Nancy was an old horse destined for the glue factory until my father won her in a card game. At least that's what he told us. My father was a traveling salesman in western North Carolina and sold glue for plywood to furniture manufacturers.
Our house on the outskirts of a small town backed up to a pasture where an old mule lived. It was love at first sight for that mule when he saw Nancy and he followed her everywhere. When I rode Nancy around the pasture he was right behind us, both of them galloping as we neared the barn.
I remember Nancy, how it felt to sit on her and ride, and the feel of her skin when I brushed her after. It isn't just the photo that reminds me of her. The memory resides somewhere in my permanent hardware. I was 11, an asthmatic kid who couldn't play sports. Nancy allowed me to live out my cowboy dreams.
Our cocker spaniel Rusty would follow us around the pasture, sometimes stopping to sniff for wildlife. I remember with the clarity of an eternal playback loop the day I heard a screech of brakes and turned to see Rusty hit by a car on the highway. I saw him get up to snarl at the beast that struck him. But by the time I jumped off Nancy and ran into the road to rescue him, he'd died. Not long after our family moved to Atlanta and Nancy finally met her fate at the glue factory,
This story came to life in my mind as I was contemplating my forgetfulness. Last week I left my iPad Mini in the pocket in front of my seat on the commuter bus to school. With the help of a student and the secretary monk in my faculty, we called the driver who found and returned it. That same day I left my keys in the drawer of my desk. Fortunately my wife was home to let me in, but I had to have a spare made the next day since I wasn't exactly sure where I'd left them until returning to school two days later.
This is the time in my life when the specter of Alzheimer's rears it's ugly head. Several of my close friends have long worried about their poor memory. One forwarded my mail from the U.S. for awhile, until he accidentally threw away my renewed credit card and sent me his bills instead of mine. The other stopped driving long distances for fear he'd get lost.
My senior moments may be occurring more frequently. Usually it's the name of a friend or public personality that disappears. Occasionally it's the word for something I know well, like the local fruit mangosteen. Often I can remember the first letter which seems to survive at the retention center. Google has proven to be an invaluable resource for rediscovering the missing words.
My mother, who died shortly after her 90th birthday, wrote down things she didn't want to forget on post-it notes. They covered her kitchen. At the time I found it humorous, but now I admire her ingenuity.
Gene and Mary were already pushing 80 when I met them. They had spent a lifetime as good Catholics, raising a half dozen children and feeding priests supper in their home. But each had turned away from the institution. Gene and I were in a men's group where we spoke of religion in our lives, the good and the bad. Mary was diagnosed with Alzeimer's and for awhile was a care-free gray-haired hippie, picking flowers from private gardens and refusing to attend mass. Gene shared with our group the pain of watching the woman he loved slowly disintegrate. When I last saw her in 2010, the Mary I remembered was gone. Both she and Gene died not long after.
The films taking the ravages of Alzheimer's at their center are heartbreaking and uplifting. I've just watched "Stll Mine," with the ever gorgeous Genevieve Bujold as the 80-something wife losing her grip on reality while James Cromwell plays the stoic but loving husband by her side. It ends on a somewhat positive note. You can't say the same for Michael Haneke's award-winning "Amour" or Sarah Polley's "Away From Her," both magnificent films, yet sad.
As for me, so far, so good. I can usually find my phone (though the other day Nan had to ring it for me to see where it was hiding) and my glasses. They say an active mind helps, and mine is so busy that I'm going on a 3-day meditation retreat next month to slow down. I suspect the young mostly watch others and outside events, while we geriatrics watch our minds for signs of the Apocalypse. But it's all clear on my neural front for now.