By Amy Abbott
She has always had her own speed.
On the day - many years ago - we were to pick up my wedding dress, we stopped to have a sandwich. The store was thirty minutes away and I was ready to go and pick up my beautiful lace dress.
Mom ordered a hamburger and cup of coffee. When the hamburger came, she took the bun off and arranged the pickles just so. She picked up the ketchup bottle, examined it, and put three dots of the red substance on the top of the burger. She replaced the bun. She flipped the burger over, removed the bottom bun, and dotted it with mustard. She arranged a tomato slice and a piece of lettuce to her liking. Then she took her first deliberate bite.
Meanwhile I had downed a Cherry Coke, a double burger, and French fries. I was eager to move on. I let her know clearly that it was my day and I was angry for her needless lingering.
Fast forward three decades.
I am "watching" my mother for a day while my father has some recreational time with his grandson. Mother is in the later stages of dementia, staged by a neurologist somewhere between moderate and severe. She sometimes knows me, and sometimes doesn't.
Even though I saw her fourteen days ago, there are changes. Dementia does not wear evenly. It takes snatches of personality away in uneven grasps. Sometimes you do not miss what was there until it is gone, and then you remember. It is sad to see the changes over time.
When I am with her, I remember that day of picking up the wedding dress, a beautiful white lace dress with a short lace train. I remember another day, of how happy we both were when we found that perfect dress, how she clasped her hands to her face and smiled and cried at the same time. I regret my behavior on the day of picking up the dress, and I have vowed to be patient with her no matter what.
She is slower now than ever before. As we leave the retirement home where my parents live, I have to hold the automatic door open. Even the doors with the blue buttons and the wide, slow arc are too fast for her. I remind myself to be patient no matter what.
We drive to Silver Dipper for ice cream cones, she orders one dip of butter pecan, and I get chocolate.
The ice cream store is full of children. My mother loves babies and she is enthralled. Children are drawn to her like a magnet. One small boy with a Purdue football shirt on walks to her, holds out his cone, and says, "I have ice cream."
It is evident he has ice cream. It is all over his face, above his nose, and down his neck. She laughs aloud.
I said, "Mom, did you and dad go for ice cream when you lived here 55 years ago?" (They moved back here to their college town five years ago after half a century away.) She looks at me as if she does not know who I am. I remind myself to be patient no matter what.
"No, my husband and I couldn't go out for treats a lot because we were saving money to have a baby. He and I were teachers, you know." Of course, that baby would be me.
Just then, she realizes her butter pecan is dripping all over the table, and she laps it up, enjoying the rich, butterfat of real ice cream. Instead of being impatient as I would have been years ago, I laugh and lap at my chocolate cone.