I'm the kind of person who skips to the conversation when reading a book.
I celebrated all my daughter’s firsts. Likewise, I had to mourn all my father’s losses. There were numerous coincidences. She said “Mama” on the same day he first asked me who I was.
Elizabeth Cohen in The House on Beartown Road: A Memoir of Learning and Forgetting
I read Cohen’s book in the early days of my mother’s Alzheimer’s. It is poignant and bittersweet. She juxtaposes her daughter’s learning with her father’s forgetting due to his Alzheimer’s.
Yesterday, I thought about her book. It was a day of first words, but not in the sense that you think.
My mother has retained her ability to read even though she has largely lost her ability to understand. Yesterday, however, she could only read the first word of something. The second word became garbled or lost.
“Byrne Diary,” she said, seemingly out of the blue.
“What did you say,” I asked. I thought she was talking about a diary, and I didn’t think my mother had ever kept one.
She nodded her head toward a truck backing up to the loading dock which we could see from the window and repeated, “Byrne Diary.”
“Oh, yes,” I said to her, “Byrne Dairy. It looks like they’re delivering milk or ice cream. You like ice cream, don’t you?”
“Yes,” she said. Her answers had all been short, almost curt, that morning.
“What’s your favorite kind of ice cream?” I asked, hoping to draw her into conversation.
“All kinds,” she said, with a dismissive shrug.
And that was the end of that conversation.
A few minutes later, she said, “Spring Store.”
I followed her eyes to see what she was reading this time. It was a cutout bunny tacked to the wall. On it were the words, “Spring Time.”
“Yes, it’s spring time, Mom,” I said to her gently. “See the blue skies out there? It’s a beautiful day. The grass is getting green again. It’s spring.”
She nodded in agreement, and then nodded off to sleep again.
I will rejoice in small things. My mother can still read the first word of something put in front of her.