Saturday, August 18, 2012


Roswell, NM

*NOTE TO MY READERS: I'm in Roswell, New Mexico, my hometown, visiting with my mother for three weeks. She fell and broke her hip the day before Chip and I flew to Paris in June. She spent several weeks in rehab and now lives, quite happily, in an assisted living home just down the street from my sister. This was written the first day I visited her.


"Oh Sixty-Seven," I called out loudly.

"BINGO!" Arlene shouted, her eyes alight with the thrill of victory.

Ten of us sat around a large family dining table at the assisted-living home where Mom lives now in our hometown, Roswell, New Mexico. Today was my first day to visit since Mom moved in two weeks ago, and I had volunteered to lead the afternoon activity.

"Great job, Arlene," I told one of Mom's new companions, genuinely sharing her joy. "But let's keep going. We're playing Blackout, so we want to cover the whole card." Arlene nodded happily.

"I 32," I called.

"BINGO!" Arlene shouted, and we all clapped for her and her new Bingo or maybe the previous one.

It didn't matter. Here, where the fire of dementia burns white hot, we were all in the present moment, deleriously happy with victory, whether it was a new one or an old one was irrelevant.

That fire consuming their memories burns the newest, freshest memories first, like the memory of what was said one sentence ago, but leaving intact old, old remembrances from childhood, like what the letter 'B' looks like and an 'I' and a '32.'

At lunch Arlene had told me, "I have two children, but they never come to visit me."

I was plummeting into the tragic sadness of this news when I remembered that Mom told me her sister had never visited this new home. I knew this wasn't true, that the memory of Hazel's visits had been consumed by the fire. Well, to clarify, Mom's statement wasn't factual, but, for Mom, it was and is utter truth.

And then I came back around to join Arlene in her utter truth that, even if the seat beside her is still warm from her daughter's visit, this moment's truth is that her children never come to visit.

"I'll come visit you, Arlene," I said.

"I like you," she said smiling brightly, and moved, carefree, on to her next moment, taking innocent pleasure in a small bowl of Neopolitan ice cream, completely liberated of all that had gone before. I staggered into my next moment dragging the weight of the last one and the heavy burden of liking Arlene too, even though I was now alone, no longer liked by Arlene, consumed by the fire.

Later that day at the lunch-table-turned-Bingo parlor, the youngest resident sat to my right. Nadine is tiny and spry, impeccably dressed with an alert demeanor that made me think surely she was a visitor. She enthusiastically worked two cards and helped 97-year-old Gracie next to her.

"I never win at Bingo," Nadine declared.

Without thinking, I blurted, "But Nadine, you just won two games in a row!"

"Oh, really?" she said, shock and then joy filling her face. "Oh, good!"

We soldiered on. I turned the crank on the cranky metal lottery wheel, and Bingo balls dropped sometimes into the metal slide as they were supposed to and sometimes went flying across the table and onto the floor.

"B Six," I called as a loud, persistent beeper went off, indicating that one of the seven residents not playing Bingo had pushed the button that each of them have hanging around their necks on brighly colored ribbons.

"BINGO," Arlene called out in pure delight, and we all clapped.

"That's so awesome, Arlene, but we're playing Blackout, so let's keep going."

I was living so utterly in the moment, concentrating on the most important and fulfilling job I'd ever had, so free of my sardonic self, that I completely missed the tragic irony of playing Blackout with eight women caught in an ultimate game of Blackout.

"What was the last number?" Cora asked me in her gravelly, expressionless voice.

Our eyes met. "I have no idea," I said.

Cora was fine with that.

At the end of the Blackout round, there were only six balls left in my metal cage, so I took them out and placed them in the master Bingo tray to see if we were playing with a full set. As I feared, we were not. One ball was missing. G 50. G 50 had gone missing.

With much fanfare, all the extra-large, Easy-Read cards were cleared of their poker chips. I scooped up all the balls but G 50 and put them back in the cage. Everyone who could remember reminded everyone who couldn't to put a chip on the FREE spot in the middle of the cards.

"G 50" I called out in a heartfelt effort to make up for all that had gone missing.


  1. Wow Tammy you brought tears to my eyes with this one. Great job! You certainly hit the nail on the head. It's the cruelest disease of them all. If we could only extinguish the fire! G-50!

  2. Hi Ed! You know, I thought it was the cruelest disease, but everyone here seems pretty happy. It's a mix of sweet and sad.

  3. Came across your blog from "raft up"....

    My Mother-in-law has had Alzheimer's for close to 7 yrs now (which means it's pretty advanced at this point). You captured the disease beautifully here (and in the next post).

    I often comment that the disease is worse for those who love the person with the disease than it is for those who suffer from it. She is no longer the bitter, angry woman who thinks everything and everyone is 'stupid' because she no longer remembers the things that built up inside: being forced to flee her country in WWII, a bad divorce, etc... Right now she is happier than she's been since I've known her.

    1. Thanks for writing. I'm glad your mom is happy. Memory is a strange beast. I used to think there could be no life without memory, but I'm amazed at how deeply content these women are -- most of the time.

      Blessings to you and your mom.