“Did I Tell You?"

A Memoir by Ryan Matthews

I was standing at the window in front of the kitchen sink. The sun was setting, its buttery rays fading. I watched as they melted into the horizon. I had stood there so many times, yet I was always engaged by the sunsets.

“Quick, let’s finish the last of the pots and pans, it’s almost time for ‘Dancing With the Stars’ to start.” Nana tossed the silverware in the drawer with abandon. She worked alongside me, towel in hand, buffing dry the last of the dishes.

I looked up at the clock over the doorway to the dining room. It was exactly 7:30 p.m., giving us 30 minutes to tidy up. Leaving the grimiest for last, I scrubbed off the baked on mac and cheese. I dried the casserole dish and put it away.  

“I don’t know what I would have done without you this afternoon.”

“We did get a lot accomplished today.” I turned off the light over the stove.

She scooted away using her walker. It had become a second set of legs for her. “They gave me this walker when I left the rehab. I told them I didn’t want it, but they said that it was already paid for by Medicare and that I had to take it. Did I tell you that I was in rehab?”

“Yes, I know. I visited you there almost every night.” At times I didn’t know if she wanted to rehash the ordeal of her fall, or if she didn’t remember my visits. 

“Oh yes. But I never saw any of the other grandchildren, Betty’s boys never showed.”

“They aren’t boys, Nan, they are grown men.”

“They wouldn’t hesitate if they wanted something, but you can’t rely on them for any help.”    

“I’ll go to the den ahead of you and turn on the lights and TV.” The set came on; the volume had been turned up to a sonic level that jarred me. My own auditory senses would be challenged for the next few hours. Nana was stubborn and determined not to wear a hearing aid.

We were settled into our respective chairs, hers being the closest to the TV.  

“I’d get another dog if I could take care of it. But at my age I couldn’t walk it.”

“No, you couldn’t walk anything. You don’t have a free hand to hold a leash. You are on wheels these days and you could never walk a dog.”  

“We always had cats when I was growing up. Everyone had cats growing up. They kept the mice away. It was my job at night to put the cat in the basement. I hated touching the cat, so I used my foot to nudge it down the basement steps. My stepmother knew I was afraid of the cat.”

“You had three brothers; one of them should have put the cat in the basement.”

“Did you lock the porch door?”

“Yes, I did, and I put the key next to the latch. Look, “Dancing With the Stars” is coming on. The show is starting, Max might be coming back to dance.”

“Do you think that Max is coming back tonight?”

“I saw him on the promos for tonight’s show. The music is on; we’ll see.”

“Can you raise the volume a little? Did you lock the porch door?”

“Yes the place is all locked up, I checked all the doors.”

“I probably told you this, so stop me if I did. When I was growing up we had a cat. I never liked cats.”

“Did you ever have any dogs growing up?” I had heard the cat and the basement tale repeated countless times. I tried to sidetrack the conversation rather than stifle her thoughts.  

“That walker is a godsend, I use it all the time. They gave it to me when I left rehab.”

I knew what was coming, another version of how the walker came to be.

“The morning I was leaving the rehab the aide came into the room pushing the walker, I told her I didn’t need it. Did I tell you this already?”

“I know, the walker is great, I am glad that you decided to take it.”

“Betty called earlier and I was telling her about the walker when she interrupted me. Her exact words were,  ‘Mom, you already told me all about that walker.’ Ryan, you think she could at least listen to me. I am 99 years old, so what if I forget a few things?”

“I am sure she wanted to hear all about your day.”  

“My bones are old, I am very old, and when you get to this age you tend to forget a few things.”

Our evening would be more of the same, repeating a few themes and back and forth dialogue. My own thoughts drifted, and I pondered what it was like to have a functioning 99-year-old brain. Did she remember repeating things? She always knew who I was, although at times she would make a slip and tell me what a wonderful son I was.    

Whatever else is going through her mind there’s the fact that the aging of her mind and body is irreversible.  I try to remember that and listen to her with interest.

We chatted and critiqued all of the dancers throughout the “Dancing With the Stars” program, and a recap of the same during the 11 o’clock news.

“You were so much help to me today. Did you bring a coat?”

“Yes, Nana it was warm today and I left my jacket in the car.”    

I said good night and gave her a hug and kiss at the door. She stood, steadied by her walker,  and  waved as I drove off.   

 


Ryan Matthews, a Bridgehampton resident, retired from a mortgage banking career.  His writing has previously appeared  in The Star.