My grandpa died yesterday afternoon – a nice, quiet, painless death at the age of 88.  Now his body will go to Duke where they can collect what they need, then he’ll be transported back to Marion, NC where he can join his wives.

I don’t usually do re-posts, but today it just seems appropriate.  I wrote this just shy of two years ago.  Sadly, most of my memories of Grandpa are like this – of him after the Alzheimer’s.

I think that’s one of the crueler aspects of that disease – the theft of memories – both from the afflicted and their loved ones.  I don’t know that we could pinpoint when exactly all of Grandpa left his body, but it was long before 11:59 yesterday afternoon.  As a result, I think we’ve done most of our mourning.  Now we just need to reclaim our memories of the man he was before the disease.

For me, I’ll try to picture him laughing – crinkled eyes, squished nose, shoulders pulled up to his ears as his whole body shivered with giggles.

Earlier this week, we decided to break my grandfather out of the retirement home and take him out for lunch. While Mom had her hair done, Dad and I drove the pussy wagon across town to kidnap grandpa.

Our search began in the dining hall.  We scanned the sea of gray haired heads for a familiar face.  Nothing.


Dad led the way through the maze of halls to Grandpa’s room.  We found the door open and room empty.  Well, kind of empty.  While there was no one in the room, we did find five wheelchairs crammed amongst the furniture and in the closet.  I should probably point out that my grandfather is fully ambulatory – he just likes things with wheels.

In fact, not too long ago he stole the cleaning ladies cart when she left it unattended in the hallway.  He worked as a janitor in his later years up in Marion, NC.  I guess he thought he was back on the job and that just had to be his cart.  When the poor gal came into his room to try and retrieve her tools of the trade, he refused and actually pinned her to the wall with the damn thing.  He was so riled up they had to sedate him!  Nothing comes between that man and his things on wheels.

We worked our way around the giant square of the complex, peeking in all the side rooms, in search of Grandpa.  Nothing.

“Well, I guess we should look in June’s room,” Dad sighed.

June is Grandpa’s girlfriend.  He never calls her June, though.  Sometimes he calls her Louine (my grandmother’s name).  Sometimes he calls her Marcile (his second wife’s name).  Mostly though, he just uses pronouns – she, her, etc.  She has no idea who he is, either.  It’s fascinating to watch the two of them together.  Then again, I’ve seen many successful relationships based on far less.

We found the two of them sitting quietly in her room.  The shades were drawn and the lights were off.  “Want to go have lunch, Dad?” my dad called into the darkness.

“Is She coming with us?”

“No Dad.”

“Will She be ok while we’re gone?”

“Yes Dad, they’ll take good care of her.”

“Do you want to talk to Her?”

“No Dad, we’ll see her later.”

Grandpa eyed her wheelchair wistfully as he moved towards the doorway.  “Well, ok then.  Let’s go I reckon.”

Now a trio, we weaved our way back into the daylight.  I tried to give him an arm to lean on as he wobbled on his bow legs, but he just kept repeating, “You better let me do it on my own – I’d feel awful if I pulled you down with me.”

Strong Hands
Strong Hands

We all climbed into the pussy wagon and headed to the culinary mecca of Greensboro – Libby Hills.  It’s the best place to take Grandpa for several reasons.  First, it’s a pretty simple menu. He’s a simple man that likes simple food.  Second, it’s fairly quiet in the dining area.  We Lonon’s are rather challenged in the hearing area (just ask Rocco) and Grandpa has it the worst. Of course, he’d lost his hearing aids again.  Since medicare only allows two pairs a year, he’d just going to have to wait to lose another pair until next year.  Lastly, they’ve got little teeny tiny senior portions.  A child of the depression in rural Appalachia, Grandpa just can’t waste a single bite of food.  He’ll keep piling little clumps of coleslaw onto the tip of his french fry with his gnarled arthritic hands, and slowly raising the shaking morsel to his mouth, long past the point of his being full.  Dad often has to finish Grandpa’s food just so the poor man can stop eating.  Smaller portions make it a little easier on both parties.

I don’t know where all that food goes.  The mountain man is so skinny these days, if a suspender slips off his shoulder, his pants are around his ankles in seconds.  It takes far longer for him to figure out why he’s suddenly chilly.  But he can still bend right in two as he folds from the waist to retrieve his britches.

Mom met us at the restaurant.  “Hi Grandpa! So good to see you.  How are you?”

“Alright I reckon.”

“Isn’t it nice to see your Granddaughter?”

“My what?”

“That’s your Granddaughter.”

“How old am I?”

“You’re eighty six!”

“I’m what?”

“Eighty six!”

“Well when did THAT happen?”

Grandpa Lonon
Grandpa Lonon

He’s still so damn cute and charming!  He might not have any idea who we all are, but he knows when he cracks a joke.  His little blue irises widen in their slightly yellowed setting as they twinkle with delight.  He’s as quick to laugh as anyone else I know, whether they’re at full mental capacity or not.

“Do you know who this is?” Mom asked while gesturing at Dad.

“That boy,” he answered matter of factly.

“Which boy?” Mom pressed.

“That boy with the beard!” he responded coyly while smiling.

That breaks my heart right in two. I can’t imagine looking into my father’s eyes and seeing no recognition there.  We’re not quite that far with Grandpa, yet.  While he’s got no idea that Dad is his son, he knows Dad’s a friendly face that he can trust.  He knows that face visited him recently, maybe even many times, and they’ve shared things.

As we walked to the car, Grandpa patted his many pockets in search of who knows what.  They’re always full of acorns or pretty rocks, sometimes the occasional bird skull.  Sometimes I tease Dad that we should get Grandpa a pair of those cargo pants with the nine bazillion pockets just to see how many goodies he can cram in them.

“What are you looking for in those pockets?” I asked him.

“I can’t remember,” he mumbled.

“You probably can’t find whatever it is because your pockets are full with the phone numbers of all those girls you’ve got fawning over you.”

He stopped shuffling and broke into a wide grin.  “Every single one of ’em,” he answered.


  1. What a wonderful character he is! If he’d gone marathon christmas tree shopping with me his pockets would have been filled with pine tree acorns. Were they acorns? I dunno, but they were sticky with sap. My sister and I never had enough pocket space to take them all home with us.

    *sigh* I sure would have loved to have met him, Ellykins. I totally would have given him my phone number.

  2. When my grandmother passed, after many years of Alzheimer’s, we went back to her old country church for the funeral. They have a tradition at that Methodist church that’s nearly Quaker- anyone who is moved to speak can share a memory of the departed. The minister has a knack for waiting just long enough that someone will pipe up to fill the silence. I learned things about my grandmother that I had never known, as neighbors told stories of her bringing over cakes or watching their kids or being there to comfort them in their own times of loss. For my own mother, it was a way to restore lost memories- she was able, through the memories of others, to re-remember her mom as a person again, rather than an Alzheimer’s patient.
    I’m sorry for your loss, and I know well the combination of relief and sadness that you feel.

  3. Cheers Pop Pop ! I know it’s a sad day over in Lononville, but what an awesome looking guy. You inherited some of that twinkle my dear.
    Hugs to the fam and a big hug for you. I raise my scotch glass to all the Nana’s and Pop Pop’s of the world.. salute!

  4. That was a beautiful post. I’m very sorry to hear about your loss, and I hope that the memories you have of him can keep the smile on your face.

  5. I love this in so many ways, Elly. Its such a beautiful portrait/tribute. Alzheimer’s is a hard disease for the families but there are light times, where for a moment you are granted a glimpse of the person as they were before. I remember my Nan immobile in her bed with a broken hip, telling us she would shout the first round down at the pub, not that she knew who any of us were anymore. Her passing was a weird mixture of relief and sorrow. I still don’t know where I sit with it all. I’m so sorry for your and your family’s loss, but thank you for sharing this piece. Big hugs. <3

  6. I’m sorry about the death of your Grandpa. It is hard to remember someone before an illness has taken the real them away, but I promise you will and those memories will bring both smiles and tears. Hugs you to.

  7. Hugs, Elly! And that repost was pure magic for capturing the sadness of watching someone you love slipping away and the charm of seeing the flashes of that someone peek through the confusion.

  8. Elly, because of this great story you shared with us, we will remember your grandpa as the witty, funny, sexy (great sense of humor to me IS sexy no matter how old they are!) man that he was and always will be. I love love love this line “Well when did THAT happen?” I have a feeling that will be all of us when one day we are reminded of our age. I know when that happens, I will think of your grandpa. xxoo

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