Author Laura Hendrie grew up in Colorado Springs, one of five sisters raised in the Broadmoor area of the city. In recent years, Hendrie, now a resident of northern New Mexico, visited the Springs often to care for her mother who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. As the disease slowly erased her mother's ability to verbalize and eventually took her life, Remember Me became the author's way of surviving that loss.
On a recent trip to Denver to promote Remember Me at the Mountains and Plains Booksellers annual meeting, Hendrie detoured to the Springs for an interview with the Independent. On Tuesday, Oct. 5, Hendrie will return for a book signing at the Chinook Bookshop.
Indy: To what extent is Alice, the character with Alzheimer's, based on your mother?
Hendrie: Some things were similar, like Alice getting lost. Some behaviors are classically Alzheimer's. My mom did get lost once, up at the stock show in Denver. We found her in the parking lot, the way they found Alice in the book. I couldn't write about my mother, though, so I started writing about homelessness instead. But when Alice appeared in the story, she had Alzheimer's but was different enough from my mom that I could start talking about her.
Indy: What did you learn from the experience of being with your mother through the course of the disease?
Hendrie: [I learned a lot about] the idea that memories make up a person. I discovered in my mother the essence that is left when memory is gone, and that's something I deeply appreciated out of the Alzheimer's experience.
Also, my mother needed me. There was a wonderful stability I had not known before that stemmed from that fact. I didn't do things like drive my car like crazy, because I was doing something bigger than just living my own life.
Indy: To what extent is the small town of Queduro true to the place where you live?
Hendrie: Well, it is a small town on the cusp of change. The people of Queduro are struggling to figure out who they are once the tourists start moving in. That's a phenomenon happening all over the Southwest, where communities are selling tradition to tourists.
And I think in small towns, people being pushed out does happen a lot. There are certain taboos people cannot face, like, say, prostitution. [A theme of the book is] what happens when someone doesn't fit in.
Indy: Is embroidery actually a traditional craft of northern New Mexico?
Hendrie: (Laughs.) That's great. I'm so glad you asked that. [There's weaving and other traditional crafts], but I made it up completely. The idea came from a New York Times story, a photo of a convict, a felon. In prison, he unraveled socks and underwear for thread and made these exquisite 2-inch-square embroideries. That image was just imprinted on my brain, then a friend gave me a book of samplers of American embroidery, and I just took it from there.
Indy: What do you want people to take away from this book?
Hendrie: I'm concerned with the way we label people, making them outsiders. You know, we say she's homeless. She has Alzheimer's. He's an alcoholic. All these labels we apply to people to distinguish them from ourselves. [And by creating that distance] we allow people to slip. My mom almost got arrested when she was sick, for stealing a fur coat at a country club. And these were people who knew her.
I think one of the big problems in the world is people need to build the kinds of community where we know and take care of each other. If the book has any effect on people, I hope people will ask, "Who do I take care of? Who takes care of me?"