I don’t know if it’s human nature, or just mine, but there was a part of me that wanted to remain in denial about Mom’s Alzheimer’s. After all, even the experts say you can’t know for sure until an autopsy is done. And some days Mom would seem almost normal.
But other days, the confusion would be so obvious that there was no plausible deniability of disease. And some days what we’d lost already, contrasted sharply against what we’d once had. And it became the time of bittersweet tears.
One of these times was the night the banana bread recipe make me cry…
It’s strange that a banana bread recipe can make me cry like this. It’s in my mom’s handwriting, on a three by five note card. It’s slightly stained, a little bent and torn, and some of the ink is blurred where moisture has dropped on it.
It’s been a faithfully used recipe, and the bread was a favorite growing up. Mom used to make big batches of it. She would bake smaller loaves and give them out at Christmas, to teachers and neighbors. I even asked mom to bake the bread for my wedding. Which she did. Along with all the food for the reception except the cake.
One night a couple years ago, I walked across my back yard and hers to visit Mom, through the damp, humid air that reminds me of Mama’s hometown in Louisiana…
I often visited her in the evenings, lying on her bed with her, watching “The Walton’s” and talking. Or we’d sit side by side on the edge of her bed and look through a couple of her dresser drawers that were filled with old photos, greeting cards, letters, etc.
The drawers had become jumbled time capsules of Mama’s life, giving us glimpses into every decade of her almost eighty years. She spent hours each day sifting through them.
Lately Mama had taken to reading her daddy’s obituary over and over to me. She would say she wanted to go to Louisiana and visit her people. But she wasn’t sure if her daddy and mama were still there…
That night I answered, “No, Mom. They died a long time ago.”
“They did?” she asks curiously, “How do you know?”
“You told me,” I answer honestly. “Remember, Grandpa died the year I graduated from high school? You took the bus to Louisiana so you could be at his funeral.”
“I did?” she says, with surprise. “I don’t remember that. I wish I could go to Louisiana again. I want to see my mama and daddy. But I don’t know if they are there anymore…”
“No, Mom. They’re in heaven now. They believed in Jesus and loved Him, so they are in heaven. And someday you will get to see them forever.”
“That’s right,” she nods, and seems reassured.
“Here Mom, let’s look at some pictures. Who’s this?” I hand her a picture of my dad and three brothers, when James, the youngest, was probably two or three. She looks at it intently.
“That looks like Dad, and…the boys.” I smile, glad that she recognizes them.
Mom adds, “Who are the boys?” I point to each of her sons and tell her who they are.
I show her a picture of my wedding party. “Look at this, Mom! You sewed every dress in this picture!”
“I did?” she asks, pleased and surprised.
Yet some of the pictures she does recognize. She knows her maid of honor, who she hasn’t seen for years. She always seems to know her mama and daddy, but gets confused about her siblings. She loves looking through pictures. I start labeling some of the photos that aren’t marked. It reassures her to read who they are. I tuck away some special ones in a scrapbook.
It’s getting late. I better leave so Dad can have his side of the bed. We share our “good-nights”, and I walk out of her room. I’m saying good-bye to Dad, when Mom joins us in the kitchen, carrying a small, white card.
“Here,” she says, reaching out a smudged looking card to me with her gently wrinkled, slightly arthritic hand, “do you want this recipe for banana bread?”
I already have a copy of it at home, but I somehow feel that I shouldn’t turn down this gift. “If you don’t need it anymore,” I say.
“No, I don’t need it,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever made banana bread.”
I thank her, and take the card. I walk back out through the humid night to my own home. I spend some time with my family, but after they go to bed, I keep looking at the tattered, worn, stained recipe card, with the blurred ink splashes. And it seems incredibly precious. More precious than I ever knew.