The Cigarette From A Stranger by Alan Houghton
“Would you like a cigarette, May” asked Simone to the elderly lady, in the visitor’s garden of the old folk’s home. “Why, do I smoke?” she replied. “Well you used to” I suggested. May smiled and accepted the cigarette, which Simone lit for her. “You know, I met my husband through cigarettes”, May remembered. “It was during the war and I worked at Morris’s in Bolton with my sister, Evelyn. We packaged cigarettes for distribution to the forces. I was only 16 years old and that’s when I started smoking. I’m 88 now, so it’s never done me any harm.  My sister was courting a boy named Leslie, who was in the RAF and he used to come to visit Evelyn, when he was home on leave and pick up some cigarettes. One time when he came to see Evelyn, he brought a RAF friend, Neville with him. He was so handsome in his uniform and we went out as a foursome, dancing at the Palais. We got on like a house on fire and we were married on Christmas Eve in 1945, after he plucked up courage to ask my Dad for my hand. I was the youngest of 10 children, so my Dad gave him a hard time at first”, May laughed at the memory. “I don’t know why I am telling you all this, who are you?” “I am your son, Alan and this is my partner, Simone” I replied. “I don’t remember having any children” May responded. “You had 4 boys, Mam and I am the youngest” I explained. “Really?” May said, struggling to remember. It was moments like these that I realised that I was losing my mother in the here and now. She could remember things from 50, 60 years ago like they were yesterday but she couldn’t remember something that had been said 10 minutes ago. It felt like the years of memories had filled her mind to capacity, leaving no room for new memories to be absorbed. It upset me so much that I had become a stranger to his own mother. It was losing my mother before she died. It was death by a thousand forgotten memories. But, although my mother had lost her memories of me and my brothers and our families, she would never lose the love that we all felt for her. Dementia is such a cruel invader in everyone’s life.