From the beginning, I loved gingerbread. I thought it was really nice to have a big sister named Ginger who could bake yummy things, like cookies–and gingerbread. Today I’m thinking of her because it’s her birthday. I can’t call her and wish her a happy birthday because she has Alzheimer’s and lives in a different world. She’s 86 today. She doesn’t know it but, though she’s always been one of the middle ones of us ten, she is now the oldest one living.
In my first colorful memories of Ginger she wore her dark soft hair in long braids. If she gave me a piggy back ride I could gee and haw with her braids. She taught me my ABC’s using a stick to write in the sand.
When Ginger was away at Rabun Gap school, she saved us young ones little boxes of cereal from her breakfast tray. We were so thrilled when the big loud Trailways bus brought her home for holidays. She always had new funny songs to teach us and never got too old to play games with us like “Catch a Fellow Off a Stone” or “Blind Man’s Bluff.” She was so serious about her Bible study and wanted each of us to be just as serious. But she really loved a good laugh too.
The summer before Ginger got married in 1955, she sewed nearly all the time on Mamma’s New Home sewing machine. I hung around and pestered her a lot. I was twelve years old and dreaded to see her leave. Our brothers secretly placed a kitten in hers and Del’s car when they drove away. Several of us piled into a brother’s car and chased them all the way to Toccoa. We laughed ourselves sick when we saw that kitten’s head appear on the back of the seat between the heads of the bride and groom.
When Ginger had her first baby, we celebrated around her letter as Mamma read to us. Ginger and Del lived in Texas where he was in seminary. We didn’t know when we’d get to see little Joel. Then, at Christmas, with no warning, they appeared. We took the baby from Ginger and presented him to Mamma, telling her it was a baby who’d been left at our guesthouse. She took one look at that bouncy cute baby and said calmly, “This is Ginger’s baby. Where is she?”
Ginger and Del had three more children, Jonathan, Eulanne, and Freida. They were all so cute and fun and Ginger doted on every one of them. The family went as missionaries to Bangladesh but had to come home because of medical problems. In the meantime, I’d gone to college and then got married. I didn’t see Ginger that often anymore. But when we did land at our home at the same time, we started talking where we’d left off the last time. And giggled a lot, shared books, Bible verses, and many songs. One summer a whole bunch of us got together and Ginger instigated our having a star-watching night.
Ginger loves music and still will try to sing in her bed at her care home. Daddy used to say that Ginger had a light in her eyes like stars glowing when she was excited. Her eyes still light up like candles when we sing songs about Jesus. She doesn’t recognize us but knows we are someone who loves her. Recently, my sisters Jackie and Suzanne were visiting her and Suzanne called me. She said she’d hold the phone to Ginger’s ear and let me talk to her. I told her who I was and where I live and that I loved her. Suzanne said she smiled. She talks mostly in garbled unrecognizable sounds, but the last time I visited her she broke out of that “other language” and said distinctly one time, “I love you.” She even said to Charles and me as we hovered over her bed, “It’s good to see both of you.”
Alzheimer’s is a terrible thief that takes away one’s ability to communicate, to enjoy life, to know one’s identity, to remember….
But down, deep inside, I know my Ginger is still there. I remember how she loved playing with her grandchildren, how she was so proud of their every achievement. I remember how she was always doing for others, teaching English to Laotians, even after she retired from teaching fourth grade. I sit and hold her hand and tell her about the good things she’s done. She doesn’t understand, but she smiles. And her smiles light up her whole face.
Happy Birthday, Ginger!