The Little French English Improvement Project

little french person trying to improve her english, little french english person trying to improve herself, french english person trying to improve a little bit… and blogging along the way. (Now in Deutschland)

Alzheimer’s. Memories going, going,… gone.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on February 21, 2011

I apparently live in Orsonette, a 210-strong french village, with goats. and apparently I can enter competitions with them and all sorts of things. Apparently I also have a sidekick in those thrilling activities… Who knows the depth and complexities of this fleeting other life. Certainly not I, nor my grandmother probably, though she is the only one who ever mentioned it to me. And to think that only a couple of years ago, she referred to me exclusively as “the one who travels around Europe”. My life with prize-goats in Orsonette seems a far stretch from there…But most days my face doesn’t bring out anything in her at all, no reaction, just a quizzical look as I walk to her : what can this young woman want? Is she coming towards me? I do believe she is, let’s smile. Hullo? Who can this be? It’s hard to imagine what is going on in her head. Like many people in the French countryside, she was always very private. So now that she is lost in the meanders of her memory, it has become completely impossible to read what goes on behind her clouded eyes. Confusion, mostly, but sometimes flashes of recognition. Judging by the Orsonnette goatherd comment though, these can be off target. At least it makes for conversation and good jokes.

But in spite of those bright, funny, odd little moments, I miss my grandma. And I can’t help but regret I never got to know her any better. From what I’ve been told, she was an amazing person, full of recipes and songs and stories and anecdotes waiting to be teased out. A great woman, who had lived through so much, supporting a family, raising four sons… I often get the impression she was the one to make people feel welcome in what was certainly a bit of a gruff family.  These days someone comes every now and again to ask my grandad about his life and memories, who he was, what he did, who he met… I bet a few years ago my grandma would have had so much to say on the subject. She was very discreet but always there, and she herself was involved into quite a lot of things: the parish, a local school…

I guess I always took her for granted; when I was small she was someone to go to for pain d’épices or clafoutis aux cerises. Her cakes were always slightly burnt round the edges, but so very nice with a bowl of hot chocolate after school. It was always her I went to see. Papy with his rough french farmer’s manners and his mayor importance, was a lot more intimidating. Plus grandma was often engaged in what seemed like unusual and exciting activities: sewing on buttons and drying up all sorts of herbs for tisanes (herbal teas)… She taught me half a dozen times how to knit and crochet. We are so lucky to have had our grandparents around as we were growing up, they literally lived next door (Papy still does), and they were always there when we needed them. I remember when Mam was away on a school trip, it was grandma who came and got us up in the morning and madesure we had some breakfast and were ready for school. For some reason, I always associate her with sweet things: hot chocolate, honey… I really miss that grandma, and I miss the grandma I never really got to know: by the time I was grown up enough to have adult conversations, she was already slowly sinking into oblivion.

And now we go and visit her in her special home and make pretend conversation until she rallies and drops in a sentence, a joke, a random comment on my life with goats in Orsonette, and we have a laugh and everyone is cheerful for a minute or two. But when we leave her to her dinner and go back home, her home, her mother’s house which she couldn’t ever recognise again, I can’t help a little twinge of sadness. Because I miss having my Grandma Challet around, Marguerite, Guite, Chef.

Grandma in her garden

Grandma in her garden

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