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Father’s Day 2013 …. A gorgeous day for a walk with Dad….

Chris and Dad on Father's Day 2013, Leonard J. Buck Gardens, Far Hills, NJ

Chris and Dad on Father’s Day 2013, Leonard J. Buck Gardens, Far Hills, NJ

The frogs croaked loudly, harmonizing with the screaming mating call of the cicadas when I arrived at Chelsea to spend Father’s Day with Dad.  I awoke him from his slumbers.  Forget the shower…. we’re going for a walk on this beautiful day!

oops…… Leonard J. Buck Garden doesn’t open until noon.  No problem.  Dad had missed breakfast. I had whisked him off without even a cup of coffee.

Coconut Truffles for breakfast?

Coconut Truffles for breakfast?

There’s a lovely cafe just up the road from the garden.  While Dad held our table, I ordered breakfast….. double cappuccino, bran muffin, spinach quiche and coconut truffles. Dad was a bit confused by starting the day with coconut truffles while we waited for our quiche to be heated.  Perfect time to write a poem.

Patches of Blue

A table out front

Of a sidewalk cafe

We sit in bright sun

Daughter, Chris and I

The sun shines brightly

Upon the paper I write

The cars roll by

The pedestrians are chattering.

The sun shines so brightly

Upon the paper I’m writing

While Chris waits expectant

For something to be “said”.

But, words seem to delude me

a most common thing

Words are most powerful things

If carefully used.

Watching Dad ponder over his words while the quiche cools.

Watching Dad ponder over his words while the quiche cools.

We returned to Leonard J. Buck Garden, greeted by open gates.

Admiring beauty

Admiring beauty

We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to walk the gardens, the paths drenched in the fragrance of blossoms bursting from the wet, spring weather.

Walking without destination

Walking without destination

We tackled one of the steeper paths and rested on a bench when we reached to top of the hill.  Dad commented on the noise of the cicadas.  It was a perfect time for me to pull out the letter I had written for him seventeen years ago.  He listened intently as I read it aloud.

Seventeen Years Ago

Seventeen Years Ago

At the end, he patted my knee and nodded.

The descent

The descent

Climbing up the hill was far easier than descending.  My heart was in my throat most of the time.

“Steady, Dad….. steady.”

He made it down safely.  Stopped, took a deep breath and looked up at the sky.

Reflections

Reflections

We stopped one more time to rest on a bench beside the pond.  We sat in silence for a long time until Dad remarked, “Life is good.”

“Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Yes, life is good.”

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May 30, 2013

It’s difficult to predict how many more walks my father and I will take together.  It could be a hundred …. and it could be only one. Dementia of any kind is such a puzzle, and totally unpredictable.

Do I really need both?

Do I really need both?

Dad appeared to be in another world today, distant, unengaged.  Though he had a great deal of difficulty getting out of his chair.  Once he was on his feet, he moved slowly……. very s-l-o-w-ly, but well-balanced and cautious. His standard remarks were left unsaid.  He didn’t glance at the sky until I mentioned it to him.  He didn’t ask about my family, or how I’ve been, or where we were going. He voiced only one concern.

“I don’t need both of those, do I?”

The opportunity to ask that same question came up at least six times before we headed to the herb garden at Lord Stirling Park.  I continued to simplify my answer until I ended up with.

“Either both or a walker, Dad.”

He surprised me the last time by saying, “Oh, I pulled you down, didn’t I?”

Months ago I had stopped mentioning the episode of his falling and yanking me down beside him on the ground.  It had only distressed him to think that he might have hurt me.  Perhaps memories continue to be made, only to be called into action at random.

I handed Dad his green sketchbook and pencil as we sat side by side in the herb garden.  As usual, he began reading his previous poems.  I assumed that he was avoiding writing something new.  Because of his extreme silence and lack of response to anything we passed on the way to the park, I decided to see what would happen if I didn’t remind him to write a new poem.  I began to draw….

Birdhouse beside the pond, Lord Stirling Park, NJ

Birdhouse by the pond, Lord Stirling Park

No more than five minutes passed before Dad settled in and put pencil to paper!  He didn’t even glance around at his surroundings.  He bent his head and focused on the words that poured from his pencil.  I suppose he doesn’t need to look around anymore to know what he would see. He feels the air on his cheeks and he knows he is outdoors.

Dad writing a poem

Dad writing a poem

On a Bench in the Park, Chris and Dad

The solid blue sky

Hovers overhead

While one tiny bird

Chirps a nice tune

The song of the bird

Is the only sound.

The leaves wave

But no breeze is heard.

That’s about all

There is to be said.

Enjoy the quietness

There is to be had.

I checked for the date

But my computer is dead.

So we’ll enjoy the silence

That is to be had.

June 30, 2014

When Dad’s phone appeared to be dead, he asked me the date.  I told him it was June 30th (my mistake…. it was still May).  For more than a year now he has thought it is 2014.  I was puzzled by his phone being dead since he had unplugged it from the charger right before we left Chelsea.  His phone was charged.  He just forgot how to turn it on.

Fortunately the bugs are not out yet at Lord Stirling Park.  We had a lovely, silent, s-l-o-w walk along the somewhat soggy paths.  Dad watched his feet the whole time, never looking up to the sky or out into the marshes.  It appeared that moving one foot in front of the other demanded all of his attention.  I’m glad I captured him square dancing a couple of weeks ago.

We took a short path, but not the shortest.  I spotted a bench and asked if he wanted to rest.  He shook his head and kept walking.  The day had grown quite warm and I feared Dad might overheat.  He had refused to change into his shorts, insisting that he would be fine in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

“Big sips, Dad, not tiny mouth sips.”

Each time Dad handed the water bottle back to me the water level looked about the same.

The trail brought us back to the herb garden where I found a bench in the shade of a grove of trees.  Out came the green sketchbook and pencil.  Again Dad read a few of his previous poems, and then set his mind to writing …. without any coaxing or coercing from me!

At a Later Date, Another Stroll in the Park

It’s quite warm.

Sweat runs down my right cheek.

Tiny birds flitter by.

A spider crawls across the page.

Tree’s leaves

Block the rays

Making it cool

To sit on the park bench

Resting the legs, —

Soothing the soul.

Nibbled Leaf

Nibbled Leaf

On occasion I’m asked why I draw rusty pipes, run-down shacks, lopsided trees and eaten leaves.  Why not draw lovely, new houses and perfectly shaped trees and leaves?

“Because real life is never perfect, except in its imperfectness, in its struggle and celebration of survival.”

I remember my first job, picking strawberries at Johnson’s Farm when I was fourteen.  I ended up being hired to work at the fruit stand where I sold the berries picked fresh each morning.  Most people wanted the large, perfectly shaped strawberries.  I sold them the big, beautiful berries wearing a smile on my face. They were practically tasteless, beauty without flavor.  I knew that the most delicious berries, the odd-looking little runts called “Sparkles” were the sweetest, most delicious of all the varieties and they would be the ones that hadn’t sold at the end of the day.  The Johnsons and I would be feasting on Sparkles for dessert after supper.  Some of the best moments are disguised by imperfections.

In the end, my walks with Dad will be among the many highlights of my life.  Fast or s-l-o-w, we walk together, sometimes talking, sometimes not.  Each step is so precious.

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Last week, Thursday, February 7, 2013 in preparation for Valentine’s Day

Without hesitation, Dad began to write ……

Dad writing love poem for Jane

Dad writing love poem for Jane

A poem seems fitting

This Valentine;s Day

For someone I love

Who’s name, I say

Is Jane

Whenever I think of her

I picture a smile

For, it is there,

All the while

It’s her style!

Focused on love

Focused on love

Dad has forgotten so many things, so many people, so many years of his life.  What he has not forgotten are the children of the world  and the loved ones who bring so much joy to his life.

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Dementia is baffling.  The workings of the brain are beyond anything I can understand.  I am simply in awe of it’s power and flexibility.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Dad was a bit more than reluctant to take a shower and change into clean clothing.

“I already showered this morning, Chris.”

That might have been true, but unlikely.  I wasn’t going to take his word for it.

“Two showers a day is simply ridiculous.”  Grumble, grumble, grumble.  Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle……

Panic Button and Electric Razor

Panic Button and Electric Razor

Jane found Dad’s new electric razor in pieces on the floor earlier in the week.  I put it back together. Luckily, it still works!  Amazing.  While Dad showered, I sketched his panic button necklace and his razor.

Dad came out of the bathroom smiling.  Embracing the mood change, I suggested we draw together before playing cards.

Playing Cards waiting to be dealt

Playing Cards waiting to be dealt

For the first time in months, he offered no resistance at all.

“Oh, you mean a drawing where I don’t look at the paper?”

“Yes.”

I was stunned that Dad remembered how to do a contour drawing.  It’s been more than a year since he’s known what a contour drawing is.  I asked him to pick one of the three objects on the table.

Dad's contour drawing

Dad’s contour drawing

He drew all three, the clock, the panic button and the electric razor.  He even drew the numbers on the clock without looking once at his paper.  He was on a roll.

“Dad, do you think you could write a short poem next to your drawing?”

“Sure.”

Again….. no resistance.  I began to wonder if I’d stepped into the Twilight Zone.

While Dad wrote, I drew the nail clippers purchased on one of our Indiana Trips by way of the Smoky Mountains.

Smoky Mountains Nail Clippers

Smoky Mountains Nail Clippers

Though Dad’s hygiene leaves a lot to be desired these days, he still takes excellent care of his fingernails.

Dad-writing-poem-in-green-sketchbook-011213-web

Dad writing a poem for his drawing

Looking in space

With pencil and paper

Leaves some sense

Perhaps

It just remains

To be seen

Hm-m-m

To end an exceptional day together, he won playing Rummy 500.  Amazing Dad!

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While I was checking with Ashley to see how Dad made out at Chelsea during the three days Chelsea was without heat during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Dad slipped into the dining hall for lunch.  I panicked when there was no response to my knocking on his door.

“I think he went to lunch” remarked a woman in the hallway.  She was correct.  The dining hall had been empty when I arrived. Dad now sat alone, reading his paper.  I whisked him away before he could place his order.

Deciding on a suitable outer garment for the day’s adventure presented more of a challenge than I might have expected.  We settled on his red sweater and his yellow sweatshirt in spite of the fact that the sweater is missing three buttons.  Fortunately, there are four extra buttons sewn to the collar ????  I’ll cut off the extra buttons and use them to replace the missing ones.

We stopped at Muscle Maker Grill for lunch before exploring the condition of the Hofheimer Grotto trail.  Dad quickly decided on a chicken breast sandwich as well as a baked potato as his side dish.  Wow!  No indecisiveness today!

“And would you like a beverage?” asked the woman behind the counter.

“Coffee, please.”

“Dad, they don’t have coffee here, would you like water?”

“What?  No coffee?  That’s impossible.”

“Dad, they don’t have coffee here.”

“They have to have coffee …. everybody has coffee.  What kind of a place doesn’t have coffee?  How can a place stay in business if they don’t serve coffee?”

I grabbed a bottle of lemon water and led Dad, still carrying on about the coffee, to a table where I distracted him by pulling out his green sketchbook and pencil.

“Dad, please write a poem about not being able to order coffee.”

No Coffee?

What? No Coffee?

Unheard of, —

What is a restaurant like, —

That has — NO COFFEE?!

I do not ever, ever

Remember going to a restaurant

That does not have

coffee!

Woops. — Chris tells me

That we have been here

Seven (well at least five) times, —–

And they have never had coffee.

(Hey, —- how do they

Stay in business? Hmmmmm?

Men at the Muscle Maker Grill

While Dad wrote, I drew the men sitting at the counter enjoying their food and non-caffeinated beverages.  He finished his poem in record time.  I hoped to burn off the remainder of his disgruntled mood by asking him to draw the bottle of lemon water.

The DASANI bottle of lemon flavored water

Dad devoured his lunch, all but the potato skin.  I thought it best to squeeze one more poem out of him before we took our walk.

Opportunities

Opportunities

Minutes of each day

Are full “to the brim”

With opportunities.

We can write

We can sleep

We can sit and think, –

But once the minutes are gone, –

They’re gone.

“Are you done?”

Chris asks.

“I’m not done.’

That’s my answer.

I’m still at it.

Thankfully

Dad

Opportunities

Staying “at it”

Is the key.

Always having a goal.-

Is food for the soul.

Food for the soul.

We left the Muscle Maker Grill and drove up the road to the grotto trail.  In spite of the multitude of trees fallen from the winds of the hurricane, we made it to Hofheimer Grotto by starting at the end of the trail loop rather than the beginning.

Trying to make sense of the fallen trees

Dad has a habit of knocking off dead branches and attacking limbs that are in the way of paths.  I imagined Dad creating a domino effect of falling trees with his good intentions of clearing the path.  I’ve become more cautious while walking with Dad, hoping to keep him safe from falls and injury.  Rather than walk the trail through the woods, climbing over fallen trees and risking more trees falling on top of us, we walked around the five ball fields.

Ball fields

“Did I ever tell you I used to pitch softball?

Thinking about pitching softball

“I practiced by throwing the ball at a knothole in a board on the side of the barn.  I got pretty good … until someone accused me of throwing sidearm.”

“What happened then, Dad?”

“I didn’t know I was throwing sidearm, but you’re supposed to throw underhand.  I lost both speed and accuracy.”

“How old were you?”

“Oh, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.”

We made our rounds of the ball fields and ended up back at the bleachers.  I suggested to Dad that he write a little bit about pitching softball.  I had jotted down a few notes about him pitching sidearm.  Instead of writing in my sketchbook, I had written in his by mistake.  He appeared baffled by my notes.

Reading and re-reading my notes

After a lengthy spell of reading my notes, Dad put pencil to paper.

Reviewing his words

He wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and wrote.  He reviewed his words and wrote more.  He turned the page and wrote more.

Dad writing about pitching softball …. or so I thought

What a strange day.   Dad fought me tooth and nail, not wanting to write at lunch, not wanting to write after our walk, yet there he sat scribbling away.  Occasionally he stopped and looked as if he had finished.

“Could you read me what you wrote?” I asked.

“No, I’m still at it.”

I picked up my pen and sketched Dad’s gloves peeking out of his pocket.

Gloves in Dad’s Sweatshirt Pocket

Somehow, Dad had switched gears…..

Softball Pitcher at age Fifteen

Trapping For Muskrats in Indiana

A near-one-mile-long creek ran through our farm in Indiana.  It ran through our corn and wheat fields.  The banks were 1-3 feet high, perfect for muskrat “runs”.  I would set steel traps at the base of these runs.  They were very effective in catching the muskrats.  A chain would run from the trap to a stake driven in the middle of the stream.  The muskrat would start down the run, get trapped at the base of the run, and get tangled up with the chain wrapped around the stake in the middle of the stream.  The muskrat would drown trying to escape.  I would sell the muskrats for $1 each.  Our hired -hand, Owen Connor, lived in an upstairs bedroom, ate three meals a day with us, and was paid $1 per day.  He was a bachelor who was born and raised in Kentucky, and smoked Tuxedo tobacco in a pipe.  He wore out two or three pairs of gloves a year, “shucking corn”. He would “shuck” a wagon-load in one day, working perhaps 10 hours, – drive the horse-drawn wagon to the corn crib, – come in the house to eat supper, then go out after supper and shovel the load of corn from the wagon to the corn bin on the barn.  It was a long day – a typical day.  My job was to feed and milk the cows, and run the milk through the “separator” (separating its cream from the milk). About once a week, I would churn a batch of butter from cream skimmed each morning and evening from the milk.  I loved the taste of the buttermilk from the butter jar.

Well then ….. walks with Dad get more interesting all the time.  Maybe next time, after we talk about trapping muskrats, Dad will write something about pitching softball.

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October 25, 2012 ….. Happy Birthday, Jane!  With love from Dad and Chris.  Poems written by Dave Carter.  Drawings by Chris Carter

Jane reading the collection of love poems to Dad

Dad and I combined our skills and presented Jane with a handmade, coptic bound collection of love poems Dad wrote specifically for the special woman in his life, Jane.  I added drawings I’ve done of Dad writing while on our Thursday walks.

page 1

page 3

page 5

page 7

page 9

page 11

page 13

page 15

page 17

page 19

page 21

Happy Birthday, Jane!

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

When Dad opened his door I was glad I’d taken my vitamins.

Dad writing a poem in his big black chair

He seemed quite content to return to his big black chair.  I handed him his green sketchbook and mechanical pencil.

Nothing ……

We headed for Lord Stirling Park.

Pushing for Poems

Pushing for Poems, –

May not work well, –

Good poems flow, –

Without a push – or a pull

I could write more words

But these words about

Say it pretty well

Adding more, would be dull.

***

“Those words are OK,

But don’t you have more?”

I am sure that I do,

But, — where did they go?

Walking the Trail, Lord Stirling Park

Though not a great day for writing, it was a wonderful day to walk the trails.

An incredible sky

Dad concentrates on his footing, often forgetting to turn his head from side to side.  I remind him to look at the autumn colors and the beautiful sky.

Dad stopping to admire the sky

When reminded, he stops to soak up the beauty of the clouds, calculating the speed of them as they make their way across the sea of blue.

autumn begins in New Jersey

Each new moment is more beautiful than the last.  When I ask Dad if he knows what season it is… he doesn’t.  When I ask him what year it is he replies, “2014”.

Lost in a world of autumn grass

One foot in front of the other.  One foot in front of the other.  No stories, no questions.  One foot in front of the other.

A winding path

We weave our way through the fields of grass.  The insects, birds and frogs scream loudly but Dad hears only the roar of a distant plane.  That, too, becomes silent.

Retracing our steps

In spite of precautions, nature calls and Dad heads into the woods.  I call to him when he fails to return.  He is making his own way, deeper into the woods.  We call, back and forth, until he has returned to me.

Turning back

I decide to turn back, knowing that Dad needs a rest.  We return to the herb garden where our journey began.

Black-Eyed Susans, past their prime

We sit on the benches

Chris and I – Resting from our fresh

walk through the woods

Clouds drift by

While we both write.

The clouds seem the same

As they did years ago, –

When I, as a kid

Looked up at the sky

I could write more

But the words, above,

Seem to say all, —

That I have to say, today.

Sept 20, 2012

Birdhouse at the edge of the pond beside the fragrant herbs

The silence is awesome

The leaves are still

The clouds in the sky

Seem to be frozen pell mell.

No movement at all

Can be seen, even when

Clouds are lined up with branches

Hanging down, quietly and still.

Some days are better than others.  Today was beautiful.  I will remember the sounds, the light, the smells and walking beside my father as his memory slips away.  As long as he is able, we will walk, side by side, enjoying the feel of the ground beneath our feet, the wind caressing our cheeks and the blue, blue sky above.

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