HOME FOR THE HOL­I­DAYS

The au­thor and mu­si­cian re­flects on a Christ­mas past

ZOOMER Magazine - - PROFILE - Ex­cerpted from Feed­ing My Mother: Com­fort and Laugh­ter in the Kitchen as My Mom Lives with Mem­ory Loss. Copy­right © 2017 Jann Ar­den. Reprinted by per­mis­sion of Ran­dom House Canada, a di­vi­sion of Pen­guin Ran­dom House Canada Limited.

De­cem­ber 20, 2014

This year my mom didn’t bring her Christ­mas tree up from the base­ment.

For the past decade, when the sea­son was over, she has sim­ply been drap­ing the fully dec­o­rated tree with a gi­ant bed sheet and hav­ing it care­fully car­ried down­stairs and stored in the cor­ner. It sud­denly seemed crazy to her to take all the dec­o­ra­tions off ev­ery year, only to put them on again twelve short months later. “All Dad has to do,” she said, “is plug the damn thing in.”

When I asked her why she wasn’t bring­ing it up this year, she just said that she didn’t feel like it.

I guess Christ­mas the way it used to be – the way I re­mem­ber it – is fi­nally over. I have been hav­ing the din­ner at my place for the past five or six years, but Mom had al­ways taken the time to at least dec­o­rate her house.

She has a lit­tle vil­lage with street lamps and a church and a preacher and a snow­man that all light up. When I was young, I loved look­ing at it for hours. She’d put it up on the man­tel over the fire­place, just out of reach of our reck­less fin­gers. It’s sit­ting in its card­board box now, and I doubt it will ever see the light of day again.

The last year that Mom and Dad hosted Christ­mas din­ner at their place was a few months af­ter my dad had had a fairly ma­jor stroke. (He’s had sev­eral small ones since.) He had got up at three in the morn­ing and put the turkey in the oven, hav­ing stuffed it with a loaf of bread still in its plas­tic bag. He had sprin­kled some kind of spice on it, which we never did iden­tify, and cranked the whole thing up to 475 de­grees. My mom smelled some­thing in the night and jumped out of bed to find the turkey burn­ing.

Dad had looked at her with such de­feat and shame. On some level, he un­der­stood that he’d screwed up and done some­thing that didn’t pro­duce the re­sults he had hoped for – which was mak­ing us all a Christ­mas din­ner, just like he had for the past forty years.

Later that day, we made a game out of guess­ing what Dad had lib­er­ally spread all over that poor turkey and had a good laugh. Dad said, “Pep­per ... lots and lots

of pep­per, I think ...” and then he laughed, too.

This whole en­tire thing is about love and un­der­stand­ing and fail­ing and get­ting up and try­ing over and over and over again to be the best ver­sion of our­selves we can be.

De­cem­ber 24, 2014

An­other year went slip­ping past us like a rain­drop down a win­dow. I re­mem­ber on this ex­act day last year I was sit­ting right where I am now, re­flect­ing on the pre­vi­ous 365 days of life’s ad­ven­tures.

Life ain’t for the faint of heart. You have to wake up each and ev­ery day and re­al­ize that you can and will be­gin again. It doesn’t mat­ter if you’ve screwed up or lost your way or made gi­ant mis­takes or failed or fallen, you can al­ways keep go­ing for­ward.

You’re not sup­posed to get it right out of the gate. My favourite peo­ple in the world, my dear­est friends, all rat­tle when you give them a shake. They have lit­tle pieces that have bro­ken off in­side of them that are a con­stant re­minder to them, and me, of how far they’ve come and how much they’ve learned and what they have sur­vived.

The hu­man spirit is un­stop­pable. You are an in­tri­cate part of ev­ery­thing that has ever ex­isted or ever will ex­ist, and that is fuck­ing fan­tas­tic. No mat­ter what else is go­ing on.

De­cem­ber 26, 2014

Small changes gather speed and weight, then join to­gether and get big without you re­ally notic­ing it hap­pen­ing. And then you’re faced with some­thing like mak­ing the en­tire Christ­mas din­ner at your house.

I mean, I’d been asked to bring a salad or a casse­role, but never the whole turkey din­ner – stuff­ing, gravy and all. But when Mom and Dad couldn’t man­age a big fam­ily din­ner any­more – it was too con­fus­ing and far too com­pli­cated for two peo­ple who were both well into their re­spec­tive bat­tles with mem­ory loss – I had to step up.

I re­mem­ber the last Christ­mas din­ner my par­ents at­tempted to put to­gether. Dad was still able to drive back then, and they had picked up gro­ceries, which they both loved to do. They bought all the things that one would need for a hol­i­day feast. And there were still plenty of car­rots and pota­toes and onions from the gar­den – thank God, be­cause that year we needed them.

Ev­ery­thing seemed to be in pretty good shape ex­cept that my par­ents had bought a five-pound turkey for four­teen peo­ple. I didn’t even know tur­keys could be that small. It was Christ­mas Day, and there wasn’t any­where we could buy an­other bird. Dad looked as though he was go­ing to sob, and I did my best to tell him that ev­ery­thing was go­ing to be fine.

I called my brother and told him to bring a ham and I peeled an­other pot of pota­toes. I fig­ured every­body could have a small piece of turkey, a slice of ham and two pounds of pota­toes and car­rots.

We didn’t have any stuff­ing, but we did man­age to have a whole lotta laughs. I think that was the same year Mom made her fa­mous cheese­cake, and we had to eat it out of bowls be­cause it NEVER set. We laughed our heads off eat­ing liq­uid cheese­cake.

Jan­uary 7, 2015

I had a break­through of sorts a few days ago, right af­ter I had a mini break­down.

I’d asked my mom if she thought she would ever for­get me, and she said, “Well, my brain might, but my heart won’t.” Those eight words took my breath away. I felt a weight lift off my shoul­ders that I’d been car­ry­ing for the past few years.

It got me think­ing about tech­nol­ogy, oddly enough. I sat in my old red leather chair, right by the win­dow over­look­ing my clut­tered deck. It was strewn with shells from the peanuts the squir­rels and the blue jays have made quick work of since Novem­ber (I need to clean them up ... I am be­com­ing my mother, ever so slowly). The sun was stream­ing through the snow­cov­ered spruce trees as if the beams were glid­ing in along a ruler, and I mar­velled at their per­fect ge­om­e­try. But I di­gress. I was think­ing about the “Cloud” – the Cloud that we are for­ever up­grad­ing and metic­u­lously mon­i­tor­ing to make sure all our files and pic­tures and con­tacts and stuff are kept safe and sound so we can find them again and look at them and re­mem­ber.

Ev­ery thought we think, ev­ery mem­ory we keep, ev­ery fond mo­ment we ex­pe­ri­ence and so elo­quently re­call as we forge our way through life is im­por­tant. They de­fine who we are and why we are and where we’ve been. Our thoughts, our ex­pe­ri­ences, are what make us. Hav­ing said that, as I watch my par­ents lose those pre­cious pieces of them­selves, I won­der where those lost mem­o­ries go. Surely they go some­where?

I want to be­lieve there is a ce­les­tial Cloud, hang­ing like a fly strip in God’s porch, col­lect­ing ev­ery sin­gle thing we have ever done or said or thought or seen or heard or tasted. It’s all there, stuck to that strip for eter­nity. We never lose it. It’s saved for­ever. We are “saved.”

MY MOM AND MY DAD, and your mom and dad, and ev­ery other beloved per­son, dog and cat and bird and crea­ture – they are all safe and sound and in­tact. What is for­got­ten here on earth will be saved.

Al­ways.

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