It is our twice-a-week ritual. I pick her up and take her to “our” cafe for lunch. She needs to get out, interact with the real world, eat food she really likes. Truth is, I need it, too, this near-normal time with the woman-child I still call Mom. On a good day, when she sees me, her toothless smile stretches literally from ear to ear. She grabs me and hugs me, rocking back and forth for a long time. “Jan-Jan-Jan-Jan-Jan-Jan-Jan,” she says. On a bad day, her face drops, and she cries. She whispers something like “They’re gonna kill me!” as we embrace. I smell the urine, or worse, and I know she has refused a bath again. But today is a good day.
“Our” corner booth at Moni’s Grill is open. Two businessmen sit at the adjacent table, butted right up to the back of the booth where Mom sits. Here, facing the window, she sees the people and the cars passing from both directions. She misses nothing. Equally important, in our booth, only I can see Mom eat. It is not a pretty sight. Interesting, but not pretty. How is it that her jumbled up mind reminds her to wipe up all the crumbs, placing them carefully in her plate, but allows her to spit across the table that small piece of carrot she cannot chew?
Mid-way through the meat loaf and mashed potatoes, we hear Moni shout “Bye!” to a customer. Mom shouts back, “Bye!” waving her hand wildly. The men glance toward Mom, and I cringe.
“So, Mom, guess who I talked to last night,” I say in a diversionary tactic. Just a blank stare. “Heather.”
“Chicago,” she says.
“Yes!” I am excited–surprised–that she remembers. It is a really good day. “She’s coming home soon. For your birthday.”
“Oooooooo….” She shakes her fisted hands beside her face excitedly. “We…We….We…We…We…”
“We’ll have a party,” I say.
\Mom nods, continuing to eat. With almost every bite she emits a low moan of pleasure, and I hope the men can’t hear her. “You cleaned your plate,” I announce as she finishes the cherry cobbler. She places her hand to her abdomen, and then emits a long, low, loud rolling burp. I don’t even wonder if the two businessmen have heard her. I wonder if everyone in the cafe has heard her. Red-faced, I lamely say, “Well, Mom! Excuse you!”
One of the men looks directly at me, smiles, and mouths, “My mom has Alzheimer’s, too.”
Then the other says, using motions, “My mom is O.K. here (pointing to his head), but not physically. She’s in a nursing home.”
And in that moment, I understand something simple, but profound, and I am comforted by this belief: we are all in this together–Mom and me, the two men, and all the other people who pass through the doors of Moni’s on their own personal journeys filled with sights and sounds, with struggles, and with smiles.
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