But I Already Have My Lipstick On:  Our story of dealing with Alzheimers

Chapter Two

Belle Marie was born to a lumber mill family in 1923, a premature first child named for both her grandmothers.  Her parents never had much money and supported their growing family as many families did in the early part of the 20th century, the best way they could.  Slim worked whatever job was available usually in the lumber industry and Mae was a homemaker.  Through the years, it was not uncommon for an elderly relative with an illness to stay with the family and for Mae to take care of them until they were better or until they passed.  This situation had a lasting impact on Belle which she would recall and recount in her later years. 

Belle was one of the first in her family to finish high school, although she was already married at the time.  She married Jim in January 1941 during her senior year of high school, a few months before turning 18.  Although they had lived in the same rural area of east Texas all of their lives, their families socialized in different circles and attended different churches.  Belle met Jim through his younger sister, who was a classmate of Belle’s.  Jim was two years older than Belle and was already out of school when they met and began their courtship.  Their relatively short courtship often included double dates with Belle’s younger brother Paul with whom Belle shared a close relationship.  The last two months of Jim and Belle’s courtship occurred via mail while Jim located employment in South Texas and Belle attended school at home.  Letters between the two of them during this time frame display her attachment to Jim and her hopes for their future together.

Their life together, during the over 50 years they were married, had its ups and downs and included some volatile, unsettling times.  After the premature birth and death of their first child, a daughter, their four sons (born in 1942, 1944, 1957 and 1958) and one daughter (1962), witnessed good times and bad, with the bad times including displays of their father’s temper or rumors of his infidelities.  Throughout all of her adult life, while raising her children, attending church, moving from home to home, living at the piney woods farm, and relocating to the big city, Belle strived to become a person other than the lumber mill ‘country’ girl that defined how her life had started and what, under most circumstances, her life would have been destined to remain.  She was determined to be a modern woman, a good person with a refined essence, along with being dedicated to her husband.   

As with many women of her generation that dealt with the double standard of the infidelity of a husband, Jim’s activity impacted her with a direct hit to her self confidence.  Somehow, some way, she seemed to think, at least in those early years, his inability to be faithful to her was her fault. Thus, her focus crystallized on prevention through self improvement.  She took study courses in business, art classes, taught Sunday school and Vacation Bible School and became an active participant the Women’s Republican Club, serving as its president for a time.  She studied interior design through mail order courses and magazines to assist Jim with the family business of home building.  She determined what she considered to be ‘sophisticated’ and strived to achieve this desired sophistication in her dress, manner, conversation, interior design of her home and the behavior of her children.   Appropriate behavior was stressed, as it was important to her what others thought of her and her family and to preserve the appropriate perception of her family that had become a measured part of her self confidence.     

Scott is the youngest son of the family of five siblings, with his only sister Susan being the youngest child.  Throughout his growing up years, he was extremely close to his mother and this closeness continued throughout his adult years.  Scott and his siblings grew up, for the most part, on a working farm, which entailed, as farm life always does, many outside chores.  Living in the custom built farm home in the piney woods of East Texas was ideal for the family that had started with virtually nothing and succeeded.  The family members, regardless of age, pitched in to ensure chores were completed.  Scott, it turns out, was allergic to pine trees and pollen.  As one might deduce, this type of allergy is a problem for someone living in the middle of a national pine forest.  Due to this allergy, some of his chore time changed from outside activities to indoor activity,  assisting his mother with chores, such as cooking.  He had an aptitude for this type of activity and his one on one time with his mother created a close relationship that the passing of time, even years,  did not substantially diminish.  Scott became a son that could easily read his mother’s moods, determine her wishes and anticipate her wants and desires without much conversation between them.  He became her confidant. He knew the nuances of her attitudes, speech and stories.  So, in the weeks and months that followed the death of his father, when the stories and behaviors of his mother began to change, Scott noticed, before the rest of us, that something with Belle seemed slightly amiss.