What Time is it?

Weekly Writing Challenge: Report on one event/gathering/happening from your week in Gonzo journalism style. 


It’s an overcast, gray January day, with patches of icy rain stuck to the pavement of the parking lot. A steady and focused walk is required so that I don’t break a neck bone before getting to the metallic blue Hyundai that awaits in the garage. This is Saturday, the day I most often pay a visit to 94 year old mom, who lives 24 miles to the south.

Arriving at the one-story, two-building assisted living facility, I grab mother’s alcohol in the brown paper bag and saunter into the small, squarish vestibule. Kristy pushes the four numbers on the keypad of the security door that will allow my entrance, then pushes open the once locked door. Kristy smiles and says “Hi! How are you?” “Well, I’m good,” is the reply, “Does mom have any mail?” I suppose I should have asked Kristy how her day was in return, instead of barking out the mail question. “Sorry, you know mom will send me right back down here if I don’t ask about her mail.” Kristy checks the red hanging folder in the med room.

“Nope, no mail today.”

“OK, thanks Kristy!”

The Christmas decorations are still up in the front living room…a gold and cranberry colored wreath hanging over the active gas fireplace. I wonder to myself if they are leaving the decorations up to give the residents something to look at or if the owner and her mother are just too busy to take anything down. One of the Alzheimer patients is wandering with the smile of a life past on her face. The overstuffed sofa invites her to sit down and relax for an eventual nap.

A quick knock on the door and I enter mom’s living quarters. It is a three-room couples’ unit that is no longer occupied by her husband. The lamp on the end table gives a swath of 100 watt light while natural light streams through half of a window. The other half is covered by a leafless bush that is in dire need of a trim. A light streams from the bathroom through a small crack in the door that is not completely shut. Mom is half asleep in her hunter green Lay-Z-Boy that has seen its better day. A blue tweed prayer shawl covers her cold horizontal legs. A ratty black cardigan sweater covers the upper half of her aged body. I give a loud “Hello Mom!” from just inside the door. She doesn’t react. I walk closer and give another “Hello Mom!” and this time she looks up. I grab mom’s hand, draw in close to her face and breathe a “Hello Mom, it’s me, your daughter Mary.” Mom gives a smile of acknowledgment and asks, “What’s in the paper bag?” I let her know that I have delivered her brandy and vermouth, so she can have a Manhattan today. Another smile of acknowledgment appears. I remove the brandy from its brown paper holder and discover that I wasn’t paying attention at the liquor store. I had grabbed a bottle of Kessler whiskey, the adult refreshment of my youth. I admit the mistake to mom and she scowls, “I don’t like whiskey!” A sigh makes it past my lips and I realize an unplanned trip to the liquor store is in order.

“Hey mom, I’ll go get your brandy. Be right back…..”

The second time around, Heather allows me and the paper bag in the door and says, “Hi Mary, is it warm outside?” I have a second to answer in the affirmative when Karen, mom’s favorite caregiver, walks up to me. “Just so you know, your mom is not having a good day. She’s very out of it. When I gave her a shower, she acted as if she didn’t know how to use her walker or where to put her hands. Then she kept asking me what time it was. She asked three or four times what time it was.  I’m not sure what’s going on, but I thought I should tell you. We’ll fax the doctor on Monday and check her for a UTI.” I thanked Karen for the “heads up” and proceeded down the hall once again, past the wreath and the fireplace, back into mom’s room.

Sitting on the black-as-night seat of her wheeled walker, I begin to say something to mom when she interrupts.

“What time is it?”

“It’s 2 pm, mom.”

“Why are you so early?”

“I’m not early, mom. I’m late.”

Mom asks, “You are?” with an extremely confused look on her face. Her mind is being unkind to her.

“Yes, mom, I am late. I usually come around 11 am and take you out to lunch if the weather is nice.”

Mom’s face continues to betray her confusion and I change the subject. “Did you have any visitors this week?” Mom gives the usual response that she doesn’t remember. I ask about specific people, like Judy from church, who comes to give her communion every Friday. “I don’t know,” is her response. We chat a few minutes more. Then mom asks again.

“What time is it?”

“It’s ten minutes after 2:00.”

“Why are you so early?”

“Mom, I’m not early…I’m late.”

“You are?”

“Yes mom.”

Beyond the confusion, mom doesn’t forget that she loves her brandy Manhattans…a shot of brandy, extra vermouth, three ice cubes, a dash of water…and asks me to make her a drink. Mom sits in quiet while I complete the ritual of mixing her Manhattan, walking into what used to be dad’s bedroom (now a storage room) and rescuing the alcohol from a downsized, white refrigerator. The tiny freezer has a layer of frost, working too hard to make ice cubes.

The drink is placed in mom’s hand and again the question.

“What time is it?”

“It’s twenty after two, mom.”

“You’re early.”

“Yes mom, I am.”

It was easier to give up. I ask mom if her son, my brother, has called her this week. “No. I don’t understand him anyways. He talks too fast. I can’t hear him.” The cell phone comes out of my purse and I text my brother to slow down and speak loud when he calls mom. I will tell him later about mom’s bad day. I ask mom if she ate all of her Christmas cookies and she directs me to an empty box. “Did you like them, mom? Would you like me to bring more?” Mom frowns and sputters, “Not anything with nuts. They get stuck in my dentures!” I asked her if I could make some chocolate crinkles for her and she gives a tentative nod. “They are soft?” she asks, and I confirm with a “yes.” Mom gets in her usual five minutes of “the food they serve here is crap” and then the question returns.

“What time is it?”

I can’t answer. The tears welling in my eyes affect my ability to speak.

I wonder if the persistent question is the result of a UTI or if the dementia is tightening its grip.

It’s time for me to go. I’ll be back in a couple of days when mom’s social worker comes for a visit. We’ll all talk then and I’ll pray that mom knows what time it is. Or, at the very least, know that I’m not early.

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149 responses to What Time is it?


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  2. marydpierce says:

    Beautifully written. The conversation SO reminds me of conversations with my grandmother when I visited her in a nursing home. It’s like the memory runs in a loop, over and over, word for word.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      I imagine that conversation runs in a loop for many people. Thank you for reading and your positive comments.

  3. jblondie09 says:

    Very touching. Can’t relate and hope I never have to-but my heart goes out to you. We all are aging and it’s a shame to waste even a second of youth.

  4. brianhickey75 says:

    I am only a few years away from arriving at this time of life myself and I always ask myself will there be someone as kind to me as you are to your mum. regards brian

  5. sr41297 says:

    time indicates our role of living moment that it how itself involved in to the part of daily routine.

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