“Mom has been very belligerent this morning,” Daddy told me on the phone. I was on the last leg of my journey to their apartment, having boarded the shared taxi from Tel Aviv to Netanya. “She’s been shouting and yelling. She pushed me out of the bathroom and swore at me and called me a ‘dirty old man.’ Then she refused my help getting dressed. I wanted you to know.”
I was still about forty-five minutes away, so there was not much I could do, but I did say hi to Mom on the phone. I was hoping I could help change the situation if Mom was still in a bad mood when I arrived.
Forty minutes later, Daddy called me again. By this time I was in Netanya, walking the few blocks from the central bus station to their apartment.
“Mom was insisting she needed to go out,” he said. “We had a hard time convincing her to stay inside.”
“Oh.” I was puzzled. “Why didn’t you take her out if she was insistent?”
“I wasn’t dressed yet,” Daddy replied. “And you were on your way.”
It wasn’t worth being frustrated from afar, but I could hear the annoyed tone in my voice as I responded.
“If she wants to go walking, let her go walking,” I said. “And if you don’t want to go, you can send Sahlee (the caregiver.) Don’t use me as an excuse.”
“It’s too late now,” he said. “She’s watching her favorite Danny Kaye video, and you’ll take her out when you get here.”
Five minutes later, as I greeted her at their door, Mom was searching for her coat and bag and hat so that she could go out. She said goodbye to us as if she was heading out by herself. She was very surprised when I told her I’d go out with her.
Mom was in a good mood when we left the house, and in fact we had an agenda. I’d made a salon appointment for Mom to get her hair cut. We walked through town, stopped for a quick cup of coffee, then headed to the salon. Mom was effervescent, singing and smiling, and when she saw the beautician, she praised her many times for her excellent work. At no time was she angry or bombastic or moody. Even when we were back at her apartment and I cut her nails—which Mom begrudgingly let me do—she was happy and relatively calm.
She did say some strange, disjointed things. As we were walking home, Mom tried to tell me that people she didn’t know often recognized her in the streets. “Sometimes they see my funny face and they say hello,” she said.
“Why is your face funny?” I asked.
“It is. There’s nothing I can do about it,” she said. “But I don’t know them.”
This was wonderfully ironic as Mom constantly greets strangers with warmth and unfounded familiarity whereas the people she doesn’t recognize who say hello to her are undoubtedly friends or acquaintances. And let’s not forget that the people who care about her the most and the ones with whom she is most familiar are often addressed with anger and curses.
Later on, I called to say I’d returned home safely only to hear Daddy’s frustrated voice on the phone again. “I can’t get her to sit still and watch anything,” he said. Mom's caregiver Sahlee was on her break, so it was up to Daddy to help her.
“Why don’t you read a book together?” I asked. “Or sing some songs. Or look at photos.”
I realized that was the difference between living with someone with Alzheimer’s 24/7 and visiting once a week. The time I spend in Netanya is fully dedicated to Mom and all her needs. There is no need to focus on other tasks and chores as I do in my own home. I don’t have to worry about anything other than entertaining Mom and giving her my undivided attention. And I can also give advice freely. I have to accept, though, that it isn’t always welcome or wanted.
With no alternatives and pangs of sympathy for my dad’s frustration, I hung up the phone and started preparing dinner.
This isn’t exactly what I made for dinner, but in honor of my mother-in-law’s visit, I indulged and made her lemon meringue pie. What do we have a lemon tree for if not for this? With Passover just a week away, and the stores already carrying Kosher for Passover products, I decided to make this pie kosher for Passover, too. There’s not much difference in the Passover recipe and the year-round recipe. I’ve listed the ingredients for the regular crust and for the Passover crust. Enjoy!
Lemon Meringue Pie Love is a great catalyst for trying new things. As a young bride, I wanted to please my mother-in-law by making one of her favorite desserts. I hope I succeeded.
Regular Crust: 2 cups ground petite beurre cookies ½ cup brown sugar 1/3 cup oil
(These can be ground in a mixer or in a closed plastic bag with a rolling pin.)
Pesach Crust: 1 cup ground almonds 1 cup fine matza meal ½ cup brown sugar 1/3 cup oil
Filling: 1 cup sugar 4 teaspoons potato starch 1 cup fresh lemon juice 4 egg yolks 2 whole eggs Zest of 1 lemon
Meringue: 4 egg whites ½ cup sugar ½ teaspoon vanilla ½ teaspoon lemon juice
In a small bowl, combine ground almonds, matza meal and sugar for crust. Add oil and mix until the “dough” can be pat into pie pan. Cover sides of pan to edges. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes. Let cool.
Separate eggs. Place yolks in a small bowl temporarily. Let whites sit in a glass bowl.
Mix sugar and potato starch for filling in a saucepan. Add lemon juice, yolks, eggs and zest. Stir until sugar and potato starch are dissolved. Turn on medium flame and continue stirring until mixture begins to thicken (may take several minutes). Bring to boil then remove from heat. Pour over cooled pie crust. Place in refrigerator until meringue is ready.
Beat whites until foamy. Slowly add sugar, vanilla and lemon juice. Continue beating on high for 2 or 3 minutes until stiff peaks form.
Pour meringue over pie, making sure to spread to edges of crust. Form peaks for decoration with your spatula (or spoon).
Set oven to broil. Move oven rack to highest slot. Place pie on oven rack and watch carefully as top of meringue browns. Remove immediately from oven when desired effect achieved.
Keep pie in refrigerator until ready to serve.
About the Author: Miriam Green writes a weekly blog at http://www.thelostkichen.org, featuring anecdotes about her mother’s Alzheimer’s and related recipes. Her poetry has appeared in several journals, including Poet Lore, the Prose Poem Project, Ilanot Review, The Barefoot Review and Poetica Magazine. Her poem, “Mercy of a Full Womb,” won the 2014 Jewish Literary Journal’s 1st anniversary competition. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from Bar Ilan University and a B.A. from Oberlin College. Miriam is a 20+-year resident of Israel and a mother of three.