My three brothers are determined to keep our mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, living at home as long as possible.
Some days are better than others.
My youngest brother Jack has assumed the responsibility for taking Mom to the grocery store, the bank and the doctor's office. He and Mom generally get along well, and Jack enjoys their outings together . . . with one exception.
Mom has an obsession about someone stealing her purse. To prevent this dread possibility, she hides the handbag. And then, of course, she forgets where she hid it.
This means that Jack has to tack extra minutes on the front end of any excursion to provide enough time for him to locate the purse before they leave the house.
In the beginning, it was simple. He'd find it in a drawer under her sweaters, or in the linen closet beneath the towels. During our calls, Jack would chuckle about where he'd found it that week.
Then . . . almost as if she sensed she wasn't providing enough of a challenge, Mom started to rachet up the level of difficulty. Instead of merely putting the purse under the bed, she'd hide it behind the table leaf that leaned up against the wall under the bed. Or she'd build a little fort of boxes of saran wrap and aluminum foil in the pantry with the handbag hidden inside.
The search began taking longer and longer each week, and Jack's humor on our calls started to sound a little forced.
The breaking point came the day he had to abandon the search because he didn't want to be late for Mom's 10 AM appointment with her doctor. Jack paid her co-pay out of his pocket.
When they returned home, he resumed the search. As he told it, Mom followed him around the house helpfully suggesting that perhaps she had been burgled. She was wringing her hands; he wanted to wring her neck.
If memory serves, that was the day he found the purse in a jigsaw puzzle box on the top shelf of the hall closet.
Mom occasionally provides playful moments. Jack has long since abandoned checking the "easy" places, expecting far more difficult solutions. One day she led him a merry chase until--on the verge of despair--he opened the dresser drawer where she'd kept her purses for nearly thirty years and found her handbag right on top in plain view.
I don't ask about the purse search when we talk on the phone these days. Jack is no longer lighthearted about the hunt. It's serious business.
He and Mom went to the dermatologist's office today . . . sans bourse.
Mom is always agitated when she has to leave home without the bag on her arm. Today she had day surgery on a skin cancer awkwardly placed. The surgery took three hours. Jack said a steady stream of nurses, techs and lab assistants came out from the exam room to ask him if he had Mom's purse.
In the car on the way home, she panicked, thinking she'd left the handbag in the doctor's office. He reassured her "the damn thing" was at home. However, when they got to the house, he had to stand and deliver.
During our phone call, he described his increasingly frenzied search. "I even thought about getting the ladder out and checking the roof," he said. "Until it dawned on me that the neighbors would have seen her up there and come running."
I was silent, afraid to ask the outcome of this bizarre Easter egg hunt.
"I walked into the den," he said. "You know the couch in there is too low to the ground for her to slide the bag under it." He paused
--whether in reflection or defeat, I couldn't say. "I was about to go check the Florida room when I noticed a buckled place in the rug."
You'd have to know my mother to understand the significance of this augur. Mom is a compulsive housekeeper. A buckle in one of her rugs is a world-shaking event.
"I walked back over and hoisted one end of the couch to look under it," Jack continued. "I couldn't believe it. That freaking bag was squished flat, but it was under that sofa."
"But how?" I asked.
"I have no idea," he responded. "She's five-feet-nothing and weighs about 106 pounds."
"And yet she found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!" I said with reverence.
I can't wait until next week's treasure hunt.