By Sarah Beth Childers

September 25, 2017


My boyfriend’s Grandad is ninety-one. I met him after dementia had wrested his control of the family business and emptied his mind of vocabulary. “Robert’s wife,” Grandad immediately styled me, the word girlfriend rinsed from his brain like the knockout roses and hackberry in his backyard. 

Grandad remembers the planes he flew over Italy in World War II, but he can’t remember that he’s tried Coke or Dr. Pepper. “That Dr. Pepper is a good drink,” he says, holding up the can for me to read, eyes shining with discovery. 

A couple of weeks after I met Robert, I ate a casserole at Grandad’s kitchen table. Robert warned me that Grandad would pray over the meal despite the dementia, explaining, “I love his prayers. It’s like he free associates with God.” 

And I love Grandad’s prayers. They don’t include a disguised sermon about the black sheep cousin or assert his patriarchal dominance over the family. When Grandad bows his wispy white head, squeezes his wrinkled eyelids, and begins, “Thank you, Dear Lord,” I feel his gratitude: his long-dead wife and living daughters, his safe return from Mussolini’s Italy, his grandson who cares enough to make sure he eats every day. Often, Grandad descends into a wasteland of words, connecting blessings, family, country, and company with “help to help to help,” but sometimes, he gets stuck on his thankfulness. One night, he bowed his head over the pot roast and said only, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

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