The girl with the little red shoes…

Why is it that sometimes those closest to us can, without warning, become strangers in our midst?  We’ve all experienced the division of families over senseless disagreements but the cruelest of all is when some debilitating disease takes over the very being of someone we love, a person who once loved us in return.

It’s been four years now since she passed away; four years since I had Jekyll & Hyde, in the form of a petite, gray-haired, foul-mouthed, sleepless, 80+ year old woman, residing in the guest room of my home.  My Mom; outwardly charming to everyone she met but behind closed doors she morphed into Joan Crawford faster than I could hide the wire coat hangers.

Mom left without saying good-bye, twice in my life. The first was in 2003, when Alzheimer’s finally took over its devastating control of her failing mind.  The second was the day she died shortly after I left for work.  

In some way, Alzheimer’s disease created a new stage for her, one where she could perform as if she had some starring role before adoring crowds who laughed at her every word and rose to give her applause at every opportunity, especially when she recited this “bar toast”/poem, over and over, to anyone who would listen:

“Here’s to the girl with the little red shoes
She drinks my whiskey, she drinks my booze
She lost her cherry, but that’s no sin,
She still got the box that the cherry came in!”

I, for one, was not in her audience and was not amused. I was the “bitch”, the one who dressed, bathed and fed her along with giving her meds. My parent became my child, rebellious and ornery at every turn. You see, to her, I was her daughter no longer, just someone she resented, not that I could blame her; I resented her right back!

Ah, yes; the role of a caregiver can be quite unpleasant and when one is the only child giving that care, it is a combination of frustration, anger, and exhaustion. Did I mention sarcasm?  Enter my husband who, to this very day maintains that my mother was putting on an act (as she often did pre-Alzheimer days) and that it was her normal way of escaping from things that made her uncomfortable.   I always give him “the look”,  whenever he attempts to again render his, unsolicited, opinion; men often tend to minimize things like this.  Of course, I blend some of my sarcasm with one, or two, well-chosen words of profanity. 

Why not?  I’m good at it and it has helped me survive some terribly difficult situations but not without scars. We all have them, in one form or another; at least those of us who grew up having rough childhoods. How we step beyond the damage and proceed through our lives, striving to be better human beings is, in itself, a life-long battle but one worth the effort.

Thus, my decision to write a book, a small book of memoirs, to leave behind for my children and grandchildren and anyone else of interest. It has become a rush against time now that I live with the fear of someday losing my own memories as my Mom did.  I’ve no visions of sitting on Oprah’s couch as she interviews me about my book or having it land on any Best Seller list of notable writings.  I dream only of having time and making good use of whatever may be left.


All this brings me to a favorite line from Bridges of Madison County…”the old dreams were good; they didn’t all work out but it was better than having no dreams at all”.  At this delicate stage of my life, I can finally dream again; hoping for better days to come in the time I have left on this planet.  I’m slowly approaching an unmentionable birthday and I stand determined to tie up all the loose ends of my life. Things like scrapbooks of my children’s school drawings, photographs that need to be put into memory boxes for my grandchildren and treasured Christmas items that each hold warm, cozy thoughts of holidays past.  So many memories that need to be passed down before it’s too late.

And, of course, my book.  The most important memory of all.



  1. Jodi Dean says:

    Patty-I LOVE it! I think it is so important for you to write about this. Alzheimers is one dirty disease, robbing us blind and I want to hear more about your story. What it took from your mother was aweful but what it takes from the families left behind is everything else. I see it on a daily basis as a nurse in the ER…I see it on the frustrated, exhausted, brow-beaten and saddened faces of their loved ones. Keep writing!!

  2. No. 7 says:

    Wow, Patty. Very moving and leaves me wanting more!! For the record, I can see you sitting on Oprah's couch. This is a compelling story that you have inside of you. Let it out, lady and share it with the world We're waiting."Of course, I blend some of my sarcasm with one, or two, well-chosen words of profanity. Why not? I’m good at it and it has helped me survive some terribly difficult situations but not without scars." I "get" this. Completely.Hugs and good luck!

  3. Zanne says:

    wow. i can hear your voice as I read this. I think it's great. I think many, many people will be able to connect with these experiences. Keep writing! Don't give up or give in!!!

  4. Slidecutter says:

    Thank you all so much for your kind comments and support. Now that the Blog stage-fright has passed, I'm starting to feel more at ease and can sit back to read the wonderful postings of others. We share with each other and learn from one another. Not too shabby, I must say!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    my favorite blog post!

  6. Katie says:

    Oh, Patty. I can't imagine the difficulty of what you went through. My grandmother is experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer's, and when my father looks at her now, I can see the pain in his eyes. When she talks about her mother and father as if they are still alive and just waiting in the next room, our hearts break a little more. Alzheimer's is a horrible, horrible thing.

    You've so eloquently described the emotions associated with it here. The frustration, confusion, hurt, denial. You're a strong person to have dealt with all of this and to still be so positive. I don't think I'm nearly that strong.

    Also, I had no idea you were writing a book! I can't wait to read it one day!

  7. Eden E says:

    Very touching and heart-wrenching. Thank you for being brave enough to share your innermost thoughts and pain and hope with us!

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