Yesterday when I went next door to see Mom, she was lying down on her heating pad and looking at The Other Wise Man. She told me she was reading it, and asked where it came from. She showed me the inscription to "Christine and Jeffrey" and asked me who they were. I told her I was Christine, and Jeff was my late husband. I told her I had brought the book over for her, and she could read it all she wanted. Then I went into e next room to gather up all the random solicitations that had arrived this week.
Back in her bedroom she informed me that she was reading a certain book, and brandished The Other Wise Man. She asked me where it came from and showed me the inscription. I told her what it meant. I reminded her that when Dad was alive we used to read The Other Wise Man aloud on Christmas Eve.
“Who?” she asked.
“Dad,” I said. “I mean, Philip. Your husband. My father.”
She said, “Of course I know my husband.”
In the living room I discussed some logistics with Shedley. Mom followed, carrying the book, and told me she had been reading it, and showed me the cover and the inscription. “Do you know who these people are?” she said. I told her I was one of them. Not for the first time I wondered why -in order to make these interminable exchanges more interesting - I don’t invent other answers, or as Kellyanne Conway would say, “Alternative Facts.”
Christine and Jeffrey could be friends who were lost in the Amazonian jungle and bequeathed their library to me. I had to build new shelves just to accommodate their vast collection of Henry van Dyke.
Or, I could have found the book at a used book sale in Ogallala, Nebraska, where my car had broken down and I ended up spending three delightful days awaiting its repair and going to garage sales, yard sales and used book sales.
Or, I could have no idea of the book’s contents.
Or, The inscriptees could be my neighbors, from whom I had borrowed the book several years ago. My failure to return the book in a timely fashion had permanently damaged our former neighborly friendship.
Jeffrey could still be alive. He could still be my husband. The tall, kind man who takes my mother to church every Sunday could be an interloper.
Yesterday I stuck to the facts as I knew them. When Mom asked me where I had spent the morning I told her, “At a meeting about Alzheimer’s.”
“That’s nice,” she said. “What is Alzheimer’s?”
“It’s an illness,” I said. “That attacks the brain.”
“Why would you do that?” She asked. Shedley gave me one of her funny looks that I interpreted to mean: How are you going to handle this one, smarty-pants?
“Your mother had Alzheimer’s, and now you do, and I want to learn as much as I can about it.”
“There was nothing wrong with my mother,” Mom said. “What did you say I have?”
“I’ve never heard of it,” she said. “What does it do?”
“It attacks your brain. It’s why you can’t remember things.”
Shedley rolled her eyes at me. Just how much of a jerk was I?
“I brought you some nice chocolates from Maine,” I said. “Your favorite daughter sent them.”
“Who is that?”
“Brigitte!” Years ago, Mom used to get amusingly agitated whenever I referred to one of her children as a favorite, generally someone who was not in the room. She always responded indignantly that she had no favorites, loved us all equally, blah blah blah. I miss the Pavlovian certainly of that response.
Later, when I related to him the highlights of my day, CSB, the tall, kind man who takes my mother to church every Sunday, did not think much of my referring to Alzheimer’s at all with my mother. “Do you really have to tell her the truth about your day?” he said. Could he have been recommending “Alternative Facts”?