Old Dogs, New Tricks

I was running late and my Grandpa hadn’t answered the phone any of the 14 times that I had called.  This either meant he was out, asleep, critically injured, or completely ignoring the phone ringing.  The last time I was late he had attempted to bake a pork chop and ended up setting the oven to the cleaning cycle.  I scrambled for my keys and burst into the kitchen.

Nothing burned.  Nothing broken.  Nothing missing.  No pork chops.

I rounded the corner to the living room and found him snug in his “dinner chair”, the TV tray pulled up in front of him.  I sighed as I patted him on the shoulder.

“Hey.” I smiled with relief.

“Oh hey!  Good.  Good, good, good.  You can do this.” He stood up, putting down what appeared to be a bowl of Granny Smith apples covered in chocolate sauce.  Apparently he had constructed his own dinner, thankfully without burning the house down. He patted my back, probably leaving a good brown smudge between my shoulder blades.

I wiggled around, trying to check my shirt. “You want me to change the channel to the news?” I asked, not wanting to make him go through the charade of telling me what he needed.

“Yes.”  He nodded curtly.

I looked for the remote control on the coffee table and under the newspaper.  Not finding it, I used the buttons on the front of the TV, pounding down until I got to PBS. “There!” Is said, as I turned back around to face him.

“How did you do that?” He asked.  He knelt down at eye level with the buttons on the TV and ran his finger over them gently.

“You want me to make you something good?” I asked, gesturing at the chocolately mess on the TV tray, and attempting to change the subject.  Re-teaching my grandpa how to work the T.V. has been a never ending battle as of late.  As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog his old tricks.  Or something like that.

He nodded, looking sadly at his unbalanced meal.

“How about I put some milk in this for you?” I laughed, holding up a glass of chocolate sauce.

“I don’t like that stuff.” He said defiantly.

“I’m sure you don’t!  That’s because you’re supposed to put milk in it Grandpa.  You’re just drinking chocolate sauce.  And it’s sugar FREE chocolate sauce, which is even worse.”  I crinkled my nose and he laughed in agreement.

I shook my head at the full glass of brown sludge and headed back to the kitchen, noticing the chocolate fingerprint trail along the way.  After wiping off the handles of the fridge, I looked inside and rustled around the Tupperware containers of salad, potatoes, soup.

Grandpa’s head popped over my left shoulder, eyes wide with anticipation.

“What are we making?  Hmmmmm?”

I jumped back surprised.  “HaHa!  You scared me Grandpa!” I laughed, slapping his arm and turning back to the fridge, “I don’t know yet.  Probably meat, and a vegetable.  That sound good?…Grandpa?  What kind of vegetable—”  I looked back.  He was already gone.  Laughing quietly to myself, I pulled out some steak, a “Just For One” packet of corn, and the fixings for some salad.

“Excuse me.” He was back.

“Yea?” I said, not looking up.

“Well…I can’t make this thing cooperate.  It won’t…cooperate.  How do you cooperate it?”

I glanced the hunk of black and white plastic my Grandpa was waving around in the air and squinted.  “What IS that Grandpa?”

“It’s for the living room.  I use it to cooperate.  Can you help me?”  He sounded sad, having to admit defeat.

“Yea…sure.”  I took it from him and immediately started laughing.  “Oh my god, Grandpa!  What did you do to it?!” I was holding the remote control to his TV, which looked as though it had been used to stir a pot of mashed potatoes and then was sprinkled with bread crumbs for good measure.  I can only assume he had intended bake it on the oven cleaning setting for dinner if I hadn’t showed up.

“I used it.” He said matter of factly.

“Clearly,” I mumbled, “But for what?”

Using the tips of my finger, so as to try for only minimal contact with the strange white crusty stuff on his remote, I adjusted the volume.

“I’M GOING TO CLEAN THIS!” I shouted over the TV, wiggling the dirty side in front of his face.

“Well, ok.” He replied, leaning around me to catch the report of the Dow.

I hate to report that the remote was a tough fix.  I always wondered why it cost so much to rent the remotes and cable boxes, but if all Grandpas make a practice of sticking their channel changing devices into vats of mashed potatoes, it all makes sense now.  I scrubbed it clean the best I could, trying to shake the water out from under the buttons and crossing my fingers that it wouldn’t ruin the controls.

“Can you show me how you…how you…that thing…” He was back behind my shoulder, pointing down at the remote in the drying rack.

I glanced behind me at the steak on the stove.  It had a few more minutes.  “Sure, come on!” I sighed.

I sat him down in front of the TV.  “You like this channel.” I pointed at the 1 and the 6 on the remote. “SIXTEEN!” I said loudly, moving my finger over the buttons.  “ONE – SIX!”

“Sixteen…” he mumbled, running his fingers over the keypad.  He sat up, “Good!  I think…”

I headed back to the kitchen, flipping the slightly over seared steak and popping the veggies in the microwave.

“Can you…I’m sorry…can you help again?” He was back in the doorway.

“Sure…whatcha need Grandpa?” I turned slightly as I was putting plates into the dishwasher.  He was silent.

Turning around, I saw the remote in his hands, held out like an offering to me.

I took him back in the living room, bringing along his bowl of salad with extra ranch dressing.  “ONE – SIX.” I said twice.  “ONE — SIX!”

He repeated after me a few times then asked, “And what comes next?”

“SEVEN.” I said.

“Seven?” He asked, pointing at the 3 on the remote.

“No SEVEN.” I pointed back at the 7.

“I’m sorry, I just don’t think I’m understanding.” He shook his head.

“Here,” I said, grabbing a notepad. I scribbled PBS 1 – 6 and CNN 7 on the front of the page in block letters.  “Use this.  Match the picture to the remote.”  He looked at the picture and found a 1 and a 6 on his remote.

“Good!” I patted him on the back.  “If you need anything, just come get me.”

I hurried into the kitchen, already smelling the burnt edges of the steak.  As I tried to salvage his dinner, cutting off the burned fat and removing the chunks of bone to help him navigate the meat, he appeared in the doorway again.

“You okay Grandpa?” I asked, glancing at the clock.  It wasn’t quite 6:30 yet, so he couldn’t need the channel changed again.

He nodded, and slipped into the chair at the table.

“Do you want to eat here?  At the table?” I asked.

“No…no.” He shook his head and repeated the word a few times, probably searching for any others.

“What can I help you with?” I sat down along side of him, his dinner in my hand.

“Is that for me?” He asked, pointing at the plate.

“Yep!” I replied, “And this too!” I held up the big glass of chocolate milk.

“Well thanks!” He took the plate from me, “Would you mind staying?” He added.

“Sure.  How long do you want me to stay?  I don’t have any plans.  I can stay as long as you want.”  That was a lie, but my friends would understand.

“Not long.  I like to be alone.  I like to be alone probably soon.  Just remain long enough to change the thing I watch.”  He disappeared into the living room, and I followed after, laughing.  I’m his channel changing slave I guess.

He settled down into his chair, tripping on his shoe laces and placing his food shakily on his tray.  “Oh here!”

“Whatcha got Grandpa?” I asked, leaning forward.

“I still can’t make this work.” He reached over to the side table next to the couch, collected his things and turned back toward me.  In his out stretched hand was his bowl of salad, the remote stuck snuggly in the middle of the extra ranch dressing.

Grandpa’s new ears

Everyone knows how hard it is to fix your TV when the cable is out, but only somewhere between 2.4 million and 5.1 million Americans know how hard it is to fix the TV when the cable is out, AND have Alzheimer’s (Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center).  Yesterday, my grandpa was one of those 2.4/5.1 million Americans.  He had the cable box upside-down, the remote batteries out, and was sitting in the middle of the living room grumbling about the weather.

“Whatcha doing Grandpa?” I asked casually, though it was pretty clear what was going on.
“Well the electricity won’t work!” my Grandpa shouted, as though I were the deaf one.  He was pointing at the TV, his eyes narrowed.  “How will I be able to watch the news if this danged thing doesn’t start to work?!”

“Can I see the remote?” I asked, “Maybe I can help you a bit?”

“Well I don’t think you can.  It’s been like this all day.” (and you’re a woman) he added mentally.

I pried the remote from his ninja grasp just as my phone began to ring.  “One second Grandpa, my phone is ringing!” I said, pointing at my phone.  Of course this all fell on, quite literally, deaf ears.  He couldn’t hear my phone ringing or what I had said, all he knew is that I pointed at my phone.  He smiled and nodded, pretending to understand.

After a quick call, I popped back into the living room, stuck out the remote and tried the first logical solution: the power button.  Low and behold, the color grew on the screen and the cable started up.

“How did you DO that?” my Grandpa’s eyes were wide and his mouth hung open in astonishment.

“Oh I just tried a couple buttons.” I said, trying not to make it seem so obvious.

“How did you know what to do?  Who did you call?” he was suspicious now, looking at me from under his eyebrows, pondering what outside help this silly woman must have contacted.

“That was my work calling.  It didn’t have to do with the TV.”

He stared some more, clearly not able to hear me.  “But how did they know to call you.  How did they know my TV wasn’t working?”

“They didn’t, Grandpa.  That was COMPLETELY unrelated!”  I laughed, though I knew my explanations were useless.

“I don’t know….” Grandpa replied, letting the last syllable drag, “I think you had help.” (because you’re a woman) he added mentally.

He folded himself up on the couch and turned the volume up to max.

“Can you hear that?” he asked me, barely audible over the screaming of the television.

I nodded.

“You know, I think I’m getting better ears.  I don’t know why but all of a sudden I can just about hear everything!  I don’t have a problem at all!”