Mother is slowly sipping roast parsnip soup under the watchful eye of her carer. She eats her lunch purposefully, bowing her head down as she brings the spoon up to her lips. Her right-hand trembles but this time the soup doesn’t slop over the side of the spoon.
‘We’re going make you big and strong again,’ says the carer, cheerfully, as Mother swallows the warm soup.
‘Huh,’ says Mother.
Dismissing the idea she can ever be strong again
The noise she makes is so indistinct I am not sure if she is agreeing with the carer or dismissing the idea she could ever be strong again as ludicrous; a naïve and unconvincing cliché.
‘Good soup?’ asks the carer.
‘Yum, yum,’ says Mother, smiling and rubbing her stomach.
I’m bemused again. What does she mean by choosing that childish phrase and child-like gesture? Is she taking the mickey out of us for the daily fuss we make to ensure she eats and drinks more than she did in the days before her fall? Or is this her dementia playing Twister with her personality? I hope it’s the former.
Her voice is full of wear
It’s certainly becoming harder to gauge her tone and her voice, which used to be vibrant and camouflaged her ninety years of wear and tears, is quieter and weaker now. She lives inside herself more than before the fall. Since returning she stays in her room longer and tunes out of family conversations sooner. She’s like a camper who has moved her tent to the corner of the field. She’s still happy to be on the same camp site as everyone else but keen not to be as close as before.
I’ve also noticed she has started to find simple things, which others would take for granted and unremarkable, surprising and worth commenting on. Sometimes to the confusion or embarrassment of others.
‘She tells me I am ‘very clever’ to draw the curtains by myself,’ my daughter said.
‘This morning, she said I have ‘brilliant hair,’ said my son.
‘I have ‘beautiful taste in teacups’,’ said my wife.
Is she being over solicitous?
At first, I thought this was her being overly solicitous. Now I think all her innocent and candid observations are a function of her mild dementia and the world, its objects and its people have become wonderous, almost unreal, to her.
She can still play the dame, though. She is more than willing to give me a piece of her mind in small, sour pieces if she thinks I am out of line. Only yesterday, she accused me of being overbearing and acting like a prison governor.
‘What are you going to do if I say ‘No’? Force feed me?’ she asked when I politely suggested she had a small second helping of pasta.
‘But you need to put some weight on,’ I said.
‘What is this place? A gulag for the old?’ she replied.
Have I created a gulag for the old?
As I had just finished reading ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’, I was able to explain to her that she was definitely not living in a gulag.
‘And if you were, you would be punching and kicking your way to the front of the queue to get a second helping of my wife’s wonderful penne al’arrabiata,’ I said, looking forward to telling my wife how I had defended her cooking.
‘Creep,’ said Mother and slunk slowly away from the table.
Luckily, Mother likes soups more than pasta. Minestrone is her favourite. But she must like this roast parsnip soup because she’s nearly done with it and is dabbing a chunk of bread around the sides of a near empty bowl.
‘What sort of soup was this?’ Mother asks.
‘Roast parsnip,’ I say.
‘Your father liked parsnip soup. Got the idea from a woman in the local pub.’
‘Was it nice?’ I ask, imagining why my father would be discussing parsnip soup in the saloon bar.
‘No. She was imprisoned for embezzlement. Got quite a stiff sentence.’
‘I meant was her parsnip soup nice?’.
‘Actually, I can’t stand parsnips’
‘No idea, darling. I never tried it. I can’t stand parsnips.’
‘You won’t be wanting more of this then?’ I say holding up the soup ladle with the last vestiges of the roast parsnip soup.
‘No. I don’t think so. Too many parsnips make you windy. If you know what I mean?’
The carer looks at the kitchen floor. I pour out the remains of the soup into a bowl for myself. I decide that next time I will ask her what soup she wants before I make it.