My mother spent her youngest years on a ranch in Valley Springs, near Galt, CA...a town which, from what I understand, isn't all that much bigger now than it was in the 1920s. She used to be fond of telling the story about the can pile. Apparently in one of their fenced off areas of the ranch, there was a big can pile (how big "big" was is, I guess, speculation, given that she was still quite young when they moved). One of the jobs of the kids still living at home was to move the cans from one side of the yard to another from time to time. She says that it was so frustrating for them because whenever they wanted to go somewhere, their father would tell them they could not leave until they had moved the can pile.
When she was an adult, she asked him about it. What was so special about the can pile and why did they always have to use it. He laughed and said it was to give them something to do so they wouldn't bug him.
I decided today that I need a can pile.
Last night my mother had one of her spells, where she doesn't know who she is or where she is or what she's supposed to be doing. She can't recognize anyone, and it terrifies her. Atria called me and I went over there and spent an hour and a half talking with her. Gradually she began to "come back," aided by a little photo album her oldest sister made for her many years ago. Marie was the oldest in the 10-child family, so many of the photos are of the older kids, who were out of the home when my mother was born, but there are also pictures of my mother and her younger siblings, and family portraits, and even pictures from 1947, when I was four years old visiting my grandparents on their little farm in Inverness.
As she thumbed through the book and read the captions my aunt had supplied, I would make a comment about the photos, which I knew quite well. As she got further and further into the book she began to identify faces herself and by the time she went back through the book the second time, she knew everybody by face and she was back. We ended the evening on a happy note and she was about to go to bed. I promised I'd come back in the morning and have breakfast with her just to see how she was. I figured that she would be better in the morning.
And she was. Sort of, though she said she felt "terrible." But the thing that plagues her and has plagued her every single day since she moved to Atria is that she knows she's supposed to be doing something, but she doesn't know what it is. She wailed today "isn't there something I should be doing for someone?"
That's when I decided I needed a can pile. Or an equivalent. I needed something vitally important that she needs to do that the next time she feels needed, she would do the reverse. Unfortunately, there is no can pile at Atria.
Despite the fact that she was "back" she just wasn't happy and from all she was saying, it seemed blatantly obvious she was bored. She does nothing but sit in her chair and isn't interested in doing any activity at Atria, but she also complains that she has nothing to do (please, find a can pile!) I asked if she'd like to go to lunch and suggested that we could go to the dining room or we could go out for lunch. She eagerly chose eating out.
I decided to take her to a Denny's, which is the cheapest sit-down restaurant I could think of. I know she sparkles on these excursions, but I spent a fortune a month ago taking her to lunch a few times. I'm trying to think of places to take her where she can walk, but her walking is hampered by her back pain and her refusal to use any cane or walker and heaven help her NO WHEELCHAIR. There are lovely places where we could go and sit and watch trees and water fowl and enjoy a picnic lunch, but you have to walk a short way to get to all of them--not long, but with her back, she's likely to give up before we get there. She can't follow the plot of a movie, and has never been interested in museums. So a restaurant seems to be the only option (though I am going to investigate further).
But it was definitely worth it today. Her mood lifted as soon as we were in the car and headed for Woodland and the nearest Denny's. I took the road that had the most greenery, which she loves. She beamed when we sat in a booth and waited for our lunch.
After lunch, we drove around Woodland to see the Victorian homes and the beautiful gardens, but she began to be nervous because she wasn't sure I knew where I was and she was afraid she wouldn't be able to find her way home.
I dropped her off at Atria, rather than taking her to her apartment and she seems to have found her way. We would be back in a couple of hours because Jeri and Phil were returning from Tahoe and we would have one last visit before they left for the airport and their return flight to Boston.
We did have a lovely, leisure visit with Jeri and Phil. I just love watching her with Jeri, who is her favorite person in the world.
Sometimes I wish that she listened to me with as much rapt attention and obvious delight as she does to Jeri.
Walt brought some rolls of artwork he found in cleaning up the upstairs bedroom. Jeri at first said that she didn't recognize them, but then decided that maybe she did recognize them and that she thinks she might have drawn them when she was in grad school and learning how to create theater sets. The drawings seem to be 3 parts of a gigantic picture of Jeri as a giraffe with a long French braid running down her neck and around her chest.
I told her that I know I never put any of the drawings on the refrigerator!
My mother picked up the photo album that Aunt Marie made again and started looking through it once more. Jeri sat with her and my mother began explaining to her who all those people were. These were people, most of whom died before Jeri was born, or people that she never really got to meet as a child so it was cool that she could see some of her relatives.. I just got all verklempt watching the two of them going over these photos, my mother remembering who everyone was, and Jeri listening to her stories about them.
But finally it was time to say goodbye and it was time for hugs and the usual photos.
My mother was confused about who was leaving and who was staying and for awhile thought I was flying to Boston.
Tomorrow she has a dental appointment, her "something to do" for tomorrow. On Tuesday I may take her to the farmer's market, have her help me pick out a bunch of green beans and then come back here and ask her to help me string them (I don't need green beans, but they are cheap and we will eat them). Then Wednesday I'll try to take her to a duck pond and see if she can walk that far.
After that I'm going to be looking for a can pile.