I like to imagine fiction writers are like sponges. Everywhere they go they are eavesdropping on the conversations around them, soaking them up and filing them away. As a family member to an author you’d have to be careful what you share because you’d never know when your Word Soup will feed one of their characters and words you've said will appear in print. If you read enough author interviews you’ll see the ubiquitous question of what inspired such and such a character or storyline and they’ll confess to what I’m saying. The elements of fiction can come from anywhere and everywhere. The book I just finished about the all girls filling station was inspired by one sentence the author's aunt said ten years before Ms Flagg started writing it.
No one would ever get inspired by my conversations. Yesterday on the phone with my brother (who lives in the memory care building of my continuum care campus) he asked me if I’d give him a ride downtown to buy some stamps. “I’ve got stamps,” I said. “How many do you need?” “I don’t know,” he replied. Then he served me a word salad and long story short I put my dementia decoder ring on and figured out that he didn’t want a ride to the post office, he wanted a ride to the Secretary of State’s office to buy new license plate stickers for his truck. He remembered his birthday is coming up and that’s the yearly marker when people in my state have to renew our license plates.
I wasn’t sure if my brother knew or not that his truck was sold so I played along and told him now days you have renew your stickers online and one of his daughters would have to help him with that. I did ask at one point, “I thought your truck got sold,” and he replied the lawyers were holding that up.” Sometimes he’s totally lucid with the bits of information people give him and the next minute he’s back to worrying about his truck that, in his mind, is “sitting in the street” waiting for a cop to ticket it the minute his birthday comes around. Trying to transition to a new topic I told him his birthday is nearly a month away, and he's got lots of time. “It will take a month,” he raised his voice to say, “before I get someone to take me to the post office!”
That same day at Mahjong our conversation was so fast moving and silly a person would have to had recorded it to get the belly laugh benefit of eavesdropping on it. But I’m pretty sure the humor of it is one of those things you’d have to have been there to understand. For example, at one point our wall of titles was short and across the table from me and when I went to pick one up I could barely reach it. “I suppose I could push that wall out more,” the woman across from me said, and without missing a beat I replied, “You could have but you didn’t.” And that as all it took for the four of us to laugh so hard and for so long that I was red faced and couldn't talk, another woman confessed to peeing her pants and a third had to walk away to get her composure back. When we finally gained control of ourselves, someone said, “I don’t even remember what we were laughing about” and that started us laughing all over again.
The rest of the game was full of silliness, of calling each other out for breaking rules and others offering to let it slide if they'd slip bribes under the table. We could never play in other Mahjong venues, especially in places where they play for money, because they take their games seriously and don’t talk while it’s going on. Thankfully the woman who introduced us to the game and trained us all has a great sense of humor and I’m pretty sure she wished she’d had been playing at our table that afternoon instead of with a table of newbie players. Some of the newbies are so slow, it’s like watching the proverbial paint dry.
A woman I know from going to the monthly dementia support group happened to be observing that day---people do that when they think they want to learn the game---and I felt sorry for her. She was so confused. She and her husband live here in Independent Living as do at least four other couples where the one with dementia couldn’t stay if she/he were living alone. Yesterday I found one of the ladies with dementia in the lobby of my building, lost and clearly panicked because she couldn't find her apartment. So I took her up the elevator to her floor and delivered her to her husband. He’d been taking a nap and he didn’t know she left.
The spouses in these “mixed couples’ remind me of my caregiver days…in the last year or two before Don died. There's a certain kind of desperation that sets in as you try to hold onto the threads still left of your loved one’s mental or physical health. In the back of your mind, you know it’s hopeless but you’re too scared to admit that out loud. So you put on your caregiver track shoes and run yourself ragged trying to out-pace your destiny. Most of us do the best we can for as long as we can even though practicing the Golden Rule takes its toll. ©