Dementia and Cheese

Dahlia Garden, by The Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson

I was in the grocery line the other day when the woman behind me pointed to my cheese.

“What a remarkable cheese,” she commented. “What is it?”

It was some Tuscan-inspired thing with herbs and pepper flakes and unidentified crusty things over the surface, outrageously expensive but on sale for a price that validated bringing it home to the Voracious Teenage Vultures.

“It is unique looking,” the checker commented, picking it up and reading through the ingredients.

The woman behind the cheese commentator spoke up,

“I really like unique cheeses.”

“Where did you get it?” the first woman asked.

“It’s on sale,” the checker offered.

For the next five minutes, a lively banter flowed amongst the four of us concerning cheese, cheese prices, cheese casseroles, and the difference in eating habits between finicky felines, toddlers, and teenagers (for the record, toddlers eat only cheese and nothing else; teenagers eat cheese and everything else, and finicky felines need to are lucky to get something, anything, out of a can).

Amber Waves, by the Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson

Earlier in the store I had chatted with another woman over the price of salami, both of us marveling at the sheer size and bulk of the chub.

“Here,” she handed me the one she was holding. “Take this one; it’s bigger.”

Considering that both packages said 32 ounces, I wasn’t sure of her logic, but I appreciated that her heart was more generous than even the salami.

In the course of the shopping trip, I networked with fellow shoppers in the produce section, frozen food aisle, and the paper towel and toilet paper sub-division. All of the tête-à-têtes were initiated by the other patrons.

There’s something about the grocery store that brings out the best in people. It’s as if we realize that we’re all in this together, and it’s fun to talk food.

For several years, Tired of Being Youngest and I squired about Grandpa, who spent his last days on earth battling severe short-term memory loss and dementia.

One of Grandpa’s favorite haunts was the grocery store. A friendly and garrulous soul, Grandpa accosted anyone who breathed, convinced that he was somehow closely related to this person.

Within minutes, the jokes were trotted out, the comments and observations, the highly suspect Native American phrases that he had picked up in his youth and brought out after every single solitary family meal to the point of reducing my elegantly appointed and always-in-control sister-in-law to the verge of screaming.

Grandpa was an equal opportunity accoster, and in the five-year span during which he cornered and buttonholed total strangers who were looking at lunch meats or poking peaches or considering whether soda is a valid food choice, not one person brushed him off. You could almost gauge the moment in their eyes when they realized that this man, though he sounded like he was all there, was really locked up in the prison of his mind.

Clearwater Revival, by the Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson

Tired of Being Youngest gently tugged and pulled, urging Grandpa to move along and stop bothering the person, but Grandpa unlatched his hold with great reluctance. To a man, woman and child, the accosted persons nodded, smiled and stayed put until Grandpa was done.

After Grandpa died, I was in a fast-food establishment, determining whether or not I wanted fries with that, when an elderly gentleman approached me and began chatting. He seemed lucid at first, but something he said about the local professional baseball team (we don’t have one) using onions as their batting balls clued me in. Tired of Being Youngest caught my eye and we shared a moment of complete understanding before turning our attention back to our accoster.

People need to talk — those with dementia, those without and those in between. In an era when Facebook increasingly overshadows face to face, we need to be aware of and open to the opportunities we have to connect with fellow human beings and literally touch bases. And we don’t have to talk about great things.

Cheese will do.

Exposé -- Original Oil by the Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art

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About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. In addition to her This Woman Writes blog, Carolyn writes a regular art column for FineArtNews, an online newsletter for artists and art collectors.
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8 Responses to Dementia and Cheese

  1. Claudette says:

    I read each of your posts with appreciation every week. They’re insightful and charming, and they allow the reader to remember how being connected to reality actually works.

    You have such a wonderful writing voice, wit, and perspective that I long for the day when you decide to gather these pieces together in a nice comfy book for the pleasure f all those who haven’t yet discovered your blog.

    Take a bow, my lady, for you’ve earned the it.

    Claudsy

    • Thank you for such a kind and warm compliment. I firmly believe that so much of what we agonize about in our life as not being “normal,” is really a part of the average human being’s experience. Why go through life feeling that we’re weird, or worse yet, making other people feel that they are?

      I, too, would like to bundle up my blogs and get them into a book, but at the moment I slip my writing in around my managing work for Steve Henderson Fine Art. Between gallery interaction, working with clients, and setting up and being a part of Steve’s painting workshops, I find little time left for the grueling process of tracking down a publisher, or even an agent, and getting this thing moving.

      In the meantime, I request of you what I ask all of my wonderful readers — please pass me on to your friends, relatives, and acquaintances. Who knows? Maybe one of them will be a book publisher!

  2. Lorben says:

    I have an Aunt that is schizophrenic and as a child I had no clue of this, till ones day my reasoning skills came together and I realized something was amiss…it was a moment of deep sadness realizing that not all was right with the world and the aunt I loved.

    It is a wonderful thing having grown up around an individual with special needs and learning how to deal with the stress of how society deals with those who are of a special nature. I think my greatest epiphany was realizing just how patient most folks are when they figure out they’re dealing with someone who is not tracking on the rest of the world’s reality.

    As time drew on, I came to appreciate hearing this Auntie talk in a conversation which my mother described her discussions “word salad”. There was always an element of reality that you could pick out of the conversation….many things jumbled in…but always an element that could be traced to the original conversation. And sometimes her perception was priceless, sending us into uncontrollable laughter. All in all, with time my adulthood was taken to a deeper level in knowing and interacting with her as a human being. She deepened my compassion, taught me patience, and most of all how to look at life from a different frame of reference.

    Thanks Carolyn for the writings! I have always enjoyed your style!

  3. It is true that we all need that human connection. Often times, you cannot even imagine the impact your kindness can have on a stranger who may be having a very difficult day, if you just say hello to them, or tell them to hang in there, or even talk about salami or pb&j. When you’re in a warm and comfortable place in life, it’s hard to imagine that others may literally go days without talking to anyone, just moving through public places but not connecting at all.(Speaking from personal experience here) And then some stranger notices you, and reminds you, in their own way, that we’re all together in this…and it’s true. We really are.

    • For all that people worry about their “legacy” — from the president on — it really is no more than living with dignity each day and treating others that way.
      Years ago I worked as a checker in a grocery store, and I always recognized and appreciated that I had the power to make or break a person’s day, simply by what I said and how I reacted. An empowering thought for all of us.

  4. What a fantastic post you’ve written.
    Originally from a very small town, I still make the effort to say hello and strike up a conversation wherever I go. Some people do look at me like I’m crazy, but others get over the initial (to them) awkwardness of a stranger saying hello and walk away with a smile on their face. Face to face interaction is so important, as you stated in your reply to interpretartistmama, it can make or break someone’s day. I prefer to “make” the day, and teach my children to do the same. 🙂

    • Thank you for your kind words on the post.

      Sometimes, the world seems overwhelming, and it’s reassuring to realize that each one of us can make a positive impact everyday, and that, collectively, this will add up to some good to counteract the bad. I am glad to meet a fellow traveler determined to be a maker and not a breaker.

      Best to you, and thank you for reading my post.

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