Blueberries, Dessert and Reverend G
“Good grief, Mom. What is that smell?”
“Toasted blueberries, I’m afraid, and a blackened crust. You’ve heard of blackened chicken, right? Well, this is blackened pie crust. I plan to smother it with Ben & Jerry’s. You’ll love it. I refuse to throw away a blueberry pie.”
Jacob tossed his Yankees baseball cap on the table, then grinned. “Okay by me, as long as the casserole isn’t burnt.”
I set the baked casserole on Jacob’s side of the table, knowing he wanted to dig out the first spoonful. After the fiasco with the pie, I stood by the oven for thirty minutes and watched the cheese and tortillas melt together until the timer finally dinged. Perfect. At least one part of the evening smelled like success.
“Have I told you lately that I love you?” I crossed the kitchen and hugged him, then wrapped my arms around Jessie. “And I love you, as well, dear Jessie.”
She kissed my cheek, and I smelled her Estee Lauder Beautiful cologne, the only brand she ever wore. I warned Jacob when they dated that he’d better save extra money for every Valentine’s Day. Jessie was worth every penny of that cologne. Not every mother-in-law bragged that her daughter-in-love was Teacher of the Year in the second grade and a great match for her son. I felt so lucky to have them both. Especially now.
. . .
We held hands. I squeezed Jacob’s with my left and Jessie’s with my right as I repeated that beautiful prayer from the old Anglican collection: “Lord, bless this food and grant that we may thankful for thy mercies be. Teach us to know by whom we’re fed; bless us with Christ, the living bread. Amen.”
Hurray for me — the brain remembered a prayer.
“Amen,” echoed Jacob and Jessie.
True to form, my son helped himself to a gigantic spoonful of enchiladas while Jessie passed the chips and dip to me. My appetite sandwiched itself between nervous energy and downright fear, but I was determined to stick my fork into the casserole and give it a try. My son needed to see me in somewhat cheerful spirits, in spite of the bad news I had to share.
Come on, Reverend G. Pretend to accept this horrible verdict and move on with courage. That’s what mothers teach their children, to persevere, to have courage in the tough times of life. Well, maybe. Perhaps we just lie to ourselves and to our children. Maybe honesty is better — to be blunt about how we feel so that our children see us as we truly are — flawed and scared half to death.
Jessie crunched a chip and then giggled. “One of my kids was so cute today. We studied about Columbus and recited the old poem, ‘Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred and ninety-two.’ Then Skip followed it with, ‘Scooby-dooby-doo.’ We all laughed until it was time for recess.”
Jacob chuckled and said, “Pass the dip, Jess. This is so good, Mom.”
“Glad you like it, hon. Always a pleasure to have you two join me for supper.” I looked across the table and met my son’s hazel eyes. How could I possibly convey to him how much I loved him and that crazy cowlick that still sprouted from his sandy head? We fought that thing all through his adolescence and tried every possible haircut, except the Mohawk. The minister’s son just could not wear a Mohawk.
“So, Mom…you said you needed to tell us something. What’s the deal? Are you going out of state to preach again or lead a women’s conference?”
Oh, Lord, if only it were that simple. To travel and preach again — to meet incredible women all over the conference, encourage them in their faith and hold their hands as we pray. Help me, Lord.
“Nope. Not going out of town, but you may need to take care of the house for me.”
The space between Jessie’s eyes creased into an anxious eleven sign. I wanted to disappear behind that forehead and make it all better, but instead, I dipped another chip and took a bite. The silence of the kitchen waited for my explanation.
“What did you two think of last Sunday’s service, particularly communion and the Lord’s Prayer?”
I caught the furtive look between Jacob and Jessie, the spark of humor in their eyes. “Go ahead. Laugh. It was funny, I agree.”
Jessie tried to smooth over the moment. “It was just that you said, ‘Trespasses,’ so much later than the rest of us, and it came over so loudly through the mike.”
“It was great, Mom,” Jacob added. “Don’t worry about it. People may laugh about it for a while, then they’ll forget it. You know how folks are.”
“Oh, darlings, I’m not worried about what people may think. I could care less. I’m worried about what precipitated that moment and why it happened.”
“What do you mean?” Jessie asked.
I dipped another chip in the Velveeta sauce. Might as well fill my arteries with more cholesterol. It didn’t matter what I ate; the verdict remained the same.
“Doc Sanders conducted several tests on me. For several months, I’ve suspected a problem. Sunday and the communion service was the icing on the proverbial cake. Does anybody want anything else to drink?”
Avoid the subject just a little longer. Pretend to be thirsty. I walked to the sink and poured water into my glass.
When I sat back down, Jacob and Jessie held hands as if they suspected something terrible. Might as well get it over with.
“I’ve forgotten my keys several times — not just misplaced them, but completely forgotten how to use them. I disappear into a mental coma, sit in the car, wonder why it won’t start, and try to stick my fingers into the ignition.
“One day, I found the iron in the freezer. Another time, my best Sunday shoes showed up in the trash can. Even now, I’m not sure where I filed my sermon notes from last week. Maybe you could help me find them.”
“We all forget things, Mom. Stress does it to me all the time or even the allergy season in spring. I forget important things when the trees start budding.”
“That’s right,” added Jessie. “It happens to me, too. Sometimes my chemicals get out of whack or my hormones make things fuzzy. Maybe a new medicine will help you feel better.”
I shook my head. “I discussed all those arguments with Doc Sanders — several times. He checked my chemicals and hormones. I have no allergies, and I’m not taking any medicines. Stress is, of course, always a factor. But Doc confirmed the test results and verified them with three other physicians. They all came to the same conclusion. Are you ready for Ben & Jerry’s yet?”
“Mom, for heaven’s sake. Get to the point. What’s the problem?”
I sighed and bowed my head. “It’s dementia, possibly early-onset Alzheimer’s. Doc suggests that I retire while I can still focus. He thinks I should move into assisted living. He’s afraid I might hurt myself, leave the stove on, forget how to drive or — heaven help us — burn the blueberry pie.”
Nobody said anything for what seemed like fifteen years. Finally, I looked up and locked into Jacob’s eyes. I expected to see compassion or fear, but stared at downright anger.
“That’s preposterous. We’ll go somewhere else for another opinion. The Mayo Clinic or alternative medicine or something. I’ll Google it tomorrow. This is not possible. You’re the smartest woman I know. Plus, you’re only 62.”
“Dementia does not mean I’m stupid. It just means that some of the wires aren’t firing right or connecting like they should, and it can happen earlier in life than you might imagine. It’s not a death sentence, although it feels like a type of death. And I don’t want to go to the Mayo Clinic. We have great physicians right here in Lawton Springs, and Doc Sanders has always been excellent at diagnoses. Besides, I believe in my heart — he’s right.”
“No. I refuse to accept this. I will not let it happen. You’re my mother, and this is not right.” Jacob pushed away from the table, stomped out the kitchen door and disappeared into the back yard.
Jessie wiped tears from her cheeks. She touched my hand and said, “I’ll go talk to him.” Estee Lauder wafted out the door.