SpiritsFor my birthday my mother gave me a card with a picture of a scruffy Jack Russell Terrier on it that bore an uncanny resemblance to my little dog Sadie I lost almost 3 years ago now. I credit Sadie for getting me out of the house every day even when I didn’t feel like it and making sure I got to the park every day to stop and smell the roses. Well, I would smell the roses, she would smell other things. Anyway, inside the card my mother wrote: "Take a walk in Riverside Park for me" and signed it from Sadie. So when I awoke Sunday morning with the bright Autumn sunlight flickering through tree branches into my window, I had to get out to the park right away. I went with the spirit of Sadie, but when I got to the park I was met with another spirit. The Alzheimer's Asoociation's annual Memory Walk was getting ready to start with dozens of walkers and volunteers buzzing about. Inspirational speeches were being made and a moment of silence was observed for those we’ve lost to this dreaded disease. Naturally I thought of my grandfather who suffered with Alzheimer’s until his death at age 80.
I’m lucky enough to own many possessions that belonged to my grandfather and each one comes with memories attached. Most of these were given to me by my grandmother who knew of all his grandsons, I would be the one who would most appreciate Grandpa’s things. In high school I wore an over sized vintage topcoat of his when that was all the rage in the ‘80s. I wore it for years and finally wore out the lining. I also have a red plaid Eisenhower jacket that is so fabulously ‘50s, as well as a subtle black and red plaid sport coat that makes me feel like Ricky Riccardo when I wear it. I own all of his cuff links and a square onyx and gold ring that looked like something Maxwell Smart might have worn. He’d let us speak into it to imaginary secret agents when we were kids. But one of my favorite things is a book he owned that so perfectly personified him: Esquire Etiquette, a guide to business, sport and social conduct, published by Esquire magazine in 1953. It’s funny to read now, but I’m sure in part because of this book I’ll always remember my grandfather as the perfect gentleman.
But more than that, Grandpa was a good provider for his family. As the oldest of four boys he dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help support his family during the Depression. One of his jobs around that time was teaching the Argentine Tango. Grandpa loved to dance and could not keep his feet still when there was music playing. He always looked sharp and was quite the snappy dresser. Despite his limited schooling Grandpa was an avid reader and continued to educate himself and became quite a learned, cultured man. When my mother was growing up he worked a white collar job in sales for the New York Central Railroad. He was very proud of his job with the railroad and the glory of Grand Central Station and all it represented.
It is said when one develops Alzheimer’s one’s dominant personality traits emerge. Grandpa remained a perfect gentleman till the end, always with gracious manners and a bon mot. His love of dance never faded either, foxtrotting with nurses in the nursing home whenever there was music in the activity room. What a gift on my birthday to have these memories come flooding back.
Below are some photos from the Alzheimer’s Association 2007 New York Memory Walk.