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Opinion: Appreciating time with loved ones should be year-round

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Sallee Ann Ruibal’s grandparents during Thanksgiving lunch. Credit: Sallee Ann Ruibal | Arts&Life Editor

Growing up, Thanksgiving meant lounging around my house until about 2 p.m. when my grandparents would pull up and unload their car of the annual feast. There was roasted turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, corn pudding, sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, cranberry relish and rolls — all made by my granny. We would drink Welch’s Sparkling Juice and eat in the dining room only on that day.

When I was about 14, my granny lost interest in cooking. The science of calculating everything to finish at the exact, perfect time was too much for her brain which was starting to cloud. So I brined and roasted turkeys for a couple years, then moved on to tossing away tradition for more family favorites such as fried chicken and tamales.

This Thanksgiving, my mom and I were the ones who pulled up to my grandparents’ new home to eat with them. They had moved earlier this year into an assisted-living home. In the past six years, the clouding of my granny’s brain had darkened and turned into a tumultuous storm.

With Alzheimer’s, we believe she thinks my mom is her mom, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t quite know who I am. She knows who the “good guys” are though — we who bring her an afternoon “cocktail” of sparkling cranberry juice, my granddaddy who kisses her forehead and nursing aides who dance with her.

The complexities of the disease are hard to describe, as evidenced by this being my second column and one of countless essays that are an attempt to tell the story of my granny the right way.

There may never be an absolute right way though. The assisted-living home might serve its green-bean casserole without fried onions, and its dressing might lack a crispy crust, but it’s fine. Just because things aren’t like the Rockefellers or even like they were 10 years ago doesn’t mean they aren’t good.

The “good” lies in the little things. Little things such as my granny humming along when she hears an old church hymn. Or when we hug goodbye and she asks the cognizant question, “What are you doing tomorrow?”

Tomorrow, we’ll be here. And we’ll still be thankful.

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