alzheimer's."

My grandmother Grace did in fact suffer from Alzheimer's. And anyone who has dealt with this disease understands that it's equal parts horror, heartache, and humor. To appreciate the horror and heartache, you have to know a little bit of what my grandmother was to me. I'll just scratch the surface for the sake of this blurb. When I was very young, I thought my grandmother, my "Mom" as I called her (my mother was "Mommy"), was Lucy on "I Love Lucy." No, I'm serious. There was a distinct period of time when I couldn't tell them apart. OK, I wasn't a terribly bright child. But she was a superhero to me. She was beautiful, and funny, and worked, and bowled, and played golf, and smoked, and drank... Yes, these are questionable superhero qualitites nowadays, but as compared to my paternal grandmother who was all prim and proper and religion and discipline (in my eyes), "Mom" was nothing short of amazing. What's truly amazing, is that Grace (my maternal grandmother) and Alice (my paternal grandmother) as different as they were to me, were in fact best friends in their early adult years, before they were married. But that's a whooooole other story for another day.

So where was I? Grace was my hero and her strongest quality to me was that she adored me in no uncertain terms. She referred to me as her shadow and I believe I was quite literally attached to her at every possible moment during my childhood. So to watch this magnificent woman start to fade after the death of my grandfather and the onset of Alzheimer's was tragic. Thank God it was also funny. I don't know how my mother and I would have gotten through it if it weren't for the humor.

My grandparents owned a two family house around the block from us when I was growing up. After my grandfather died, my grandmother moved downstairs into the first floor apartment and my mother and I moved into my grandparents' apartment on the second and third floors. The third floor was a finished attic and was my bedroom. It was my mother's bedroom when she was in high school, was where my parents first lived when they married, and was haunted. Again, story for another day.

When my mother, grandmother, and I were living in the same house in the early-to-mid 90s, my mother had two of our local newspapers delivered to the house so that my mother and grandmother, both avid crossword puzzlers, could each do the daily crossword in the newspaper. At some point, my grandmother became confused and began stealing my mother's paper and doing the same crossword puzzle TWICE in one day. I used to ask her if the answers came to her a little more quickly the second time around, but she had no idea what I was talking about.

My mother blew a disk in her back around this time and after two back surgeries, wound up worse off than when she started. As a result, it came to me to tie up all the newspapers in the house and take them out to the curb once a week for recycling. Now, my mother didn't just get the two local papers for herself and my grandmother. There were also several weeklies and I believe no less than three different papers on Sundays. When I moved to Richmond in '96 this resulted in a great backlog of newspapers. I had braces at the time and fortunately drove home to NJ once a month to get them tightened, so I was able to help out. My mother took out very small bundles of newspapers as best she could, but on one particular trip enough newspapers had stacked up that we could build furniture out of them. I was leaving Jersey on a Monday and recycling wasn't until Thursday. But these papers really needed to get recycled, so I trucked them all out to the curb. By the time I was done, we had a pretty hefty seawall running the length of our property. The fact that this was done on a Monday and they wouldn't be picked up until Thursday put my grandmother in quite a little tizzy. I reassured her that it would be fine and that they needed to be out there. Being stubborn and Irish, with a touch of dementia, my grandmother had taken in recent years to lying in an attempt to get her own way. Whenever she wanted my mother or me to do something or not do something, she told us the police had stopped by and had told her that whatever action should or should not be done. We had a never-ending porch light battle with my grandmother that resulted in our front porch looking like a strobe-lit disco on any given night as we repeatedly turned the light on and off. As such, my grandmother told me the police had stopped by at some point and told her the recycling shouldn't go out early. Now, it really shouldn't, but I had no choice as I was leaving on a Monday. I hugged that dear woman, kissed her, said goodbye and drove off for Richmond.

Later that night, my mother called and asked, "Um...what happened with the newspapers?" I assumed my grandmother had said something, so I explained the whole story to her. My mother started laughing and said something to the effect that "Grace has struck again."

You see, when my mother returned from work that afternoon, every last newspaper was ON THE FRONT PORCH! The tied bundles were too heavy for my grandmother to lift, so she had to have made countless trips back and forth to bring all the papers onto the porch. My mother said they were everywhere. And when my mother asked my grandmother why they were on the porch? My grandmother responded, "I don't know. Amy Jo put them up here."


My grandmother LIED!!! This beloved woman, who adored me and coddled me and encouraged me and proudly displayed me to everyone she knew, LIED AND SOLD ME OUT!!!!!!

It was hysterical of course, which helped stem my shock and sense of betrayal. And what of the newspapers? My mother had a friend come over and help her take them all out to the curb Wednesday night, for Thursday morning's pickup. So the stubborn old Irishwoman got her way, as stubborn old Irishwomen are wont to do...

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