"Did I ever tell you about my first date?"
She asks for the third time in ten minutes. About a story I've heard more than 200 times growing up.
"The night I peed my pants in Ronny Richard's front seat?" She slaps a thigh and howls in laughter. "I've never been more embarrassed in all my life."
We stand on the beach, just outside her assisted living compound, sun lying to rest for the day upon the now-amber horizon. Five four and slender, the wears white cotton beach capris and a sky-blue blouse, her feet bare, her bobbed gray hair rustling in the breeze.
With a stick, she draws the letter, pronouncing it aloud as she does so. "N."
The tide rolls upthen back, and it washes away the "N." She giggles.
Today, she's giddy. Two days ago, she threw a ceramic coffee cup at the wall and cursed every charitable organization on earth for daring to ask for a contribution. "Don't I give enough to these goddamn organizations?!" she screamed.
Some days are happy; other days are spent amidst disorientation, frustration, and subsequent hostility.
Once upon a time, during my primary school years, she ran a humble, benevolent organization called Community Action Council. It provided help and support for single mothers, young mothers, abused mothers, and pretty much any other mother in need. I'd hear it again and again while growing up: "If you give, you'll get. So always give, Nellie. Always give, no matter how tough it may seem at times. The more you give, the more you'll get."
She carves another letter into the placid sand. "E," she says. The tide rolls upthen washes out. Letter gone. She giggles.
During my teenage summers, she acted as the South Metro Soccer Association Commissioner, in which my traveling teams competed. The position demanded that she oversee 4896 athletes, 288 teams, and 24 leagues in six boys age groups and six girls age groups. She seemed to be everywhere at once, with a solution to every problem and a fix for every situation that arose. Soccer moms and dads alike supported her work, respected her and, on what seemed like a daily basis, applauded her results.
She carves another letter into the placid sand. "T," she says. The tide rolls upthen washes out. The letter disappears. She giggles.
During my teenage winters, she held the position of Central Ski Association Director, where she scheduled and carried out some two-dozen races in five Midwest states each season. She did it all without flaw; no matter if the temperature dipped to ten below or if the ski area had little to no snow, everything went off without a hitch. Twice she won American Ski Association Director of the Year honors.
She turns to me. "Did you need the car today?"
She's had neither a vehicle nor a driver's license in four years.
"No," I say. "I don't need the car today. But thanks for asking."
She again grins. "You're welcome." She carves another "T" into the sand. The tide rolls upthen rolls out. Another letter gone. She giggles.
When my wife, Carrie, died in a head-on collision the night before Valentine's Day, she held me together; she wrapped me up and coddle me tight, as only a nurturer can. Night after night, for weeks on end, she sat on the sofa with my head in her lap, stroking my hair, caressing my cheeks and forehead, and drying the tears, as if I were a schoolboy with a cold and sore throat. "We'll get through this," she'd say. "We've done it before; we'll do it again. We'll get through this, Nellie. I promise you."
She carves another "T" into the sand. She pulls a hand to her mouth, "Oops," and giggles. "Did I already write two of those?" The tide rolls upthen retreats. The third "T" disappears. She again giggles.
I come here three to four times a week. My two siblings live a thousand miles away, one to the west, the other to the east. Neither has any idea how fast it's happening. I, of course, get to monitor the progression right before my eyesright before my loving, grateful, and sometimes welled up eyes.
She carves a "Y" into the silken sand. The tide rolls upthen retreats. Another letter gone. She giggles. "It seems I've disappeared."
She's now 68. I'm 34. The Alzheimer's runs three generations back, the dementia two.
She turns to me with a grin. "Did I ever tell you about the time I peed my pants in Ronny Richard's front seat?" She slaps a thigh and howls in laughter. "I've never been more embarrassed in all my life."
Oftentimes I wish I didn't remember.
I inhale a heavy breathwhat a women Netty Marx had beenthen exhale it. "No, mumyou haven't."