Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Sewing Factory

I guess this blog will also be about my grandmother's memory loss...

Yesterday my grandmother called me on the phone, asking me to come over for dinner.

"We bought all the stuff for guern fun!" she said, excitedly.

I had told them the night before, when I came over on Tuesday, and they asked me what I wanted for dinner next Tuesday, that I haven't had that dish in a while. It's thick rice noodles rolled with chopped bits of egg, bbq pork, cilantro, and pickled vegetables. At least they remembered that I mentioned it. I couldn't say no. They had driven all the way to San Francisco's Chinatown from their home in South San Francisco to pick up fresh ingredients to make it for me.

I went over to their house around 7p, after I got home from work. My grandfather, whom I call "Ba," was cleaning up in the kitchen.

"You're too late!" he shouted jovially, over the clatter of dishes being cleaned. "We ate it all!" I smiled as I looked at the platter on the table, perfect rows of noodle rolls covered in plastic wrap.

"Of course we waited for you," my grandmother said.

I sat down at the table and that's when my grandmother started to tell me the story about when she first started taking care of me. The wrong story... and it was the first of many times that she would try to tell me that wrong story that night.

"You know, I've known you since you were six months old!" she said proudly. I cocked my head at her, but let her continue.

"I had a friend that worked in a sewing factory. And she introduced your mom to me. Your mom was bringing you to the factory every day, and I said, 'A factory is no place for a baby!' So, my friend introduced us, and that's how I started taking care of you!"

Both my grandfather and I looked at her, confused.

"Gramma," I said. "You've known me for my whole life, and you knew Mom before she even had me! She married Dad, your son! And they waited four years to have me!"

"What?" she said, "No, how come I don't remember? I would remember that."

My grandfather said, "No, you're thinking of Gary."

"Gary is my SON!" she replied, indignantly.

This conversation repeated itself a few times throughout dinner.

My grandfather recounted how he got his nickname at one point. "You came over one day when you were just a baby, and you were running all around saying 'Ba! Ba! Ba!' And I asked your mother, 'Who's that?' 'That's YOU!' she told me. 'You're 'Ba!'" He smiled. "I think you couldn't say 'Grandpa' so you just called me 'Ba' instead." I smiled back at him.

At the end of dinner, I presented them with a journal that I had prepared, in hopes of slowing my grandmother's memory loss. I wrote them a letter on the first page, thanking them for helping me with my project and for raising me, and that I loved them. It was mostly to thank them, but also so that if they opened the journal and forgot what it was, they would be reminded. On subsequent pages, I wrote a date and a question from the Story Corps Memory Loss Initiative list on each page, so that they could answer one question a day. And at the bottom of the page, I wrote the question, "What did you do today?" just so they could get used to remembering what they did. I think for them, since they don't do much, all the days run together, and my grandmother really can't answer that question anymore without my grandfather's help. I'm hoping that if she at least has to write it down after he tells her, she might remember more.

Even though I had told them the day before that I'd be bringing the journal over, what it was, and the project I was working on, they didn't remember, so I re-explained. As my grandmother held the journal, and read my letter, she started turning pages, reading the questions. One of the pages sparked a memory, and she started telling me again about my mother and the sewing factory. My grandfather and I tried to tell her as gently as we could, that she was mistaken.

"How come your truth is better than my truth?!" she asked, frustrated.

"Because mine actually happened that way," I said, with pleading eyes.

As she held the journal, I asked her if she knew what it was for. She didn't remember. I told her I wrote her a note on the first page and she re-read it, as if for the first time. When I asked her again, she surprised me by remembering.

The visit ended with a long ordeal with her pills and Ba taking her blood pressure. I hugged them goodbye, and told them I'd be back next Tuesday. I started to get a little choked up in the car, realizing how quickly she was deteriorating. It was only this past Fall when I was asking her and my grandfather about how they had met during a family dinner. She seemed completely lucid then. I finally reached my parents' house, told them about Gramma, picked up my dog and headed home.

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