Treasured Memory

My grandmother lived a long distance from us, so we only visited about once a year. She had other family in the area and was happy there. As she aged, she developed dementia and was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Grandma was a wonderful person. She was very quiet, and always ready with a gentle smile, but our family has a history of orneriness and I sometimes wondered what lurked behind that mild-mannered aplomb. As the Alzheimer's progressed, she became prone to some common symptoms of the disease; asking the same questions again and again, forgetting to do things, or even how to do them. My aunt, a former elementary school teacher with boundless patience, took excellent care of her. When we visited, we knew to calmly answer the questions and roll with the routine. Grandma liked to hear our stories, and I think she liked our company. One of my favorite memories of a visit occurred during the later stages. We were all sitting around the old kitchen table, chatting, and my aunt was preparing a quick lunch. She pulled out Grandma's pill case, plonked it down on the table, and in her best teacher's voice said, "Now don't touch these!" Then she turned around to work on the sandwiches. Everyone else kept visiting, chatting merrily. But Grandma looked directly into my eyes, and ever so gently, she reached out with one shaking finger and poked that pill case. Then she looked back at me, and smiled wickedly. She retreated into patient innocence almost immediately, listening to the conversation washing around us. But for that moment, I knew she was still with us, one of us, and it warmed my heart. Today, she is gone; her house has been sold, and the sunny backyard and familiar kitchen table are no longer in the family. But that moment still has power over me. When I want to remember my Grandma, it's not the early days of my childhood I go right back to, though they're not far behind. It's the old kitchen table, the pill case, and that smile.

Seattle, WA