Mom wasn’t a big pepper fan, but she would grow them for me. When I cooked my hot sauces and jellies, I’d have to send her out of the kitchen because the fumes would choke her.

For about a week, I’ve been cooking some of the last peppers that grew in mom’s garden. This morning I was bottling a hot sauce that I’ll call Dark Heart. If you have a better name for me, I’m open to ideas for this dark hot sauce of cayenne, tabasco, and jalapeño peppers cooked down with pears and apples.

Mom loved to find things to do, not only for me, but for anyone in her family or community. Losing the ability to do things for others was devastating to her. Alzheimer’s is a wicked thief. The disease stole her sense of purpose, belonging, and community.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2023.
Roll up your sleeves: purple cayenne peppers

Can I roll up your sleeves?

Mom still rolls up her sleeves.

When she shuffles towards my sink, hoping to find dirty dishes to clean, her hands go to her sleeves to roll them up. Sometimes she needs help. She might forget how to say it, so she’ll lift her arm toward me, “I can’t.”

“Do you want me to roll up your sleeves?”

No shame. Sometimes I need help rolling up my sleeves.

If you follow mom’s story, you know a major pain point on her journey is she’s losing things to do.

Whenever she sees me walk in, her face lights up, but not necessarily because it’s me. She lights up and asks something along the lines of, “Do you need me to help you?”

Mom has sitters, but she doesn’t like to sit. She mastered many things in her eighty three years, but not the art of sitting still. Her fidget muscle is strong.

I remember sitting next to her during services, choir concerts, and piano recitals. Even at funerals, her hands were never still.

At one concert or recital, mom was sitting between me and my oldest daughter, fingers exploring the program well into the program, turning the noisy paper over, opening, closing it. Exasperated, my daughter quiet-slapped the program, pushing it into mom’s lap.

I saw a quiet giggle pass between them. Mom knew. She didn’t resist when I took the program from her lap.

Better in motion

Mom has always been better in motion, but there is less and less available to keep her in motion safely. Still, she rolls up her sleeves.

“I’ll take that,” lugging groceries from the car.

“I can do that,” taking the broom from my hand.

Last week I took mom to the greenhouse to transplant some basil. I had avoided the garden for months, a sharp-shard reminder of what she’s lost. This time of year, she would have pulled up the summer crops to make room for heads of cabbage and other cool-weather vegetables. I left mom in the greenhouse to water the basil as I waded through waist-high weeds of the garden that never became, hundreds of seeds that didn’t germinate, bloomless squash, bottom-rot tomatoes.

But the peppers… three of the pepper plants were still standing in their cages, two were loaded with fruit: beautiful purple cayenne peppers.

A few days later, we will make pepper jelly. I try to chop all the peppers before the sitter brings her over because anything stronger than a jalapeño closes her throat. I’m not fast enough. I’m still chopping when they come in.

“Wait over there until I’m done.”

Mom nods but doesn’t remember to stay put. A fidgeter is also no good at standing still. The dishes in the sink beckon her, She rolls up her sleeves, braves the pepper fumes, and sidles up next to me, coughing periodically, “My throat!” I smile, happy these aren’t scorpion peppers (she can’t be in the house for those), happy she’s here.

roll up your sleeves pepper jellyMom loves to can. When it’s time to pour up the pepper jelly, I start, but she nudges in.

“I can do this.”

I never know what she’ll be able to do. In the greenhouse, she watered everything but the basil. But in my kitchen, she pours the jelly into the jars. Perfectly. And did you notice, she didn’t need my help to roll up her sleeves this time.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021