Can you remember what happened 90 years ago?



Since Christmas, my wife and I have spent a lot of time at the local nursing home. Not checking out the rooms to see which one I like the best, but visiting a retired schoolteacher whom my wife met while we were Christmas caroling.

You can call her Mrs. Watson, though that’s not her real name. She’s from a small town near a larger town an hour from Ft. Worth, Texas, but when she was born in 1910, it probably took a lot longer than an hour to get to Ft. Worth.

The daughter of a cotton farmer, Mrs. Watson is a college-educated lady who has taught every grade “from 2nd through high school” in every subject and in every size of classroom down to a two-room school where her brother was principal. Her father told her, “If your brother goes to college, you’re going to college.” She says, “I never had any trouble with any child,” because she always had the cooperation of the parents to keep them in line.

All this information comes from a lady who, if you ask her how long she’s been in the nursing home, or the city where she taught last, will shake her head and reply, “Don’t ask me that.” She remembers some events that happened nearly a century ago, but what she doesn’t remember, she doesn’t remember. She has lost much of her memory, but she hasn’t lost her charm.

I don’t know if Mrs. Watson has Alzheimer’s disease, technically speaking. There are other kinds of dementia. People who have had 90 years of practice in social graces are often skilled at disguising their weaknesses. But she doesn’t seem to have any delusions.

I read a comment recently from a so-called expert that implied that everyone gets aggressive when they get Alzheimer’s but Mrs. Watson isn’t aggressive. Neither are any of her neighbors in the nursing home, as far as I can tell. But I haven’t visited the severe wards, only the mild and moderates ones. Things may be worse in the severe wards. Though I remember times when I had to almost carry my grandmother back to bed, because the delusions were so strong. On bad days, things can get pretty bad for almost any of us.

After teaching three generations of children, is Mrs. Watson getting any respect now? The caregivers at the nursing home are polite and calm with the residents, but they are also polite and calm about the persistent smells of urine and feces. To really respect someone, it takes a lot of effort and time.

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