Dementia books often describe the memory loss as a row of dominoes - the most recent are already collapsed, those a bit further back are leaning....and the childhood memory blocks are still standing.
But sometimes, even those further back are flat and need to be propped up.
We know Okaasan's stories better than she and last night had to help her pick up the fallen domino.
A year ago or more, ANYTIME the words "wartime"or "school" or "Korea" were in the conversation, Okaasan would launch into her story about the schoolfriend who had a strange name, and the day after war ended she didn't come back to school - so Okaasan realized that maybe she was Korean and had gone back to Korea etc.
We knew the story by heart. She told it so many times.
Last night's dinner was kimuchee nabe, kind of cook-on-the-table-hot-pot with Korean-spicy-cabbage - so of course "Korea" and "Korean people" was the dinner topic.
Okaasan started well - she actually introduced the story that when she was a child Koreans did the dirty jobs like collecting the rags and people looked down on them, and how sad that was etc.
There were many Koreans living in Japan.
"Ah yes, your friend at school was Korean wasn't she?" I prompted.
"My friend? School? I forget...."
"Yes, your friend her name was Tamako or something, wasn't it....when the war ended she didn't come back to school."
Yujiro joined in with a few prompts.
But nothing. Okaasan had no memory of this favorite old story. It was bizarre.
After several minutes of us retelling HER story, she began to join in and finally was telling it again...sort of...not using the words she used to have for the story...more using the words we'd just used...but kind of propping up the memory domino.
Afterwards I thought - that story hasn't featured at all in the past year. At one time it appeared several times a week in connection with "wartime" and "school" or "Korea". Now it's almost gone.