February 19th 2017
Today I got an unexpected visit from my Grandad. I was sat on my sofa and happened to look out the window. A car pulled up at the end of our cul de sac, and I saw his side-profile. I jumped up to open the door, but by the time I’d got outside he’d begun to drive away. I left the door hanging open and sprinted after his car, but he kept driving away.
When I got back to the house I called his mobile, but he didn’t answer. A few minutes later he called me back.
“Were you just outside my house?”
“Yes I was, I was out for a drive and just wanted to see if I could find your house. I knew it was number four.”
“That’s right, number four.”
“I didn’t want to disturb you, Grandma has gone out so I just wanted to see if I could find your house. I knew it was number four. I’ll come back if you like.”
“That’s right, number four. Come back for a coffee.”
He drove back to my house, and I put the kettle on.
“Black coffee please, twenty-two sugars,” I said in my head.
“Black coffee please, twenty-two sugars,” Grandad said out loud. My sugar bowl was almost empty, but I poured as much as I could into his coffee, and drank mine without any sugar.
“Sorry Grandad, that’s all the sugar I’ve got,” I said as I passed him his coffee.
“Quite alright, not to worry” he said, and took a sip. “Ah, could I have some more sugar please?”
My Grandad has Alzheimer’s. He has good days and bad days. By virtue of the fact that he showed up at my house, today was both a good day and a bad day. Sometimes when he gets upset, he’ll drive to my Mum’s to see a friendly face. He’d probably driven there before he came to mine. She’s on holiday at the moment, but he wouldn’t’ve remembered that.
But, it gives me hope that he found his way to my house.
“I knew it was number four.”
He’s only been here twice before, but he found it. Grandad’s memory loss is short term for the most part, both conversationally and contextually. He couldn’t remember that I’d told him we were out of sugar, or that Mum was on holiday, so it’s a huge deal to me that he could find my house by himself, having only driven here twice previously – both times with my Grandma.
What’s weird is, he can recant stories from his days in the army with such vigour and detail that I feel like I was there. I love hearing the stories, even though I’ve heard them so many times.
It’s difficult, because every conversation I have with my Grandad is exactly the same as the one I have every time I see him. I can telegraph it. I could write it’s script. But I love it, because he loves it. He loves telling me his stories. He likes to reminisce, because he still has those memories, and now I do too.
He tells me that he signed up to the parachute regiment of the British Army, for twenty-two years with a three year option. That he injured his leg on his eighth jump, that he was backcoursed, held-back and separated from his friends because of his injury. We’ve been trying to figure out if he was in the parachute regiment at the same time as Alice’s grandad. So, he told me to write down the details of his regiment so I wouldn’t forget.
9 Section. C Company. 3rd Battalion. Parachute regiment. 23488778.
He told me that a man never forgets his army number. And he never has.
And he found my house.
And that gives me hope. I’ve noticed that his memory is strongest when it involves a number. Number Four. 22 years. Eighth jump. 23488778. A lot of his memories are number-driven.
Even though it’s difficult and upsetting when his memory fails him, you’ve just got to enjoy the interaction, and appreciate the nuances – like how cute he was with my hamster.
Until tomorrow, I knew it was number four.