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Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's

Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's

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Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's

Lunghezza:
223 pagine
3 ore
Pubblicato:
Oct 30, 2019
ISBN:
9781773240596
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Most people think Alzheimer's Disease is the same as memory loss, if they think about it at all. But most people prefer to ignore it, hoping that if they ignore it hard enough, it will go away. That was certainly Marion Agnew's hope, even after she knew her mother's diagnosis. Yet, with her mother's diagnosis, Marion's world changed. Her mother — a Queen's and Harvard/Radcliffe-educated mathematician, a nuclear weapons researcher in Montreal during Word War II, an award-winning professor and researcher for five decades, wife of a history professor, and mother of five — began drifting away from her. To keep hold of her, to remember her, she began paying attention, and began writing what she saw. She wrote as her mother became suspicious on outings, as she lost even the simplest of words, as she hallucinated, as she became frightened and agitated. But after her mother's death, Marion wanted to honour the time of her mother's life in which she had the disease, but she didn't want the illness to dominate the relationship she'd had with her mother. This moving memoir looks at grief and family, at love and music. It is a coming-to-terms reflection on the endurance of love and family.
Pubblicato:
Oct 30, 2019
ISBN:
9781773240596
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Marion Agnew's essays and short fiction have appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals, inluding The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, Atticus Review, The Walleye, The Grief Diaries, and Full Grown People, as well as in the anthologies Best Canadian Essays 2012 and 2014. She has been shortlisted for the Prairie Fire contest as well as for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Originally from Oklahoma, she realized her dream of becoming a Canadian citizen and moving to the her family's summer property in the Canadian Shield, where she had spent the most magical summers of her childhood.

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Anteprima del libro

Reverberations - Marion Agnew

© 2019, Marion Agnew

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, for any reason, by any means, without the permission of the publisher.

Cover design by Doowah Design.

Photo of author by Alan Dickson Photography.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Manitoba Arts Council for our publishing program.

Previous versions of these essays first appeared in the following journals:Dripsody (Reprise), Malahat Review; Let d Be the Distance Between Us, The Grief Diaries; Words and All I Can Say, Room; Backwards, Opposite, Contrary, Full Grown People; Big Ideas, Small Feet and Hours of Daylight, Prairie Fire; Fight Flight Freeze, NOWW Magazine; Entanglement, Atticus Review; Nulliparous, Pithead Chapel; Atomic Tangerine, The New Quarterly.

ISBN 978-1-77324-059-6 (epub)

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Title: Reverberations : a daughter’s meditations on Alzheimer’s / Marion Agnew.

Names: Agnew, Marion, 1960- author.

Identifiers: Canadiana (print) 20190180323 | Canadiana (ebook) 20190180331 | ISBN 9781773240589 (softcover) | ISBN 9781773240596 (HTML)

Subjects: LCSH: Agnew, Marion, 1960-—Family. | LCSH: Agnew, Jeanne, 1917-2000—Health. | LCSH: Alzheimer’s disease—Patients—Family relationships. | LCSH: Alzheimer’s disease—Patients— Biography. | LCSH: Mothers and daughters. | LCGFT: Autobiographies.

Classification: LCC RC523.2 .A36 2019 | DDC 362.1968/3110092—dc23

Signature Editions

P.O. Box 206, RPO Corydon, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3M 3S7

www.signature-editions.com

Contents

1 Dripsody (Reprise)

2 Let d Be the Distance Between Us

3 Polar Bears and Penguins

4 Words

5 Transitions: a Coding Secret

6 Backwards, Opposite, Contrary

7 Hours of Daylight (I)

8 The Tennessee Waltz

9 Meander (original title: Home)

10 All I Can Say

11 The House That Broke My Heart

12 Saguaro

13 Fight Flight Freeze

14 Big Ideas, Small Feet

15 Driftglass

16 Entanglement

17 Nulliparous

18 Atomic Tangerine

19 Hours of Daylight (II)

20 Reverberations

Acknowledgements

About The Author

1

DRIPSODY (REPRISE)

Tick, tick. Tuck. Tick-tick.

The rain taps on the roof, an irregular metronome measuring years. It’s August of 1992, and the chilly, damp morning makes for a smoky fire in the kitchen’s wood-burning stove. My sister Sue and I crowd close anyway, fingers curled around coffee mugs. We’re up early, determined that the weather won’t spoil our summer vacation at our family camp just two dozen yards away from Lake Superior.

Though some camps are equivalent to cottages, our camps are far less grand. In 1924, the summer my mother turned seven, my grandfather built a basic timber-framed rectangle, with a stone fireplace in one corner and a stove made from a fifty-gallon drum. In the 1930s, he extended the rectangle to create bedrooms. He remodelled its kitchen for Mom in the late 1940s, when she married and thought of children, by extending the concrete slab floor and adding more shelves.

Over the years, my grandparents accumulated ten acres along the shore. In the 1950s, my grandfather built a second camp on a different beach at the other end of the property. Mom had electricity and indoor plumbing added in the 1980s. Our parents stay in the second camp, out of sight but hardly out of mind.

My sister and I prefer what we laughingly refer to as the rustic charm of the original camp. The alterations in the intervening fifty years haven’t changed its essential nature. Above us, no ceiling, only the underside of the roof—one-by-six boards covered in tarpaper and green pebbled roofing paper, sealed with tar—separates us from the weather.

A raindrop creeps down the stove’s metal chimney. Another, driven between boards, splashes a hiss on the warm stovetop, a cymbal’s brush accompanying the irregular mallet beat.

Tsss-sss. Tock. Tuck-tuck. Tick.

When I hear rain on a roof, I always think of summer vacations at this cottage. As a child, snugged into the flannelette-sheeted bed with Sue at night, I learned to distinguish between the patter of raindrops and the pitter of chipmunk feet on the roof. During the long summer days with our brothers, we sawed and split wood, swam and rowed, and, in the twilight, sang folk songs around the beach fire over which we’d just blistered hot dogs and torched marshmallows.

Even as my sister and I approach middle age, we feel free and happy here, and we try every year to pry ourselves away from the responsibilities of our lives and workplaces to spend time with our parents in this beloved place. Here, we’re surrounded by childhood memories—not only ours, but our mother’s, which she shares in stories featuring her brother, Hugh LeCaine.

* * *

Hugh Le Caine was a pioneer of twentieth-century electronic music. In 1955, at his laboratory at the National Research Council in Ottawa, he created the ninety-second piece Dripsody from an eye-dropper, water, a metal wastebasket, a microphone, and his experimental multi-track tape recorder. In his official biography by Gayle Young, The Sackbut Blues, he describes the creation of his most famous musical composition.

From a one-half-hour tape, the sound of a single drop was chosen.

The finished piece has been played for audiences in concert halls; it’s been used in soundtracks for animated films. It’s percussive and melodic, unpredictable and challenging, yet ultimately satisfying. And it all starts with a drop of water, recorded and re-recorded and manipulated into a coherent composition, a vehicle for a story.

* * *

When my mother and Uncle Hugh were children, he kept Mom entertained during family fishing vacations on Lake Superior by spinning tales about the family cat, who was really a Martian king in disguise. When my grandfather built the camp, the family used it as a summer home. At camp, Uncle Hugh and my mother played the way we did decades later—they swam, picked berries, built rafts, and raced snails on flat rocks.

Though she was three years younger, my mother was placed in his grammar school class. After they did homework, he’d disappear into the basement to work on science experiments. He was equally devoted to music. Once, the pianist for the church’s play quit at the eleventh hour and Uncle Hugh stepped in to play the entire musical score, by ear, from memory. After they graduated from high school in the early 1930s, my grandmother moved heaven and earth, and the household, to ensure that both studied at Queen’s University.

During the early days of the Second World War, each found government work in Ottawa. They roomed together but gravitated to opposite schedules. My mother, the early riser, kept house. She’d make a pumpkin pie, only to come home from work in the evening to find that my uncle, the night owl, had eaten the filling for breakfast before he left for his day.

Just the filling—of the whole pie! she’d say, with a shake of her head and an indulgent laugh. That made me so mad! What was I supposed to do with an empty piecrust?

* * *

Some of the sounds had a wavering pitch which gave the drop a gurgling sound; others had pitch glides of over an octave. To simplify the problem of composition, the simplest and most formless sound was chosen, although the drops with complicated pitch changes were passed over with great regret.

* * *

Uncle Hugh didn’t return to the camp after the early 1960s, when Grandma was in hospital. Mom says Hugh preferred to remember them—both the camp and their mother—as they had been in his childhood, vital and magical.

But he’s always seemed particularly present to my mother here. This summer is no exception, and we hear many stories about him. Listening to the rain, Mom has said, I know he made up ‘Dripsody’ to demonstrate one of his inventions, but I’m sure he thought to use a drop of water after hearing the rain on this roof.

In fact, Sue and I have noticed that Mom has begun repeating her childhood stories several times in the same day. We know that our grandmother, her mother, also repeated stories during the early stages of her decline into dementia. I wonder what, if anything, we should say to Mom. Although Sue and I are both aware of the repetition, we don’t talk about it—a weak effort to pretend it isn’t real. On that morning in 1992, the rain is an insistent tap on my shoulder, reminding me to worry. As if I could forget.

I wonder whether my mother worries, too. We can’t gauge how Mom is aging by comparing her health to Uncle Hugh’s. After a motorcycle accident, he died in 1977.

I look over at my sister, grateful for her companionship at that moment and, I hope, in the years ahead.

* * *

I chose the pentatonic scale to represent the order imposed on the pitch scheme by the listener. I don’t believe that water actually drips in the pentatonic scale, but I believe that we tend to use our past hearing experience to organize a fresh collection of sounds that we hear.

* * *

Tip tuck tsss tip-tuck tuck-tip-tuck tsss-sss tuck-tuck.

That summer, my sister and I are unsure what we can do, what there even is to do, about our parents, about the camp. Our parents won’t consider giving up control of the family property, and although we’re adults, we can’t afford to take it on. But the camp and our parents are aging. Someone will need to make decisions, and soon.

Meanwhile, Sue and I are suspended—between childhood stories and adult realities, between what’s possible and what’s inevitable, between what we know and what we don’t, between what we try not to see before us and what we dread the future holds. We clutch our coffee mugs and replenish the fire in the stove, talking of the ambitious breakfasts Mom cooked on the wood stove when we were kids—oatmeal with brown sugar, scrambled eggs, toast and honey, and hot chocolate.

The rain strengthens and changes timbre. Some drops sharpen while others become round, inherently humorous splats. Sue and I exchange smiles. A row of drops dangles at the roof seam between the kitchen and the main room. Some drips release there, onto the wood or the concrete floor, while others glide down a crossbeam before falling with a snap onto the linoleum counter.

Sue and I find metal saucepans and Melmac teacups to catch the drips. We’re not sure why we bother. The line between indoors and outdoors here has always been porous. But Mom used to slide saucepans under drips during rainstorms when we were young, so we do, too.

And we laugh, as Mom often does while telling stories of Uncle Hugh. We laugh because crying about the fragility of the cottage roof, of our mother’s health, won’t help. We laugh because our memories are of childhood, and freedom, and we hope that continuing to laugh will help us carry joy into the future.

The drip-catchers’ materials add still newer voices to the composition. We say, It’s ‘Dripsody’! and listen to the music.

2

LET d BE THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A = My Favourite Paper

I’m leaving my parents’ house after staying with them for the Christmas holidays. My mother hugs and kisses me. I’m so glad you came. After all, you’re my favourite paper.

I beam. Of course I am. And you’re my favourite mother.

In recent days, my mother has turned to me with childlike trust when she feels overwhelmed by all the strangers in her house, strangers who are her own grown children and her young grandchildren. Her guard is down; she is vulnerable. At last, she needs me.

She has Alzheimer’s disease.

b = What Did You Miss?

My mother was once that parent, the one who says, What did you miss? when the child scores 99 percent on a test. That happened to me, only it was a 97 in eighth-grade algebra.

It wasn’t just tests, either. At age eight or even eighteen, I’d sit at the dining room table, hunched over my homework. My mother would pass through the room, and I’d cringe because I knew what was coming.

How’s your long division? she’d ask—or perhaps it was algebra, geometry, trigonometry, or calculus.

Oh, fine, I’d say. Just finishing up. Then I’d sit back and try to close my notebook, but I was never quick enough.

Let’s see here, she’d say, standing behind me. And then it was over. The Teacher had appeared, and that meant The Daughter had become an Idiot.

She’d sigh. "Well, that one’s not right. And the rest of these are all wrong, too. Look, first, you need to sharpen your pencil. I don’t know how you can possibly think properly with a pencil that dull. Never mind erasing here, just start on a fresh piece of paper. Yes, start over completely. Now, why did you think this was the right way to begin? You’re like my students, just copying what I write on the board without really stopping to think. I don’t know how you’re ever going to learn if you insist on doing that."

The notebook page would blur as my eyes filled. Ill never get it right.

Now I better understand what my mother explained then—that what I didn’t know was important, that spotlighting what I missed is how homework or a test showed me what I still needed to learn. Even at the time, I understood this concept, intellectually.

But I also understand now, as I felt back then, that there’s a lot to be said for celebrating what’s right before focusing on what’s wrong, for recognizing competence and achievement before searching out and analyzing mistakes.

c = What You Have to Do

Ever since I can remember, I’ve flipped through photos from my mother’s childhood in an effort to know the woman beyond the Mom who so dominated my early life.

I’ve tried to imagine what life was like when my mother was the little girl in bloomers and woollen stockings with a hole at the knee, delightedly cuddling a newly hatched seagull.

The brilliant young woman graduating with a university degree in mathematics in the late 1930s, listening with her father and sister to war news on the radio.

The glowing newlywed, reunited at the end of the Second World War with her naval officer husband after a few weeks together and then twenty-seven months apart.

The new mother whose first baby died the day it was born, who handled her grief by taking a teaching job the next week.

These women in my mother lived before I was born. Each continued to live, frozen inside white borders and secured between thick black sheets of scrapbook paper, but her experiences had long been assimilated into the composite woman, the Mom I knew. The woman who taught graduate students and pursued her own research interests, ran a strict household, and raised my four siblings and me.

When I’d find a photo of something from my mother’s life that I thought might bring up a sad or difficult memory—perhaps a picture of Grandma in her later years—I’d linger over it. How would Mom see this picture? When I felt particularly brave, I’d show it to her, and she’d tell a story of her mother’s dementia, of clearing out their family home, of Grandma’s funeral.

I’d ask, Were you afraid? Was it hard for you?

She’d think for a moment. Well, you just do what you have to do. Then you go on.

Yes, okay, I would think. But was it hard? Were you afraid?

d = My Darling Girl

My grandmother called my mother my darling girl, but my grandmother also developed dementia. By the time my mother was in her early forties, Grandma no longer knew who she was.

I was in my late thirties when my mother’s diagnosis came—a grown woman, as my mother had been—but not old enough. Then again, perhaps no age would be old enough.

e = Write Down What You Know

Not every homework session ended with me in tears. She taught me how to approach word problems, those difficult scenarios that made you apply concepts.

Start by writing down what you know, she’d say. "A train is travelling at an average of 60 miles per hour. That means the speed—call it s—is equal to 60. Write that down."

I’d write s = 60.

"Another way to say it is ‘Let s equal 60.’ You might see that in other problems. Okay, now look at what else this says. It takes 5 hours for the train to go from one town to the other. And that means…?"

With a little more prompting, I’d let t be the time—5 hours. So t = 5. And I could read that what we wanted to know—x—was how far apart the

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