I used to think the best way to pay homage to a moment was to recreate it. A memory with a friend, a trip with my family, even a song. These days, I think the best way to grant a moment its respect is to simply acknowledge that some feelings, some places, some times can simply not be recreated; instead, we should appreciate them while they’re here, and nod our caps when they pass.
I’ve thought about what I would write in this post for a long time – about three years, to be exact. That was when my grandma, Callie Dady, was moved from her independent cottage to the memory care unit. I felt like that marked the beginning of the end, and it would just be a matter of time before she succumbed to her dementia. Instead, I was blessed with more years, more visits, more smiles, and more memories which, truthfully, may have made writing this all the more difficult.
I was by my grandma’s side as she passed away on Saturday afternoon. Dealing with the loss of a loved one is complex; though my faith is strong enough to know with certainty that she’s in a better place right now, it’s still difficult to accept that I won’t have any more visits with my gal, Cal for a while. So, I found myself turning to writing this piece as a way to commemorate one of the most special souls I’ve ever known. I love you, grandma.
Trying to describe Callie Dady to someone who didn’t know her would be like trying to describe the Northern Lights to a person who’d never seen them. Though pictures and stories can help, there’d be no way to aptly summarize the beauty of her soul or the way she made you feel when you were in her presence. So often, I’d hear her referenced by other family members, friends, and members of the community like this: “Callie? Oh, she’s just such a special lady.” She brought such a palpable energy to every room she entered that even when I was a quarter of her age, I couldn’t help but feel overshadowed by the youthfulness of her spirit. She truly loved life, and she made me love life even more when I was around her.
Growing up in the Twin Cities, and having my Grandma Callie living in Fargo, the bulk of the time I got to spend with her during my youth happened at her lake cottage on Big Detroit. We would travel up to Detroit Lakes about three or four times a summer, and upon arrival she’d greet us with a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and some of her famous meringue cookies. She loved to entertain and her lake place was equipped to do just that. She would welcome family members and friends to have a social hour, would love to host card games (rumor has it, she was one of the best Bridge players the Red River Valley has ever seen), and always kept a tidy house for the unexpected visitor that might pop in.
As a kid, I learned a lot about my grandma through the stories my mom would tell. I used to laugh about my mom’s recounting of nights where she was in high school and would come home to grandma drinking martinis and playing her piano for a roomful of neighbors. “They’d be up until 4 or 5 AM playing that piano some nights. It was like I was the parent and she was the kid!” my mom would joke. In her 70s, grandma would still be sipping spirits and hosting all-night parties with her friends. The lore of Callie Dady prompted me to write an essay as a sixth grader titled “75 Going On 20” about my grandma. She always loved that piece.
When I was making the decision on which college to attend, Grandma Callie was a deciding factor for me. I moved up to Fargo and went to Concordia College, knowing that if it took me a while to adjust to this new area, at least I’d have the safe haven of my grandma’s place to retreat to. After moving up to the F-M area in August 2011, my grandma and I decided to make it a weekly tradition for me to come to her place for dinner. In the early days at Concordia, especially when I was struggling to feel a great sense of home in Fargo, the highlight of my week became those Sunday meals at grandma’s.
By this point in time, Grandma had been dating a new man (Jim) who would join us for the bulk of these dinners. We’d talk about everything from classwork to friends, politics to liquors, sports to music. When 60 Minutes came on, we’d go to the den and I’d try my best to stay interested in what was going on on the TV. Honestly, I just wanted to learn more about this woman I’d heard so many stories about. Every visit, I grew closer and closer with my grandma, and she grew closer and closer with me.
Odd as it may sound, I started to notice the regression in my grandma’s mental state through the meals we shared together during my time in college. Freshman year, she’d always insist on cooking for me. Sophomore year, she’d ask me to pick up food from a restaurant and bring it. Junior year, she’d start to forget we had plans but I’d show up with the food regardless. Senior year, she was moved out of her house and into the retirement community and we’d typically eat meals in the community dining room.
I regret how busy I let my life get, as somewhere along the way our weekly visits turned into visits every two or three weeks. Within the last couple of years, I wasn’t always “Jack” anymore. I was sometimes “John,” sometimes “my son,” other times “my boyfriend.” I was whoever my grandma needed me to be that day. The one thing I’m grateful for is that, despite her losing track of my name, she never forgot who I was. The look I would get when I walked through her door to visit was priceless – in those moments, I never felt more needed or loved.
For the last couple of years, we had a lot of those moments. She didn’t like being in the memory care unit; she was confined to a small room and was away from her loved ones. Any time I could break her out of there was special. We would drive around downtown and listen to Frank Sinatra music, attend holiday lights shows, eat dinners at some of her favorite restaurants, and I’d introduce her to some of the special people and places that had entered my world. If I was having a bad day or feeling lonely, it was nice to know that I was only a few miles away from my grandma and could spend some time with her. Even as her memory faded and her life started to look a little different, being around Grandma Callie always gave me a sense of comfort and helped make this city feel more like home to me.
Then, COVID struck. I wasn’t able to see my grandma between March and June, and when I finally was able to visit her again for the first time (on her birthday, this summer), I was told not to hug or kiss her. I know this virus is serious, and don’t want to undermine the regulations that were put in place to help keep us safe and healthy… but you also have to understand that for a woman whose whole life has been filled with socializing, to be so isolated for such a long time can do a huge number on one’s overall mental health. My grandma needed people. People needed my grandma.
One of my final visits with grandma was in July. I went over and visited her memory care unit to try to take a video for my mom’s 60th birthday gift. It was a bit of a struggle, but we were able to capture this wonderful moment (shared below). I’m grateful my sister put this video compilation idea together, because it ended up being one of the last times my grandma was documented on camera. Before I left that day, Grandma Callie brought up one of her favorite memories of us together. Though she struggled to remember so much (even forgetting if I had visited her a few hours ago), her memory would sometimes shine through. She talked about a time where we went to Rustica together and then I showed her my apartment overlooking the river. I told her, “Grandma… as soon as all of this is over, we’ll definitely do that again. I promise.” Her smile beamed, and she started tapping the table in excitement. It devastates me that I wasn’t able to fulfill that promise.
My mom once told me that she sees so much of her mother in me – from the music to the personality. Honestly, if I can go about my life with even 50% of the energy my grandma brought to hers, I’d feel incredibly accomplished. Alzheimer’s took my grandma’s mind, but it never took her heart. Though selfishly I feel sad to have lost such a close confidant, I feel at peace knowing her pain is gone, and I feel assurance that she has left an indelible impact on the world around her. I’m blessed to have moved up to Fargo and been able to deepen my relationship with my grandma over the past nine years, and I’m so fortunate to have built a catalog of memories that I’ll hold near and dear to me.
I found myself wallowing over the fact that grandma wouldn’t be able to attend my wedding, see my first baby be born, or be present for some of the other life changes that will undoubtedly take place over the next several years. But, the parts of her that live in me and have shaped who I am as a human will always be prevalent, so in some way, she always has and always will be guiding me through these chapters in life.
I’ll think of her whenever Sinatra comes on, so there’s no better way to end this piece than with this:
I’ve lived a life that’s full, I’ve travelled each and every highway, And more, much more than this, I did it my way.
I’ll love you forever, my gal, Cal.
(EDIT): I wanted to include a couple more stories that bring a smile to my face. The first is from September 2011. I’m new to Fargo and there’s a historic home tour that’s happening just south of downtown. One of the homes on this tour is the one my grandmother grew up in. I took grandma that day and she started to give me her own tour – retelling stories from her childhood, describing special things about all the nooks and crannies in the house, etc. A news station that was present started to pick up on the fact that my grandma had once lived in this house, so they start having their cameras follow behind me. My grandma thinks she’s just giving a tour to me, but she’s actually speaking to the entire community of Fargo at this moment. It was an adorable time that I’ll never forget.
The second moment is in October 2014. I was in the Homecoming Court at Concordia and I brought my Grandma as my guest. The President of our school (President Craft) was sitting right in front of my grandma, and got up to introduce himself to her. I believe my grandma may have thought he was the actual President of the United States, because she gracefully stood up, extended her hand to him, and said “Caroline Dady, from Fargo, North Dakota.” She was such a proud lady.
I know I’ll continue to reminisce on stories like these over the next several months. If you have some you’d like to share, you can feel free to do so by visiting the link below. You can also see a photo presentation my sister will be putting together, read the obituary my mom wrote, and give a gift if you choose to do so.
I’m writing this post two weeks before the projected release date of my second studio EP, “Sun Also Sets.” I’ve been releasing music for over ten years now but for some reason, I feel more nervous than ever about this one. I think it’s a mix of factors: (a) I’ve never invested as much of a marketing effort into any previous release, (b) some of the momentum from Fargone has brought new eyes and ears onto my music, and (c) the societal shift that’s taken place over the last five months has me questioning if I should even be doing this.
At the time I wrote Sun Also Sets (March and April 2020), the world looked a little different than it does today. When George Floyd’s murder happened on Memorial Day, and the protests and movements formed in the following weeks, I was forced to face a reality that I sometimes ignore. I’m a white dude operating in a genre that was created by black musicians. Also, I’m pretty ignorant (less now than I was two months ago) in regards to the black experience in America.
I’m not a very outspoken individual. My music is my primary platform through which I vocalize my opinions, but even then I’m much more likely to discuss internal strife than things going on in the world around me. I steer clear of talking politics, I’m not the type to frequent protests or demonstrations, and my social media wouldn’t tell you a lot about my beliefs. When everything unfolded in late May and early June, I felt great discomfort related to how I should respond to what I was witnessing.
I made a few social media posts. I shared a few Instagram stories. I had some conversations with my friends and family. I watched some TV series and listened to some podcasts that were recommended. I delayed my album release (originally set for early July). I thought about tabling it entirely… maybe I should have.
I don’t have all of the answers, and I still struggle daily with what is happening in the world around me. What I do know:
Black Lives Matter.
I have a responsibility to amplify black voices, acknowledge my privilege, and do more to combat instances of racism (whether subtle or blatant) that I experience in my world.
Black culture has shaped me, and it’s imperative that I increase my knowledge on all parts of that culture – including the ugly realities of the way people of color have been treated in America.
So, insert the problematic nature of me (a white rapper) putting together an album and releasing it this summer. I don’t know what I’m doing. But I do know that right now I have some positive momentum with my music, and if there’s ever a time to leverage a “platform” to provide some greater good to society (for me, anyways), it’s probably right now. To wait too long and lose some of my platform, the potential impact I could make might be lessened.
I spent time looking into merchandise. Why? It’s really about the only way that I can monetize my music in a significant way right now. To this point in time, I’ve made $185 off music. $50 off of a show I did in college, and $135 off stream royalties from Fargone. With merchandise sales, I can make $185 by selling 3 sweatshirts and 1 t-shirt. People have asked me for a while about making merchandise, so this feels like the best way to bring in revenue.
I researched ways to get merch live on my website, and found a platform that could make it work. I’ll be selling merchandise and donating the profits from sales that come in by or before August 9th. I’m donating these proceeds to the #RestoreNorth campaign, aimed at supporting businesses in North Minneapolis that have been adversely impacted by COVID-19 and recent uprisings. My hope is to make a thousand or more dollars in profit and donate all of that back to this fund.
Some people may still have feelings about how I’m choosing to release this music in this time. I’m sorry if that’s the case, and I’m open to the conversation. However, as I’ve analyzed the pros and cons of releasing and not releasing, this plan at hand is what’s left me feeling the greatest level of assurance that I’m using a platform to do good. Which is why I create music in the first place – to try to insert some good into the world.
I love you. All of you. I hope you’re finding peace in these trying times.
This picture was captured exactly five years ago. May 3rd, 2015 was the day that my friends and I graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead. That morning, we tried to hastily get as many of our belongings moved out of our 5th Street house as possible for our parents to take home after the ceremony. I started work at 8 AM the next day and we needed to be moved out of our house by 5.
At the point this photo was taken, I had an understanding that a special chapter of my life was closing, but I was less aware of how vastly different adulthood would be after college. Friends would leave (I’m the only one of these six that remains in the Fargo-Moorhead area), careers would launch, and a void would be felt. To this day I think back on the relationships I shared with professors, the house I lived in with my best friends, and how little I knew about what would come next in my career.
I’ve been in touch with some current seniors who are facing one of the strangest times imaginable; today, Concordia’s Class of 2020 will be tossing their caps in their family homes after watching a virtual ceremony. The economic impact of a worldwide pandemic has painted a much more challenging outlook for the job market, and there is an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty that shapes the minds of graduates across the country.
I wish a crystal ball could tell us how everything will shake out so I could provide more staunch advice, but the reality is that it’s an unsettling time for all of us, whether we’re graduating today or have been working in our career for decades. What I can tell you, though, is that I’ve made a range of mistakes over my five years after college that have taught me crucial lessons about work, life, and how to find a better balance between the two. It’s been a while since writing a LinkedIn article, and I thought what better time than now (on the 5 year anniversary of my college graduation) to offer five pieces of advice that I wish I would have had when I was tossing my cap.
Lesson #1: Reserve some life for after 5 o’clock.
Okay, so sometimes you might have to work later than 5 o’clock, but you catch my drift. When you first get in the swing of things with your job, it’s going to be intoxicating. The praise you’ll get from a job well done, the paychecks and bonuses that follow a laborious time, and the internal gratification from achieving early success will get to you; it got to me. But remember, there are important things that make up your life outside of work that will still demand (and deserve) your attention, and it’s important to find a balance whereby you can both put in hard work at the office, but also devote time and energy to the things outside of your work.
I skipped out on a lot of time with my family and friends to spend late nights and weekends in the office. I was so driven to achieve career success that I never really “clocked out.” Even on vacations, I’d fake having to use the bathroom so I could sneak in some time on my work email to try to stay on top of the ball. I never let my mind off of work, and as a result sacrificed much more than I realized. Push yourself like hell during the 8-5’s, but set boundaries for yourself before and after work to devote to the people, places, and things that are most important in your life.
Lesson #2: Focus on the right relationships.
The most important relationship to look after is the one you have with yourself. You know what you need on a more intimate level than anyone else in the world, so don’t lose touch of that. For me, I have a need to devote time & mental energy to my creative outlet (making music). I’m sad to admit that between May 2015 and December 2019, I only made fifteen songs. In the five years prior to that, I had made over eighty. Getting back to devoting more time to a creative outlet has actually done wonders for my productivity and happiness at work too.
I know this is different for everybody, but for me, one of the relationships that I also neglected for a while was my relationship with God. Once I was off campus and living on my own, I filled my Sundays with some combination of work, sports, and exercise, and little-to-know time for my faith. Getting back to focusing on my spirituality has been a very positive move for me. Though your relationship needs may vary, just remember to not neglect them (whatever they may be). Reserve some time to tend to yourself.
Lesson #3: Connect to your community.
What you may have taken for granted in college is that you are very much a part of the on-campus community. You’ve got your friends, you support the same clubs, and you attend the college’s events. People look out for you, and you look out for them. Well, when you exit college it suddenly feels a lot more isolated and you realize that you, as a human, have a longing for a sense of community that needs to be nourished.
It took a while for this lesson to set in with me, but I did ultimately realize that I needed to belong to a community so made efforts to volunteer, join community boards and non-profit organizations, and even hosted some of my own community-focused events. Your access may vary depending on the size of the city you’ll be moving to, but ask around. You’d be surprised how quickly you can connect to a cause you support, and some of my best friends I’ve made have been through these community boards or initiatives that I’ve joined. If you’re sticking around the Fargo-Moorhead area, just send me an email (email@example.com). I’d be happy to introduce you to some of the awesome people, places, and things that make up my community.
Lesson #4: Don’t stop learning.
Textbooks are expensive. And I hate to say it, but… they’re often not necessary. I remember at the launch of my independence after graduation, I was so excited to be done with my education that I didn’t devote any time to continued learning. Yeah, sure, there are lessons that are taught in your work environment, but I mean the independent learning of new skills that will help you in your career and beyond. Maybe it’s a class about personal finance and how to manage your expenses (warning: you’ll start having a lot more of them), or perhaps it’s even some cooking classes to eat healthier and more affordably.
But don’t ignore the resources out there that can make you better at your job too. Learn how to read HTML, build a basic website, use graphic design software, or excel in digital marketing. There are so many great resources that are available through a simple Google or YouTube search that will add to the “skills” section of your resume, and improve your ability to tackle new tasks at work. Being committed to continuing your education (even through some quick, free tutorials) will also keep your brain sharp and your level of motivation high. And if you’re struggling to find a job right out of school due to the state of the job market, lay out 4 or 5 hours a day for learning. You’ll appreciate the routine, trust me.
Lesson #5: Take others’ advice with a grain of salt.
Yeah, honestly, you can neglect this whole article I’m writing if you wish. You’re going to get infinite “pieces of advice,” and oftentimes it will be unsolicited. Everybody around you has an opinion on what the right thing for you to do (or not do) is when it comes to your career, but you have to take some time to do a little soul-searching and determine that for yourself.
I remember thinking at some point in life I would have all the answers figured out, but I’ve realized that nobody has a road map to a successful life because no two narratives are identical. The diversity of the human experience is part of its beauty, so what worked for someone else by no means indicates that it will work for you. I’ve learned to preface any advice I provide current students with this: “I’m going to tell you what helped me, but you need to determine what will help you.” It’s the truth; you come into the world the same way you leave it (on your own), and though it’s a fruitful exercise to collect nuggets of wisdom from those who enter your journey along the way, remember that the only person you’ll ultimately need to answer to is yourself. So, what do you want?
It’s a strange time for all of you graduating seniors right now, and my heart is with you. You may already have your next job lined up, or you may be completely uncertain of what you’ll be doing three days, three weeks, or even three months from now. But you know what? Neither do I, and neither do so many of us, regardless of how long we’ve been in the working world. If I can impart one last lesson before I leave, it would be this: you can’t plan for anything in this life except change, so arm yourself with courage and knowledge that can help you adapt to all forms of uncertainty. This may be your first opportunity to do just that.
It’s 8 PM on a Monday and I’m nestled between rows of bookcases at the Carl B. Library on the campus of Concordia College. I’m 21 years old, and I need to find a job. My professor’s “employers these days want to know everything about you” speech is looming large in my head as I sit on the front edge of a wooden chair, tapping my mechanical pencil against the desk.
Our career fair is tomorrow, and I’m making a bleak attempt to tidy up my resume in time to print copies before I head back to my house to meet my roommates. More gut-wrenching than the search for the perfect bio, however, is the internal battle I’m facing for whether or not I should erase a monumental portion of my past. Something that, over the past few years especially, has really helped mold me into the person I’ve become. I know “Jack Yakowicz” will get searched by prospective employers and I’m terrified by what their reaction might be to what they find. I continue tapping my pencil; old songs echo in my ears. I log in and start deleting.
When I was fifteen years old, I wrote some joke raps about my neighborhood friends. I used to “perform” them in between games of Kick the Can or Ghost in the Graveyard to help lighten the mood, and they progressively got better each week. I can’t even honestly say what started the inspiration… I probably watched too much MTV and VH1 as a kid. At some point, one of my neighbors said “dude – these are actually pretty good.” From there, I guess I kind of ran with it.
The “joke” raps stopped being humorous around age 16. I quit basketball, had started working at Target, and was looking for a new hobby. Writing music seemed like a cool enough place to start. I remember trying to make it home right away after school to beat my brother to our shared laptop; I’d plug in my head phones, find an instrumental that I liked, and choose a topic. I wasn’t very good back then – most of my lyrics contained at least one line about a Minnesota Twins player, and a couple more about Twizzlers and Sprite. Baseball, licorice, and soda: the (un)holy trinity. But little by little, I learned more about setting up structure, tying in rhythm, introducing melody, and writing rhymes that had a constant theme. By the end of 2009 (half-way through my junior year of high school), I had written a total of about 150 songs. I hadn’t recorded a single one.
My first “mixtape” was recorded at my friend Ryan’s house. He had a microphone set up, and was experimenting with engineering vocals. It took a few months before I felt satisfied with the sound, but I released the project to the “public” sometime in 2011. It was called J.Y.A.K. (Just Your Average Kid). I had never been more anxious than I was the next day, as I walked through the hallways of Eastview High School wondering who may have played my songs. Over night, it’s as though my identify shifted; I was officially “the kid that rapped.” I graduated high school in June of that year, and released some more recorded music the summer before college. A new anxiety arose as I fretted what my future classmates at Concordia College would think of this incoming freshman that rapped. I vowed to not tell anyone. But… it was a small campus, and word traveled quickly.
My college years saw me really begin to grow as an individual, and also as an “artist.” I had one of my songs, called Faith, make it on the Concordia Beat CD as a freshman, I performed as the student opener for Cornstock my junior year, and I was booking shows in the Twin Cities as an upperclassman. I also had to ‘freestyle’ for basically anyone that asked when I lived in the dorms. Any shyness I had about music had seemingly evaporated, as the campus I was a part of had fully accepted my music and made me feel extremely comfortable with it. Until….
I found myself in that library, debating whether or not I should delete all of my old music in the event a future employer wouldn’t like it.
I chose to remove every song that I made between 2011 and 2014. I still have friends today (four years later) ask me why they can’t find the old tunes; I try to explain it, but my attempts to do so sound less logical each time. I was fearful that a few instances of profanity would outweigh the passion & creativity that were displayed; I thought maybe they don’t like rap… maybe they like (dramatic pause) country; I was convinced the pros couldn’t match the cons. So in one fell swoop, a whole archive of my memories, my adolescence, my growth was removed. Imagine burning all of your old yearbooks, but also being the chair of the yearbook committee for all four years. Bad analogy, but, you get my drift.
I wish I had been more confident that the right employer would see the benefits of my music, before making the determination that I should delete it.
Today, I work for a small business (~45 employees) in Fargo, North Dakota. It’s not exactly the “rap hub” of America, but people are slowly figuring out that I used to make music and are in awe. The good kind of awe.
Dude, I had no idea. That’s amazing. Why’d you quit? You should still write. You actually had a lot of talent. The stuff I’ve heard sounds great, man. and so on…
I’m an average rapper, but rap as a whole has been one of the best things to ever come into my life. And it helped me IMMEASURABLY with my career. I know, it’s weird.
Writing music was the first thing I ever did that involved unprompted creativity. Performing shows helped me develop a stage presence, and made me less fearful of speaking in front of the public. Creating art allowed me to become more introspective, and much better at articulating my emotions. Engineering vocals helped me increase my technical proficiency, and ability to learn new software. Promoting shows helped me learn how to market and sell the most difficult thing to market and sell: me. Meeting other recording artists was my first experience of networking. All of it made me a better marketer.
I’m writing this article because I think there are probably a handful of individuals out there stewing over the same internal conflict that I had as a senior in college: whether or not they should expose their true selves, and their true passions to future employers, out of fear of rejection or judgement. As an individual who now interviews a large majority of prospective candidates at our company, I can honestly say that I would much, much rather hire someone who has a passion than someone who can’t figure out what their passion is. So write your music. Do your dances. Record your vlogs. Play your video games. Whatever it is that you’re passionate about, know that there are employers (and communities) that will accept you for everything that makes you unique.
I’m fortunate to now work for an employer where I don’t have to hide parts of my past – in fact, my CEO tried sending me some rap lines a few nights ago. I’ve been able to grow closely acquainted with the arts community up in Fargo-Moorhead, and although my days of performing shows and pursuing music have since passed, I still write constantly, and record when time allows. I’ve made a concerted effort to keep my 2015 and beyond music live on my SoundCloud… you can find it if you look hard enough. Though I’m ashamed to have succumbed to my own self-doubt and fears when I was looking for a job out of college, I’m hopeful that the landscape of the job market is shifting in such a way that the true makers and creatives will be celebrated, no matter how unorthodox their passion is.
When I first moved to Fargo, the consistency of a Sunday dinner at grandma’s house was what helped me get through my weeks.
Around four o’clock every Sunday, I’d hop in my car and head down University towards Southwood Drive. I remembered the house from my visits as a child which, I’m sad to admit, came too few and far between.
When I had ultimately made the decision to go to Concordia College, it was in part predicated on the hopes that I would be able to get to know my grandma better before she passed away. Being stripped of the opportunity to spend quality time with any of my other three grandparents while they were living, I was committed to my Sunday nights at grandma’s – I wanted to build that relationship while she still knew who I was.
At the time I first started visiting, grandma was still a pretty good cook. She’d make bratwursts and potatoes, lasagna, tacos, and a few other of her quick-and-easy favorites. We’d chat about how school was going, what my new friends were like, if I had kept in touch with my parents that past week, and things of the like. She would ask me when I was going to introduce her to a girl; I would smile at my plate, shake my head, and say “someday, Grandma.”
Following our ice cream dessert, we would turn on 60 Minutes.
“Oh, it’s such an awful country we live in now, isn’t it?” she’d say. I wondered what it was like for her when she was my age.
Around six thirty I would look at my watch, sigh, and say “well, it’s probably time for me to head out.”
“Yeah, sorry, grandma. I’ve gotta get my laundry done – next week, though?”
She’d send me off with leftovers in a tupperware container, saying that I might get hungry and need a study break.
As the years went by, I had a front row seat for the regression of my grandma’s mental state. I found myself repeating the same stories often, each time with my grandma acting as surprised as the time before. She would do odd things like set the silverware on Kleenex instead of napkins, and write me birthday cards six months before my birthday. She started calling me “Evan” or “John” instead of “Jack,” and grew increasingly frustrated with herself when she couldn’t keep up conversationally. It was difficult to watch such a charismatic and sociable woman lose her confidence.
Though I still visited on Sundays, the meals she cooked turned to carryout pizza, week after week, with her continually telling me “I found this new place called… Papa Murphy’s. Have you had it?” Yeah, the last six weeks, grandma, I wanted to say. My post-dinner calls to my mom, where we would discuss the funny things grandma said and did, changed in tone. We were all concerned at how rapidly the decline was happening.
One Sunday in October of my junior year, right before grandma moved to the retirement community, I tried to remind her of a story.
“Yes?” she replied, brushing the crumbs off the sides of her mouth and blinking at me.
“Remember that time you were showing me your childhood house, and the camera crews started following you?”
“Well, of course,” she said, “I was the star of the show!”
We both laughed, as I started to clear our plates off the table. The moment I was referencing was back in 2011 during Fargo’s Historic Homes tour, when my grandmother’s old house was one of the main attractions. I took my grandma that day and we walked through the house, as she pointed out some of her favorite rooms as a child. The KVRR camera crews picked up on the fact that grandma used to live in this house, and started following, essentially letting the entire Fargo community in on my private tour. She lit up the room.
My mom used to tell me stories about how when she was younger, my grandma would be partying until the break of dawn with her friends. “I’d wake up in the middle of the night to them taking shots and grandma playing the piano in the living room,” my mom would tell me. “She was more wild than her high school kids were.”
It was that same sense of life that my grandma exuded that had me write a story about her in sixth grade, titled “Seventy-Five Going on Thirty.” I won an award for that story, which was a non-fiction piece about how hip my grandma was.
As the years went by, the Sunday nights at grandma’s became less frequent. My grandma would forget to call me, and I was beginning to develop a social life of my own up in Fargo. Grandma moved into a retirement community and started to have her Sunday meals at the cafeteria instead. When I did visit, she became more confused by who I was. At times I was her son, other times I was her brother. Though there are still some amazing moments where her mind seems perfectly in tact, the Alzheimer’s has certainly made its home in my grandma’s brain. It’s tough to see.
This weekend, I came over to her house to spend some time with her on Saturday morning.
“She’s just waking up,” said one of The Doves, a group of women my mom and her siblings hired to keep an eye on my grandma.
“Okay, thanks,” I responded, walking towards her bedroom.
My grandma strolled out into the common area, when she heard my voice, greeting me with a big hug.
“I’m so happy you’re here,” she said, clinging tighter to my chest. “I don’t like this life here anymore.”
Over six years ago, I moved to Fargo and had the intention of getting to know my grandma better. I’ve seen her at her highs, and tried to help her through some of her lows. Alzheimer’s Disease can take its toll on a person, but as I recount my Sunday nights at grandma’s, I realize one thing: although the disease has made my grandma forget who she is, it will never take away my memory of who she was.