Friday, July 6, 2012

The "Big Bad Beezer Burger," and Other Challenges

I'll tell ya right now, I wrote most of this while I sat at Beezer's with my lady friend, drinking a few beers at the end of the day.  That's Beezer's on the edge of Hillsboro, Wisconsin.  I stop in here a couple of times a month, or a couple of times a week, depending on my work location.  (Gus do get around, don'cha know?)  They have a pretty good selection of beers, and the waitstaff is always top-notch and cheerful.  There are a few too  many televisions there, but often the sound is turned down so that if you sit quietly you can listen to the locals.  After a few beers, you can even join them!

The food is...well...I don't know what to say.  See, I kind of like hanging out there.  It's cheerful and friendly, and the beer selection works for me.  But the food, well, it's just okay.  It's bar/restaurant fare with little imagination or inspiration behind it.  My friend protests to me, because she likes the place too, that "their thin crust pizza is decent!"  Well, that's fine.  And there is also, for those who have nothing left to live for, the two-pound "Big Bad Beezer Burger Challenge," complete with a side of potatoes and coleslaw.  If you eat the entire thing, by yourself, with all the fixins, in under 30 minutes, you get a free tee-shirt.  There is no mention of whether or not the meal is free as well, but I'll leave that for someone else to find out.

So, hello, and good day, and I hope everyone is doing great today!  Yes, I really do.  Ol' Gus, he feels best when everyone is happy.  What else is there to live for?

Today is supposed to be the last day of this heat wave.
Today the temperature is supposed to hit 103 degrees.
Today the heat index is going to be 108 degrees.

And today I picked up my mother from the assisted living center to drive her to a memory care center, a place that takes care of folks with Alzheimer's.

This has been a while coming.  The director at her home warned me of it a while back, though I knew it was inevitable.  Then a week ago came the news, that we needed to have her moved inside of a couple of weeks.  We did a little shopping, but settled on the place in Hillsboro.  But all of that is just background.  Today is when I took her there, from Reedsburg to Hillsboro, a distance of about 24 miles.

I drove over early, while it was still cool.  I got there at about 8:30 and went into the dining room.  There weren't a lot a people there.  I had expected more at the breakfast tables.  The people at Mom's table seemed happy to see me.  One old guy tried to take the coffee cake that a gal in the kitchen had given me.  But he was just kidding around.

Mom was in a cheerful mood, and so were her three table mates, so I knew that Mom hadn't been told yet that she was being moved away from them.  Or if she had been told, she had already forgotten.  I sat with them and listened to their joshing, and was able to join in from time to time.  They were laughing at a little couplet that Mom had told them, one that I vaguely remembered.

"Oh my darling sweet potato
Don't you carrot all for me?"

And so on, I don't remember it.  But one of the kitchen workers promptly sat with us and wrote it down, telling me how much she enjoyed hearing things like that from my mom.  I was only halfway enjoying this, not forgetting why I was there.  I had been awake since four-thirty this morning, and was jumpy and nervous.

Linda, the supervisor, came up the hall.  She beckoned to Mom and me.  As Mom made her slow way out of her chair, Linda quietly said to me, "I've decided that I'll tell her, in her room.  That way she won't think you're the bad guy."  I squeezed her shoulder, touched almost to tears in my keyed-up state of mind.  Any kind words could easily pushed me that little bit further.

Back in Mom's room, Linda had her sit down in her easy chair, while Linda carried a chair over beside her.  Mom was still cheerful and unaware of any problems, thinking that this was going to be a pleasant chat.  Linda sat down in front of her, face-to-face, and said, "Rosemary..."

I honestly don't recall what she said after that.  But Mom sat there and cheerfully nodded and agreed, as if she were being told that she was moving down the hall.  And even when Linda and I got up to gather a few clothes and things together for the day, she didn't really seem to comprehend what was going on.

"Are you sure there's nothing I can do to help?" she asked once.  Another time she said, "Boy, I'm sure glad you're doing all the work!"

We loaded up a small cart, and Linda said, "I'll go down the hall and get Ellie.  She'll want to know you're leaving."
"Okay," said Mom.  "I'll be here."
I let her know that I was taking stuff out to the car.  "I'll be right back," I emphasized.  Those words have become very important to Mom.  "I'll be right back!"

When I returned, I stopped just outside of her door.  Ellie was inside, talking.  "Well, you certainly have been such a good friend," I heard her say.  "I sure have enjoyed your company."  I waited a moment, then walked in.

Linda looked up at me.  She was smiling, but her eyes were sad and teary behind her glasses.  "Oh, here's Gus!" she said, and jumped up.  "Let's get started down the hall."  She helped Mom up and handed her her walking cane.  Ellie followed in her walker, with Linda right behind.  I walked in front, glancing back from time to time while we moved oh so slowly down the carpeted hall.

"Well," said Ellie.  "You won't be too far away, will you?"
"No, I'll just be down the road," said Mom, though really she was just agreeing with anything anyone said.  And then as they shuffled along down that long hallway, Mom started singing softly:

"Show me the way to go home, boys.
I'm tired and I want to go to bed,"

Then Ellie joined in:

"I had a little drink about an hour ago
And it went right to my head..."

They finished that one together.  Then after another shuffling step or two, Mom started again.

"Oh, we ain't got a barrel of money.
Maybe we're ragged and funny!
But we'll travel along,
Singing a song,

They were singing to themselves, to each other, to Linda and me, singing softly and in time to their slow halting steps down the quiet hallway.  I wanted to turn to look at them both, but knew that I couldn't.  I knew that I was taking my mother away from her little apple-cheeked, cheerful friend, and that this was the last song that they would sing together under this roof.

Linda and Ellie hugged me before I got into the car.  Linda's cheeks were wet.  Ellie smiled hopefully at me, but her eyes seemed to somewhere else, on the houses and trees and the hot, hot sky.  Mom was intent on fastening her seatbelt, and on looking out of the windshield.  She waved absently at them as they called their good-byes.

Gus wonders about brain disease.  What goes on in there?  Is there a part that is rational, but kept down while the rest of the brain puts up road blocks, barriers that keep it from being heard?  Or is there nothing mysterious about it, just the brain shutting down?  I don't know, and I'm sure that others have thought of that too.

With only Mom and me in the car, Mom seemed to realize at last what was happening.  "Why would Linda think she had to do this?" she asked.
"Well, she was worried about you."
"Well, you've been forgetting a lot of things, and walking around at night.  She's afraid that something might happen to you when she's not there."
"I haven't been doing that!  I don't remember doing that!"
"I know you don't," I told her.

It's only twenty-four miles to Hillsboro from Reedsburg, but the conversation ran in that circle the entire way, with Mom forgetting that she had just asked the same questions.  She vaguely recognized the County Market as the former Piggly Wiggly.  And when we pulled up in front of her new residence, she said, "Well, I guess we'll look it over."

We were greeted at the door.  The girl there knew who we were, and took us down the hallway to Mom's room.  It was, of course, a slow walk.  Along the way, the girl stopped to inform and old guy, Leo, that he was in the wrong room.  Then we reached Mom's room, and the girl opened the door.

The room that Mom had just moved out of was not exactly large.  But this one is smaller still.  Mom stood there and looked at it uncertainly.  The girl offered to show it to her.  "I'll get your stuff out of the car," I said.  "I'll be right back."

When I came back, the girl left us alone.  Mom sat down on the edge of the bed and started to cry.  "What's wrong with me?" she sobbed.  "I shouldn't be here.  I'm not supposed to be here!"  I brought her a box of tissues.  I sat down beside her.  I held her and told her, "I know, Mom.  I know."

I stayed with her for an hour while her mood swung from dark to not so dark to hungry, and then to a state where she was ready to be shown around a little more.  I fetched the supervisor, who began to give Mom the tour.

The daughter of one of the nurses had just had a baby, and she brought it in about then.  Mom was immediately drawn to it.  The mother let Mom touch the baby, let the baby wrap its tiny fist around Mom's finger while Mom cooed at it, and made faces.  I'm pretty sure I saw the baby smile.

I was suddenly forgotten, left outside of the tunnel of her attention, like an abstract thought, like Linda and Ellie had been forgotten.  The supervisor nodded at me and whispered that this might be a good time to leave, if I thought I needed to.  But for a moment I forgot whatever could be so important as what I was seeing here.  

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