In addition to writing about my feelings and my journey, I wanted to tell the life stories of people who have suffered with Alzheimer’s or are going though it now; stories that are told by a family member, friend or even themselves.
My first story is about my maternal grandmother Ruth Reid, the first person to introduce me to this illness at a young age. My grandmother or Nana Reid as I called her was 1 of 6, born in Portsmouth, NH, who lost her mother at a very young age. For most of her life she worked as a domestic in NH, then RI where she met my grandfather Julius Reid (from SC), who was working there at the time. They married and moved to Brooklyn, NY where they raised two daughters, Clara (deceased) and my mother Susan.
My memories of my Nana are faint. I remember her loving hats, her pocketbook, chocolate eclairs (that my mother would tell her not to give me, but she did let me have a bite every now and then) and making great Munster cheese sandwiches . Nana lived upstairs from us in our two-family house in Queens and she used to babysit me while my parents were at work and then later, after school when I attended pre-school.
Every summer we’d take a family trip to Portsmouth, New Hampshire to visit whatever little family was left of Nana’s, which back then was one cousin and her younger brother who passed in 1975. I loved going to New Hampshire and still do. I finally got back there with my mom a few years ago and was quite ready and excited to do the drive on my own (sadly my dad passed in 1996.) When we got there and to York Beach, Maine where we’d also frequent, you may see a Gap here, a McD’s there, stores change, but building facades remain the same, roads widen but don’t change direction and though it’s years later, the old New England feel was still there.
One exciting fact is the home where my Nana grew up is part of a historic museum location in Portsmouth, which is called the Strawbery Banke Museum. It’s an outdoor museum where one can walk into the restored houses, featured exhibits, historic landscapes, stables and gardens of that time. We found the home where my grandmother grew up. Homes back then were of course very small and for a family of 8, 6 kids and 2 parents for a time, families today surely wouldn’t make it. When we visited her home, which I believe is the Jackson House, wasn’t completely renovated yet and they didn’t want people inside, BUT, being that it was my grandmother’s house, I took a dip inside for pics. It’s time to go back and hopefully I can make it an annual pilgrimage again.
From what people tell have told me, my Nana Reid was a great cook and even greater baker which they say I get from her. People raved over her molasses cookies. Unfortunately there’s no handed down recipe, but I’m determined to learn and master them. When my grandparents met, lets say it was during a time when Southern Blacks weren’t too high on Northern Blacks, stigmas I guess, but my grandfather’s sisters loved my grandmother. So much so, his youngest sister Sibbie, asked my Nana to be her daughter Lenora’s godmother and hence her name was a form of my grandmother’s sister Lenore.
As for my Nana’s changes from Alzheimer’s, I don’t know exactly when it started. I remember one moment she was fine and the next moment she was forgetting things, forgetting people, losing balance, talking in a very sing songy way, banging at times as she sang and boy, was she oh so stubborn! Nana was also strong. Alzheimer’s was the only condition she had, but then isn’t Alzheimer’s enough?! As I care for my mom, I don’t remember my grandmother going through the various stages, but I know firsthand, how tough it was for my mother to see her mom declining. I was too young to be a big help, I did what I could, yet I remember being embarrassed every now and then wondering when she was going to “act up” in front of others. There wasn’t as much information then as there is now, but when it came to help, my mom did have my dad and I and an attendant to watch her during the day. Whereas I’m the lone dog in this caregiving thing. Mom’s sister would have been a great help as well, but my Aunt Clara passed before I was born.
Nana passed December 16, 1982 from heart failure, I was the one home with her and her aid. My parents would have been there at the time, but mom was in the hospital visiting my dad who got injured at work the day before. As I get older, the writer in me wished I paid more attention to the bits and pieces of my grandmother’s stories. It’s those stories of the past, of a time long ago that would make a great story, especially since she worked for some rather wealthy New England families. Perhaps I could have taken those words and made sense of it all.
As a person’s Alzheimer’s worsens, they often have jumbled thoughts and sometimes in between the confusion, they can have moments of great clarity. I’ve learned it’s during those moments you can possibly learn about your family’s past, about the person’s past, and back to a time that’s trapped in an Alzheimer’s mind.