The loss of memory is such a funny (peculiar) thing. There are so many ways of describing the demented brain…a colander where some things seep out through the holes and other things stay, a set of shelves that get progressively fuller with time and start to tip over, dumping the latest stories of your life onto the floor or, simply, having swiss cheese for a brain.
My father’s memory is inconsistent, confusing and highly creative. One minute he may not know that he is in a nursing home, the next he readily accepts the nurse’s desire to take his temperature and pulse, asks for the results and is pleasingly satisfied with the answer. Then he tells me that when I leave, he’ll go home too.
For the rest of this post to make sense I have to give you a little back story. My father loved to bet on the ponies. This began when he took over as an assistant to my mother’s mother who owned and bred racehorses. He became very knowledgeable about breeding lines, and had an awesome memory for names. He could carry on conversations with other breeders and trainers about certain horses for hours. On race days he studied The Daily Racing Form very seriously, making his picks from a variety of factors. (My mother and I on the other hand, picked every gray horse and only the jockeys with the prettiest silks. I’m pretty sure we lost as often as my father did.)
After my grandmother died, my father dabbled in owning his own horses. He and I owned one together during my college years which actually won a race at Saratoga, causing me to be in the winner’s circle as an owner the only time in my life. At this point, Off Track Betting (OTB) was in full swing in New York state and dad and his friend Anna Whitbeck would drive across the state line to place bets. Later, he had a phone service where he could place the bets by phone. (Not a good plan for an inveterate gambler.)
So, back to the story. I happened to be visiting him on the day that the third leg of the Triple Crown was running. I thought it would be nice to watch the race with my dad since we shared some thoroughbred history. He had managed to communicate his desire for a Racing Form to one of the staff members although he had difficulty reading it. In the morning he was trying to remember the name of the town in NY state that had the OTB office. I resisted playing along because a) I have never liked his need to gamble and b) I really didn’t want to take him out of his nursing home for a ride. However, in true dad fashion, after lunch he came up with the name of the town (Hillsdale) and whined (really…he whined) until I said I would ask the nurses if it was okay for him to go.
As I walked back down the hall, this is what I saw:
There was my dad, sitting in his wheelchair with his hat on…all ready to go. How could I resist? The answer is, I didn’t. We went to the OTB.
STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO OF THE STORY!!! (click here to go to Chapter Two)