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Memory On Repeat.
When I first began writing on Substack I wrote about the food memories I had with my mother and my grandfather. I said that I often remember something from childhood if it revolved around food, but when I now start to think about memories with my grandma it rarely does. Recently I've been helping take care of my aging grandmother who I call Mami. I remember vividly that I once called her abuela and she sternly corrected me, saying, "Llamame Mami." From that moment on, I never let an “abuela” slip my lips again.
Mami, who will turn 83 on September 1st, is still able-bodied (thank goodness!) but not as strong as she used to be. She lives alone and is finding it increasingly difficult to stay home by herself, so we've gotten her an aid to fix her meals and help her with everyday tasks. I do my part by visiting her often and sitting with her as tells me the same stories over and over again. Mami has early stages of dementia and doesn't have great short-term memory. What she may have just told you two minutes ago she will forget and repeat with the same vigor and details. The repetition is something we've all been adjusting to for a while. To be honest it may be something you tune out because you've heard it several times in just one day. What is so extraordinary though is that she has not lost her long-term memory.
She recounts the story of how she met my grandpa and moved to this country in the very early 60s before the huge wave of Dominicans came in the 70s and 80s. She will tell me how she gave birth to my mom during a snowstorm and my grandpa tried to convince her to stay home because the weather was too crazy outside to travel to the hospital. Mami loves telling anyone about her time as a twenty year old telephone operator back in the Dominican Republic. She would connect folks through the switchboard and make sure they paid for their time on the calls. We jokingly say that she loved that job so much because she loves to talk.
As her memory lapses and more moments of confusion happen for her, it makes me wonder about my future with memory. Will what I relish remembering today still be present when I'm her age? My biggest worry is that I will lose memories of my mom. As I age, I try to discern what I think I remember about her and what I actually do remember. It's definitely a tough headspace to be in.
Dementia may seem like a long drawn out curse that affects our loved ones, but maybe I can look at it as a gift. Her repetition is a way for us to preserve the memories she will one day no longer have. We'll be able to share her stories with as much detail and candor as she does. It will conjure up and stir our own recollections we have with her that perhaps were tucked away inside of us waiting to be told.
As I write this, I do remember a food memory with Mami after all. Every once in a while my sister would request for my grandma to make rice pudding. Mami would take out a huge pot and start making a ginormous batch of the sickeningly sweet pudding. She would let us stir the pot while singing the Arroz Con Leche song.
I never ate the pudding because I wasn't a fan of the texture (I regret my childhood pickiness today) but I do remember feeling happy from being asked to help make the special dessert. Mami wasn't an active grandma who ran after her grandkids, but she did show us her love in other ways. Right now, that way is retelling the moments of her life with us over and over until they become our moments too.
Mark Your Calendars.
Sunday, August 28th at 3 PM we’ll be having our Food For Thought. summer meet-up in Central Park. Bring a blanket and shareable snacks. This event is open to ALL subscribers. I will give out specific directions on where we’ll meet in the park closer to the date.
Cook. Eat. Repeat.