- Hardcover: 270 pages
- Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (April 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375507272
- ISBN-13: 978-0375507274
- Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 25 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,376,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The House on Beartown Road: A Memoir of Learning and Forgetting Hardcover – April 1, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
In this moving yet unsentimental memoir, Cohen chronicles the year her aging father, Sanford, suffering from mid-to-late-stage Alzheimer's, came to live with her and her baby, Ava, in a New York State farmhouse. The three endure a cold winter, Ava's teething and the ravages of Alzheimer's. Sanford, a retired economics professor, retains his physical health while his mind deteriorates, a process Cohen-a Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin reporter-describes in detail and with compassion, even as he loses the ability to know her ("I am having something of a blackout. Perhaps you can remind me who you are?"). Ava learns to walk and talk while Sanford forgets how to climb stairs and struggles with his vocabulary (when he can't remember the word "water," he substitutes "the liquid substance from the spigot"). "Daddy walks around now this way, dropping pieces of language behind him, the baby following, picking them up." Naturally, life's difficult. Sanford misses his wife, who lives with Cohen's sister on the other side of the country; Cohen's husband abandons them early on and she struggles to find help from local social services. Even though "each day arches numerous times toward disaster," the trio survives, even thrives. Cohen takes pleasure in her daughter, outings in parks, friends' and neighbors' generosity and the "memory project"-her attempt to catalogue her father's stories from his childhood, war years in the Pacific and teaching career. With splashes of humor and occasional-and understandable-self-pity, Cohen's fluid prose lifts her forceful story to a higher level, making it a tribute to her father and her family.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
The publisher reports lots of early interest in the gentle tale of a woman caring for both her infant daughter and her father, who is afflicted with Alzheimer's.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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It goes without saying that Cohen's account is better understood by those of us who have been through it ourselves. Her voice holds the ring of truth and, yes, the harder edge of a sort of stoic bitterness, as, abandoned first by her husband and then by her family, she is left with her increasingly helpless dad and baby to fend for herself (and them) in an isolated, poorly-heated house through a vicious Northeastern winter. Anyone who has fought back sobs, visible in the chill air as, sleep-deprived and storm-battered, she battles a faulty wood stove and surveys a landscape of last night's dirty dishes, piles of laundry,clutter, un-vacuumed rugs, an aged loved one whose "accident" necessitates another change of clothes,their last clean ones--and who can't remember whether they've taken their pill and refuses to eat--making their own disgruntlement heard above the barking of the dog, who hasn't been let out yet-- all of it making her even later for her departure for the job that keeps her financially head-above-water...does any of this sound familiar?
ALL of you who have belonged to this bedraggled club,just READ this one,or listen to it. Believe it or not, it's oddly comforting to learn that the caregiver doesn't always handle it well...so she has to handle it badly, first; that the mass exodus of heretofore "close" family members who did not sign on for this is nothing new; that the few who do step in to help are grace itself, and not whom you'd expect; that no, you are not alone.
Plenty of chirpy how-to's written by people with uber-insurance and tons of help will instruct you about how to do eldercare with nary a chip in the heirloom china or a blip in the happy routine. Let them enjoy their little frolic in la-la land. Cohen's work, like her experience, is real, bless her; bleak, but real. She speaks of the non-assistance given by well-meaning but glibbery-spouting representatives of various medical, social service and long-term-care agencies; she confirms that yes, in this culture of voyeurism, the people at the office and even the relatives prefer to gossip, surmise and create their own fictions about your situation rather than step out of their little claches and ask you directly how you're doing, and if they can help. (They don't want to help; they want to watch the disaster unfold and offer commentary). Some are quick with pious platitudes and inspirational anecdotes, flowery speeches about their affection for the sick person...and fall far short when confronted with the actual circumstances. They don't have it in them to step up.
Cohen rather calmly outlines her family's dysfunction, her mother's unmotherliness, her former "inner circle's" sins of commission and omission; afterward, she finds the strength to accept them in their failings; to extend a sort of forgiveness without forgetting, a result of her own growth as a human being.
This would be a dismal read indeed without moments of light: it is the glimpse of a miracle, a taste of compassion or joy that keeps a caregiver going. When Cohen most needs help, her kind neighbors appear with food, firewood, comfort. When her daughter falls ill, the heating fuel has run out and they are snowed in, it is her father who, pulled momentarily from his Alzheimer's-ravaged twilight, wakes long enough to skillfully build blazing fires (in the stove and fireplace this time, thankfully!)It is a sweet flash of clarity, a shared memory, a three-generation impromptu dance; a comforting belief that someone is looking out for them....even the bears in the woods beyond the treeline, as they amble about their business, are a source of comfort. Such glimpses of life beyond the tragic present make it possible for her to carry on. Cohen's occasional repetitiveness is actually a realistic nod to that out-of-control, almost-breakdown mode in which so many of us have dwelt for months, even years.
Ms. Cohen, thank you for writing this; for cutting so close to yourself and speaking so honestly. What you have written is a history of a child's love for a parent in its most elemental form; not of emotive verbiage but of hard work, physical acts of care, guardianship of a person, body,mind and spirit. It defines what love is.
Cohen was "the child of one, the parent of the other, the caretaker of both." And of this demanding situation she has fashioned a rich memoir about learning and forgetting. About her daughter, on one hand, a girl intent on observing and understanding everything: "She did not miss a single sliver of light falling on the living room floor." And about her father on the other hand: a man of eighty, his mind coming apart in tatters.
It's a classic situation and unique, I believe, in Alzheimer's memoirs: that a woman takes care of both a young child and an old parent, watching as one blooms and the other fades. The increasing joy of Cohen's baby puts her father's misery in perspective--but the balance in the author's life is rarely an easy one.
One day she suggests to her father that they visit some nursing homes. Perhaps he might like the activities there, she tells him. His response is blunt. "`See this?' he said, pointing to his temple with his index finger, cocked like a pistol. `That is where I want to stick a bullet if it comes to that.'"
In this graceful book I rooted for every character.
Most recent customer reviews
conditions. Ms Cohen writes about the landscape of a family caring for an advanced
and more child like in his progression of the disease and her young son growing up from a...Read more