I admit I was sad not to have our traditional farm Christmas, mainly because I had no excuse to decorate the house with kitschy abandon (although a few, maybe 20, Santa Clauses did show up on shelves and mantles). But gathering with extended family in New Orleans proved much easier.
We stayed with our college age grandkids and our son in a rented duplex literally across the street from my daughter’s house, where she was in charge of festivities. Ralph and I both enjoyed ourselves, albeit separately and differently. While I was busy helping with preparations and messing around with five grandkids from almost two to almost 22, Ralph spent a lot of time smoking on the porch, either at my daughter’s house or the rental, while I could keep an eye him through my daughter’s front window. Therefore when he left the rental porch and headed down the street our first sunny afternoon, I was there to stop him.
“I’m just walking around the corner to buy cigarettes.”
“Not a good idea to go off in New Orleans by yourself.”
“I know the way there.”
He did know the way there: walk to the corner, take a right and keep straight two blocks until he got to the store. It was the way back, past those two blocks with corners that looked just like ours that be the problem. I sent my son to walk with him.
I sighed with relief and became more vigilant. I also made sure he was stocked with cigarettes. There were no more blips (well, except for a little one Christmas afternoon when we had to convince him that the store was closed).
As the holiday drew to a close, both my son and daughter commented that Ralph seemed much better than he had seemed at Thanksgiving. I had to admit I wasn’t sure I’d noticed.
It makes me nervous when anyone, but especially one of our kids, comments that Ralph seems better. No, I don’t get nervous; I get defensive. Why do they think they can see something I’m missing?
So why did the kids see him as improved?
Well, for one thing they found him frighteningly disengaged at Thanksgiving. And they may be right. That holiday is a blur of houseguests, of cooking, cleaning, entertaining and babysitting while fighting off the remnants of congestion and cough. And given that Ralph was coming down with the cold that put him in bed for days once everyone left, he probably was more disengaged than I noticed–I do have a lingering image of Thanksgiving night, most of us gathered in a relaxed conversational circle in the living room and Ralph sitting alone just feet away in the television alcove bundled in outdoor wear staring at nothing.
Second, while I was focused on how much he slept and whether he drank too much beer at Christmas, they found him more engaged because around them he was. While all of us, Ralph in particular, could move easily back and forth across the narrow street between houses, our separate living space offered Ralph privacy both to nap whenever he wanted and to take the time he needed with his slow wake up rituals before walking over to my daughter’s house to offer everyone with some grandfatherly attention. Because he slept so much during the day, while the kids and grandkids were out exploring the neighborhood, in the evening he was rested enough to participate.
And third, by Christmas Ralph was back on his study meds, which he’d stopped taking a week of so before Thanksgiving due to scheduling issues. The study is on the value of ADHD drugs in treating apathy in those on the Alzheimer’s spectrum, and I didn’t think those little red pills were working, but now I wonder. Or maybe it was just the combination of good weather, good company, and an undemanding change of scenery. As we were packing up to leave, Ralph said how much he liked visiting New Orleans.
“Well, maybe you could start visiting more often with me.” I was thinking ahead to Mardi Gras when I plan to help grandbaby sit.
“I’d like that.” He nodded with what seemed like enthusiasm.
Now we’re home. He’s back in his mostly undemanding routine. When I brought up going back down to Nola, he looked at me askance.
“I don’t think so.”
“But you had such a good time at Christmas.”
“It was okay,” he shrugged. “But I have no interest in going again.”