My Mother Believes She is in Jail for Stealing $35,000

Bebe Nicholson

And other fantasies of dementia

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Wikimedia Fandom: Bonanza

My mother was arrested for stealing $35,000 and thrown into jail, where she is waiting for someone to spring her out.

At least, that’s what she told my brother when he phoned.

I was immediately riveted by their conversation. Did she get out of jail? Why did she steal $35,000? And what did she do with all that money?

When she hung up, I said, “If you’re in jail, am I the jailer?”

My mother, who is 101 years old and came to live with me last year, said, “No, you’re not the jailer. I’m not sure where you fit in.”

“Could you steal more than $35,000 next time? Then we could go on a real spending spree,” I said.

Mom laughed and agreed that next time she would aim for a larger amount.

At this point in our conversation, my phone rang. It was my brother, and I had been expecting his call.

“She’s crazy!” he said. “She thinks she’s in jail for stealing $35,000!”

“She got too engrossed in a Bonanza episode,” I explained. “She’s waiting for Little Joe Cartwright to come to her rescue.”

After we hung up, he texted me: “I think you need to limit how much Bonanza Mom watches!”

I thought my brother was unduly alarmed. What’s the big deal if somebody 101 years old wants to indulge in a little fantasy?

“I’ll turn TV to the impeachment hearings,” I texted back. “But then she’ll tell you she’s been impeached. Or maybe, since she’s a Democrat, that she’s doing the impeaching.”

"I heard what happened last night"

On Sunday, my mother didn’t want to put on a mask and go to church with me, so I left her home alone watching television. When I got back, my sister was there. They were having a nice visit, but my sister pulled me into the kitchen and said, “I heard about what happened last night!”

“What happened?” I asked. My daughter-in-law and granddaughter had dropped by the night before, but I couldn’t see how that warranted my sister’s concern.

“About the car without the headlights!” she whispered.

Now I was really confused.

“Mom told me all about it,” my sister continued. “She said when they (being my daughter-in-law and granddaughter) went to get in their car, somebody with the headlights off was lurking in the driveway. You followed them home in your car to make sure they were safe. When the man in the other car saw you, he sped away!”

“One part of that story is true,” I said. “The part about them getting in their car and driving home. The rest is totally fabricated. There was no man without headlights.”

“OMG! You mean she made it up?” My sister couldn’t believe it. "There was no mysterious car with the headlights out? I was riveted by the story!”

She was still incredulous when she said goodbye to our mother, who was perfectly calm and lucid as she sat in her recliner.

My mother doesn’t tell me any of her wild tales, and it’s kind of disappointing. Our conversations are boring. We talk about what we are having for dinner or what the weather is like.

But I’ve started hanging around to eavesdrop whenever she’s on the phone with my brother and sister. It’s much more interesting than anything my imagination has conjured up lately. And I know that within a few minutes of their calls, I’ll have the job of assuring my siblings she isn’t in jail and no one is being stalked.

It's hard for them and everybody else who has known her to believe my sharp, intelligent mother has dementia. But she does.

When she was in the hospital recently for a UTI, she insisted the nurses took her out in the woods to give her a shower.

I'm Learning Her Language

Every time she wants to go to Chick Fil A for chicken nuggets, she says, “Let’s go to Adidas.”

Other people might think she is talking about buying shoes, but I know better. Adidas means she wants nuggets. I’m learning her language.

The problem is, she sounds lucid and convincing. When people call her, she listens to what they say, agrees with them, tells them she is fine, and they seem to be carrying on a normal conversation.

But I know better. After they hang up, I ask her who she was talking to. She always says, “I have no idea.”

Her callers don’t realize that I jump up from whatever I’m doing to answer her cell phone whenever it rings. If I didn’t, she would spend so long fumbling with it that the call would go into voicemail.

One of my cousins called me the other day to say, “You need to get your mother to set up her voicemail! I called three times and she didn’t answer.”

Another cousin called to ask if Mom was okay and if I should take her to a doctor. “She started telling me about meeting John Wayne, right in the middle of our conversation,” my cousin said.

My mother always did like Westerns.

I took her to the doctor for a physical, and she is fine; much healthier than she was when she arrived at my house. If she wants to spin a little yarn now and then, I’ll go along with it.

Where are We Going Today?

When she comes out of the bedroom dressed in her favorite suit, it means she thinks she is going somewhere.

Last week she believed she was headed to her neighbor’s funeral. The thing is, that neighbor died fifty years ago.

I played along with it, knowing she would forget all about the funeral and the neighbor after I turned on Gunsmoke.

This morning, she thought we were going out to breakfast. I can’t take her out to breakfast because she can barely make it to the car.

She would also probably take her teeth out and leave them on the plate. So I made pancakes with Maple syrup and bacon, turned on Bonanza, and she forgot about going out.

My brother continues to worry about her fantasies, but the way I figure it, when you’ve lived to be 101, you deserve to believe Little Joe Cartwright is coming to get you out of jail.

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I've worked as editor, newspaper reporter, freelance writer, and book publisher. My writing includes lifestyle, humor, travel, relationship, family, politics, faith and health articles, along with three published books. In my various careers, I've been a journalist, retail manager, nonprofit director, flight attendant, freelancer and mom. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and Medium.

Alpharetta, GA
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