Jacob Haller (jwgh) wrote,
Jacob Haller

Grandfather story

My grandfather told me this story from when he was living in Port Washington.

He was in a glee club there, and for one concert they had prepared a song which began with a piano accompaniament, then had a long a capella section, and then had another section with piano.

The night of the performance, they began singing the piece and during the a capella section they noticed the conductor was looking more and more nervous as they got closer and closer to the point at which the piano would join in. Finally, they reached that point, the pianist started playing, and the conductor looked very relieved and blew him a kiss.

It had turned out that during the a capella section the singers had gradually gone flat, but that the pianist had detected this and on starting up again played his part transposed a half-tone, bringing him into tune with what the singers were singing at that point.

My grandfather told me this story on Saturday when I visited him for the first time at his retirement home, which is a home specifically for people with Alzheimer's. He's suffered from this for a few years, but it was only a few months ago that my grandmother decided that she was no longer capable of taking care of him and put him in the home. (She was hoping to postpone this another six months, but it just wasn't doable.)

It's hard to tell exactly when the Alzheimer's started, as he's a smart guy and was good at covering for himself -- if someone asked him a question and he wasn't sure what they were talking about, for instance, he would say with a smile, "I leave that entirely up to you." Also, he had been going deaf for ten or twenty years, so it was easy to ascribe some confusion to that.

When I visited him and my grandmother last year, though, it was obvious that he was having problems with his memory; he would tell an anecdote and then tell it again a couple of minutes later, and when the conversation turned to his aunt Carol he kept asking me if I knew that she had written wonderful children's books.

I think it must have been very difficult for him. He always used to do a lot of crossword puzzles and read a lot, but I don't think either activity is really possible for him (he'll forget what he's reading about). He appears to spend a lot of time singing and playing the harmonica, which he enjoys. (He told me the story that opens this entry after singing a couple of songs.)

One of my aunts told me that she thinks he doesn't really have any clear memories of any events that have taken place in the past fifty years. (That's when he lived in Port Washington.) That's pretty amazing if true; if I live to be as old as he is and if I am similarly afflicted then that would mean I wouldn't be able to remember anything after just about right now. (Of course this is a distinct possibility.)

He does remember people, though, especially family members. At one point I said to him (note that I was trying to front-load as much information into what I was saying as possible), "I talked to my sister Charlotte the other day. Her son Ezra just turned six months old and he's started crawling!" And he responded, "Oh, how nice! ... His name is Ezra Benjamin, is it?" Which it is.

He seems pretty well-adjusted now, although I guess for the first month or so after he moved in he was very angry and when my grandmother tried to visit him he would throw things, which is a bit shocking -- he's always been fit but tended to use a very thought-out approach to problems (or at least that's how I'd always seen him). I think a lot of the time he doesn't quite understand where he is or why but he seems to accept it, at least outwardly. I'm glad this is so.

He appeared to have some kind of skin condition on his face -- perhaps a reaction to some medication he's on? I don't know -- but I didn't want to remind him of it if he had forgotten. I tried very hard not to vex him in any way. I'm not sure why this was so important to me. I think maybe because I felt on some level that when all you can remember is the things that have happened in the past ten or fifteen minutes, then if you were unhappy for five of those minutes, then that's like being sad for half or a third of your life. I wouldn't want to be responsible for something like that.

Anyway, I was glad to see him again, and he seemed happy to see me, so that was nice.

I'm wondering if I should get a new harmonica for him, as the one he has seems to be a bit beat up. I will ask Chris where he thinks a good place to get something like that would be.
Tags: alzheimers, family

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