Nepenthe and George

Nepenthe:  (Greek: Νηπενθές) is a medicine for sorrow, literally an anti-depressant – a “drug of forgetfulness” mentioned in ancient Greek literature and Greek mythology, depicted as originating in Egypt.

Figuratively, it means “that which chases away sorrow,” or grief and mourning.   So, literally, it means ‘not-sorrow’ or ‘anti-sorrow’. In the Odyssey, Nepenthes pharmakon (i.e. an anti-sorrow drug) is a magical potion given to Helen by the Egyptian queen Polidamma. It quells all sorrows with forgetfulness.

In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven“:

“Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

My mother has been living at The Hotel (basically assisted living with nicer furniture) since just before Christmas.  She’s adjusted pretty well, given the fact that she’s not a social butterfly.

More like a reclusive caterpillar who’d like to cling to her favorite chair like it was her personal cocoon.

I visit her every couple of days to pick up her laundry and attempt a chat.  Her memory has been coming and going like the Spanish language Tejano music station signal I try to get on my car radio.

Some days it comes in strong, other days it gets mixed up with a hard rock station.  Makes for some interesting song segues.

So it is with my mother’s memory.  People and places get jumbled up in her mind and some get forgotten altogether in the neural pathways of her aging brain.

Last week she was somewhat agitated and confused when I came to see her.  She asked me if I had a boyfriend.  I’ve been married to the same man for almost 36 years now but even with prompting on my part, she drew a blank.

Didn’t seem to bother her though.  To use her favorite catch-phrase:  “Whatever.”

At that same visit I found her almost obsessively pouring over some baby pictures my nephew had sent her of his new baby girl.  I’d looked at them the last few visits, but she must have asked me about five times during this visit if I’d seen them.

So I got to thinking that maybe she might enjoy looking at some photos of the house she and my Dad lived in together in Laguna Beach for over 25 years.  (No, they weren’t rich.  They bought the house for a whopping $22,000 in 1967 when Laguna was still an artist colony, soon to be a hippie enclave.)

The photos were in some of those horrid magnetic photo albums popular about twenty years ago.  You know, the kind where the cover was all poufy and padded and hand-done in material with lace around the edges?

I’d methodically gone through each one and carefully stripped the photos out before they became permanently affixed to the pages like fossils trapped in amber.

I bought a small, modern photo album with transparent pockets to slide the photos in and brought it and a stack of the Laguna Beach photos over to The Hotel earlier this week when I went to visit my mother.

I handed her the stack of photos and after she looked at each one I slid it into a pocket in the album.

Now, when I was concocting this little experiment, I’d had some twinges of misgivings about the whole thing.

What if seeing the photos of her lush flowery garden, with her and Dad smiling as they sat there together, brings back the sadness she must have felt when he died?

(A year later she sold that house to move to Texas, a place she does not like.)

At first, she wasn’t sure whose house and garden she was looking at, but bit by bit, some of it came back to her.  She recognized my father, but didn’t really comment on him.  In one of the photos of them together, she thought I was her, although we don’t especially resemble each other.  (At least, I tell myself that.)

So I left the album with her and after a couple of days I returned for another visit.

The housekeeping gal wanted to clean her room, so we went out to the spacious living room in the front of The Hotel and parked ourselves on a couch and a comfy wing-chair.  I had suggested we take the album along so we could look through it again.

There was one photo of George, my parents’ cat, who lived to be something like 17 or 18, although his exact age was never known.  My folks had gotten him at the Bluebell Cattery in Laguna Canyon Road, a cat boarding place that was run by a little old white-haired lady who always wore a gray cardigan covered in cat hair.

She looked like a cat herself.  Guess it takes one to know one.

George had been left there by his previous owners who’d gone off on a trip to Europe and never came back to get him.  His former name had been “Sundance,” so maybe that gives you a clue about the mind-set of the people who callously left him.

But The Cat Lady kept him and my parents adopted him and changed his moniker to “George.”  It seemed to suit him.

My father was particularly devoted to George, but my mother was almost as attached.  One time, after my parents had given a small dinner for friends, George went missing.  There were coyote sightings in the hills above their house and my mother was frantic.

About eighteen hours after George disappeared, my mother decided she better put the dishes from the dinner away in the low credenza in the living room.  When she opened the cupboard door, there was George, lying on some napkins, blinking in the light as if to say “What?”

He’d gone in there when she took out the dishes and she’d accidentally closed the door on him.  So he just took a nap until he was eventually discovered.

When my Dad died, George was her constant companion.  She would sleep with my Dad’s bathrobe on the bed and George would sleep on top of it.  I know that cat missed my Dad as much as she did.

During the next six months, George started to lose a lot of weight and the vets couldn’t find a reason why.  Finally he became so weak that my nephew had to take George in to be euthanized.

Personally, I think George died of a broken heart.

When my mother saw the photo of George, in his cat collar and I.D. tag (which was still in my mother’s jewelry box when we packed her things), I thought there would be a rush of recognition and sad feelings.  I cringed, waiting.

But, nothing.  “Oh, a pussycat,” was all she said.

I asked her if she remembered George at all, the cat she and Dad had for so long, but again she drew a blank.

She just went on turning the pages.  She did remark that the neighbor just down from them was drunk most of the time.  That she can recall!

Maybe it’s just as well.  You can’t be sad about something you don’t remember.

Dementia, for her, is not unlike Nepenthe:  “That which chases away sorrow.”


Tag…I’m It!

Thanks to Natalie over at Knatolee’s World, I’ve been “tagged”—meaning:

1. Open your 1st Photo folder.
2. Scroll to the 10th photo.
3. Post the photo and the story behind it.               

4. Tag 5 or more people.

When it became obvious my old computer was on its last legs, I did a little advanced planning and copied all of my photos off the hard drive onto CDs so I wouldn’t lose them if the whole thing came crashing down. 

Now that I have a new computer (with Windows 7—hurrah!) I’ve put back just a couple of the photo folders that I took out, with most of the pics being artsy stuff I’d been saving, so there wasn’t a whole lot of personal photos to go to for this challenge.  I did manage to locate this one pic (by counting backwards to the tenth photo) in my Misc. folder. 

So here it is, folks.  Prom night 1965.

Can you believe that hair?  I have always been a short hair person (to this day), but my boyfriend at the time (later to become my Starter Husband) wanted me to grow it, so like an idiot, I did.  My sister-in-law was a cosmetologist, so she did my hair for the big night.  I think a flock of sparrows could have nested in it very comfortably.

I loved the dress (still do.)  It was very “Jackie Kennedy” in its simplicity and cut.  It was kind of a cotton pique fabric, bow at the waist in front, bateau neckline and it had two panels in the back that went from the waist to the hem, with the undersides composed of pale blue satin.  Divine…

I no longer have that dress.  (As if it’d still fit.  Two kids and gravity have taken care of that!)  I think my mother eventually gave it to a friend for her daughter to wear.  I hope she loved it as much as I did.

In this photo I’m standing in our living room in Downey, California, just before my date arrived.  He wasn’t my Starter Husband, though.  Starter had taken me to his prom the year before (he went to the other high school in town and was a year older than I) and his mother had put her foot down about him spending additional cash on another soiree.  (Or so he told me….hmmm…..maybe that was something I should have been suspicious about…haha.) 

My date was a surfer dude I had gotten to know at my school.  A nice guy named Kurt who took me to dinner at the (then) somewhat swanky restaurant at the Los Angeles International Airport in the futuristic theme building (built in 1961) that has become kind of an icon.  (I think in recent years they’ve renovated it and reopened the restaurant.)  We had a very nice time, but that was the only time we went out on a date.  After we graduated, we went our separate ways. 

The rest, as they say, is history…..

So, my turn to “tag”!  I tag:


Moe at Whatever Works

True Blue Texan

Mr. Blog’s Tepid Ride

Trailer Park Refugee


Sketchy Santas

Well, I’m sure many children have been traumatized at one time or another by a visit to Santa where a photo was snapped of them to commemorate the occasion.  The expectation was that they would gleefully clamber onto Santa’s lap and whisper in a delightful lisp what they wanted for Christmas. 

It’s supposed to be a happy time for kids, but more often than not, it doesn’t quite work out that way.  Now there’s a website, Sketchy Santas, where you can submit your own photos of the horror. 

Some Santas are downright creepy and some are just trying to make the best of a bad situation–i.e., the little darlings writhing and screaming in abject terror while the jolly old elf is just tryin’ to make a frickin’ living. 

At any rate, it’s worth a visit.  It’ll help remind you of those holiday trips home to the bosom of your family—with loud, alcoholic uncles and demented aunts who insist on cleaning your face with spit on their hankies. 

                 And to all a good-night!