“What’s the word? You know the one – means famous but more than that?” Gran frowned at me.
“Celebrated? Cosmic? Iconic?” I offered.
“No. It’s on the tip of my tongue – what is it?” She shook her head and huffed. “Oh, it so annoying! I know I know it, what is it?” She sighed deeply. I recognised her frustration. I’ve often felt the same, words slipping out of reach, in the hazy backwaters of your mind. I shrugged.
“I’ll make some tea,” she said. “It’ll probably come to me when I’m not thinking about it.” I heard her banging about in the kitchen. A few minutes later an acrid, burning smell reached my nose. I rushed in to investigate. Gran stood in the middle of the floor holding a saucepan; smoke billowed from it. Tears filled her eyes.
It’s the potatoes I put on for dinner,” she said. “Must have been on the stove for hours. I’d forgotten…”
I took the saucepan from her. “Go and sit down Gran,” I said. I’ll see to this and make the tea. “Must have had your mind on other things. Not to worry.”
But I did worry. At her age, some forgetfulness was normal, but her memory had been getting worse for ages. She forgot people’s names, people she’d known for years, referring to them as ‘whatisname,’ ‘thingamebob’ ‘you know, her down the road, with the dog,’ or even ‘wears a brown coat – you must remember.’
A tidal wave of love for her swept over me. I’d heard terrible things about elderly people who lose their memories and forget who they are and don’t recognise their loved ones. It’s as if, by losing their memories, the person themself slips away. Our memories make us the people we are, without them… I shuddered at the thought.
I pushed my worries aside, but the memory of the dismay on her face haunted me. I’d have to do something…
I looked up ‘absent-mindedness’ on the computer. Over five million results set out diseases that caused forgetfulness. Then I tried ‘memory loss’ – another three million results. Dementia brought more, all equally depressing. I spent hours on the web looking for answers.
I was so engrossed in my research I forgot I’d invited friends for dinner. I hadn’t even started to cook when they arrived. Fortunately, they didn’t seem to mind eating at midnight. I told them about my Gran.
“My Granddad forgot to put his trousers on one day,” Viv said. “Nearly caught his death.” She helped herself to another potato. Kath laughed, but I didn’t think it funny.
“Gary’s mum forgot where she lived,” Kath said. “People used to ring him up to come and collect her.”
“What about that woman down our road who used to walk around at night in her dressing gown,” Sarah said.
My heart grew heavier by the minute. As dinner table conversations go it wasn’t the most stimulating we’d ever had. I collected the plates and went into the kitchen to get the dessert.
“Why don’t you try the library?” Kath suggested when I returned. “I got a really good book on allergies for my dad. It gave really good advice and helped him a lot.”
So, the next day I went to the library where I found a fantastic range of medical books. I spent hours perusing them. One thing the books and websites agreed on was that a healthy diet was essential to fitness in old age. Well, no problem there. Gran had grown up at a time when home grown veg came straight out of the ground into the cooking pot. She’d hold no truck with supermarkets, ready meals or what she called ‘foreign rubbish’. Still, living alone, I did wonder if she was taking as much care cooking meals for herself as she should. Every morning, when I woke up, I was sick with worry.
“She may be lacking in vitamins,” a colleague suggested. Next day I went to the Health Shop where herbal remedies promised everything from increased fertility to an improved sex life. I didn’t see the need of either for Gran. Eventually I settled for a selection with unpronounceable names. The bill came to over sixty pounds, but it was for my Gran, so I dived into my bag and pulled out my purse.
I thought about one of those ‘Brain Training’ Gizmos, but they cost an arm and a leg, and with my Gran’s eyesight, I decided against it. She wouldn’t be able to see it without her glasses, and she kept forgetting where she’d put them, even when she was wearing them on top of her head.
Someone suggested puzzle books, jigsaws, etc. Gran loved puzzle books, so I nipped into the newsagents and bought some. At least they were relatively cheap.
My next problem was how to approach her. Fiercely independent she wouldn’t welcome any interference in her life. She was the Grandmother – I was the child. Who was I to tell her how to live her life?
On Saturday morning I visited and was surprised to find her in the hallway with a bright blue suitcase on wheels. “What’s up Gran?” I said. I must have looked bewildered, because she stopped and stared at me as if looking for a brain cell.
“The cruise. You remember, I told you about it last week when I burnt the saucepan. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten.”
Cruise? Saucepan? I racked my brains but no memory came.
“Mrs. Whatshername, down the road, her with the brown coat and the dog. She told me about this competition in my puzzle book. You know, the one I was trying to work out when you were there.” She glared at me but any memory I might have once had was long gone.
“That’s probably why I was so distracted and forgetful that day. I was so engrossed in the competition everything else flew from my mind like feathers in a gale. Still I won a cruise.” The smile on her face beamed brighter than sunshine in August. “Legendary. That’s the word I was trying to think of. It came to me in the bath that night. I got my entry in next day, just in time to meet the deadline.”
She pulled the suitcase towards her, banging in firmly on the ground. “The cruise isn’t till next month, but I thought I’d have a dry run. Her eyes shone with delight. Her mind was as sharp as a tack; I was the one with the missing memory.
I was so relieved I couldn’t speak. I felt ashamed of jumping to such monstrous conclusions. I hadn’t even thought to ask her opinion. I’d tried to manage her life without so much as a by-your-leave.
She took a breath. “Honestly Chrissie, I swear your memory is even worse than mine. What’s that you’ve got in your bag?” she asked, nodding at my bulging carrier bag.
“Puzzle books, Gran,” I said. “I bought you some puzzle books. Ideal for a cruise.” I lifted the bag to show her. “I bought some vitamins for myself too. They’re supposed to nourish the brain you know.”
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