Life Family and the Pursuit of Sanity

or… adventures in infertility and babies and family drama!

Christmas Dialogue Writing Exercise December 29, 2011

Filed under: Family — arminta @ 3:54 am
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Hey ya’ll. This is one of my exercises from my “trying to be a proper writer” pursuits. The prompt was “Christmas dialogue.” Since, retelling the truth is often easier than making something up (especially when it comes to dialogue), I decided to focus on a conversation (rather, several conversations over the course of the day) that I (actually, my mother and I) had with my Grandma on Christmas. For the sake of the “story” it’s written in first person, but a lot of the conversation was between my mom and grandma. It’s long, but if you’re interested in what Alzheimer’s looks like, it’s worth a read. Also, if you’re intersted in critiquing someone else’s crappy fiction… please, have at it. No really,  critique away, if it makes you happy.



“What’s wrong, Mamaw?” I asked as I bent down to light her cigarette.

“Gail has a woman, here. She’s upstairs,” my grandmother replied.

Of course, I didn’t want to remind her that my grandfather had been dead for nearly 10 years, so instead I asked, “What makes you think that?”

“I can hear her talking. She has a baby.” Hmm, this was new. “Your mom should make her leave,” she said as she attempted to stub out her smoke on her hand. I deftly slid an ashtray into place before she could burn herself and wheeled her back into the house.

As the party went on I watched for this mysterious “other woman.” But, only my sister and I were carrying babies. Not that there were many people to watch anyway, it was just our family in the house. We ate lunch and had a cup of coffee. Each of the great grandbabies spent some time with her. Baby Cassi even sat in her lap and fed her a chip.

Soon, though, the coffee had done its job and since it was Christmas and the nurse was off, Mom & I had to do ours. “I need to pee,” Mamaw called out, much like a toddler in public.

Mom was on top of it, “OK, just go in your ‘special pad’ and we’ll clear the boys out of the living room and change you.” My mother is incapable of referring to an adult diaper as a diaper.

Soon, we had her positioned on the oversized ottoman (which is the perfect piece of furniture for this particular job) and everyone was cleared from the room. As I was getting Mamaw’s “special pad” from her bag, I could hear Mamaw telling my mom about Papaw’s woman. She was crying.

“Jean, it’s only our family here today. If there was a stranger here I’d throw them out. After we get done here, I’ll have the boys check the house.”

Not good enough… “I know I’m right. I saw her!” Mamaw was crying harder know. It was nearing 5pm.

Mom tried to make the save, “I know that you believe what you’re saying, and I don’t know if Dad has a girl or not, but if he does, she is not in this house, and if the boys find her in this house, I’ll throw her out myself,” she said as we lifted, cleaned and re-diapered.

Still not convinced we believed her (probably because we didn’t), Mamaw dropped it for the time being. She had that look of getting ready to prove us all wrong about her, though.

Thankfully we returned to the party and things were getting back on a happier note. Present opening was beginning! We all gathered in a circle in the living room, ready to ooh and aah over each other’s gifts.

“I love watching the kids open their presents.”

“I know you do, Mamaw. The kids look like they’re loving them this year, too!” I answered her, glad to get her attention on a positive thought. “Oh, honey, what’s wrong?” The tears were starting again.

“I didn’t get them anything for Christmas! I didn’t do anything this year!”

“Now, Mamaw, really! Of course you got them presents! You and I shopped for them together.” (True.) “They really seem to like them, too.” (Also, true.) “I bet that toy you got Connor will be his favorite.” (OK, that might be stretching it, he did get a deluxe bat cave from his Nana.) This seemed to cheer her up, then she looked positively terrified.

“Do you see that woman there?” she asked.

“I see Holly.”

“No, not Holly. That woman is sitting right there.” She pointed at my sister.

I tried again, “I see Holly. You know, Holly has lost a lot of weight, and she changed her hair.”

“I’m not talking about Holly!” She was definitely getting upset.

I tried a different approach. “I see Parker.” I pointed at my brother.

“Yes, I see Parker,” she agreed.

“I see Mom.” I pointed at my mother.

“Yes, I see Cathy.”

“I see Holly,” I tried again, “she’s sitting right in front of Parker and next to Mom.”

“That’s not Holly.”

“Mamaw, that is Holly.” At this point the whole family was watching us, waiting for the storm that we all could feel coming.

“That’s not Holly.” Her voice quavered. She wasn’t so sure anymore.

“Mamaw, watch that woman,” I said as calmly as I could muster. “Holly, can you come over here?” My sister stood up and walked across the room, Mamaw’s eyes on her the whole way.

She bent down next to our grandmother and said “Hi Mamaw, can I get you anything?”

“Mamaw, do you see that it’s Holly, now?” I asked.  “She’s lost a lot of weight and changed her hair. She looks a lot different from across the room.” I pleaded for her to recognize my sister.

“Yes.” Her answer was hesitant, her voice shaky. “I need a cigarette.” This was more firm.

“OK, Mamaw, let’s go out and have a smoke.”

For the first time in family history, gift opening was stopped two presents in for a smoke. My husband and uncle got her back into her chair and we wheeled her out to the front porch. She picked at her clothes with her good hand, and looked around as if waiting for more surprises to jump out at her. When we got outside, she finally let it out. “I didn’t know her. My own grand-daughter! I didn’t know her.” The tears were falling freely now.

“Mamaw, she has changed a lot over the past couple of months. It’s OK.”

“It’s not OK. I didn’t know her. I looked right at her and didn’t know her.”

I didn’t know how to answer that. I don’t know how to comfort someone who has just realized that they can’t trust their own mind, their own eyes. I had no words for her, so I just patted her arm. I patted and cried and she cried and smoked.

The door opened and Holly peaked out. “You guys still smoking?”

“Mamaw is, but I’m done.” I answered. Mamaw and Holly both chuckled.

“She was done before I had mine lit!” Did she remember that I don’t smoke, or did she really think I had hot boxed one on her?

“Sounds like her!” Holly smiled. “Can I come out and sit with you a minute?”

“Sure, sure. Sis you should go back in, they’re probably looking for you.” One day, I’ll have to find out who “they” is.

As I closed the door behind me, I heard Mamaw apologizing and my sister letting her know she understood. She had the words I couldn’t find. They were both smiling when they came back inside and we picked up opening presents like nothing had happened.



4 Responses to “Christmas Dialogue Writing Exercise”

  1. Rachael L Says:

    Wow. I shouldn’t have read this at work-it’s hard to get anything done with tears in your eyes. Such an emotional thing for you to deal with, glad you were able to write about it. If you don’t mind sharing, which site/book do you use for your prompts or do you just challenge yourself with ones you come up with?

    • arminta Says:

      Hi Rachael! Alzheimers sucks, but writing about it is helping to process some of the feelings… As far as wirting prompts, I really don’t have any one set source. I’ve pulled a few from (uncreatively, enough) and have searched for ones to help with something I’m struggling with (i.e. dialogue in this case), but am not working from a set list or anything. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually complete something that really is fiction, not just an exercise or a small piece of a bigger work!

  2. Yo-yo Mama Says:

    First, this really hit close to home. A not-too-distant future for our family.

    Secondly, this was wonderfully written, and not just because I could relate.

    • arminta Says:

      I have thought the same thing in reading about your mother, recently. I truly hope the meds can help slow down the progression of her disease and give you more time with her (with her still knowing you). On the other hand, she’s no longer upset about being a widow, because my Grandpa’s always at work or the store…

      Thank you.

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