The corners of Garrison’s mouth turned noticeably upward as he reacted to his brother’s recollection of the Himper Dimper. This was the first time he had shown any sign of content since he was involuntarily enrolled as a resident of the care facility. The smile broadened as he thought back to his childhood and those rides to the city dump. They always looked forward to visiting their grandparents. His grandfather would take him and his brother along every time he needed to make a trip to that facility. It seemed there were always items that no longer warranted their place in the garage or storage shed. At least that’s what their grandmother decided. At one point along the way to the dump, there was a fairly good dip in the road. Actually, it was more of a rise and then drop. For a fraction of a second there was a feeling of weightlessness as the car became ever so slightly airborne and then reacquainted with asphalt below. The kids nicknamed this aberration the “Himper-Dimper”. What a great ride that was.
Garrison had to rely heavily on memories from his distant pass or he would have none at all. He had early onset Alzheimer’s. At age 60, he began to notice slight changes in the way his body performed. Oddly, the first sign was not a diminishment in any mental capacity but rather a physical change. His gait was different. Living downtown in a big city, Garrison didn’t own a car. Wherever he needed go to work or to shop or to meet friends, he could walk, his trusty (and dare I say…crusty) backpack firmly affixed. Like a blind man who has increased sensitivity to his other senses, Garrison could almost tell time by how long it took him to walk from point A to point B. Now that was changing. In fact, he noticed he stumbled a bit more than before.
Next up was the dreaded difficulty with daily tasks. Cooking and washing became almost overwhelming challenges instead of mundane chores. He worked with numbers a lot in his job and they just weren’t computing as easily as before. At first, he thought maybe fatigue was the culprit, but that quickly gave way to the reality of what was going on in his brain. The most telling sign emerged during a casual game of dominos with his family. At first, the others were wondering why he couldn’t figure out where to play. Then it became apparent that he was unable to count the number of dots on the dominos.
But the cruelest symptom of all was verbal. Garrison was a linguist. He spoke German fluently and had even studied abroad, learning Russian at a large university in Germany. No English was spoken at all. He took courses in Sanskrit. He went on to teach language courses at a Mid-western University. He had written, but not yet defended, a Doctorate thesis. Now, the simplest of words were starting to elude him. A toothbrush became “that thing you clean your mouth with”. The radio was “you know, that thing that plays music”. As he struggled more and more to find words and phrases, he eventually just gave up.
Nonetheless, he bravely faced his dilemma. There was never a period of denial as is so common with this disease. In fact, it was he who first told everyone what he believed had befallen him. When he went for his “official” evaluation, he uniformly failed all the tests. He was unable to duplicate simple shapes and could not draw the hands of a clock to show 3 o’clock. Depression began to set in.
Despite this, Garrison showed tremendous strength in facing his problem. Unmarried, he lived alone as long as he could and then willingly went to an assisted living facility. There he could still live somewhat on his own, with ready assistance available for meals and medicines and daily chores. But it was a false sense of security. With every hour and every day, he marched inexorably toward the inevitable outcome.
Predictably, when finally he became a threat to both his own safety and others in the facility, he was forced to move to the end-stage care facility. This is where he was that day he shared the happy memory of the Himper Dimper. His brother, who had his own family, lived half way across the country and could only spend a short while reminiscing like this.
A few days after the brother had returned to his own life; Garrison decided he was not going to live this life of coerced confinement. He may have been handed a death sentence, but he was going to have the say on how it was carried out. He refused to take nourishment or liquids. He had stipulated in his “living will” that there could be no forced measures, so all the staff could do was make him as comfortable as possible as he languished though his last days and drew his final breaths. Within a week he was gone.
The Himper Dimper is no longer there, having long since surrendered to earth moving equipment heralding a new development. But for one brother the memory remains. And what a fun ride it still is.