Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the leading cause of neurodegenerative dementia associated with aging, affects over 5 million adults in the United States and is predicted to increase to 16 million affected by 2050. – Alzheimer’s Association 2017
Looking at the PET scans – I recognize his profile. This is my father.
Talking to my sister Mercedes, she reminds me how for years when one of us called out Dad! he’d yell back, YO SOY EL SEÑOR MARTINEZ!
I smile. I don’t ask if he still does this.
It’s natural when I make art to think about it as installation. I want some sense of a bigger picture. With this particular work, I imagine a small series of studies and words. Maybe the words are text (as marks) across a wall.
I ask mom, my 4 sisters and brother to jot down thoughts/words about dad, past or present, as I make a small scratchboard series of his PET scans.
Mercedes: His funny sayings – CON UN DIABLO!!
Dad never really cusses in front of us. My guess is this saying is his version of Damn it!
Elisa: He likes to play with words, he always has. Every time we pass a one-way sign or stop at a four-way stop sign he says…”un guey”. “Cuatro gueyes”.
Dad’s humor includes playing with words and the English and Spanish language.
Elisa: He used to say grocerias for groceries. Now he says, narizona when we get to Arizona Street.
Elisa also sends recordings she’s made of some of their conversation. In one recording she asks dad about his sister Carmen, who died last month at the age of 99.
Elisa: How many years between you and Carmen?
Dad (who is 86): I don’t know, followed by a long pause, she was old enough to scold me.
Mercedes: He liked Gabriel-Garcia Marquez’s, Cien Años de Soledad. He took us to the Plaza Theater to see 2001: A Space Odyssey when it first came out and Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein at Plaza…Jaws and Star Wars at Cielo Vista.
I laugh because within minutes of Young Frankenstein starting, I saw in his face he’d regretted it. Not a kid’s movie dad!
Mercedes: …summers and swimming, Washington Park and Armijo….with all the neighborhood kids.
Dad, for many years was a summer life-guard for the city summer recreation program. He took us to work with him every day, Monday to Friday (lucky mom). And along with us, he often did have many of the neighborhood kids piled into the station wagon.
He swears he taught me to swim. Maybe I didn’t pay attention. His mouth dropped when years later, as an adult, I told him about the afternoon I almost drowned at my best friends house.
Mercedes: He liked Yoga!
This comment brings back my 10-year old self, skipping over him as he holds Cobra Pose.
Mercedes: …candy apple red Alfa Romeo. Guayaberas. He taught me to make Gin and Tonics. He likes to eat :).
Gin and Tonics?!
Analissa’s memory takes her back to high school: I went to the library to pick a book, I chose One Hundred Years of Solitude by Garcia-Marquez. He read it with me. He went on to read everything by him, took a class on the author and later magical realism. I thought that was cool – he made himself an expert just like that. I once went to play cello for a class he was taking. I forget the class, but I played the same program as Pablo Casals did at the Kennedy White House. I sensed he was proud.
Analissa (younger than the rest of us, never knew dad the lifeguard, but does know dad the swimmer): I would go swimming with him, since I was a little girl. He taught me to swim. I have specific memories: his cadence and body movement and endurance – his swim bag and goggles, flip-flops and little shampoo bottles. The last time we went swimming I sensed it would be our last time at the pool together. So I stopped and just watched him swim the whole time.
…We once looked up the town he was in, in Germany, on Google Earth. It was exciting for both of us. He had 3 memories: The train station that would take him into town, the ‘biergarten’ where they would drink, and the cathedral where they’d go to church after drinking all night on Saturday, then back to the train station. We found all three of those things, they were still there.
Dad is funny.
Chacho, my brother, notes John Nichols and the Milagro Beanfield War – When I read it, at Cathedral, he told me it was one of his favorite books. He would read it at least once a year. He likes Hemingway. When I was reading For Whom the Bell Tolls he would tell me about it. He had the movie on VHS.
His favorite drink is Negra Modelo.
‘El Sapo High’…He says this every time we pass El Paso High School.
Clearly Dad read a lot and – he suggested I read Cortázar’s Rayuela and also the English translation titled Hopscotch. The book had instructions in it on how to read it. Apparently it bounces from the past to the present. Instructions?! Too complicated dad!
It’s still on my list.
One of my sisters never responded and mom wasn’t sure what to say. She’s in the thick of it with taking care of dad.
As Artist-in-Residence, I focus on dementia and Alzheimer’s this summer.
I sit at my drawing table at the Tempe Center for the Arts, talking to people who come in and share their personal stories about how dementia touches their lives. I’ve connected with professionals on the issue. And last week a chemical engineer visiting the gallery talked to me about President Reagan, who died of Alzheimer’s. He was known to drink a coke a day. This chemical engineer, who spoke 5 languages, told me about a project he took in Japan shortly after graduating and consequently he never drinks out of aluminum cans if he can help it – only bottles for him.
…I know I want these small scratchboards bigger. I admit, this summer it sometimes feels odd to be working with new materials, mixing colors, and laying out ideas.
Raising awareness…my own and yours.