Casual Fridays: Shining light on Alzheimer’s – “Fleas and a Feather Float Together”

Intimate stories about dementia

Casual Fridays are a series of real stories about people with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. They are positive, slightly sad but enlightening. I want to show that you can still have intimate personal connections with people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Additionally, I hope that readers can relate them to their own experiences. While some of these stories may be funny my intent is not to make fun of people with Alzheimer’s. I intend to change the way that people perceive the disease by showing some positive aspects to aid in accepting Alzheimer’s for what it is.

It has been incredibly important for me to understand my personal relationship with Alzheimer’s. My hope is that these stories can help those additionally affected by Alzheimer’s disease come to terms with how it effects their lives.

A colleague of mine worked in the eldercare industry for seventeen years. He worked in nursing homes and residential communities as a Nursing Assistant, an Activity Coordinator, and a Life Enrichment Director. He currently works with a non-profit organization that assists people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. He told me these stories and shares my views on how important they are. He asked me to share them with you. Please enjoy, I will post a new story every Friday.

-Carlos Barrios, Founder of Endear for Alzheimer’s


“Fleas and a Feather Float Together”

Woman with dementia recites limericks

Helen was an amazing lady I took care of in an Alzheimer’s residence in the late 1990’s. She had straight and stringy grey hair with a few stray black hairs scattered in. Her face was exceptionally wrinkled, leathery, and tan. She was a country lady who grew up in rural West Virginia on a farm. Helen was in her mid-eighties when I knew her, and she was in good physical condition, slim and fit, and spent a good deal of her day walking the halls, often saying she was trying to get back to her home. Helen had a tremendous sense of humor as well as a remarkable long-term memory. She could never remember what she had been doing that day, but could recall events from the distant past with sometimes astonishing detail. One of Helen’s great gifts was the ability to recall limericks and rhymes. She would repeat them during the day like mantras, and often use them to initiate or continue a conversation with a staff member or another resident. Here is a compilation of her limericks I gathered over a period of two years or so, none of which I had ever heard, before or since:

There once was a lady named Mable,
Who danced on the dining room table.
She blushed very red when the gentleman said,
“Look at the legs on the table.”

Here I sit by the mantelpiece,
I grease my ass with candle grease.
Clear the track and leave me pass,
Here I come with a greasy ass.

There once was a girl in the city,
Who saw what she thought was a kitty.
To make sure of that, she gave it a pat,
They buried her clothes, what a pity.

There was a young man named Willy,
Whose actions were what you’d call silly.
He went to a ball wearing nothing at all,
Trying to represent Chile.

One two three four five six seven,
All good children go to Heaven.
When they get there they all yell,
“All the dagos go to hell!”

                  In addition to these limericks, and others I did not document, Helen had a host of rhymes and aphorisms she would sprinkle into her daily conversation. Here are a few of these nuggets, most of which, again, I have never heard anyone else use:

Amen, Brother Ben
Let a fart,
And shot a hen.

Here comes the bride,
All fat and wide.
Here comes the groom,
Skinny as a broom.

If steamboats were five cents,
I couldn’t buy the echo off the whistle.

I’m having more trouble than a cat with ten kittens.

If you speak of the devil, his imps will appear.

We live in hope and we die in despair.

Never trouble trouble til trouble troubles you.

I don’t know and I can’t say,
So I’ll have to go the other way.

John Henry Jinkins and Harshburger Jones.
I got a seven year itch, and I’m six years behind in scratching.

Swing and sway with Sammy Kay,
That’s the way we get away.

I got more wrinkles than Heinz has got baked beans.

Fleas and a feather float together.

Here’s to the woman with the wooden leg,
I guess that’s why we call her Peg.

                  Helen had a quick and witty mind, even in her dementia. It made me wonder just how sharp she must have been when she was younger. One afternoon in the hallway, Helen and a lady named Maxine were having a verbal altercation. Maxine yelled at Helen, “Go to hell!” Helen replied calmly and dismissively, “We don’t go to your house when you’re not home.” That is a response I would never have thought of, and it shut Maxine right up, and off she walked down the hall.

Sometimes, Helen’s brief responses to questions were memorable and hilarious and absolutely inimitable. Here is a sample of how her mind worked spontaneously:

Q: Have you ever been skydiving?
A: Yeah, a little.

Q:How are you?
A: I’m normally stupid.

Q:What is the coldest season of the year?
A: Monday.

Q: What is love?
A: You really think something of someone.

Q: What do you do on Thanksgiving:
A: Be thankful you got a bird to eat.

Q: What do you think of when I mention Christmas?
A: Happy gifts.

Q: What rhymes with kitten that you put on your hand?
A: Boots.

Q: Who was Winston Churchill?
A: The President of West Virginia.

                  Helen was certainly a unique and hilarious individual. I always admired the way she could find humor in almost every situation, including her own dementia and placement in a care community. I can remember her many times walking purposely through the hallway, and when she would reach a locked door, she would turn around and simply go back just as purposely the way she came. When I would ask her where she was going, she would tell me she was going home.  Once, her answer was, “I’m gonna go upstairs and see what I got lost.”  One day when Helen was agitated and walking the halls, she said to me, exasperated , “They got me locked up in three places!”  Another time, we were in the dining room listening to gravelly-voiced Louis Armstrong sing “Jeepers Creepers”.  At the end of the song, Helen said to me, “Turn him off, his bowel  movement’s over.”

One of my favorite memories of Helen happened one afternoon after she and I had been talking together holding hands and walking through the hall. We came to a corner and Helen told me with a smile, “We can sing our way back to the house.”

Catch up on passed episodes of Casual Fridays. Here are some you may have missed:
“Coffee Break”
“Elvis’ 65th Birthday”
“The Silver Key Club”
“Laughing and Singing”
“The Task Master”
“Our 3 Floors of Memory”
“Need to Get Back to Clay City, Iowa”
“Toilet Talk Time”
“Once a Politician, Always a Politician”
“Positive Post-It Notes”
“88 Keys of Past Memories”
“Fathers of Daughters”
“Distinguishable Gentlemen”

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One Response to “Casual Fridays: Shining light on Alzheimer’s – “Fleas and a Feather Float Together””

  1. […] “Our 3 Floors of Memory” “Need to Get Back to Clay City, Iowa” “Toilet Talk Time” “Fleas and a Feather Float Together” “Once a Politician, Always a Politician” “Positive Post-It […]

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