This is probably the last time I’ll be able to relieve my mother of her eldercare duties, for a while anyway, so I drive up with Dad, and they take off for the Berkshires.

Some things are the same.

“Here are the dogs!” Denture-smacking. Cribbage shit-talk. Laughing at weird things: “‘Armed officer sends school into lockdown‘ ha ha ha.” Uncle Russell still steadfastly refuses to glue his upper plate in and often takes it out and sets it on the coffee table while he gums his dinner. One night I hear a tickety-tickety and look up from my book to find Redford trying the dentures on for size. Thank god he didn’t bite down very hard.

Some things are different.

His hearing aids whistle and squeal nonstop now. Between that and the denture-smacking, at least I always know where he is.

Also, Mom has started putting out a sign for him

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so he doesn’t accidentally double up on his meds. His Alzheimer’s pill enables him to be more accurate in counting his cribbage hands, but an extra dose makes him… frisky. Once, after a double dose, he walked up behind an in-home care person as she made brownies, pinched her rear end, and told her he wanted to sample her goodies.

His vocalizing has ramped up too. Now it’s not just repeating newspaper headlines. It’s repeating them and repeating them and repeating them for 15 minutes at a time sometimes. If I had a dollar for every time I hear, “Drug treatment center gets new life,” I’d probably have enough money to put him in a nursing home.

“Disney club hits high note” is uttered almost as many times but with “high note” spoken an octave above the rest. It makes me giggle. The first 50 times.

Sometimes he repeats phrases so many times and so quickly that they become unintelligible. “Twelve fifteen,” he says after glancing at his watch. (It’s 11:10.) “Twelve fifteen, twelve fitteen, twelve fittee, twalvittee, twalviddeetwalviddeetwalviddee… twalviddeetwalviddeetwalviddee.”

One thing about Russell is he’s… well, I won’t say obsessive-compulsive, but he’s definitely fastidious. He likes things to be tidy and in their place.

He mentions the piles of newspapers in the garage and how much they bother him. I suggest we take them to the town dump, and he likes that idea. About half of the load will fit in my trunk, which I figure is perfect, in case Mom is saving some for the wood stove or decoupage or something. I carry great stacks to the back of my car. He squares the corners of every pile. On the drive there, he mentions the dump sticker. Crap, I forgot you’re supposed to have a sticker on your car to get in.

We pull up to the gate. I smile sweetly at the guy sitting on a utility stool outside the shed and explain the situation: my mom took her car on vacation, I’m caring for my great uncle, here’s his street address. “Well, you can’t go in unless you have a dump sticker,” says the man.

Is there anything more frustrating and pathetic than a peon wielding the tiny bit of power he has? “Maddening,” says Russell. Agreed.

We turn around and go home. Russell wants to unload the newspapers in the driveway. I tell him I don’t know when Mom’ll be home, and I don’t want them to get rained on. He’s very frustrated. I distract him by handing him a rake and the yard waste can. He starts picking up leaves and sticks, and I unload all the newspapers back into the garage. It’s fine. Later I find out Mom will put them under the mulch in her gardens to keep the weeds down.

He’s restless. I’m listless. He needs a thing to do, but I don’t have the energy or knowledge to give him orders. Fortunately, two light bulbs have burned out, so we simply must take a trip to Stop & Shop to buy new ones. At home, he replaces them and is sated for a while.

“When are these folks coming back then?” he asks. My parents.

“I don’t know,” I say. Really, it can’t be soon enough for either of us.

I remind myself once again that my mom has done this for nine years.