Los Angeles county is 4,752 square miles. If you live and work there, it can become a thick molasses you can’t get away from, no matter how fast and far you drive. So a jaunt to Oregon to visit my grandparents was a welcome and needed escape.
My brother drove us to the airport in my car, in what he calls “skilled aggressive defensive driving.” I was petrified with fear for my life and my beloved car, but he kept laughing maniacally and eventually we were in line at Horizon and boarded within a half-hour.
Starving, with not much time to find food and stranded at the gate of LAX Terminal 3, your only option for “food” is Burger King. This is what is wrong with this country. But we dutifully chomped on the tasteless buns, and sat behind an odd couple. A retired lady returning home, and a punkish girl with lilac nail polish and the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen. “I’m from Oregon, but I had to get away from the drama” said the girl, before I shut my eyes and fell asleep for the duration of the flight.
I wake up to a roller-coaster, hearing the end of an apologetic voice saying we’re about to encounter “turbulences” and as we land, the air hostess says “Welcome to Oregon! The sick bags are in the seat pockets in front of you.”
Mom and I walk into Medford airport, and stand idly around the baggage carousel, Glenn Beck blaring out of every flat screen TV in the airport with his crazy eyes, and gesticulating over-emphasis, dramatizing some economic process I can’t really care about. I hated Econ in college, and have an aversion to the terms to this day. I think it had to do with “the law of diminishing returns”. The only thing I clearly remember from those boring intro classes was that my college professor would give us an “A” in the class if we ever caught him with the same tie twice in one semester. I guess that goes to show where my priorities were at the time. Or now.
Grandpa was waiting for us under a slight Oregon drizzle, and we drove through the green beautiful countryside, with mom excited about the color of the landscape, the rain, the fresh air, the freedom of vistas, and probably the fact she wasn’t in LA anymore, though she wouldn’t say it, out of innate sweetness.
My grandmother lives in an adult foster home with a Filipino family. She was so happy to see us, and made us laugh throughout the stay. Dennis said “God loves you” and she opened her eyes wide and said “No kidding!!”
She sat on her couch, holding her husband’s hand in her left hand and mom’s hand in her right hand and looking straight at me, wishing probably she had a third hand to hold and touch me. She doesn’t really get much in conversation, because she bounces back and forth between Arabic, Spanish, French and English, and her sentences are fraying, starting and ending at random moments, but she speaks hugs, kisses and hand-holding fluently, and she gets lots of those, every day. The Filipino family is generous with affection, and she has always been wildly endearing, with her radiant face and her 4ft11 of cuteness and style.
Alzheimer’s has taken some part of my grandmother but her spirit isn’t stifled, she’s still the fiery lady she ever was, as passionate, and kind, and funny, and sensitive. And everyone falls in love with her upon meeting her, the same as it always was.
I packed one of her old aprons in my suitcase. It’s soft and worn with use. She wore it when she could still bake cakes and cookies, and now when I wear it around her house, running my hands down its front, I can almost smell her famous butter cookies. I’m starting to believe you can compensate Alzheimer’s with your own love and memories.