In search of story

December 1.20: Coping


Zinnia: thoughts of absent friends


Once upon a long-ago 1968, two life paths — mine and Libby’s — crossed in the highly combustible, hilarious, hormone-laden world of a junior/senior high school. She taught music and I was the new English teacher.

We met in the teachers’ workroom in a haze of mimeograph fumes, and quickly established our mutual love of music.  I was enlisted on the spot as official accompanist for her junior-high musical extravaganzas. I do not forget the moment the curtain went up for the ballroom scene in “Die Fledermaus,” with its aluminum foil chandeliers, and the audience exploded into spontaneous applause.

Or when the 8th-grade Josephine ad libbed her lines to the 7th-grade Ralph Rackstraw in “Pinafore” rehearsal.

Or the shivering hours in Libby’s basement as she sewed the angel costumes for “Hansel und Gretel.” Her childhood on a North Dakota farm made her impervious to cold and eventually she kept a blanket just for me because she grew tired of hearing my teeth chatter.

Libby and I had the best time in those bachelor days even though she could never convert me to gin or cats. I held to a firm belief in scotch and catlessness.  But, beyond bachelorhood, many were the years of friendship, many the pastries, many the morning coffees, many the long talks.

I would say now that I am dead to Libby but the fact is that for her today I never lived. She is far into dementia. She was lovely, a world traveler, opera buff, master gardener, idealist, a tolerant, inquisitive, lifelong learner, protective of all life. Cat addict.

She still is all those things; she just doesn’t know it.

I salute her today, her 93rd birthday. I will know for both of us.


10 thoughts on “December 1.20: Coping

  1. You gave me goosebumps with this heart wrenching story of a valued friendship. I think dementia has to be the most dreaded disease any of us seniors can even bring to mind. It ushers a talented and valued person like Libby to a different level that I think only God truly understands. Later today, pour that scotch, and salute a friendship that brought with it so many rich memories. Happy birthday, Libby.

    • Thanks, Judy. Alas, the scotch is long in my past. Strictly a drink for my younger stomach! But I could be persuaded to a sip of wine with dinner tonight in Libby’s honor. How we do change! Yes, dementia stalks us in our later years and every time we can’t bring up a word we wonder: is this it? I pray that doctors unravel the mysteries some day soon.

      • When I work outside, I head to the garage to get a tool, walk inside, forget what it was, walk outside, remember, and go back. I often wonder what my issue is but hope it is just senior related and not something else. As to scotch versus wine I understand because I basically have given it all up.

  2. Oh, too bad. A great beer or wine can be so much fun in the right place with the right people. But, yes, there comes a time when our systems just don’t handle it so well. As to that whole thing of retracing steps to try to figure out “what did I come in here for?” all I can say is I know it well. I’ve decided it’s because I’m thinking so many brilliant thoughts there’s no room left in my brain for what I’m doing that moment. You are, I’m sure, afflicted with the same unstoppable brilliant thoughts so you cannot be expected to know why you’re in the garage.

  3. This is such a lovely memory of Lilly. As I age and face the various ways I might die from disease, my worry is that my family won’t remember me as I was, but only as I ended my life, incapacitated and only a hint of my former self. Dementia is a particularly awful way to take leave your family and friends. Libby sounds like a wonderful friend. Thank you for sharing her as she truly was.

    • You are so right, Shirah: we do want to be remembered for how we used to be. Illness and/or aging can change us into people we ourselves don’t even know, and we’d like that part to be deleted. The more we age, the more we hope that someone will remember we didn’t used to be old!

  4. A lovely tribute. You were lucky to have each other’s friendship.

  5. Reading this, I felt the full power of your knowing ‘for both of us’. What a tragedy, playing out for so many people, their friends and loved ones. I hope for a cure too.

    It did occur to me that a Granny tent might have been handy back then, even more so if the lap cat had been rejected.

    • Ah, what a great idea: a cat tent! Her last cat belonged in one, I can tell you that! Zipped tight! But it’s a cruel thing for a lover of pets to be deprived of that part of life, and “cruel” is the perfect word for dementia. It victimizes so many, and I too hope for cures.

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