The old woman in the Alzheimer's ward wore a wide-brimmed straw hat, affixed to her head by a tie that wrapped around her mottled chin. Her hair was thin but long. She wore a pair of khaki capris and a lavender knit sweater that was missing all but one button.
"I'm going to go home soon and get more buttons to sew on my sweater," she said.
"But home's so far away."
"How far away is home?" I asked.
"Five miles," she said.
"That's not too far," I said.
"It is if you're in a wheelchair."
Then she said, "Daddy bought me this hat. So I don't get sunburned in the fields."
"It's a beautiful hat," I said.
"He bought me these shoes too," she said. "Daddy loves red. He has a pair too."
She sported a pair of red tennis shoes, and lifted her leg, her calves purple from poor circulation, to show me.
We sat in silence for a few minutes. She reached for my hand and I took it. I rubbed it gently but didn't say anything. I couldn't think of anything to say.
Then she said, again, "Home's so far away."
Her eyes glazed a little, but then she focused on me; she spoke of her brothers; she said they were too young for school.
"How old are they?" I asked.
"Two and four," she said.
"That is too young," I said. "Who else is in your family?"
"I have two grandmothers. Elizabeth's the name of one of them, but I can't remember my other grandmother's name. They're nice to me but they don't visit much."
A few more minutes of silence, then, for a few moments back in the present, she said, "They're both dead now."
I kept hold of her hand. "They're still with you, though."
She didn't seem to comprehend me. She only repeated, "My daddy bought me this hat. I won't get sunburned in it."
"I know you won't. Your skin is so fair you wouldn't want to take that chance."
She laughed and I laughed with her.
I sat with her for a few more minutes, then hugged her and said I had to go.
"Do you really have to leave?" she asked.
"No, I can stay a little longer."
We sat in silence; she noticed lights reflecting from the windows. She sat and gazed at me.
I asked her what she was thinking and she said, "My daddy bought me this hat."
"Your father's a good man. He must care a lot about you to buy you such pretty things," I said.
"He is," she said. "I think he'll come visit soon."
"Well, until he does, you have the hat to remind you of him," i said.
Finally, I released her hand, gently, and got up to leave.
"I'll come back tomorrow or the next day and we can talk some more," I said. "If you wouldn't mind talking to me."
"Just come find me," she said, and leaned in as if to hug me. I embraced her, then kissed her gently on the cheek.
"it was good to see you. I'll see you again soon," I said, then walked away from her.