Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Memories

It's that time of year when families reunite for the holidays. These get-togethers can be fun or stressful depending on the health status of the older family members or the employment status of the less successful family members. They are always the settings for indelible memories. 

If you only see your parents or grandparents once or twice a year and they are over sixty, it's usually a shock to see how much they've aged since your last visit. At least that was my experience during the latter years of my parent's lives.  Although it was disturbing to see their physical decline, it was more stressful to see the mental decline. When I was a student and visited during the holidays, the first question always was, "When are you going to be finished?" Later, they couldn't seem to remember that I had finished school and had been working at a university for twenty years. Their first question to me when I arrived for a visit was, "How was school this semester? Did you do well?" I suppose their persistent belief in my student status was due partly to the fact that I was in school for a very long time and partly to the fact that both my husband and I were at a university and talked about being in class or doing research, which were also places and activities we talked about when we were students.  It makes sense, in a way....

My husband's parents were in better physical shape than mine, but were mentally worse off in some ways, if you can imagine that.  His parents (and their friends) seemed to get obsessed with certain drugs and whether my husband and I were hooked on them.  We were never sure where they got this idea, except from TV soap operas. They grilled my husband on each visit about our finances (we were fine, no debt), about our friends (no heroin addicts), about our jobs (we had not been fired), etc.  This inquisition continued well into our 40s.  They also were convinced that drug-sniffing dogs were deliberately addicted to the drugs they were trained to find (this explained why they were so eager to find the drugs).

"What about bomb-sniffing dogs?" I would ask.

His parents lived in Florida during the winter, so that's where we would go during the Christmas holidays. One year, I decided that I would visit my parents and my husband would go alone to Florida. That was the year of his infamous encounter with "Aunt Becky", one of those stories that becomes family legend.

Aunt Becky was actually my husband's great aunt by marriage. She lived in an up-scale condo in Miami Beach. That Christmas, his parents decided to visit Aunt Becky one afternoon. She was in her 70s, so my husband was expecting a frail, elderly woman, perhaps needing a walker to get around. When they arrived at her condo, my husband was shocked when the door opened. He described her to me as very healthy, very blond, very tanned, and dressed in a skimpy jogging outfit that showed off her very well-proportioned body.

And that was apparently the least of the surprises in store for him. 

Aunt Becky proceeded to give her visitors a tour of her condo, during which she made suggestive remarks about recent male visitors (she was unmarried, having outlived several husbands).  Everyone, including my husband, was laughing along with her about her raucous remarks. Then, while his parents were taking in the view of Miami from the balcony, Aunt Becky suggested that my husband might be interested in seeing her bedroom. He reluctantly went along with her, not wanting to offend her by saying no.  She pointed out her bed, which was a waterbed (this was the 80s), and suggested he try it.  When he declined, she pushed him down on the bed and jumped on top of him. He said she was incredibly strong, and between her strength and the sloshing waterbed, he could not extricate himself.

It was then that his parents walked in.

His mother yelled, "Aunt Becky, get off [my husband's name]!" They thought it was pretty funny, but my husband was mortified.  His parents told that story for years, much to his chagrin.  Unfortunately, I never got to meet Aunt Becky. I often wondered what would have happened had I been along on that visit.

My husband's parents and my parents are now deceased (as is Aunt Becky). So we are long past the stage of having to make the annual trek to our respective childhood homes (and deciding which set of parents to visit during the holidays). We've also moved past the period of watching our parents' decline from being physically active and mentally sharp to being frail and faltering in body and mind.

We've instead transitioned to watching each other age, both of us being at the point where our parents began showing the first symptoms of decrepitude.  We watch each other for impending signs of dementia and worry over every little lapse in memory or inability to dredge up the name of some obscure (or not so obscure) actor or political figure.  He forgets to turn the oven off, and I make a mental note that it's the third time in the past few months.  I can't remember something he told me the day before (he claims), and I can see he's taking note of my forgetfulness as well.  It gets to be a contest.  I only forgot once this week to set the security alarm. He only misplaced his keys two times. We joke that between us, we have a whole brain.

Neither of us looks our age....yet.  My doctor always exclaims when I go in for my annual visit, "You look fantastic! I can't believe you are only [my age]." (I get the impression he doesn't have too many patients like Aunt Becky).  The nurse, taking my blood pressure, says, "You're going to live forrreeevver." A slight exaggeration.  However, my grandmother did make it to 97 and she had most of her marbles at the end (I'm counting on those genes).

Well, I had planned to talk more about the neurological aspects of memory, but I think I'll postpone that until the next post.

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