Chatterbox

I have been called many things over my lifetime but chatterbox is not one of them.  Yet lately that is what I call myself, to myself.  Why would I do that?

I am Canadian so I will blame the weather.  This has been a particularly harsh winter.   There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth (mine) as my Bert, whose only contribution to our travel adventures was: “Where are we going next?”  uttered before we had unpacked the bags from our last trip, is no longer allowed to travel. I had no idea that I would miss our travels, our winters away in some warm place or on a ship so very much. So here we were stuck in winter in our wonderful but COLD country.

My Bert would often say that Canada is the best country in the world except for the weather. I agreed, but would temper my enthusiasm with the thought that if Canada had  perfect weather it would be perfect and there is no such thing.

Here is another observation that my Bert would voice often: “Paula is always telling me that I talk too much but she talks too.”  “Yes, I talk but not anywhere as much as you and in any case you are such a talker, someone has to be the listener” I would answer. Then with a laugh he would say: ‘That is why we have the best marriage. I talk and you listen.”  That was said with a tone to make it unbelievable.  Yet, all that was true.

My Bert is really an open book and loves to talk.   Many a time we have been to a restaurant and before dinner is completed the entire wait staff knew more than they should about us, from how we met right up to our present situation. I would be kicking him under the table to tell him to be quiet to no avail.  I would be ignored.  I would then have to become the interpreter, rephrasing or correcting or echoing my Bert’s pronouncements and also becoming a listener.

Oh, how we talked together.   My Bert had such stories to tell!  We are both curious about our world, our country, people, places and things.   My Bert devoured news and current affairs.  I read and we talked about everything.   Our conversations encompassed silly things, weighty things, family things and couple things.  We agreed, we disagreed and agreed to disagree and we laughed.

Oh, how I miss that talking together.  Now, trying to have a conversation is a Herculean task.  I give up any thought of having a sustained conversation.   In the absence of that verbal communion I have become the chatterbox.  The sentences are made up of the basic noun and verb.  Heck, it could be just one word.  I get back one word in return and sometimes the word returned is completely out of context.  When my Bert attempts to express a thought it ends abruptly halfway and I try to finish it.   Sometimes I succeed but that is becoming more difficult as time passes. It is difficult to enter Alzheimer world when a thought is unfinished.

The inanity is mind numbing.   When does speaking become just noise?  When does it lose its main function of communicating? It tests my patience and it saddens me to see him struggle to find the words.  I think he knows what he would like to say but it takes a valiant effort to get it out.  Sometimes he just gives up.  The frustration is apparent.   He begins to pick at his fingernails and mumbles.

How can I relieve the anxiety?  I say: “Don’t worry.  Tell me tomorrow.”   Then I will rub noses or give a hug.   These now are the best communication tools.  There is no need for words then.

The Meander:    Should anyone be looking for ‘tomorrow’, ‘soon’, ‘later’ please check with a caregiver for a loved one with dementia.  We have usurped them.  We are wearing them out completely.  “When do we go to Breda?”   That is Bert’s birth city in The Netherlands.  “Tomorrow.”    “When are the kids coming?”  They left maybe ten minutes prior.  “Soon.”  “Are we going to bed now?”  We have just finished lunch.  “Later.”   A loving touch, a smile, a hug and holding hands are enough to relieve his anxiety.   We still ‘talk’.

Monuments

A friend sent me a message: “Go to news. Notre Dame is on fire.”  I leapt up from the computer and for the next two hours or so I was riveted to the T.V screen as I watched the Cathedral, the heart of Paris burning.  I was saddened.

My Bert and I have had the privilege of visiting famous monuments and landmarks around the world.  They remain in my memory, in my psyche, and yes in my heart.

On separate occasions I have cried, laughed, cried and laughed at the Berlin Wall.  I even own a small piece of it from when it was torn down. My Bert and I raced from Amsterdam to Berlin to witness the ‘unzipping’ of the refurbished Brandenburg Gate by President Bill Clinton.

I got goose bumps the first time I saw Westminster Abbey, The Blue Mosque, The Great Pyramid of Giza, Notre Dame de Paris, The Taj Mahal and so many more.   There are entire cities that I consider to be monuments.  Jerusalem, London, Paris, Athens, Rome, The Vatican, Amsterdam all come to mind.

Whenever I think of Denmark the small sculpture of The Little Mermaid brings a smile as do the Manneken Pis in Brussels which dates from 1388.  They are beloved symbols that give a unique identity to a particular place.  They are more than interesting sculptures.

The Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado means we are in Rio de Janeiro.  Going to the opera at the Sydney Opera house is one bragging right I hold dear. And you know you are in Australia.

As I looked at Notre Dame I was grateful that we had toured it as a couple, as a family, and with travel companions.  I wondered if we would live to see the ‘after’ even if only virtually.

As the fire burned my thoughts were turbulent.  I was filled with dismay and sadness.  I am not Roman Catholic.  That did not matter.  I am neither a Parisian nor French.  That did not matter.  I was looking at an iconic symbol.  That is what a monument is.  A symbol that is universal that can appeal to anyone. 

Great literature, art, music, dance, drama, architecture are ways in which we showcase our creativity, share our talents and demonstrate the human need for beauty that transcends the mundane.   They speak to the soul.  Monumental works like Notre Dame validate that need and give credence to Keats’: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”

When we toured Notre Dame the fact that it was the keeper of the Crown of Thorns was awe inspiring.  I enjoyed seeing the art, the craftsmanship that went into the building but uppermost in my mind was the history.  The same words I said then came back to me as I uttered them again: “If only these walls and stones could talk.”  Notre Dame burned at the beginning of Holy Week.  Ironic, isn’t it?

I wondered if the egotistical Napoleon was turning in his grave recalling his glory when he crowned himself Emperor of France in Notre Dame.   He had no great love for either the Pontiff or religiosity so he may have some ambivalence about this destruction.  As the spire fell I wondered if all those nobles who travelled past its doors in tumbrels to be guillotined found some macabre similarity to their own fate.  They lost their heads and now Notre Dame was losing its own.

As I mourned the passing I wondered if some were cheering that this was a symbol belonging to ‘the other’ not to them.  History, literature, religious fervour, art, music, wars, and love are all part of Notre Dame and they were fighting for space in my thoughts as I watched.   That is a monument.  It means everything to some and something to everyone else.  You may be indifferent to it but it cannot be ignored.

The Meander:   Over one billion Euros were donated within forty eight hours for the restoration of Notre Dame.  Extraordinary!  I cannot remember any human disaster that raised so much in so short a time. Hmm…

Experts estimate that it will take up to fifteen years to rebuild Notre Dame. With utter conceit I looked over at my monument, my Bert, and wonder if it will take up to fifteen years for his spire to topple.

Howsoever long it takes, if I am still alive, I will rejoice for one and mourn the other.  The Light and dark together as ever.

Shoehorns

My Bert puts on his shoes using a shoehorn.  It has always been thus. 

The only time a shoehorn gets near my feet is when I am being fitted by a sales assistant.   My thumbs work for me. Always have.

My Bert is so dependent on a shoehorn that if there is none around he will fashion one from a magazine, folded paper, the handle of a spoon, a credit card, or my thumbs.  He is inventive and adept whether sitting or standing.

Shoehorns now for me have become analogous with my Bert’s aging and Alzheimer disease.  When his knee became arthritic he had to abandon the short stubby shoehorn and get one longer.  After his knee replacement the shoehorn became even longer so he could put on his shoes from a standing position. 

Among the travel essentials was the shoehorn.  We have forgotten them in places like the River Jordan and the Dead Sea and other places where we had to take off our shoes on our sightseeing explorations.     I still remember scouring a market in The Gambia looking for a shoehorn!

I have helped my Bert with his shoes and in disgust have discarded the shoehorn and resorted to my thumbs.  They work.

We are in the shoe store.  I have three pairs for my Bert to fit.  Every shoehorn is long.  My Bert is sitting on a padded bench and trying to get a shoe on.  The shoehorn only gets in the way.  An assistant comes by and suggests he stands up to use it.  I become the supporting post.  This is not working.  The assistant tries to help.  Bert hangs on to me and he thinks we are dancing.  He has completely forgotten the reason for us being upright.  He giggles and tells me there is a woman fiddling with his foot.

The bad shoulder begins to hurt.   My Bert wants to dance.  The assistant is sweating and I am sure the mumble I hear is not fit to print.   It is a Herculean task but finally one foot is in.  It is declared to be ‘good’.   I choose the opposite foot from another box and with equal effort gets it on.  My Bert walks around a few times and declares that they both fit and are ‘good’.

I buy both pairs.  I am never doing this again.  It is hazardous to my health!

“Paula, do you have a short shoehorn?  This one is too long to use to help Bert with his shoes.”  The question comes from our wonderful helper who was on her knees, valiantly struggling to use the shoehorn.  The shaft came up to my Bert’s knee and she was working awkwardly with the curved portion at his heel.

Laughter burst out of me as I thought my Bert is like the shoehorns.   I decide I better give an explanation for the mirth before she decides to call in to her office to say she has two clients on her hands and to please send in the emergency squad.

“Your question has reminded me of that old phrase ‘Once a man, twice a child.’   I am thinking how Bert is living his second childhood in conjunction with his shoehorns.   First it was the tiny shoehorn which with age gradually grew longer and longer.   Alzheimer disease has set him back to the tiny shoehorn which he can no longer use by himself.”

The laugh was bittersweet. 

Helping my Bert with his shoes is agonizingly slow.   He has to be in a standing position. I direct him on each step of the process while he holds on to the wall.  Sure, I could still use my thumbs.  It is the getting down to the floor which has become the problem.   Actually, I could get down but how would I get back up?  Calling 9-1-1 is not an option.   I smile to myself again.   I am thinking about having a crane on call.  Nah!

I can’t help but wonder how we will cope when he can no longer stand by himself.

The Meander:  My Bert and a shoehorn.   It is not such an odd juxtaposition.    He has been known to put on his slippers with a shoehorn. Then again, I am the one who sees the sublime in the ridiculous.  Only problem is that in this case what is sublime?  What is ridiculous?  I can only laugh.  Laugh with me so I do not cry.

Time for Sale

I am dreaming.  I am in a hurry.  There are others also scurrying here and there.   I look at my wrist but there is no watch there.  I call out that I need to get a watch but they should carry on.  I am in a car driving fast down a hill.  I pass a large crowd and shout: “I have to buy a watch and time!” I wake up.

The remnant of the dream remains and disturbs.  I take a few deep breaths and think how wonderful it would be if one could buy time.   Every caregiver would want to be first in line.

The dream has dredged up the watch seller we met in Gibraltar.  What a character he was!

His stand was in a prime location.  Going or coming you had to walk by that stand.   There were all kinds of watches for the amazing sum of ‘$10 dollars each or three for $30!’ he would holler.

It was a bargain and a smile in one short sentence.   However, that was not all.

What drew and held a crowd entranced was the non-stop patter of the seller.  He had an English accent which I thought was Cockney.  I asked him if he was born within the sound of the Bow Bells to which he answered:

“The sound of the bow Bells? Darling, mi pregnant mum was at church and when the darn thing rang she jumped so high that out I popped.  I tell you, love you canna get more Cock(pause)ney  (wink, wink) than that.”   Groans and laughter ensued.  It seemed he had an endless number of jokes, sly remarks, double entendres to keep us entertained and buying his watches.  Purchasing a cheap watch in Gibraltar suddenly became de rigueur

I bought three watches.  My rationale was that as frequent travellers it was good to wear these cheap versions for sightseeing.

The next year we happened to be back in Gibraltar.  Our watch seller was at his post.  His patter was loud, persuasive and entertaining as usual.  He looked out, saw us and shouted: “Aye, there’s mi customer, come back from –where you from mi darling? ‘Canada’ all the way from Canada to buy mi watches.  Want another three mi love?” 

We walked the main street for a bit and returned just as he was turning over the stand to his son to take a break.

“Good line you use about a returning customer,” I say. He looked at me and said:

“I do remember you.  Your husband got in on my act and actually persuaded people to buy the watches telling them the spiel alone was worth the money.  Then you bought three watches I am sure you really did not need and for Chrissakes, it is sorta hard for you to disguise yourselves.  Stuck in my head is the fun loving, happy, odd couple.  Come, have a cuppa and a beer for you my friend?” We comply. Bert won the paying the bill battle.

We are back in Gibraltar.  This time I am on a mission to get a good watch.  Gibraltar is a duty free port so prices are better here.  I am happy with my purchase.

We stop at our favourite cheap watch seller.  He hails us again, he tells people to ask us about the fabulous bargains we have made and how we come specifically to Gibraltar to buy his watches.  The patter is non-stop as usual and entertaining.  He beckons us over and says: “OK, which of these are you getting this year?”   “This year, I am not getting any.  I just bought a lovely one just down the road.”  I point in the direction of the shops.  He laughs, tut-tuts, shakes his head, and in a loud voice says:

“Oh, you did, did you?  Let me tell you something, darling, you got snookered.  I bet you paid more than ten times what my beautiful watches cost!  Come here mi luv; let me tell you a little secret.  That expensive watch you bought tells exactly the same time as mine.”

Amid the laughter I hear ‘true’, ‘that’s fer sure’.  I think Bert and I are laughing the hardest.

It is about five years when we get back to Gibraltar.  We make a beeline to our cheap watch vendor.  No, I do not need a watch.  We just want to say ‘hello’ and listen to the patter.  His son is at the stand.  Bert asks after his father.  He has died.  We offer our condolences.  We are sad.  An errant thought: He ran out of time. He would appreciate it. I bought a watch in his memory and walk on under a suddenly dimmed sky.

The Meander:   A thief snatched my watch as we were walking back to our hotel in Santiago, Chile.  After the anger, feeling violated and acknowledging with thanks the care of the good Samaritans who came to our aid, I turned to Bert and said:   “He will be so disappointed that the ‘gold’ watch is a ten dollar Gibraltar special.”  We begin to laugh hysterically.

Our good Samaritans slowly leave and I think they are still debating whether we were happy to be unharmed or that the incident had been so traumatic as to leave us unhinged.

By the way, those Gibraltar specials lasted from 18 months to over five years and kept the same time!

Friendship

This is not friendship day or week or month.  It seems to me that I get a beautiful, sweet message about friendship and friends almost every week and they all end with an order to send it on to my friends because it is friendship day or week.  If I should add them all up there would be a thousand weeks in a year just for friendship.    My friends know how much I value them so I do not mind getting friendship messages but I need no reminders.   My friendship is on tap every day all year.  And it is a two way street.

My friends cross all boundaries, cultural, religious, social, and economic.  There are friends I have not yet met.  I have often opined that I was not blessed with a large family but I certainly made up for that lack with a host of dear friends.  Better yet, I get to choose them even as they choose me!   My friends live all over world and all are dear to me.   My friends fill that need of humans to have companionship who share a commonality of purpose, desires, mores and love.   There are all occasion friends and special event friends but they are all friends of the heart.  I laugh with them; cry with them and the hugs are wonderful.   My friends are full of kindness.   I write about one of my darker days and I get a beautiful bouquet with this card enclosed.

I laughed!   What a friend.    I have been sustained by the outpouring of love since that post.  I was refreshed. 

So it is with a full heart that I say “Thank You” to my friends.  Thank you for giving me strength, love and courage to carry on.  Thank you for sharing the ups, the downs and the in between.  Thank you for being by my side to laugh, to cry, to rejoice at successes and to commiserate with me at disappointments.

Thank you for bringing me back to the light when I have those dark days.  Thank you for the laughs, for laughing with me and laughing at me. 

The Meander:  My friends make the anguish less and me more.  Thank you!

.