I grew up listening to my parents’ 8-track tapes. My Mom regularly played everything from Jesus Christ Superstar to Doctor Hook & the Medicine Show at maximum volume, especially when she was cleaning house. One tape in particular stood out to me because it wasn’t music. Maybe it’s my imagination, but whenever my parents listened to Cheech & Chong’s self-titled first album, they seemed to always go straight to the track titled “Dave.”
If you’ve never heard the routine, there’s a guy named Dave trying to deliver drugs to someone’s apartment, but the guy inside is too high to understand what’s going on. I suppose because drug humor was pretty new at the time my parents acted like this was the most hilarious thing they’d ever heard. I guess you had to be there.
You’re probably asking yourself what any of this has to do with caring for Grandma. Well, as I said I heard this tape a lot growing up, and recently it dawned on me that one of my recurring conversations with Grandma is a lot like that infamous routine. I’m Dave, and Grandma is that guy who won’t open the door. It goes something like this:
“Grandma, what did you do with your lunch?” I ask.
“Well I ate it!” she replies.
“You couldn’t have eaten all of it because there was chicken. Where are the bones?” I ask.
“I don’t know anything about any bones,” she insists. “Maybe those people who were down here took them.”
At this point I know she’s either a) hidden her leftovers or b) thrown them in the trash, which I’ve asked her about a million times not to do because it attracts bugs.
I ask again. “The hospice people didn’t take your leftovers. What did you do with the stuff you didn’t eat in your lunch?”
“I didn’t have lunch.” she replies. “You mean supper?”
“For the love of god whatever you call it I brought you food and I want to know where the stuff you didn’t eat went,” I say, hurriedly slamming drawers closed and lifting chair seats with hidden compartments underneath in search of the missing chicken bones. Eventually I notice something that looks like food in her trash can.
“Why can’t you just leave your plate on the table?” I ask. “I don’t want you to put food in the trash because I don’t take it out every day.”
“Well they told me not to put stuff in there,” she replies. “So I don’t.”
“But your lunch is in there. So you do.” I reply.
“Well I was just trying to help,” she says.
“It’s not helping me when I have to play guess where you hid your food!” I yell, drowning out that voice in my head telling me to cut this conversation short and walk away.
“So I should leave my supper on the table?” she asks.
“Yes. Just like we’ve discussed a million times. I will take care of the leftovers.” I say.
“So let me get this. I leave my plate on the table when I’m done?” she repeats.
“Yes,” I mutter, even though I know the next time I come down to collect her dishes we’ll go through the same routine. That’s dementia: Amazing details from 50 years ago are as plain as day, but neither repetition nor recent reminders make anything new stick.
As I empty her trash and collect the dishes to go back upstairs, I wish my Mom were still alive. She’d get it when I told her I know how it feels to be Dave.