Road Trip! Saturday, September 17, 2011-McAllen, TX

I hate Alzheimer’s.  It’s an insidious disease the robs a person’s dignity and their mind at the same time, and, worse than that, it lingers on for years and years, so the family has to watch a loved one in essence die right in front of their eyes, not just once, but every day, a little at a time, until the man or woman they used to know just isn’t there anymore, and all that’s left is the husk of a human being that used to be.

If there’s some reason on God’s earth for such a hideous sickness, I can’t understand it.  I don’t know why such a thing is visited on people and their families.  I don’t guess I ever will, but I DO resent it. What possible good can come from such an end?  What is the purpose?

I am visiting my mother in McAllen, TX, and once again I’m holding back the tears as I try to talk to her, but of course she doesn’t understand a word I’m saying, or, at least, makes no sign that she does.  She’s in a hospital adjunct today recovering from minor surgery, but soon she’ll return to an assisted living facility.   We don’t spend much time with her, and what little we do is when she is sleeping for the most part.

She has a good appetite and is walked every day, either by a staff attendant, our paid private helper Olda, or my brother, who has also taken on the yeoman’s task of checking in on her nearly every day and handling her household budget and taxes.  We are lucky that when my Dad was alive, he had the foresight to pay for insurance against just such an eventuality, or else all her money would likely be gone by now and she’d be a ward of the state like so many hundreds of thousands of others.

So here she sits in south Texas, vegetating whatever remains of her life away, and I don’t know what to do, so I just hold her hand and tell her, “It’s your middle son, Jon, I love you…”, but all I get is a vacant look, though at least this time she’s focused on my eyes instead of the ceiling.  My brother swears she knows it’s me, and my son Jonathan thinks he sees a glimmer of recognition in her bright blue eyes when he talks to her as well.   This time I believe them.  Maybe she does know who I am, but that doesn’t make it any better for me.  I hope it helps her.

We left this morning from San Antonio and drove south through rare patches of rain via such speed traps as George West, Encino, and Alice on Highway 281, and this is ugly country, flat but featureless, and unadorned by anything other than mesquite trees, oil refineries, and dead armadillos, way down in the anus of the state and of America, a place that would have been better left to the rattlesnakes and coyotes if it wasn’t for oil and irrigation, but now, thanks to diverted water from the Rio Grande River and tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, there sits a minor metropolis along the border with Mexico, a hell hole of a place, baking at 100 plus degrees, even in mid September, on the cracked, parched, and scorched earth of the river valley.

McAllen itself is the largest of several cities lining the border.   It’s an overgrown cow town filled with fast food restaurants, auto body centers, and pawn shops, and the residents are cornmeal fed, with an average family of 6 unruly kids, who are transported by their parents in giant pickup trucks and SUVs.  The native tongue is Spanish, the dress code is jeans for the boys and “prostitute in training” for the daughters, and the music favors blaring trumpets and cymbals.

We go to friends of my brother Joe for dinner.  Larry and Kathleen are the other white people in the Valley, is it’s called, and they’re both sixty-something educators.  They own a little land on a house they built themselves, and Larry is making us some steaks cooked Texas style (well done) for dinner.  We enjoy these with grilled corn on the cob and an incredible salad that has cranberries, pears, and sweet pecans.

So we spend the night with Joe’s friends drinking beer and wine and enjoying a football game or two (TN at FL, Navy at SC, and OK at FL state) since it’s Saturday, after all, and Larry has two big screen TVs.  But we spend some time talking politics, the economy, and travel as well.  Of course these two are Republicans, but Larry especially is more of a Libertarian.  No one wants to see Obama elected again, but no one is real happy with the potential Republican candidates either.  We stay until eleven, then head back to Joe’s apartment, where we watch a little more football and crash on the floor.

Tomorrow, we head to New Orleans.  Hope you’ll join me!

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