I’ve known for years now that my grandmother has been battling Alzheimers in her rural seaside hometown some 27 godforsaken hours away by road. When I called to ask how she was doing, my aunt put me through and Nana thought she was talking to Betty Boop. At one point in the conversation I became the Cheshire Puss and she asked me how Alice was doing. She couldn’t recall my name but at least she remembered the most important part of me: that I liked to laugh.
I’m still deciding whether or not I should be flattered because she thinks I’m Betty Boop. On the one head she thinks I’m a woman, on the other she thinks I’m a woman with a hydrocephalic head and eyes the size of Utah.
This was the woman who took care of me between the ages of 2 and 4 while my parents were in South Africa. She reprised this role when my parents were in the Gulf War in Saudi Arabia. This was the woman that survived the great crayon mural project, the lets-cook-a-burger-pattie-on-the-lamp-bulb project, and one too many tantrums for legos. I broke her heart so many times despite all the love she showed me. And now my heart is breaking.
But as always, I’m determined not to let this bring me down. Instead I share with you a lovely story from my Nana’s prime years:
Nana’s husband, Poppy, was a traditional old chinese medicine man (complete with mysterious gold amulet with special powers. batteries sold separately). In the absence of blood laboratories and CT scans, this man was capable of detecting gall stones to pregnancy just by placing his hand on a person’s pulse. Instead of surgery, he took a personalized concoction of herbs from his massive apothecary and they were taken by his patients out of blind faith. Not one single soul came back to complain. He also possessed not one license to practice medicine.
Nana, being the obstinate Filipina that she is, turned a blind eye Poppy’s craft. She dismissed it along with his fondness for rice wine and a special cigar that I can still smell to this very day because I kid you not it smelled like cat shit. Anyway going back to Nana, she was a firm believer in western medicine, so there was always a row whenever I got sick.
Now I had always been morbidly fascinated with Poppy’s apothecary. In my child’s eye I can still imagine it filling an entire wall from floor to ceiling. I was the ONLY kid in my street who could actually boast that they have bat wings, newt’s warts, magic mushrooms, and dragon’s spit on tap. It was a magically gross time.
One feverish night as I lay dying in a pool of my sweat and tears (dramatic much?), Nana forced me to take Calpol, essentially kiddy aspirin. I, of course, vehemently refused, saying that if the good lord saw it fit to take me, I would go down like a man and not taking kiddy aspirin.
My Nana, in her infinite wisdom, played me like a fool. She said she would have Poppy make a special concoction of vampire blood, lizard’s brain, and other magical leaves from his apothecary because I hadn’t fulfilled my destiny yet (to design the 2010 fall line of Gucci).
I grudgingly agreed, tantalized by the prospect of telling my friends that I was stronger and oh-so-much-more-cooler than them for having drank vampire blood with lizard’s brain. And after I swallowed down that bitter-sweet potion with bits of lizard brain still sticking to the back of my throat, wellgoshdarnit I got better!
Every time I got sick, Nana would have Poppy make my secret potion until the day he passed away. Then she inherited the apothecary and made them herself, saying that Poppy had left her with the amulet, and thus, his powers. I continued to believe this long after I stopped believing in Santa Clause. It was only about 10 years ago that I discovered it was nothing more than calpol, grape fanta, cod liver oil to make it bitter, and mini marshmallows for the brain pieces.
You got chicken soup when you were sick? I had vampire’s blood with lizard’s brain.