>Gifts of the Magi, sort of

>I received three wonderful gifts the past two days, and I’d like to share a bit of the wealth. The title of this post isn’t intended to be disrespectful, just a play on words. Because the “gifts” I received weren’t free—I paid a small price for each of them—but they did come to me from “wise men.”

First, the Sunday New York Times had a wonderful article by Robert Leleux, author of The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy, called “A Memory Magically Interrupted.” It’s about his grandmother’s experience with Alzheimer’s. Actually, it’s about the upside of Alzheimer’s, something you don’t see in print very often. Although I’ve mentioned the way that the disease has actually changed my mother’s personality into one that is, well, less judgmental. And like Leleux says of his grandmother, Mom actually seems happier at times. None of this is to take away from the awfulness of the disease, but perhaps just to find something upbeat to say about it. Great article—if you are caring for, or close to someone with Alzheimer’s, you should read it.

My second gift came in the mail yesterday. It’s one of the books that Jere Hoar recommended to me on my visit to his house in Oxford a few weeks ago: Growing Up by Russell Baker. Jere recommended the book because he knows I’m writing a memoir. What he might not have known, unless he’s been reading my blog, is that my mother has Alzheimer’s. Baker’s memoir is literary prose of a high caliber, and I know I’m going to savor every page. But for now, I’m going to share some excerpts from the first chapter, because that’s where he hooked me, where he shined his light into experiences that are perhaps familiar to many of us who love someone with Alzheimer’s:

“At the age of eighty my mother had her last bad fall, and after that her mind wandered free through time. Some days she went to weddings and funerals that had taken place half a century earlier. On others she presided over family dinners cooked on Sunday afternoons for children who were now gray with age. Through all this she lay in bed but moved across time, traveling among the dead decades with a speed and ease beyond the gift of physical science….

….For ten years or more the ferocity with which she had once attacked life had been turning to a rage against the weakness, the boredom, and the absence of love that too much age had brought her. Now, after the last bad fall, she seemed to have broken chains that imprisoned her in a life she had come to hate and to return to a time inhabited by people who loved her, a time in which she was needed. Gradually I understood. It was the first time in hears I had seen her happy.”

The third gift also came from my friend Jere Hoar. Knowing that I’m a student of the written word, he emailed me yesterday, recommending these DVDs from The Teaching Company, “Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft.” The set includes 8 DVDs with lectures by Brooks Landon at the University of Iowa. Regularly priced at $254.95, the set is on sale now for $69.95. I ordered them this morning and can’t wait for this next step in my “continuing education.” Thanks for the tip, Jere!

Wish I could spend the day reading Russell Baker’s memoir. Or working on mine. But today’s not a writing day. It’s a day to pay my mother’s bills, since her memory has been magically interrupted, and to take care of some of life’s less exciting activities, like grocery shopping and exercising. Hey—maybe I can read while I’m on the elliptical machine. Whatever the day may bring, I’m thankful for these gifts.

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