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The Red Hill
By Colleen Messina
1 Suzanne was nervous about Grandpa's imminent visit. She looked out over the dry, grassy hills of western Montana and sighed with disdain. Her thoughts were as scattered and aimless as the dry tumbleweeds that rolled across her backyard. Would everything go well? Would Grandpa know her?
2 Her grandfather had always been her favorite relative. He only had a high school education, but Suzanne had always thought of him as her best teacher. He had always seemed to embody humility, wisdom, and fun. He had always loved practical jokes! He loved hiking to his favorite promontory whenever they had visited the ocean, and he played the violin beautifullyâ€” or at least, he used to. Suzanne had always looked forward to his visits and eagerly anticipated his advice and insights on life. Until recently.
3 Grandpa had become more and more forgetful. Suzanne had often caught her mom crying during phone calls with him or after the mailman came with a letter from Grandma. One day, Suzanne's mom explained what was happening. Grandpa had Alzheimer's disease. Sixteen-year-old Suzanne had received a much more detailed explanation of the disease than her younger sister had.
4 Her mom explained that structural changes in Grandpa's brain caused his forgetfulness, and that this would gradually take away bits and pieces of Grandpa's memory. Sometimes people with the disease become oblivious to their surroundings or belligerent about what was happening to them. No one knew exactly what caused Alzheimer's disease, but nothing could stop or neutralize the devastating effects on Grandpa's brain. Suzanne knew that Grandpa was coming to stay with them so Grandma could have a rest. Her father had driven to Grandma and Grandpa's house to pick Grandpa up, and they would be back any minute.
5 Suzanne wondered what they would do together now. Grandpa used to love to hike around Suzanne's house. About a mile away stood a rocky, red hill where cactus grew. Suzanne and Grandpa had often hiked there together to look at the rose quartz crystals that sparkled on the hill. Sometimes they watched eagles soar and dip with effortless grace. Grandpa loved the wide, endless skies and the variegated desert flowers that clung with determination to the ruddy slopes. Even now, the smell of dusty, arid air always reminded Suzanne of her hikes with Grandpa.
6 Suzanne heard the car door slam. She ran to the door. Her heart leapt when she saw Grandpa. He didn't look different. He hugged her. Despite his illness, his eyes retained the dazzling, blue clarity that reminded Suzanne of a summer sky after a storm. After a moment, she felt confident that she could help her family and her dear Grandpa.
7 "Grandpa, I want to show you my pennant from our basketball tournament, and then maybe we can go for a hike!" said Suzanne. "We can go visit the red hill!"
8 "What is the red hill?" asked Grandpa.
9 Suzanne felt awful. He didn't remember. She ran to get her pennant as she tried to sort out her mixed feelings. She felt sad, confused, and angry all at once. She wanted to help, and she wanted to run away at the same time!
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