Wednesday, July 14, 2010


“It’s time for our ‘Naughty Nap’, “ declared my mom’s ninety-year old boyfriend after their lunch in the assisted living dining room.

I had heard that my mom had a new beau. The workers at her residence had mentioned it to my brother who kept close tabs on her. Apparently, they went to deliver this gent’s meds early one morning and discovered he had a guest, my Mother. She had been diagnosed with dementia a couple of years ago, had been recently tested and it had progressed to Alzheimer’s, it was confirmed. She still knew all of us, was joyful, but the short-term memory place in her brain showed little activity. The good news was her love life was in full force.

She introduced him to us as “Hank”. But his name was actually “Wendell”. He never corrected her. There was some other gentleman in the residence who’s name was Hank. This real Hank was hard of hearing, so the workers would use elevated tones when calling his name. “Hank! Hank!” Apparently this stuck in my Mom’s brain.

It didn’t seem to matter to “Wendell”. He was actually quite a catch. A retired Air Force pilot and Commander. Charming as heck, extremely witty, and still quite handsome at ninety. His sight had been declining at a steady rate for the last two years, no one could tell him why; at this point he could only see vague outlines of figures, he explained. It didn’t seem to slow him down. My mother introduced me as her daughter, “want to sit on my lap, little girl?” Wendell winked towards my outline with perfect comic timing.

My sister ‘n’ law commented how nice it was that she had found someone to hold, to be held by, I missed that feeling and marveled at how my mom had done it in her current state. Dizzy with logic, shower challenged, plucked from her home in La Jolla, relocated in a nice facility near my brother’s family. She knew no one, yet found love with Wendell. He told stories about his Air Force days. How he used to throw his Harley Davidson motorcycle in the plane to fly someplace wonderful for the day. He had written books, been a lecturer. He wore a crisp cotton plaid shirt, nice jeans, and a cool brass belt buckle he feigned taking off to hand over to me when I complimented him on it. The two if them now sat on a love seat, Wendell gazing at my mother with whatever eyesight remained. “Hank is very intelligent,” she said to me with a haughty tone I didn’t recognize. “And he’s extremely funny, don’t you think?” I did think! It didn’t matter than she didn’t know his name – Hank, Wendell, Captain Fantastic, it didn’t matter. I had never seen her this happy.

We took them to lunch the next day at Red Robin – me along with my brother, his wife and their two small kids. I turned to my mom, asked her if she was enjoying her lunch. She snapped at me, “Why wouldn’t I??” We were all stunned at her tone, the wind knocked out of me. My brother tried to engage her towards me, as she stared towards Wendell who sat on the other side of her working on his half of the grilled chicken sandwich they asked to share. He was doing his best to keep up with the stalled conversation.

“Claud,” my brother said slowly, “why don’t you tell mom about the really big company you’re working with, what was their name?” “Mom,” he attempted once more to gain her attention, “she was part of working on a very big website, Claud, tell mom about the website you wrote all by yourself.” Mom was patting Hank/Wendell’s thigh. I mechanically answered my brother’s prompt. Hearing my own words stung, it was useless, falling on deaf ears as she concentrated on removing the offending strings of red onion off Hank’s sandwich, placing them carefully on the edge of her plate.

We drove them the quarter mile from the restaurant back to the assisted living residence. My brother unloaded Wendell’s rolling walker from the trunk, I got out of the car to say goodbye. I would be leaving the next day; I didn’t know when I would make it back to Oregon. “Why are you getting out of the car, Claudia” my mom said nervously. “I’m just saying “goodbye, Mom”. “Oh, OK, will I see you again?” “No, I’m leaving tomorrow, I’ll call you soon.” “Oh, OK, Sweethear….” Her words trailed off as she turned towards her beau, who was standing with his hand extended towards me, waiting patiently to bid me adieu.