Riding the Ferris Wheel
It was wonderful to see Mom today. I’d stayed away for more than a week because of my strep throat.
Mom seemed happy to interact with me. I got her to laugh, and I engaged with her by moving our arms together to the music we listened to.
There were two new residents in the ward. One sprightly woman in a wheel chair kept grabbing my hand and talking to me in Russian. Her energy level reminded me of Mom during her first months in the care facility. It was all so new then, and Mom’s ability to navigate her world was much more spirited. I kept wondering how long it would take this woman to acquire the lost, dozing stare that many of the residents present.
If there were two new residents that meant that two of the older residents had moved on. As Mom’s facility is for the ambulatory, those who need more care are placed in full nursing homes. Deaths of residents are not announced. I found myself frustrated by not being able to figure out who was absent. The faces of the residents are ingrained in my mind. They are part and parcel of my experience of visiting Mom. Their sweet reactions when I enter and say hello, their enjoyment of activities, their interaction with the staff. There’s Hannah who calls to me in Hebrew and asks if I have a newspaper for her to read; Oleg who loves to open the door with the secret key when it’s time for visitors to leave; Sarah who always smiles and cogently blinks at me, and Ruth whose sister I know from work. But now as I asked myself to recall the faces of those I could not see, I couldn’t do it.
A friend suggested recently that memory is like a Ferris wheel. I can’t say I got the comparison to memory, but maybe to life itself. Our world is constantly spinning, our lives going round and round. We see ourselves interact with the world from different perspectives. Sometimes we are truly flying high, other times we are dragging near the bottom. Always, we are moving. (I’m reminded of Go Dog, Go, when one of the dogs riding the Ferris wheel calls out to the wheel operator, “Go around again!” Or Joni Mitchell’s plaintive chorus in “Circle Game,” though her metaphor is a carousel. Close enough.) There is excitement in knowing that life is spinning and morphing and that we are moving forward.
I was stuck once at the top of a Ferris wheel. I was in elementary school and our class had gone to a local county fair. Susan and I were in one of the seats together, and when the wheel stopped moving, there we were rocking at the very top. I remember that I wasn’t scared. In fact, what was so amazing was seeing the whole of the fair laid out below us, the other children, a fire truck, cows, fields of corn and other crops. We were up there for about an hour rocking and rocking. It’s a memory that has certainly stayed with me.
A dramatic memory is often easier to access than a less dramatic one; it’s the drama, after all! But it also matters how much we use those memories and how worn the pathways to them are. How often do we think about the name or voice of our 2nd grade teacher? Not much, probably. But that first cat I owned? There are many more pathways that lead to the central memory of my cat Suki.
Which brings me back to Mom. I can still pull up those memories and envision her as my mother, singing and dancing in her own home, her enthusiasm for life, her love of her grandchildren. I don’t have infinite days to be with her. I don’t know how many visits are left but I do know that there are less than when this journey started. Her abilities have declined significantly so as to make me feel that, yes, we are on a downward trajectory.
The wheel keeps spinning and I am trying to maintain my balance as it carries me from that whole boundless perspective to the nitty-gritty of our lives with Alzheimer's.
Sometimes cooking a standard vegetable in a new way gives you a different perspective on it. Take roasted cherry tomatoes, for example. I think roasting them heightens their tremendous sweetness. I made these because when I was sick last week, my husband inadvertently bought a huge amount of cherry tomatoes. Necessity really is the mother of invention. They were a colorful addition to our Shabbat table.
Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
If you bite into a whole one of these, be careful not to squirt the person next to you.
1 container 460 gr / 16 oz cherry tomatoes
1 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine ingredients in a large bowl and mix until tomatoes are uniformly covered. Place on a baking tray and bake at 375° F / 190° C for 30 to 40 minutes. Serve warm.