We do not remember days; we remember moments.
—Cesare Pavese, The Burning Brand
Following Christmas dinner, my family was relaxing around the kitchen table. We had all enjoyed traditional turkey, sweet potatoes lightly glazed with brown sugar, and a final wedge of pumpkin pie topped with a dollop of ice cream. The good cooking smells still lingered; the oven remained warm. My sister, our chef, was basking in the compliments—“Fabulous meal,” “I really couldn’t eat another bite,” “Everything was wonderful.” Dad had risen from his chair and was contentedly standing nearby.
My nephew, never one to sit still for too long, began dribbling his new basketball around the table and throughout the kitchen. Upon nearing Dad, he stopped—almost uncertainly. With shaking, wrinkled hands, Dad had reached out for the ball. He did not speak, and the boy, confused, looked up and over at us. It took some convincing, but the ball was gingerly passed over.
I watched my father closely to see what he would do. A playful smile appeared on his face. The twinkle in his eyes shone brighter than any Christmas lights. Holding the ball and reaching forward, Dad bounced it on the floor then caught it.
This action was repeated. Nodding approvingly, he then turned towards our assembled group. Gently tossing the ball away, Dad began a game of catch.
The ball continued to be passed through eager pairs of outstretched hands. Cries of “Over here!” rang through the warm kitchen. Dad’s active participation in this game was remarkable to me, since he had advanced Alzheimer’s disease. This dementia had robbed him of many memories and the recognition of people, places and points in time. Despite this, Dad clearly recognized the ball and what you could do with it.
In my younger years, playing with Dad was rare. To his credit, Dad worked hard and provided for us. He was very private and never showed nor shared much emotion; his game of choice was chess, which he did eventually teach me how to play. As an adult, I had become a caregiver and watched helplessly as Dad declined. Connecting moments between father and son had been few and far between before he took the basketball.
I’m not sure how long we played catch. Watching the clock was not important. Dad gleefully led us until he began to tire. What I do know is that our game ended all too soon, and it was time to face the reality of dirty dishes piled high on countertops. The moment, though, will certainly last forever. On this Christmas, Dad gave me a special memory—one that I will always treasure.
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