Remember this

Mara Ditchfield
Mara Ditchfield as Amanda Randall Jensen in "Closure," part of the first series of Island Interludes on May 11 and 12. Photo by Ralph Stewart

By Amandine Surier - May 24, 2007

The Rev. Arlene Bodge, formerly the pastor of the Chilmark Community Church and the Edgartown United Methodist Church, woke up one morning to find one of her thumbnails painted pink. She was not the type of woman who used nail polish. She sat in her bed, looking around for clues that would trigger her memory and explain the pink thumbnail.

Ms. Bodge is not just forgetful. She was diagnosed three and a half years ago with the degenerative Alzheimer's disease. Since the diagnostic, clue hunting has become part of her routine and writing about her memory loss, a way to cope with the disease.

Maureen Hourihan noticed something was off with her father. The loud, loving Irish man had become quiet and distant. His world was getting smaller; he would rarely get out of his routine. "How was the ride from the Cape?" he would ask, "I live in New Jersey now, Dad," "Yes, yes, of course you do." He made mistakes.

Nancy Luedeman and Jill Macy
"Coming Home" with Nancy Luedeman (left) and Jill Macy was inspired by a rabbi's sermon, and was one of four plays performed at the Vineyard Playhouse.

One day, at the Thanksgiving table, he tried to poke an extra hole in his belt with a sharp knife. The next day, Maureen took him to the hospital. It was Alzheimer's, they said. To deal with the pain, she also wrote.

Last weekend both these women were presenting their different perspectives on Alzheimer's at Island Interludes at the Vineyard Playhouse for a night of readings, short plays and discussion.

In front of a room half full, Ms. Bodge started the evening with four short clips. With "Swiss cheese memory," she made the audience laugh, referring to her scrambled brain and comparing her story telling to a fifth grade fill-in-the-blanks exercise. With a caustic humor, she described her life with a notepad tied to her bedpost and her endless note taking on the corner of pink envelopes, or on post-its that she stuck to her sweaters.

In "You seem fine to me," she talked about the frustration she felt when hearing that phrase. "Do they really think I'm making this up?" she asked. "I guess I'm too smart, too articulate, too well groomed. I should start wearing different color socks so people would believe me."

The minister's clips were the perfect prelude to Ms. Hourihan's short plays.

In three scenes, "Slow Train Coming," the "Starlight Crystal Ball" and "Homeward Dove," Ms. Hourihan painted a touching picture of her charismatic father as he slipped away.

From his late diagnostic to his quiet death alongside a loud Vietnam veteran, she retraced the journey that took her from anger to acceptance. "What if I forget?" Francis asked his daughter in a moment of clarity. "I'll remember," she said. She'll remember for the both of them.

"Writing these plays has helped me go through the pain and get to the other side," Ms. Hourihan said. "I figured this disease is like a slow train coming; you can't get out of the way; you can't stop it .... You just have to get on board and maybe, you can even drive a little in the end."

Amandine Surier is a contributing writer for The Times.