Under the Maple Canopy

Singing Union Songs Since 2009

And Then What?


I’ve spent much of the last two days sorting through things. My things. Their things.

Got the filing done this morning and got rid of a few things. You’d be proud of me – I’ve only been putting it off for the last month (or more). Out with the old and in with the new/old. We’re going through my Grandma’s house now, sifting through the detritus of life usually reserved for after one’s life has passed on.

She has Alzheimer’s, Grandma. Nature’s cruel joke (the Alzheimer’s not Grandma). She’s still alive and yet the person who remains is not her – or at least in my Grandma’s case is all of the worst parts of her that were there all along, but had been kept in check by some other lady who has since went on vacation or left the building for the world’s longest cigarette break. This is entirely possible since my Grandma used to smoke in the surreptitious way that one did when smoking fell out of fashion and it became the stuff of ash trays hidden in kitchen cabinets and aerosol air freshener. All that’s left of my Grandma is the nasty bits…the paranoid bits…all wrapped up in a big ball of confusion and seething.

At first Aunt T took care of her precipitated by a fall and a broken hip as is often the case with elderly relatives living on their own in a world that has transformed in their lifetime. Can you imagine taking care of your mother and her crazy obsessions and the outlandish stories she tells of stolen roofing samples that are still sitting in the garage and then finding out that you have ovarian cancer? Less than a year later Aunt T lost her battle with a cancer that was found too late and grew too fast and then it fell to Aunt L because now Grandma’s really honest about how much she doesn’t like her son. As if everything else wasn’t bad enough, you find that the things you’ve always suspected about who was Mom’s favorite and the things that she said when you were a child, but maybe weren’t so bad on their own have now found context and your suspicions confirmed because if there’s one thing that can be said about Grandma now, it’s that mixed up with all the crazy stuff is the honest to goodness, brutal truth.

Family’s complicated.

Grandma was adamant that she was going to live at home and never go to a care facility, but leaving her at home is like leaving my two year old at home unsupervised. Deals were made – stay inside, follow the rules – and there were a few falls. Another broken something. Can you imagine trying to honor your mother’s wish to stay at home and expending heroic effort to make it possible with very little thanks because she has Alzheimer’s and all that’s left are the nasty bits?

She had another fall with a broken wrist and then there’s the point where you’ve hit enough.

She’s in a care facility now for folks with Alzheimer’s. Believe me you, she’s not happy about it in the least. She was threatening jail for my Aunt L and a lawsuit for being held there against her will. She’s certain this is possible because another one of the residents told her it was.

What we’re left with now is the stuff of life. The empty (but impeccably clean) ketchup bottles, Cool-Whip containers, and aluminum foil pans suitable for holidays and meals for shut-ins. The stuff you might think is incredibly useful or valuable, but in reality has no value to your relatives who have to find some way to get rid of it and sell your house. The checkbook registers that tell about all the thousands of dollars certain family members talked her out of, the fancy dishes (because she always had a fancy dish to go with every meal), the old toys, and the notes. Oh, the notes, over random things in unexpected places that show just how confused Grandma was.

We’re the anthropologists sifting through the layers and discovering the things you never knew. The recipe boxes (three), the church cookbooks with post-it notes marking favorite recipes, the sewing box full of bias tape, and it’s only just now hit me that though I knew my Grandmother my entire life, I didn’t really know her. I look at the recipes she marked in the cookbooks and they don’t strike me as something she would make.

For instance, what are Mormon Muffins? Did she eat these? What makes them Mormon? Why did she write them down?

I’m also reminded of things I always meant to get around to, but never did. I have the rosette irons, but no recipe. I haven’t found the krumkake or sandbakkel molds (or the recipes for that matter). I think I’ve found her sugar cookie recipe for the ones that melted in your mouth, but only because it’s in a few of the church cookbooks she’s marked up with notes and stains that say “I used this recipe more than once.”

I wonder about my memories of her and wish that I had known the parts of her I’m now finding. Sometimes I think that lady might have been a bit nicer to have known – maybe we might have had more in common, but I was the daughter of the son and though we lived in the same town for most of my life, our paths apparently never crossed. Never will cross, either because with Alzheimer’s you don’t get better and there is no cure. It seems to me to be one of the cruelest ways to live the remaining years of your life because you’re no longer connected to reality and you don’t remember that your sister died earlier this year. When it all comes down to it, all your relatives will be left with are disconnected memories and Mormon Muffins.

Mormon Muffins

Yield: 5 dozen muffins


2 cups boiling water
5 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 quart buttermilk
4 cups All-Bran
2 cups bran flakes
1 cup chopped walnuts


Combine water and baking soda; stir until dissolved. Cool. In a mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Mix well. Beat in water mixture. Fold in the cereals and nuts. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups three-fourths full. Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until muffins test done. Batter will keep in refrigerator for 1 week.


5 thoughts on “And Then What?

  1. My grandmother is going through the beginning stages of this. She was the sweetest lady and has always had a memory like a steel trap. But that sweet little grandmother of mine is starting to repeat stories over and over and over again ones that she’s told before but now repeats every 10 minutes or so. She’s forgetting where she put things and asking about events and dates that she has forgotten that she marked in her calendar not 5 minutes before. She is getting angry that she’s not allowed to drive and once threw her car keys at my uncle. SO incredibly unlike her.
    The only good thing about her going in this direction now is that she has spent her entire life researching stories and telling us her stories. We know the recipes by heart. We know where the family homesteads are and what they were like. We can trace her family’s path through Western PA when she was a child. So we know the stories. It doesn’t make letting go of her personality, her love and her light any easier though. It’s thievery, this disease. It’s thieving your grandma and mine. And it doesn’t seem fair. I’m sorry that you are having to sift through her life in this way and not being able to ask her where something came from or what recipes she used.

    • Back at the beginning (when we knew what was wrong) she’d have a fifteen minute loop before you started cycling through the same list of things. By the time she hit the third time through, you’d know it was a good time to leave. There are lots of things now that we look back on it, that you can tell she was sliding into the Alzheimers and we weren’t aware of it at the time.

      My Grandma is still angry that she can’t drive, although she blames it on the “dirt hippy at the DMV” who took her license away. Of course, there is no such person and she never went to the DMV, but she believes it is true and there is no persuading her. I think my Aunt L is a bit relieved that she doesn’t blame her for that one.

      We know her stories – at least we know about her childhood and quite a bit about her growing up (her parents worked for a canning factory and her dad made her a cart that she used to sell candy to the workers at the factory), but I know less of her after that point. My Aunt L has been working with her to try and get some more of those things written down (and recipes from my great-grandma identified). I don’t know that I have the patience necessary to do what my Aunt does and it’s hard to get my Grandma off her litany of wrongs.

      I just can’t shake the feeling that when it comes to her adult years or who she really was as a person before the Alzheimer’s took it away, that I didn’t actually know her and that seems so weird.

      You are right, though, this disease is thievery of the worst sort.

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