If I could climb inside my Father’s mind and see what he sees, I would probably find a mix of fiction and nonfiction. Each memory would be stored on a separate movie reel and played on a giant screen. These memory reels used to be purely nonfiction. But since my Father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the reels are out of order. Scenes from one memory have been spliced together with scenes from another memory. And some “memories” are really pieces of last week’s Hurricane warning or scenes from a 1961 episode of the Andy Griffith Show.
When I first noticed these memory reels were morphing into fiction, my immediate inclination was to put them back where they belonged. I was hoping that by placing them in the right order, my Father’s mind would be back on track and memories would resume playing as they had been for the last five decades. I soon learned that interfering with the movie reels was the worst thing I could do. I guess I wanted to force the chaos out of my Father’s mind, but I had to accept that Alzheimer’s was his reality. It had commandeered the movie projector and this unwelcome guest wasn’t going anywhere. I’ve learned to let the memory reels play.
One beautiful Monday morning, while backing out of the driveway, I noticed how green the grass was and how the newly trimmed bushes framed my parents’ white ranch house.
“Your yard looks really good Dad!” I said.
“Yes, I did a lot of work on it,” he replied.
In the 36 years my parents have lived in their home, my Father has cut the grass and trimmed the bushes hundreds of times. But several years ago, we retired his lawn mower and hired someone else to maintain the lawn. Dad thought the yard was his handiwork. So I let him think it.
On our way across town, traffic is usually heavy in the morning as Gwinnett Tech students rush to class, heavy laden landscaping trucks drive from one property to the next and commuters squeeze through yellow lights to get to their jobs on time. At one intersection, it is virtually impossible to cross three lanes of oncoming traffic without the help of a green arrow. Since the traffic lights are timed, those of us who are turning left wait while dozens and dozens of cars pass. Then the oncoming cars are forced to stop at a red light while those of us who are turning are given a green arrow and ushered closer to our destination.
Lately, my Father is oblivious to the red light for oncoming traffic. He thinks all those cars stopped out of the goodness of their hearts to let us pass. And he waves at them with a “thank you buddy!” So what do I do? I let him think the best of those people and keep driving.
Sometimes the memory reels are priceless, even if they are a work of fiction.
Several days ago, my Father got up early and when my Mother asked him why, he said, “I had to. She was cold.”
“Who was cold?”
“Angie. I had to put covers on her. She was cold.”
Aldous Huxley once said, “Every man’s memory is his private literature.”
If so, then my Father has quite the collection.