61: Cue Ball in the Pocket

61: Cue Ball in the Pocket

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Cue Ball in the Pocket

Every gentleman plays billiards, but someone who plays billiards too well is no gentleman.

~Thomas Jefferson

When dealing with a disease as difficult as Alzheimer’s, it’s important to look on the bright side whenever possible. Luckily, when it came to my grandpa, we were able to do just that.

I’ve read that Alzheimer’s patients tend to keep the same temperament they had before they got sick. My grandpa fit this pattern. I’d always known him to be fun-loving and easygoing—except when it came to his Buick, which he was very particular about. When I was growing up, my grandparents often babysat for me, so on nice days Grandpa and I would play catch in the back yard. Later on, we would spend evenings shooting pool at the activity center. He’d grown up in a small Illinois town where the local pool hall was the only center of activity. He’d become so skilled that he could almost always hit a bank shot. He would practice such shots just for fun, to give me a chance to catch up with him.

After he needed more care than Grandma could give him, we moved him to St. Joseph’s Home, where the staff of the Alzheimer’s ward was cheerful and friendly. The nuns often strolled around giving extra help to patients. There were extensive grounds so that visitors could take their loved ones on walks around the flower gardens. There was a lounge with a pool table.

My grandmother took an apartment across the street from the facility so that she could visit Grandpa every afternoon. Whenever I was in town, I went with her. On summer days, we would take Grandpa outside so that he and I could play catch. Even though his mind wasn’t working properly, his hand-eye coordination was excellent. He would still trick me by looking off to the side and throwing the ball right at me. One visitor often brought a dog, and Grandpa would play with it, too, grinning so widely his teeth shone as he threw a stick for it to retrieve.

When I brought my new boyfriend home to Springfield, I wanted Winslow to meet a family member who was so dear to me. Since he was from Sri Lanka, a country where older relatives are usually cared for at home, he had no qualms about accompanying Grandma and me on our daily visit. Together we walked down to the lounge, and when Grandpa saw the pool table, as usual, he wanted to play. I racked the balls and let Grandpa “break.” He then started to shoot, often hitting the balls in, while Grandma read a magazine over in the corner.

“He’s not playing by the rules,” Winslow observed when Grandpa took a shot even after he missed.

“He can’t remember them,” I explained. “We just hit the balls around.”

Despite this handicap, Winslow and I tried a game of sorts, alternating solids and stripes in between Grandpa’s erratic turns.

“We have a small problem,” Winslow said. “He put the cue ball in his pocket!”

“Fish it out,” I suggested, but by then Grandpa had gravitated toward me, so I fished it out instead, put it on the table, and motioned for Winslow to take his next turn.

As we continued our pseudo-games, Grandpa was enjoying himself thoroughly. Even though he sometimes ignored the cue ball, he studied the angles. And even though he hit solids and stripes indiscriminately, Winslow and I were amazed that he made so many more good shots than we did.

The next time Grandpa pocketed the cue ball, Winslow started to fish it out.

“Does your grandpa wear dentures?” Winslow asked, pulling a pair from Grandpa’s pocket.

I shook my head “no” as Grandma shouted “Oh, my God!” from across the room.

Winslow and I couldn’t stop laughing, and by now, Grandma couldn’t either. Grandpa, undeterred, had gone back to his “game.”

“Go take them back,” Grandma told me. “I hope the nurses aren’t mad.”

I carefully carried Grandpa’s trophy back to the Alzheimer’s ward and searched for the head nurse. “Judy, I’m really sorry, but... ”

I tried not to giggle as I held up the fake teeth.

Luckily, Judy took things in stride. “You know, they take one another’s things all the time.”

I did the rounds with her. Most of the other patients were sleeping, and we found dentures in several glasses as we peeked into the patients’ rooms. Finally, we reached MaryLou’s room, a bright spot full of pillows and stuffed animals. MaryLou was watching TV, not comprehending anything, with a big, toothless grin.

“Of course,” Judy said. “I should have known. I think Mike likes her things the best.”

I didn’t wait around while Nurse Judy sterilized MaryLou’s missing teeth.

By the time I got back to the lounge, Winslow was in the middle of a new game with Grandpa, and Grandma had gotten back to her magazine.

“No worries,” I said. “The owner never missed them.”

“Thank goodness,” Grandma said. “It’s so embarrassing.”

“Think of the bright side,” Winslow piped up. “The next time dentures go missing, the nurse will know where to look!”

My grandpa lived another couple of years after the “dentures” incident, and my grandmother cared for him as best she could. The whole family was thankful he could be in such a loving place as St. Joe’s. Whenever I could get back to town, I continued to take Grandpa on walks, play catch, and shoot pool.

But at the end of every session, I always double-checked his pockets.

~D.R. Ransdell

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