July 10, 2013
Last week, my in-laws came to visit for the Fourth of July. We see them more often now—every 4-6 weeks, as opposed to every 2-3 months—than we did before Shiv was in the picture. Behold, the power of the grandchild.
Having Jill’s parents here, or going to visit them disrupts our normal family schedule and seriously messes with our generally pretty healthy eating habits, but when I hear Shiv on the floor, squealing with delight as he plays with his Papaw, or get to watch Jill’s mother’s face light up when her grandson smiles at her, there’s no question that it’s worth it.
This visit, though, the most valuable and memorable experience I had wasn’t about Shiv at all; it was the twenty extraordinary minutes I spent with my mother-in-law, while everyone else was out running an errand.
My mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s; she is in some kind of middle stage, with a practically non-existent short-term memory and total inability to complete tasks. She is easily confused, and repeats herself a lot: asking the same questions over and over, reading us the same story from the paper five or six times in the course of a morning.
There is no part of this that isn’t awful. There’s watching my father-in-law watch his best friend of fifty-five years slowly lose her mind, there’s watching him watch her—his grief, his denial, his futile hope that she will “get better,” there’s watching her in the moments that she becomes embarrassed by her inability to remember or tries to cover up the fact of her forgetting. There’s watching Jill gently answer the question “Whose baby is this?”
But every once in a while, the clouds part, the fog is lifted away, and there are brief, fleeting glimpses of the blazingly competent, inexhaustible, opinionated woman that she once was. Such were the twenty minutes I got to spend with her last week, listening to her tell stories of her days as an ER nurse in the 1950s. About how rewarding the work was, and how she misses it; about the days she went home and cried, but never in front of patients; about meeting Jill’s father, a detective with the Shreveport Police Department, at the hospital when he had to bring in a suspect to be stitched up.
I believe in the power of stories—telling them, listening to them. I am so grateful for that twenty-minute reminder of the deeply human person who is trapped inside of my mother-in-law’s uncooperative mind and aging body; it is easy to forget her, sometimes, when I am frustrated at having to repeat myself or move around the dishes that she puts away in all the wrong places.
The stories we tell become who we are; if we don’t get to tell them, things get lost. Go ask someone—your parent, your spouse, your grandparent, your child—to tell you a story. Then listen.
After the parade of fried things that comes with a visit from the in-laws, I was craving fresh, fresh vegetables. Also, it’s approximately a zillion degrees in South Texas right now, so easy, no-cook dinners are a win for everyone. The tomatoes came courtesy Jill’s parents’ garden, the cucumber my mom’s, and the onion, bell pepper, & jalapeno were from ours.
We paired this gazpacho with a light salad topped with leftover shrimp, some wine, and ate cherries for dessert. I heart you, summer.
2 ½ lb. tomatoes
2 cups cubed bread
½ cup almonds
½ large red onion, peeled & roughly chopped
2 small or 1 large bell pepper, seeded & roughly chopped
1 cucumber, peeled & roughly chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded & roughly chopped (or leave seeds in for a spicier soup)
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
4 T sherry vinegar
½ cup olive oil
salt & pepper
serve with: sliced avocado, crumbled feta, and/or homemade croutons
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and process using a stick blender. Alternatively, process in an upright blender, working in batches if necessary. Taste and season accordingly. I found that I didn’t need to thin my soup at all, but you can do so with olive oil or water if you like.