ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2003 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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all i need to remember
june 21, 2003
I have lost the ability to subtract.
I'm speaking literally, rather than metaphorically.
A couple of months ago, sitting at the kitchen table pre-dawn, I was paying the pile of bills by my coffee cup, and noticed I was having difficulty remembering how to subtract the amount of the latest check from the balance in the account.
For example, let's say the balance in our checking account was $3,014.85, and I had just written a check for $294.99.
I could still remember that in subtracting the 9 from the 5, I needed to turn the 5 into 15, getting 6 for the remainder, which made the 8 into a 7, but then I'd start to get lost as to how far leftwards I had to continue the transformation of the numerals.
The sudden problem with subtracting bothered me a little bit that morning, but then I was distracted by the tidal wave of life rolling in with the new dawn, places to go, things to do, and I forgot my disquiet.
Until the next time I sat down with our checkbook, and had the same problem again.
I put my pen down, after I had checked my subtraction the old-fashioned way, by adding the remainder to the subtracted amount to see if I came up with the original balance, and I was happy I could still remember how to do that (the old, 'carry the one' method), but in so checking the subtraction, I realized the subtraction was wrong. I had screwed up somehow. Using my pen, I overwrote the wrong numerals with darker blue numerals.
Soon, over the succeeding weeks, there were quite a few overwritten numerals in our checkbook.
My mother died of Alzheimer's disease.
For a long time after her diagnosis, I was wary of any forgetfulness on my own part. I remember sitting outside in our garden one otherwise eminently pleasant Saturday afternoon, under the trees in back, watching Mary, some distance away along one of the paths, bend forward occasionally to pluck up an offending weed from one of the flower beds, me thinking that even though Bermuda grass would not grow along the back paths because of the amount of shade, there was another type of Southern lawn grass that probably would, and although I nodded my head forward a couple of times, I could not remember the name of that species of grass. This is ridiculous, I thought, sitting by myself, thinking of my mother. I've heard the name a thousand times. What is it? But I couldn't remember. Finally, once Mary returned, I asked her, and she immediately supplied the name. "St. Augustine."
This is sure to sound silly, but in the years since, even to this day, I occasionally quiz myself. What is the name of the Southern shade grass? St. Augustine. It's a reassurance.
Later, I read somewhere Alzheimer's isn't about forgetting where you put your car keys. Alzheimer's is forgetting what function your car keys perform. That reassured me. (I've also read one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer's is the inability to tell the time looking at a traditional clock, the type with a face traversed by an hour and minute hand).
I've always been good at math, and in fact am one of those freaks who can immediately add up a tall tower of numbers in their head quicker than a calculator, which has flabbergasted a few people over the years, which such talent I still have, but it does bother me I've lost the ability to subtract. I've learned to compensate by performing the "adding the remainder back into the subtraction" bit during the subtraction process. A comedian, I forget who it was, joked once that each time we learn something new, we have to forget something we already knew, in order to make room. I wonder what the new thing I learned was that was so massive it booted out my ability to subtract.
Temperatures in north Texas have been lower than normal this year, because of the extraordinary amount of rain we've been receiving, downpour drumming against the roof and windows all night long, which is actually kind of nice, when you're resting warm and comfortable under sheet and blanket. Because of the cooler weather, Mary and I have been able to get out into our garden more frequently, once the skies do clear, and stay out longer.
At least once a week we haul home a CRV's worth of flowers.
The other evening, we decided to go out into the garden for a while and have a beer. We were in our pajamas, but since the garden is entirely enclosed by tall hedges and trees, and therefore completely private, a huge green-walled room with a blue ceiling, we elected not to change.
This is mosquito season, so once we got to the table at back with our beers, I suggested to Mary she tuck the bottoms of her pajama pants into the tops of her socks, which I did also.
While we were walking along the paths, I glanced down at her, the bottoms of her pajama pants blousing above her tall socks, glanced down at myself, and realized we looked like two old-fashioned baseball players.
Today, Saturday, June 21, we went back out into the garden, early in the morning, everything still wet with dew, birds singing everywhere, in our official gardening togs this time, for me an old pair of canvas pants and a short-sleeve shirt.
We have a massive bed on the east side of our house which used to include a crab apple tree, which died; two rows of gardenia bushes, with a fragrance from Heaven, but which also attracted an extraordinary number of white flies and had generally fallen into ill health the past few years, so that we removed them; a large bed of phlox, which was absolutely beautiful, brilliant blue, for two weeks a year, in early Spring, but then would be invaded the rest of the time by Dallas grass, a terrible weed.
We tore out everything, the past couple of weeks, and replanted. Since we're older and smarter, we devoted most of the bed to different varieties of lantana, a perennial which is absolutely care-free, blooms almost all year, and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds (in Japan, lantana and honeysuckle vine are considered weeds). Where the phlox was, we left a batch that seemed resistant to the Dallas grass, and on the other tiers (that section of the bed is a large rock garden), planted petunias and moss roses. It looks beautiful.
We finished mulching the whole, massive bed about eleven this morning, came in, showered, ate a black bowl full of strawberries and chopped-up watermelon, watched TV.
About one o'clock in the afternoon we thought, instead of watching stuff we've already seen on TV, why not get back out in the yard?
We had a tray full of oxalis triangularis, a perennial with deep purple triangular leaves, above which rise delicate stalks supporting pale violet bobbing flowers. We put them in the ground in one of the shadiest parts of our garden, on the back west side, by our Buford holly bushes.
The center bed in our backyard garden holds a huge crepe myrtle. Under it we planted a grouping of caladium, with all different types of foliage color.
Once we were through with all that, and a few other tasks, it was four o'clock in the afternoon. Our bodies were soaked, clothes sticking to us, saturated with sweat. I went inside, popped the tops off a couple of bottles of ice cold Spaten Optimater beer, brought them out into the heat of our garden, walking back to the rear, where Mary was sitting. In that short walk, the temperature dropped twenty degrees as I passed under the shade of the tall trees.
We sat legs-out in our chairs, just looking around. Mary had put a sprinkler under the crepe, to water in the caladiums. Off in the distance, blocks and blocks away, I heard a gaggle of little girls enthusiastically arguing about something, God knows what, in someone else's backyard.
As I said, our crepe is huge. Mature as it is, the bark sloughs down off its multiple trunks, exposing the wood underneath, like bone, a habit with crepe. I reminded Mary how she had been looking forward to when our crepe would do that, peel down to its bare trunk. We both immediately thought of sunburned skin, remembering what it was like to be a kid, two days after burning at the beach, being able to lift a patch of skin off a forearm, taking pride at how long you could make the peel before it tore, reminded again our bodies are nothing more than vessels.
As we watched the water spout up into the air beneath the crepe, hissing, silver, a male cardinal suddenly swooped through it, red and wings, landed on a branch above, shaking his crested head, let out the air-piercing, exceedingly brief screech unique to cardinals. After a few such screeches, his mate joined him, less flamboyantly-feathered, red only on her head, and swooped through herself.
Mary and I snuck a quiet glance at each other, like kids, amazed at our good fortune in being able to see their interaction.
That's all I need to remember.