Grandpa Magoo

“I think you underestimate my sneakiness. I am very very sneaky.”
– Mr. Deeds

My grandpa has always been a smart man.  He made a stable living, supported four kids and a wife, invested his savings into promising stocks (like “apples” – i.e. Apple), bought reliable cars, always paid for warranties, and insured every inch of his life.  But Grandpa has never really been known as particularly cunning; never been considered a think tank.

Case in point: Once when my sister and I were very young, we pulled into the driveway with my Grandpa, covered in mud from head to toe, towing a brand new black Labrador in the back of the van.  My grandpa had found the dog lounging on the side of the road and promptly decided to save the poor stray.

“Where did you get the dog?” my Grandma demanded, her skinny hands grasping her hips.

“It was lost!” He replied proudly.  “We saved it!” I shook my head, ensuring my Grandma knew I had absolutely nothing to do with this.

“Well it has a collar.” Grandma discovered, relieved.  “I’m calling the owner.”

Just twenty minutes later, our new dog’s, old owner came rolling into the drive.  “Where did you find him?” The stout lady asked, gratefulness and cleavage overflowing from above her neckline.

“Well it’s funny,” Grandpa told her, “Right along the edge of Hollybrooke Drive, near the curve.  He was just playing in the grass.  Good thing I drove by when I did!”

The lady blinked.  My Grandma covered her mouth to hide a smile.

“That’s my front yard.” The woman told my grandpa, closing the door of her truck with force.  “You took him.  You took him from my front yard.”

We watched her bob down the hill, hiding our giggles in the sleeves of our muddy jumpers.

“Baab…” my Grandma laughed, “You’re so DENSE!”  She smacked his back lovingly, as the stout little lady returned home with her stolen property.

And that’s what we have always expected from my Grandpa.  A loving, caring, dense old man who was sure to show you a good time, but who you could never count on to find his way home.  He tipped every canoe he paddled, he drove 40 mph in a 40 kmph zone and could barely contain his shock when we told him he drives like an old man.  He lets 3 year olds bait a fishing hook, gives chewing gum to kindergarteners, and has been known for tracking mud across every clean white floor in the tri-state area.  As I said before, he has always been smart in a prepared and pleasant to be around kind of way, but reason, sensibility and planning have been left on the back burner for quite some time.

Until now.

Weeks ago, my mom made the decision to take my Grandpa’s car keys.  As could be expected, all hell broke loose.  He threw every weapon in his artillery at mom; anger, yelling, silent treatment, pouting, arguing, reasoning, and even the occasional blackmailing.

And then Thursday night, my Grandpa calls my mom breaking weeks of the silent treatment.

“I can’t find the deeds.” Came through the other end of the line.

“The deeds?” my mom asked.

“Yes.  Can you please come help me?”

My Grandpa was pacing the kitchen by the time my mom arrived.  He had emptied out every basket, cabinet, and bread box, looking for something.
My mom evaluated the situation.  “Do you mean your keys?”  She asked, worried she would have to remind him he is no longer allowed to drive.  It’s a never ending battle we choose to avoid whenever possible.

“No!” He shook his head furiously, “What I’m looking for…what it is…well I use them at the cur!”  He exclaimed, making up words or possibly borrowing them from a German dictionary, “You take them and put them in and other people use them.  Sometimes he writes on them.”  His ability to be completely and utterly vague is really astonishing.

My mom carefully watched him draw across the air when his words failed him.  “Your checks, Dad?” She held out the check book we had taken from the bread box earlier that week.

His shoulders relaxed and he slumped down in his chair.  A wave of relief passed through his eyes.  “Oh thank you!  Thank you so much!  There it is!”  He hugged my mom and sighed, exhausted from worry.

Pleased, my mom returned home.  “We can let him keep his check book if it helps.” She told me later, “What can it hurt?  If something goes wrong, we can just cancel it or something.”  What could go wrong indeed.

The next morning, my mom arrived at her usual time to put my Grandpa’s Exelon patch on.  “I’m hereeeeee.” She called into the quiet house.
There was rustling coming from the pink hall bathroom.  She followed the sound and found my Grandpa in a war zone of pumps and chains and levers.  The entire contents of the toilet were spread out over the counter tops and throw rug.

“DAD!” She exclaimed, “What did you do?”

“It’s funny,” he replied, “I’m not sure what’s wrong with it.”

“It’s disassembled.”  She thought to herself, “THAT’S what’s wrong with it.  You took it apart.”  But she stayed quiet.  After all, at least he was holding a some-what reasonable conversation with her that didn’t involve the return of “his engines”.

“Ok,” she said after some thought, “I’ll have Jim come by and see if he can fix it.”

“Who?” he asked, turning around hopefully.

“Your son.  Jim.”

“Oh…ok.”  He wandered from the bathroom and flipped on the television, acting casual.  My mom surveyed the damage.  The bathroom looked as though someone was attempting to construct a bomb.  The scene was odd, and his behavior even more so, bordering on suspicious even.  But how do you judge what is abnormal when dinner conversation normally includes a discussion about “the sisters he met while transferring down the train tracks after lunch”?

Now whether or not these preceding events were connected to what followed just an hour later, we will never know.  With hindsight being 20/20, there are some of us who think he used the toilet as a distraction, to confuse his enemy like a suicide bomber.  Sometimes you have to sacrifice an asset for the good of the cause.  Others think he was plotting his next move since the recovery of his check book and renewal of monetary power.  And then of course it’s also quite possible that he just randomly took a shot in the dark and landed on a truly genius idea.
However much preparation went into his plan of attack, there is no one that can deny the sneakiness.  It was the D-Day of this war.  He snuck up on us from the water when we were looking the other way, at the disassembled toilet.

Heather, my Grandpa’s new home health care professional, was the first line of defense for “Team Family”.  She arrived an hour after my mom left and found my Grandpa in the driveway with a serviceman from AAA.  The gentleman was elbow deep in the guts of my Grandpa’s car, attempting to hotwire the vehicle for the nice man who so unfortunately “lost his keys”.  If I have ever doubted the security or benefits of being a Triple A member, I doubt it no longer.  They really will do just about anything to get you moving again, save buying you a whole new car.
No one spoke for a minute.  Grandpa kicked the doorstep, knowing he was in trouble.  The Triple A serviceman continued to work.

Heather broke the silence.  “You can’t do this.  You’re not allowed to drive!”  She dialed her boss, who promptly arrived, just as my Grandpa, frustrated that his plan had been foiled and “the fruit” had showed back up at his house, took off on his bike.

“Follow him.” Heather’s boss directed.  “See where he goes.”

Grandpa wobbled along on his bike, darting across streets, diving in front of traffic and whipping around corners (helmet not included) all the way to the Senior Center to play bridge.   Somehow, just like Mr. Magoo, he somehow made it alive and unharmed, most likely leaving wreckage, chaos and carnage behind him.

Luckily we know a guy, who knows a guy, who works at Triple A and said that this would never happen again and quite honestly told us that it probably should never have happened in the first place.
The moral of this story?  Taking the keys from a senior citizen isn’t enough.  They can’t be fooled.  Even if they regularly steal dogs from people’s front yards, watch the news 3 times in a row and keep their personal belongings in the bread box.  Those old people, they are a different kind of smart than us.  Street smart.  Must be because they never had Google.

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Sugar and Spice and Puppy Dog Tails

Ensuring that my grandpa receives adequate nutrition slash doesn’t die from food poisoning is almost exactly like trying to tempt the palette of a dog.  He will eat just about anything that he finds lying around, but he most certainly does not have any interest in what you have planned for him to consume.  He is a huge fan of meat, as any true man is, though he has a habit of buying 4 lamb chops, 2 ribeyes, and some veal all at the same time, and all (of course) within 2 days of expiration.  Now, I’m not positive if ya’ll are good at math but I’m sure you can imagine the meat to meal number ratio that is created when you leave Grandpa to his own devices while at the grocery.  You’d think he was actually shopping for a pack of rabid dogs, not a single old man with the appetite of a sparrow.

Now, critics may say that I should just freeze the excess.
And I have.
However, I have learned my lesson.  Because while rummaging through the freezer looking for either ice cream, or his keys, my grandpa has come across my secretly stashed frozen meat, each and every time.  And though just barely, he does in fact know that this was not where he had originally put his prized purchase.  In an attempt to right the wrong that I have created, the chops, steaks etc end up reassigned to the counter, the silverware drawer or the ever-surprising dumping ground that is the bread box.

Carbs are a whole ‘nother can of worms (though canned goods themselves, on the other hand, are like Pandora’s box).  Somewhere deep in the recesses of grandpa’s mind, underneath the cobwebs, and his wife’s name, wedged carefully next to his anger at my mother for taking his keys, is the lecture given to every newly diagnosed diabetic.  “Limit carbohydrates, sugars, everything delicious.  If you want it, it probably isn’t good for you.  If you eat it, you will die.”  Of course, when confronted with the oh-so-tempting, Gramps always reaches for the serving spoon, but something more often than not nags him into obedience.  Maybe it’s my grandma’s voice, still echoing in annoyance, “Baaaaaaaaab” as he scuffs his dirty shoes over the clean white floor to reach his hidden stash of cookies.  Or maybe it’s his own realization that eating too much of the stuff doesn’t make him feel so hot, but time after time, those carefully portioned carbs end up a wasted course.

“I don’t like that stuff.” He’ll say, eyeing a bowl of spaghetti.
He pokes at rice, pushes around his baked potato and scrapes his cheesey noodles into the trash when you’re not looking.  But, without fail, he will buy carton after carton of pre-mashed potatoes, and sneak off to the kitchen to make a giant bowl of ice cream when you are otherwise occupied.  It’s a mystery of his mind that may never be solved but will forever taunt us from his chocolate stained lips and his glucose meter readings.

And then there is the meal location.  Location, location, location.  As of late, lunch has been on his own; Ziploc container filled with leftovers, a sandwich wrapped in clear plastic wrap, a salad with too much dressing and soggy leaves, all with a note plastered to the front reading “LUNCH” with subsequent heating/eating directions.

But the real challenge comes at suppa-time.  As it goes, approximately every Monday, and third Tuesday he is too mad at my mom for taking his keys to walk the block and a half to her house for dinner.  The rest of the time, he’ll walk the walk, but he most certainly will not talk the talk.  Or talk any sort of talk for that matter, unless it has to do with returning his keys/freedom/fatherly dominance over the oldest, but softest daughter in the bunch.  As you can imagine, this silent treatment makes for a solemn, short affair as far as dinners goes.
The other days of the week, dinner duty falls on me.  When I can, I try to cook the usual, and coax him away from the 6/6:30/7 o’clock news long enough to eat dinner at the kitchen table.  If that is impossible, as it almost always is, I at least lead him with a glass of sugar free chocolate milk to a TV tray.

Now, lets go back to that Pandora’s box of cans.  There is this cabinet in the corner of the kitchen that, quite frankly, I believe my Grandpa has dubbed his endless pit of things he might need one day.  Inside are trash bags, Swifers, wood polish, carpet cleaner, old grocery sacks, water jugs, and canned goods.

And there in that last item, lies the problem.

The canned goods with their expirations dating all the way back to 2003.  It’s a regular schmorgasboard inside those wooden doors.  Templton the rat would have a field day.  I’m talking spaghetti sauce, tuna, stuffing mix, cranberries, peeled potatoes, green beans, Hungry Man, and anchovies.  You name it, he’s storing it.  Until the apocalypse?  Armagedon?  Saturday?  There’s no telling.  I have slowly, but surely, started throwing things away.  One by one, sometimes taking a few home with me to toss in my own bin.  But whether my Grandpa notices that the trash is feeling awfully heavy or he really does keep tabs on his expired non-perishables, 9 times out of 10 those sticky, previously trashed cans end up in the cupboard again.  If he was a sucker for starving children I would pretend like we were donating them to a youth center or homeless shelter, but my Grandpa’s charitable contributions normally go to park preservation and schools, so we’re out of luck.  Suggestions welcome.

If the cabinet is Pandora’s box, the old icebox is more like Where’s Waldo after a hit of LSD.  Now, aside from the Listerine, salt shakers, Idaho spuds, tooth brushes and 16 bags of carrots that you will find inside (see “Kitchen Finds” post), it’s a pretty normal fridge.  The door handles get sticky like only the personal refrigerator of my grandpa or a tubby little 3 year old might, but otherwise, it’s doing alright.  It’s what you don’t find inside that will screw with your mind.  The butter is often half melted on the countertop, the milk (poured from the jug into a separate pitcher) found curdled on top of the fridge, ice trays in the cupboard (water still inside), petrified mixed greens in the bread box, wrinkled grapes in the oven and mustard under the sink, snuggled next to the Drain-o MAX and other toxic cleaners.  It’s a fight to the finish to keep things where they belong.  Unfortunately the mustard doesn’t have a habit of wearing red and white striped sweaters and ski caps.  That would make finding it in time to make a sandwich so very much easier for my semi-professional Waldo seeking mind.

But in spite of, or rather, because of all of this, cooking in the Bob household can truly be a hilarious experience, if you let it be.  Caring.com has a wide range of suggestions for anyone struggling to feed their Alzheimer’s loved ones.  One I particularly took to heart is their suggestion for spillage: Lower expectations and look the other way as much as you can. Spilled food can always be cleaned up.”  Though crumbs have never been a personal vendetta for me, I was pleased at the two word introduction to that suggestion. 
Lower expectations
.
Everyone has a tendency to carry a torch for their grandmas, grandpas, moms, dads, older (and sometimes younger) sisters and brothers long after they have aged into versions less akin to their former selves.  It may be frustrating to cook the same meal every night, to have the same fight every day, to see them put on the same clothes every morning, but that frustration comes from the expectation that it might be like it used to be.  That it might somehow be different today.  Different than yesterday.  Different than the day they were diagnosed.  But, however much you love them, however fun their semi-sedated selves are, they are forever changed, forever different.  After all, you must have noticed that now it is you calling them to make sure they made it home alright, you checking their temperature when they feel warm, you carting them to doctor’s appointments and remembering to pay the cable bill.  The shoe is on the other foot and you’re about to walk a mile or two in that shoe.

So, lower our expectations we must.  Expect that it will be hard.  Expect that you will cry.  Expect that you will fight, yell, slam doors.  Expect deep down they love you.  Deep down they understand.  And expect that you will make it through.

So these expectations in hand, I will continue to cook dinner even though the lamb is rather greasy and the veal makes me want to gag, the requested meals are unbalanced and the mint jelly has the potential to make my grandpa’s blood sugar sky rocket.  I will cook it.  Whatever he wants.  Because who, at this point, is really going to deny an 85 year old man’s true pleasure in life by trying to count calories or worry about animal rights?  (Sorry PETA).

And when the meal is done being seared or baked or grilled or toasted, I will sit with my arms folded on the stained tablecloth and expect the inevitable:

“You know, people don’t eat this stuff very much around here.” He will say.

“Lamb?”  I’ll ask, gesturing at whatever meat is on his plate, for no matter what animal it originally was, it’s always lamb to Grandpa.

“Yea.  I wonder why nobody around here likes it?  It’s so good!”  He’ll reply.

Fact: the only evidence my grandpa actually has to support the idea that Mid-Westerners aren’t fond of lamb chops is that my mom once told him it wasn’t her favorite, and a faint memory that I used to watch a show by the same name before grandma took me to ballet practice.

And then, “You know,” he’ll say spreading mint jelly over his feast, “This stuff comes from [insert: the Netherlands/India/Russia/some ‘Oriental country’], over there by Austria.”

“It comes from Australia?”  I’ll say, correcting him.

And as always, he will agree then add, “They must make lots of money sending out all this meat to every one all over the world.  I thought that they only had kangaroos and bears but apparently they have lots and lots of lambs.”

“Apparently.” I’ll say and laugh, knowing, expecting, what always comes next.

A smile that spreads slowly across his face, a chuckle from deep inside, and then, lamb still stuffed in the corner of his mouth, “I’m sorry, Mary, I hope this wasn’t YOUR little lamb.”