by Theresa Snyder
For many years, Dad and I finished Mother’s sentences for her. When she was younger, her mind moved faster than her mouth and she would forget where she was in the conversation. As she grew older, she truly could not readily recall the words she needed.
If we didn’t help her right away, she began to fish for an answer, saying something along the lines of, “You remember that restaurant, the one at the edge of the desert, the one with the tile roof … .”
Once in a while, Dad and I could dredge up the missing name. Many times, however, we were at a total loss. If Mom was having a good day, she just blew it off and the conversation continued – none of us really knowing what we were referring to, just that the end of the story would no doubt come more quickly.
When Mom felt ill and out of sorts, she became upset if we weren’t able to come up with the name she searched for; she acted as though we were purposely withholding vital information from her.
Sometimes she made up a word and Dad and I simply played along with her. For instance, we gave fanciful monikers to the garden plants whose botanical names escaped her memory.
Mom could never recall the name of the Rose of Sharon bush. However, she could remember to call it “Maid Marian.” Therefore, the bush now had a name. Heaven forbid the bush and I would die before Mother. She would be demanding a nurseryman order her a “Maid Marian” bush.
The Clematis tangutica grows unlike anything else in the garden. Dad and I hack it to knee-high each spring and it grows at least ten feet by summer. Of the three of us, I am the only one who remembered its actual name. For some reason it became the “Lusitania” – a name Mom and Dad easily remembered. Maybe it is a generational thing.
I recall one year when we hosted a garden tour. Mom and another woman sat on the porch swing beneath the lush draping foliage and golden bells of the tangutica. The lady asked Mom the name of the plant. “Oh, that’s the Lusitania,” she replied.
Gazing up at the beautiful blooms, the woman remarked, “I really must have one.”
I caught her as she was leaving and gave her one of the many clematis starts I had nurtured. “Lusitania is its common name,” I explained. “It is really a tangutica clematis.” I hoped she was an astute gardener and wouldn’t make a fool of herself telling friends it is a “Lusitania.”
One night Mom sat on the couch with a jar of Alfredo sauce in her hand. She was reading the recipe on the back. This particular sauce came from Trader Joe’s. I sat down beside her to discuss dinner preparations and she said, “I think we should use this sauce from Wild Billy’s.” On some level, I think she knew it came from Trader Joe’s but she just couldn’t think of the name.
I told her, “Now, Mom, you know where that really comes from. I am not getting off this couch until you come up with the right name.” I gave her the clue of “TJ”.
“TJ Max,” she pipes up. (At least we know she’s listening to the commercials.)
Dad hollered “Joe’s” from the kitchen – I think he was really hungry and figured at this rate dinner preparations would take too long.
Mom smiled and said, “Joe’s takeout.”
I said, “No. TJ not JT.” Now it was really getting to be a joke.
“Terrible Joe’s,” she said with a grin.
I gave in at this point – I wanted to eat sometime that evening.
“Trader Joe’s,” I say.
“Of course,” Mom answers.
This is the seventh in a monthly series, “We 3,” which introduces VoiceCatcher readers to Theresa Snyder and her stories – sometimes touching, sometimes hilarious, always authentic – about caring for aging parents. First printed as a monthly column in the Gresham Outlook between 2003 – 2008, they were collected in book-form in 2007 (Mt. Hood Community College Press). The columns have been updated and are reprinted here with permission of the author.
Theresa Snyder has been writing ever since she can remember. In 1996, shortly after she moved her elderly parents in with her, she realized she couldn’t resist writing “out loud.” She found an audience in east county interested in reading about the challenges and rewards of being a baby boomer caregiver. Unlike other authors, she does not possess a degree or a long list of publishing credits. Instead, she likes to think she has earned her title as “author” through life experience and a great deal of reading. Check out her work at Baby Boomer Caregiver.