The Ham Story – one of the first signs of dementia

Once upon a spring break a college girl helps her mother in the kitchen. The bread dough must be kneaded, rolled, and braided before it rises once more. The red-headed mother sings and talks to herself in the orange kitchen. The daughter works her dough on the only surface not piled high with clutter. Old mail, tins of flour, plastic grocery bags (some are empty, some are not) and precariously stacked racks for drying take up the majority of the kitchen table.

Just as the mother turns around and faces her daughter she cuts herself off from her own tune and beams. “Aren’t you the most wonderful daughter, helping her mother bake Easter breads?” She giggles to herself, pats the daughter on the head, and heads to the basement.

This basement scares the daughter. It smells of a particularly pungent mildew that instantly itches the eyes. The dank walls crawl with spiders and humidity. Corners now resemble junk heaps of old food bought in bulk. Foot paths are barely decipherable between the jars and boxes and bags of miscellaneous storage. All the daughter hears as she kneads the bread is her mother’s clogs clack down the wooden steps into the mysterious abyss underneath the seemingly sound kitchen floor. Then silence.

After neatly braiding a loaf of bread the daughter hears the clack, clack, clack of the clogs rising in pitch, which means the happy mother is ascending once more. This time her gait seems hurried.

“Where is it?” The mother calmly asks her daughter.

“Where is what?”

“You know what I mean. You know exactly what I mean!” The mothers once hazel eyes burn red,  her thin lips furrow into a crooked grimace, and her pointy hands stab her pudgy sides in an accusational stance.

“No, Mother. I don’t. What?”

“The ham!”

“The ham?”

“I used to have two at the bottom of the basement stairs and now there is only one!” She shouts this as if it the daughter knew damn well this was the case and shouldn’t have to repeat it. She shouts this as if she were stating facts in a court room.

The daughter shrugs. This was not the first time someone in the family had been accused of stealing, and the oddly comfortable idea that this would not be the last kept the daughter calm. “Perhaps you ate one of them already?”

“You! You took the ham!”

The daughter thinks she prepared herself for this, but hearing this ridiculous claim uttered by her own mother’s lips triggers the disrespectful disbelief. “I stole your ham, mother?! I stole it?”

“Yes! You and your slut friend Heather stole the ham and had a party!”

A chuckle flies through the daughter’s lips. She tries to hold it in, but it punches right through her tight lips like an accidental trumpet note.

The mother, unamused, begins shrieking unintelligible words at such a high pitch the daughter covers her ears. The shrieking continues at higher volumes and the daughter is afraid that actual physical harm is imminent. She manages to squeeze by the monster that took over her mother’s body and heads for the front door. Her boyfriend’s over-sized wool sweater still hangs on the clothesline, and the mother hasn’t moved very quickly after her, so she grabs the sweater and stomps out the door.

She keeps marching down the long driveway. When she hits the road she turns right and continues down the hill, then up the neighbor’s hill, then on down the road until she hits the crossing road. Her collie mutt follows her despite her commands to “Go home!” Well, at least I knew who my allies are, she thinks to herself, and then turns left onto the road that takes her towards a friends house. She figures in an hour she can reach the house before the sun set.

As she swings her arms wildly at her sides and sucks in the cool April air, she vows to herself she will never go back until her mother apologizes.

Her mother never apologized.

The daughter gave up on her own vow to herself after two days of staying with her brother. Everyone in the family knew the mother concocted her own reality in her head, and not by choice. No one could explain it. No one really wanted to.

Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.

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6 thoughts on “The Ham Story – one of the first signs of dementia

  1. Wow. Once again, your knack for descriptive writing leaves me speechless (but not type-less, as you can see). I was THERE. How old was she when the dementia started? We had a friend with early-onset dementia, and there’s no word for it but heartbreaking.

  2. I liked the post, it kinda was on the hilarious side although I’m sure that’s not what you meant :p but anyway good one without editing! 🙂

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