No Maters or Taters: A Recipe of Caregiving

Arriving at the Scothurst Golf Course in Raeford, N.C. a little after 8 a.m. on April 30, 2022, the car of Maxine Jones was full of freshly prepared breakfast items for the inaugural Belton’s Golf to End Alzheimer’s Tournament. Her three sons, their spouses, twelve grandchildren, and nineteen great grandchildren were among those who helped unload the biscuits, eggs, sausage patties, and bacon Maxine had worked to prepare since the wee hours of the morning. She diligently ensured every golfer had plenty to eat and put a little extra on their plates with a smile. Later, a homemade spaghetti feast welcomed the participants and volunteers back after their day of golf, which raised over $7,200 for their company’s Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s® team. Not on the menu that day: maters or taters. Maxine has known for over sixty years that her beloved husband, Belton Jones, ate almost anything she made…except tomatoes or potatoes. And even now, eight years following his passing after a devastating battle with Alzheimer’s disease, she still smiles at her husband’s dislike of the vegetables he called “maters and taters.”

Maxine and Belton met on the school bus when she was in the 7th grade.  Belton had recently moved with his six siblings to Cumberland County as foster children after losing their parents. His uncle drove the school bus and as Maxine recalls, “I saw him sitting on the bus when I boarded, and he was very shy. But I smiled at him, and he smiled at me. Later, Belton told me that it was love at first sight and he just had to somehow talk to that ‘pretty little girl’.” She went on to share that the feeling was mutual, as she gave up her seat later that morning in her homeroom classroom to Belton so that he could sit next to one of the more gregarious classmates, Carwell. She thought it would help Belton to overcome his shyness and gain comfort in his new surroundings since Carwell knew and was liked by everyone.  Carwell continues to be a friend of the Jones family. As the only Native American School in the county, Les Maxwell High School, Belton and Maxine were together from that point on in their education and were close friends. Even though they didn’t realize he was four years her senior, Maxine and her parents loved him and his gentle spirit. Belton eventually asked her on a date to the outdoor movie theater. Maxine shares with a laugh, “I brought my three-year-old adopted little sister along with me as a safety net because Belton and I had never hung out by ourselves before; we were always in a group.” Shortly thereafter, Belton asked her parents for Maxine’s hand in marriage, promising that he would support her in finishing her education. They gave their consent and in June of 1963, then 17-year-old Maxine and 21-year-old Belton were married. Fulfilling their promise, the next year Maxine became the first person in her family to graduate from high school. As the young couple began putting down roots, the man Belton worked for in the septic tank business retired and offered it to the Jones family to purchase. That’s how Belton’s Septic Tank Service began, which now has a legacy of three generations running the family business.

Over the next fifty years of their marriage, Maxine describes Belton as her teammate, and that he possessed an excellent work ethic while being a devoted father, grandfather, and friend. In his free time, he had a great love of fishing, of which he passed down to his sons and grandchildren. Maxine found great joy in cooking for her family and anyone who came to visit their home. Belton would always have a great appetite, according to Maxine, except he would remind her “no maters or taters” for him if they were on the menu.

In early 2005, Maxine noticed changes in behavior that were very unlike Belton. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she shares, “Belton got up and left out of the room. The doctor asked if that was a normal reaction for him and I told him no, it was very unusual for him to do something like that.” After some time passed, the two went on a fishing trip and was returning home when they saw a cloud of smoke coming from the direction of their home. Concerned their home was on fire, Belton accelerated. Upon arriving, Maxine recalls how relieved she was that it was their grandson, Mark, driving his Go Kart on the long dirt driveway beside their home, causing a cloud of dust cloud that looked like smoke. Their home was safe. She quickly became alarmed, however, when Belton uncharacteristically scolded their grandchild in a raised voice and said he would “call the law on him.” Mark’s dad, Terry, arrived soon after the incident in tears to ask his father why he would say such a thing. To Maxine and Terry’s surprise, Belton denied the whole incident, did not recall saying anything to Mark, became frustrated, and walked out of the house. Maxine agreed with her sons that she needed to go with Belton to his next doctor’s appointment to share their concerns. At that appointment, Belton told his primary care physician, “something’s happening” and Maxine inquired about cognitive testing.

After completing initial testing, Belton was diagnosed at 60 years old with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease; a diagnosis Maxine shares was so unexpected, and she felt completely unprepared for still recovering from her own cancer battle. She had great difficulty seeing her patient and kind husband develop anxiety and anger as the disease progressed. Belton experienced increasing challenges in the evening with sundowning, which increases irritability and restlessness as the daylight disappears and night begins. Maxine served as his primary caregiver, even when the difficult decision was made to move him into a skilled nursing facility. She would faithfully arrive daily to help him bathe, as Belton didn’t trust anyone else to do for him. After two facilities, two falls, and two hospital visits, the Jones’ grandsons – Matthew and Mark – offered to move in to help their grandma take care of Belton at home. Maxine recalls what a blessing it was to have her husband home and she immediately started cooking for him to regain the weight he had lost.

As the end neared, Belton no longer spoke, and hospice care was brought in to help the family. Still endeavoring to help him stay well fed, Maxine tried making healthy foods for him to eat. One day, she shared with tears in her eyes and a smile, she made a vegetable soup. As she fed him, Belton looked at her with clarity after a few bites and spoke for the first time in weeks, “no maters or taters.” Maxine, delighted to hear her husband’s voice, says, “Of all things, that’s what got him to talking!” In 2014, Belton passed away peacefully surrounded by his family after an eight-year journey with Alzheimer’s.

It was then that Maxine’s granddaughter learned of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and encouraged her family to participate. Ever since, the Jones family and the employees of Belton’s Septic Tank Service, have faithfully walked together in his memory. So far this year, their walk team has raised almost $8,000 for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Fayetteville which is taking place on October 29 at Segra Stadium. Their business logo is in purple, the official color of Alzheimer’s awareness and Maxine has made it her mission to share with anyone she meets about the resources available from the Alzheimer’s Association to provide care and support for caregivers. She says, “Had I known about the Association while my Belton was with us, it would have helped us, and me, so much. So now I try to tell others that they’re not alone in this. There is help.”

Recently, Maxine learned that Belton had Alzheimer’s on both sides of his parent’s family tree. An uncle on his dad’s side in addition to two aunts on his mother’s side passed from Alzheimer’s. Maxine now supports the family of Belton’s brother, who has recently been diagnosed with the disease. When asked what advice she would share with families or caregivers with loved ones who are living with the disease, Maxine says that, in addition to utilizing the Alzheimer’s Association’s resources, she would emphasize patience and finding the joy in the small things. Belton’s legacy lives on through his family’s efforts to raise awareness and funds to find a cure for this dreadful disease. Maxine continues to be an advocate for the cause and when sharing their story, will always have a special place in her heart for her husband’s special request of “no maters or taters.”

LIKE MAXINE & BELTON’S SEPTIC TANK SERVICE, WE ALL HAVE A REASON TO FIGHT FOR A WORLD WITHOUT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE. Join your local Walk to End Alzheimer’s today as an individual, team, or sponsor.

The Alzheimer’s Association hosts 17 walks across North Carolina. The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Since 1989, the Alzheimer’s Association® mobilized millions of Americans in the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk®; now the Alzheimer’s Association is continuing to lead the way with Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Together, we can end Alzheimer’s. Your health and safety are our top priorities. We will continue to closely monitor CDC, state and local guidelines to ensure Walk events adhere to the latest recommendations.

Alamance County9/24/2022
Guilford County10/15/2022
Henderson County9/24/2022
Iredell County9/24/22
Mount Airy09/10/2022
New Bern10/22/2022
Unifour (formerly Hickory)10/29/2022
Triangle (Raleigh-Durham)10/15/22
Moore County11/12/2022

Alzheimer’s isn’t stopping and neither are we.

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