|H-W Warriors stepping up to battle Alzheimers today.|
|Luella French, 7/2/1913--1/1/1987|
H-W Senior Living in Westminster, CA, where I've been a happy resident the past four years, became a Silver Partner sponsor this year, contributing $1500. H-W also provided its shuttle bus to transport our crew of 22, and treated us to lunch afterwards.
Residents additionally raised $316.51, by feeding a collection pig in our clubhouse. The good news for those of us who had family members in Orange County affected by this devastating disease, is that every dollar raised from Walk4ALZ OC stays right in Orange County, to help local families battling dementia. For more information on how the money is used locally, check this link:
Here's my story about my mother's final days with Alzheimer's, "The Valentine Sweetheart," published 2008 in The Ultimate Mom.
The Valentine's Sweetheart
As a nurse escorted her to the center of the recreation room, I remembered Mama’s insistence that she’d been born dancing. “I tapped right on Mother’s tummy,” she’d joke. I’d seen photos of her pre-teen self in tap shoes or tutus, but I never could coax her into demonstrating any of her childhood routines. “My mother made me drop those lessons for fear that my legs would get too muscled,” Mama recalled.
In the early ‘40’s, Mama favored a jazz step called Truckin.’ One day when I came home from 1st grade to help start supper, she was shuffling perkily pigeon-toed across the speckled kitchen linoleum as the Philco Transitone atop the dinette table blared, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.” Left hand clutching her midriff, right index finger wagging like a windshield wiper, in what she assured me was authentic Truckin’ style, she’d nimbly sidestepped Suzie, her latest adopted tabby.
She winked at me as she snatched up the potato peeler. I joined her and the Andrew Sisters in the final chorus, “Anyone else but me, no, no, no,” shook my own index finger once or twice, and began to set the table.
The summer before I started high school Mama taught me the Lindy Hop so that I could go to Town Club dances at the local playground and not be embarrassed. By then I was taking tap and ballet lessons myself, but when it came to pirouettes or plies, or even a Shuffle Off to Buffalo tap maneuver, no amount of pleading could persuade Mama to perform.
Now Mama glanced vacantly around the rec room before bending her head forward to sniff at the crimson carnation corsage pinned to her shoulder. The staff had chosen Mama as Valentine’s Day
A tanned male nursing attendant, who looked more suited for a surfboard than a dance floor, switched on the stereo. Tommy Dorsey’s sweet trombone swung out on the opening bars of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.” It had been my parents’ favorite. Their eyes lit up when it came on the radio, and they would leap up and whirl around the living room. Now Mama smiled, as if she remembered those other days. A nurse stepped forward and snapped her photo.
The attendant surprised me by gliding towards Mama, proffering his right hand. She moved into his arms and they began to float together in an elegant fox trot, each breaking into grins as applause and cheers erupted from the other residents of the long term care home. I had not witnessed mirth illuminate Mama’s face for a long while. Other residents clambered out of their chairs to join in, snagging partners and tottering towards the floor.
I wondered if Mama would recognize me. The last time I visited she told folks that I was her mother. The time before she thought I was a neighbor. Once or twice she didn’t know me at all. I just never could tell.
Her partner twirled her out, and Mama double stepped, not missing a beat, despite the pink satin slippers she wore instead of her customary high-heeled pumps. Mama had always worn high heels, probably because father was a full foot taller than her barely 5’ ½ “. That half-inch had always been important to her, and she always emphasized it when people asked her height.
A silver-plaited lady to the right of me, strapped to her wheelchair, began to sing along in a soft but true soprano, petting a tortoise-shell cat curled up in her lap. “Won’t you please be kind, and just make up your mind, that you’ll be sweet and gentle, gentle with me?” I smiled but she turned away, falling silent once more.
The music stopped. Her partner led Mama towards the vacant seat to my left, but as they neared, she spied the cat and veered towards it. “Suzie,” she murmured, “Suzie.” The wheelchair-bound woman held up the cat, and Mama snatched it and cuddled it to her bosom. All of her female strays had been Suzies. She called the males Tom. Once two appeared, brothers, she said, so we had both Tom and Tom Tom.
She sat beside me, petting the cat. “Mama,” I whispered, as the music started up again. This time it was “Little White Lies,” and again a few dancers took the floor. “Mama.” I reached out my hand and patted her arm. She tore her eyes away from the cat and looked towards me blankly.
One of the nurses approached. “This is your mother, right? She’s been practicing her dance steps all week. That’s why we decided to make her our Valentine Sweetheart. The others were in favor of it, too.” Her hand swept the room. “You know, only three or four here have dementia. The others are simply aged. But your mom has been a favorite, because she’s always willing to get up and dance and to show others how.”
I nodded. In the early days even when all the family began to notice that something was not quite right, Mama still would dance. She’d fox trot with my father. When my brother visited, he’d teach her county line dances and west coast swing. One Easter, the entire family, me, brothers, parents, aunts and uncles, all joined in a raucous Bunny Hop around the living room before heading towards the kitchen to feast on Mama’s signature tamale pie and cherry fruit salad. That was the last family get-together before father died.
Suddenly Mama looked at me, her eyes twinkling. “My sister!” she exclaimed, turning to the nurse. “This is Terri, my sister.” I nodded. At least she had my name right. “How are you feeling, Mama?” I asked. But the vacant look had reappeared.
One of the few gentlemen residents walked up. “Luella,” he said, “Would you care to dance?” Mama jumped to her feet, dumped Suzie into my lap, and clasped her hands in front of her waist. Then she twirled twice and executed a perfect arabesque, which she held for several seconds. A few people clapped, and Mama applauded herself, too, before bowing graciously. She glanced in my direction and I like to think our eyes caught. The old man laughed, took her hand, and off they glissaded to join the group already swaying to Dorsey. This time it was “Autumn in New York.”
Actually it was winter in Southern California, and I had to get back to work. It had been an eventful afternoon. Mama had remembered my name. It was the last time she ever did. More remarkably, I finally had seen her perform one of those dance moves I’d longed for throughout my childhood.
Even now, I still regret not asking the nurse for a copy of that photo. Mama had been my Valentine sweetheart, too, my lost, but sweet and beloved, funny Valentine. --Terri Elders
|H-W Warriors invading Jack in the Box to refuel after the march.|