Movin' On with Nellie: The missing shoes: An Alzheimer’s story

(In recognition of June as Alzheimer’s Month, I write this story.)

Aunt Leona was 79 years old when she became 3 again.

A trip through Wal-Mart for wreaths, Christmas ornaments, and acrylic paints tugged on her bunion swelled feet.

“My feet hurt, Nellie.”

I know Aunt Nono and I will give you an aspirin when we get home. I just have to find these few things for Christmas. We’re going to make a wreath for Edna. It will make her so happy.

“Oh, I’m so glad,” she called.

I looked down one aisle and then another: holiday toilet paper and utensils for eating the crumb cakes. “Where do I find the wreaths?” I asked myself.

Aunt Leona’s voice sang with Spanish, “Buenas dias, muchacho,” she’d greet a small Hispanic tike in his madre’s shopping cart. A hesitant smile, and shy lean into his mother told me that he was scared of Aunt Nono and her white hair.

Abruptly turning back to rescue the unsuspecting shoppers, I announced, “Hi, this is my Aunt Leona. She loves to speak Spanish.”

The small family smiled. They seemed to understand her.

She asked how old he was; she said that she grew up with Mexicans in the Valley, in Mercedes, where her father hired Mexicans to work the farms, and water wells. She was glad to share her Spanish.

“Come on Aunt Leona, we have to go now.”

Dressed in a flowing gauze skirt, stained blouse, and vest, Aunt Leona wiggled her fingers in “Adios.”

We slowly passed the perfumes and lotions when Aunt Nono cried, “Oh, I don’t know where my mother and father are. I wish I knew where they were.”

“Where are they, Aunt Leona,” I asked her.

“I don’t know. That’s why I have got to find out. They won’t tell me, you know.”

“Who won’t tell you, Aunt Leona?”

“I don’t know. The people who are there, I guess.”

Then I heard her gasp and turned to her.

“Isn’t this pretty,” she shed a sigh. Her fingers seemed to collect Tinkerbelle’s gold dust from the sparkling top. I pulled her along nevertheless.

Reaching the aisle of wreaths, I found satin ornaments, bows, and realized the hobby wreaths must be in the craft section. Once again we pushed our way there.

She touched the silk flowers, the baubles, lace collars, shiny ribbons and decorated Teddy Bears. She exclaimed, “Wouldn’t that be a nice dress for a little girl,” as her eyes soaked in the colors of the dress on display.

I coaxed her along to the checkout lanes. In the popcorn aisle, she complained her legs hurt and stopped promptly to rub her legs and in doing that she lifted her dress higher and higher. Finally she heard me calling to her.

In line, I asked her to lean against the railing. She propped herself like a 3-year old just about to insist she’s had enough.

“Oh, I’m so tired,” she pouted.

“Would you like to sit up front on the bench?” the assistant manager tapped her shoulder.

Aunt Leona smiled.

I whispered that she often just wanders off.

The assistant manager smiled and said she’d be glad to stay with her while I finished checking out.

“Thank you so much,” I said approaching the assistant manager.

“You’re very welcome; I am glad to help.”

Aunt Leona wrapped up a song in Spanish for the gentleman next to her, “La Cucacaracha.”

“Let’s go, Aunt Nono.”

Slowly, she bent and pushed off from the bench. She wiggled her fingers saying “Adios” again, and we slipped through the automatic doors into the parking lot.

Not moving like a scampering deer but more like an armadillo, Aunt Leona struggled across the asphalt. “Where are we,” she asked to find out which direction I was headed. “Just follow me,” I called.

“I am so tired,” she insisted.

The northern wind was sharp and cut through her gauze skirt even though she had lined her top skirt with a denim skirt, like a denim slip. I unlocked the passenger side door and encouraged Aunt Leona to get in.

“I‘m going to take off my shoes,” she said. 

“Oh, wait until we get home, Aunt Leona. We’ll be home in just a few minutes.”

She agreed to wait and I loaded the last bag and closed the door.

I climbed up into the cab, started the truck and clicked Christmas music on. We sang, “It came upon a midnight clear,” “Jingle Bells,” and “We wish you a merry Christmas.”

“I am so tired, I could go to sleep right here,” she said.

Then she added, “My brother Arnold loved that song.”

“Which song,” I asked.

“It came upon a midnight clear.”

At home, I helped her out as I simultaneously unloaded the holiday projects. She ambled up the few steps slowly, methodically while my two cockers dashed in and around her legs, begging her to notice them.

“Get away,” she scolded.

In the door, we took our coats off, settled in for “Miracle on 34th Street” and enjoyed a half-cup of gourmet coffee.

“Where is your mom?” she asked as I rubbed some antibiotic ointment on her sore toe.

“My mom?”

“Yes, doesn’t she live here with you?”

“My mom has never been here,” I said.

Aunt Nono delivered one of those angry stares. She retorted angrily, “She’s never been here! Sure.”

The movie characters made her giggle; then she asked, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Edna would just drive up?” 

“I wish that Jerry would come home. I haven’t seen him in so long. It has been a good three months since I have seen him.”

“But he comes over often, Aunt Leona.”

“I know, but I’ve been asleep.” Then she asked, “Where do you sleep?”

I pointed to my room.

“Will I sleep on the couch?”

I explained that I would drive her home soon. “Oh goody,” she chanted several times.

Just as I put the last dish in the tray, I said, “We can get ready to go to Edna’s now.”

“Where are my shoes?” she asked. “Maybe I didn’t have any shoes.”

“Oh, you had your shoes Aunt Leona. They are white Velcro tennis shoes. Where did you take them off, anyway?

She looked in the back bedroom where her coat was and she couldn’t find them. I looked. I couldn’t find them.

“This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever done,” she chastised herself. “Nothing has ever happened to me like this. I am just getting stupid.”

We looked in the closets, in boxes, under chairs, behind shelves, we looked in the car. The new white Velcro shoes were nowhere. We sat on the edge of the bed and giggled ferociously . . . as ferociously as any giggle can sound.

I called Wal-Mart and they were not next to the bench. No one had turned in any shoes at all.

Edna and I agreed the shoes would show up; but at 4 p.m. no Velcro strap was seen to lead us to the shoes. I put my old hiking shoes on my aunt and she prayed, “Thank you Lord.” She shouted, “They are so comfortable!’

I giggled. It was hard to believe because my puppy chewed the inside soles out of those hiking shoes. Walking out to the car she said over and over, “These shoes are so comfortable.”

Edna and I now suspect that Aunt Leona slipped out of the Velcro shoes in an instant given that they unsnap faster than shoelaces untie. Then, she tucked them underneath the truck cab just like she was home in her favorite chair and relishing some peanut butter and jelly. However to our Christmas surprise, she had only filed them in my file cabinet.

--Nelda Curtiss is a retired college professor who enjoys writing and fine arts. Contact her with ideas for her next column at [email protected]