Driving home to visit Grandpa in the Ozarks, I was astonished by the brocade tapestry of burnished leaves still clinging to the trees on the mountains. Amazingly, I saw a herd of deer grazing not 200 feet from the busy highway. I wondered if they figured out their odds were better near the motorists than deeper in the woods near the guys with guns.
It's always strange to go to Grandma's house without her there.
She was such a quiet person, and it was hard to tell when signs of Alzheimer's began to appear, or disappear, as it were. A little portrait I'd made for her when I was about 7 disappeared from a wall where it'd hung for about 25 years, I noticed, several years before her death. Another thing which went away was the totem pole S&P shakers my brother got her at the Grand Canyon, circa 1970. He blew his entire spending money for the trip on that one gift for her, and she'd always seemed to treasure it, giving it pride of place on the window sill above the kitchen sink.
I started to notice her repeating questions we'd answered only moments before. I then started to see something different in her eyes, and I worried that she was not merely being her usual quiet self, but was perhaps bewildered and wondering who we all were, strangers in a strange house.
Not wanting to disturb Grandpa at the back of the house, I brushed my teeth at the sink in the kitchen. As I popped my retainers onto my teeth, I looked at the spot where the Totem pole set always had been. There, in its place, was a porcelain mug delicately painted with blue forget-me-nots with her name printed below: Theresa.
I went to bed and slept under a patchwork quilt Grandma made from dresses I only remember from family photographs that were faded before I was born.
I could never forget you, Grandma.