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Posts Tagged ‘childhood memories’

February 23, 2015

The story really begins last Friday when I stuffed Dad’s marigold-colored corduroy pants into a plastic bag without checking the pockets.  Later that night I found Dad’s clip, still holding his Twenty-one dollars, at the bottom of the washing machine.  It is the same twenty-one dollars Dad has carried around in his pocket for at least three months.  He lost several silver money clips about a year ago and switched to the basic stationery clip.  Usually, he switches it into a pocket of clean pants after a shower. The room key was part of the ritual until it vanished many months ago.  I knew Dad wouldn’t need money for anything: I let Jane know I had both his pants and his money so she wouldn’t worry about them if she noticed they were missing.

Dad's Twenty-one Dollars that went through the wash

Dad’s Twenty-one Dollars that went through the wash

My normal day to visit is Thursday.  Hardly anything is normal anymore.  I had to go this morning or not at all this week.  I opted to go this morning and drop off the mop and bucket I bought to help keep our shoes from sticking to the bathroom floor.  I arrived a bit before 11 am.  Dad was asleep in his chair, as usual, a cup of coffee beside his chair.  Coffee in a cup and saucer, not a disposable cup.  Dad must have made it to breakfast for a change.  He got up out of his chair, quite easily for a change.  I gave him a big hug.

“How are you, Dad?”

“Not so good.”

Dad always says he is wonderful.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s not good.  I’ve lost my memory.”

“Dad, you lost your memory a long time ago.  Why are you worried about it now?”

“I’ve been writing about it, hoping to figure things out.  This is not good.”  He sat back down in his chair.

I noticed that he looked alert; he looked present; he looked like the Dad I feel I lost a while ago.

He began to tell me the story, in great detail, of the previous twenty-four hours.  He and Jane had attended a President’s Day Event at Washington Crossing Camp Ground, an event that Dad had always participated in prior to his dementia.  At one point during the day there had been a small admission charge for something.  Dad had reached into his pocket for his money clip and found he had only empty pockets … ALL of his pockets were empty; no money, no keys, no credit cards.  He panicked and told Jane he didn’t have any money.  She reassured him that it was okay because she had his money.  He was totally baffled.  He hadn’t remembered giving Jane his money.

He didn’t sleep last night, worrying.  He couldn’t believe that his memory was gone, that he couldn’t remember important things.  He tested himself by naming his children; Louise, Ann, Chris and David.  He tried naming his grandchildren, but couldn’t.  He tried naming his children’s spouses and wasn’t sure if he got them right … or not.  As he was searching his brain for names, he thought of Jack Law (his former brother-in-law) and wondered what had happened to him.

“Did he die? Didn’t he run off with another woman?  Where are my credit cards?  Do you have them, Chris?”

“Dad.  Hold on.  I don’t know if I can answer all of your questions, but I can tell you where your money is.  It’s at my house with your marigold-colored corduroy pants that I took home to wash.  Our dryer broke and I hung them up to dry.  I forgot to bring them with me today. Your money was in a pocket.  I forgot that, too, but I can give you money again and we’ll find a clip.”

Dad's new

Dad’s new “validating” money roll.

Dad began to cry.  “I am so relieved!  I didn’t know what happened.  I couldn’t remember anything.  I thought maybe somebody came into my room and went through my pockets.  I was going to call the police! I am sooooo glad you came this morning.  The only way I finally fell asleep at about 3 am this morning was that I thought maybe I had dreamt that I lost my money; but the dream was so vivid!  Thinking I had only dreamt it allowed me to fall asleep.  When I woke up again, early this morning, I was shocked to see the painting of “Thokes” on the wall and the airplane hanging from the ceiling.  I had no idea how they had gotten there.  I started wondering how long I had been here … a couple of days?  a week?  maybe a month or two?  I got out of bed to check my pockets to make sure that it had just been a bad dream.  But my pockets were empty.  I knew it wasn’t a dream.  I knew that I had lost my memory. Do you think other people know I’ve lost my memory, Chris?”

“Yes, Dad, everyone knows you’ve lost you memory. You lost it a long time ago.  It’s okay.  We all love you very much.  You still beat us in cards!  Your memory doesn’t seem to have anything to do with your card playing.”

“I’m worried that the reason Jane didn’t sleep the other night is that she is worrying about me.  I’m afraid I may never see her again.  She is so special to me!  I love her so much!”

“Dad, Jane loves you, too.  She has a lot on her mind lately.  Of course, you will see here again.  Ann is taking the two of you to dinner tomorrow night for your birthday!”

“Yes, I remember Jane told me about that.”

Dad remembered all sorts of other things, too.  He remembered his table mate, Tom, reminding him to try to get to meals on time.  He remembered Howard hanging up the plane above his chair.  He remembered that the house he and mom built was now two stories high and that the family has three sons.  He knew that the little watercolor on the wall across from his chair is one I did from a photograph of Louise and Ann at Virginia Beach when they were very young.

Dad had been shocked by his empty pockets.  He didn’t know how he could be totally broke.  I remembered the stories Dad told of the farmers in Indiana always having a huge roll of bills in their pockets.  Perhaps having money in one’s pocket validates one’s existence.

“I can’t wait to tell Jane.  I feel as if I have awakened from a long winter’s nap. It’s the most exciting day of my life.  My life is starting to make sense … but how long will it last?”

“I don’t know, Dad.  What I do know is that this is the first real conversation we’ve had in over a year and I am thrilled to be here as a witness of your awakening, even if it’s only temporary.”

“But maybe there’s something I can do about it now that I am aware that I have a brain problem.  I was afraid, when I awoke here this morning, that I may have done something wrong.  Since I didn’t know how I got here, I was afraid I may have done something dishonest and that would be horrible.”

“You’re here, Dad, not because of something you did, but because your brain started to let you down and it is safer for you to be here where we know you are okay when the hurricanes hit.  We know you have three meals a day.  We know that the people here care about you.”

Just then there was a knock on the door.  It was Rita, coming to get Dad to join in the hall walks.  She noticed something different about Dad.  I gave her a short explanation of what I had learned from Dad over the last hour.  She, too, is thrilled.  She will have Meaghan check Dad out to see if the new cognitive program might keep things going for a while.

I couldn’t stay very long and wanted to make sure Dad showered.

“i showered this morning, Chris …. I KNOW I showered this morning.  I realize I’ve probably told you that before without really knowing, but this morning I DO know.”  A huge grin spread across Dad’s face.

“I believe you, Dad.”

“Chris, it’s time for lunch.  Will you join me?”

“I’ll catch up with you in a few minutes.  I bet you haven’t thought of lunch on your own for quite some time. I’m proud of you, Dad.”

After washing the bathroom floor, I joined Dad in the dining room.  I wanted to do cartwheels when I walked through the door and saw Dad chatting away with Tom and John.  Both Tom and John had looks of surprise and pleasure on their faces.

“Your Dad’s been telling us an amazing story.  He says that today is the best day of his life. It’s certainly must be true.  He hasn’t said a word to us for months and he is back to his old self.” On Friday, the conversation had only been between three of us; Tom, John and me.  Today, there were four people participating and Dad had more to say than the rest of us.

At least three other people came over to chat, happy to see Dad alert again.

Wow!!!

When we returned to his room, I asked him if he thought he might want to write something about his experience.

“I certainly do! In fact, I had planned to go out somewhere today and buy a pad to write on, but then I remembered that I have this one and I think it is much better.”  He lifted a few books and pulled out a sketchbook that he had been given to him but he hadn’t used.

“You know, I was really surprised to see that keyboard in my room.  How long has that been here?”

Today was the first time I have seen Dad initiate anything on his own.  Today, he initiated dozens of things on his own.

Awakened from a long, winter's nap.

Awakened from a long, winter’s nap.

I hope that his awakened state will last long enough for Jane and Anna’s family to have a wonderful, 92nd birthday dinner with Dad tomorrow night.

Dad, today was one of the best days in my life, too!  Thank you! I love you.

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April 10, 2014

Each week the challenges change.  I recall my sister-in-law once telling me, “Life as a parent never gets easier, it just gets different.”  The same goes for being a daughter … “Life as a daughter never gets easier, it just gets different.

As I signed my name in the book I glanced over and saw Dad sitting in the dining room sipping coffee, alone at his table.  I approached.  He stared into space, eyes glazed, shirt stained, shoulders hunched.  There is no question in my mind that shaving is no longer a priority, nor should it be.  His walker was nowhere in sight.

“I guess I don’t need it.”

We returned to his room with his lukewarm coffee which he insisted on drinking in his chair before the task of showering, shaving and shampooing.  Half an hour later, I still couldn’t get him to release himself from the comfort of his chair.

 

Dad, content in his chair sipping coffee

Dad, content in his chair sipping coffee

I busied myself by gluing and clamping a broken chip of wood into another chair.  I traced the shadows of the window shades as they fell upon my sketchbook.  I sorted his newspapers, sifted through his laundry, made inventory notes on his calendar.  Still, he wouldn’t budge.  I handed him a pencil and his green book.

“Well then, Dad, I guess it’s time to write another poem.”

Blank expression…. no response.

“Drawing something usually helps you find your words, Dad.  How about drawing this stuffed owl?”

Dad smiled and set to work on drawing the owl and moved right along to writing his poem and agreeing to take a shower, though he remained grumbly about the idea of going shopping for new sneakers.

The owl drawing

The owl drawing

Inspirations galore,

Where do you start !

The sunshine from above, –

The breezes from somewhere.

The number of choices

Are infinite for sure

Make a choice now

And go for it, – go NOW.

Shave ….. Shower ….. (“Don’t forget to use that green shampoo when you wash your hair, Dad!” I shout through the door).  He came out of the bathroom with wet hair, but the level of the shampoo remained the same, not falling below the line of the rubber band used to keep track of whether or not it’s being used.

Halfway to the car I couldn’t bear to go shopping for sneakers.  The day was gorgeous and Dad looked so happy being outside in the sun with the blue, blue sky above.  The wind was gentle and the air smelled of spring… finally.

“Dad.  Change of plans.  We’re going for a walk instead of shopping for sneakers.”

Huge smile

“You did well last week at Lord Stirling Park.  What do you think about taking the walker for a more adventurous walk?  We made it through gravel and puddles at the swamp, do you think we can handle rocks and tree roots with this walker?”

“I guess we won’t know until we try, will we?” (How lucky am I to have a dad like this?)

I parked far away from the trail head so that we could still get a decent walk in if we couldn’t get very far along the rooty, rocky path.  The last time we visited Hofheimer Park we took the short path to the grotto.  This time I wanted to try the whole loop, ending up at the grotto.

Happy to be in the woods again!

Happy to be in the woods again!

I missed sharing the giant beech trees with Dad.  Severe storms had uprooted so many trees that the trail was too dangerous when Dad was using his cane for balance.  Why did I think it would be easier with the walker?  I didn’t.  But I wouldn’t have to worry about Dad falling.  We had developed a method for rough terrain last week at Lord Stirling Park.

Guiding Dad's Walker

Guiding Dad’s Walker

I walk ahead and slightly to the left with my right hand on the front of the walker to lift it slightly, keeping it from digging into mud, jamming against rocks or roots and making it easier for Dad to push.  Lucky for me, I was hanging onto the walker when I stepped in a deep hole hidden by leaves.

A rough and rocky road

A rough and rocky road

With each step Dad looked happier and more bright-eyed.  His stamina amazed me.

Walking along the smoother terrain

Walking along the smoother terrain

Walking on the boardwalk around the small pond at Chelsea tires him out more than climbing a steep trail over uneven ground strewn with obstacles while having both hands on an unhappy  walker. He is not as happy walking around the pond as he is surrounded by the giant beech trees.  We had reached the top of the hill and were on our way down before Dad requested a short break.

Taking a break

Taking a break

There had been several short stops for him to blow his nose. Fortunately I remembered a paper towel this time.  At Lord Stirling Dad had resorted to his tried and true method that he had learned as a boy on the farm. Dad taught me how to blow my nose without a hanky when we ran together in the morning before I boarded the bus for high school.  I’m pretty sure Alexis is practiced at the method of nose-blowing while running.  Dad has mastered the techniques.  His dementia has not stolen from him his expertise.  The visuals had been a bit dramatic last week and I made sure to stuff a paper towel in my bag this time around.

Remnants of a Home Run

Remnants of a Home Run

As usual, we found treasures along the trail.  “Looks like someone hit a home run, Chris ….. a long time ago.  I bet that was a good day!”  The tattered ball awoke memories of coaching my brother’s baseball team many, many years ago.  That lead to memories of Dad and I running our first run together around the parking lot of the school where he coached Howard’s team.  Dad had just purchased the first edition of Aerobics and wanted to test it out.  We continued to run together until I left for Germany after graduating high school.

The aerobic runners, forty-six years later

The aerobic runners, forty-six years later

Trees were terribly bare for this time of year.  Spring has been so late in coming.  A few bits of green appeared on tired branches.

A hint of spring.

A hint of spring.

The algae glowed with the pride of being greener than anything else in sight.

Spring algae

Spring algae

We made it all around the loop and stopped in at the grotto before returning to the car.  There will be more good days to come and more not-so-good days to come.  There will come a day when we will no longer be able to walk the rocky, rooty trails together.

Almost at the bridge, but not quite yet.

Almost at the bridge, but not quite yet.

We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. We may be close, but we’re not there yet.

 

 

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June 6, 2013

Maybe it was the salsa music I was listening to as I drove to pick up Dad……. it’s all about attitude…..

As I signed into Chelsea, Dan informed me that Dad was in the tea room.  It was 10:45 am. Unless there is a fire alarm, Dad hasn’t been getting out of bed before 11:30!

“What’s he doing in the tea room?”

“Well, I don’t know”

“How long has he been there?”  I was flustered and didn’t know what else to say.

“I’m not really sure,” Dan replied.

That was the beginning of our exceptional day together.

Dad and Chris, fragrance garden, Lord Stirling Park, NJ

Dad and Chris, fragrance garden, Lord Stirling Park, NJ

I walked around the corner to the tea room where Dad sat looking through a small photo album of a someone’s wedding.  The New York Times was on his lap and a cup of coffee by his side.  He looked content and unusually alert.  We stopped in at his room for final preparation before walking out the door into the gorgeous, sunny day tickled by breezes.

“Can you hear the cicadas, Dad?

In an unusually loud and forceful voice he replied “WHAT?” …. and then chuckled.

“I guess that means you can hear them just fine.”

“Yes, of course I can hear them.”

He was walking tall.  Lately, he has been stooped over and I’ve been concerned.  No need for worry today.

Salsa music drowned sound of the cicadas as we pulled out of the parking lot.  After a few minutes, the music stopped and the news came on.  Dad leaned closer to the radio.  I waited.  He squinted his face and cupped his ear.  I waited.

“You know, Chris, as hard as I try to listen to what they’re saying, I don’t seem to be able to understand a word of it.”

“I think I know why, Dad.”

“Why?”

“They’re speaking in Spanish.”

“Oh, well, that explains it.”

He never did ask why I was listening to a Spanish station.  His mind drifted to other things such as the blue, blue sky, the lines of cars and the beautiful day.  I drove in silence with a smile on my face and my heart bursting with delight.  Dad hadn’t turned his face to the sky in several weeks and hadn’t commented on anything as we drove along or walked through the woods.

The parking lot at Lord Stirling Park was filled except for one space… lucky us.  I’ve never seen more than a dozen cars in the lot.  There were at least forty.  I’m not sure where everyone was.  We only saw three people during our visit, and one of them, Jack Gray, was parked in the lot at the other side of the visitor center.

“That’s an awful lot of solar panels,” Dad remarked as we passed in front of the Visitor Center.  For more than a year he had mentioned solar panels every time we passed a roof or field where they were installed.  Remarks about the high cost of installation and the length of time it takes to get a return on your investment always followed.  About three months ago, Dad stopped noticing solar panels.

“We’re going to have a great day today, don’t you think, Dad?”

“You betcha, Chris!”

"You betcha!"

“You betcha!”

First stop… as always … the fragrance garden.

The herbs looked lush, healthier than I’ve ever seen them.  I rubbed a few leaves to test the strength of the fragrance.  Most of the herbs aren’t scented enough for Dad to smell anymore.

“Try this one.”

He rubbed …. and sniffed.

“Hmmmmm …… spearmint.”

I was flabbergasted.  Not only could he smell the fragrance, he could tell which of the mints he was sniffing.

“Wow, Dad….. you even know that it’s spearmint!”

He gave me an “I’m not stupid” glance.  “I can still read, you know.”  A marker labeled spearmint stuck out of the ground on the other side of the plant.

Ouch.

Real Whopper

Real Whopper

As we left the garden we passed a tall spiky flower (false indigo?).  Dad simply couldn’t keep comments from spilling out today.  He was excited about everything.

“Now that’s a real whopper!”

“You betcha, Dad!” ….. I couldn’t resist…..

In just a week’s time, a raised sitting area had been constructed.  Of course, Dad had to test one of the new benches.

Making the big step up

Making the big step up

Did he approve?

Testing the bench

Testing the bench

After serious consideration, Dad gave his nod of approval.  Onward bound ……only to be stopped by yellow tape.

Blocked for the yearly Snake Synopsis

Blocked for the yearly Snake Synopsis

“Why do you think it’s blocked off?”

“I don’t know, Dad.  Maybe there’s a gang of bears that have taken over this part of the swamp.  Or maybe there’s a huge pile of snakes in the middle of the trail.  They gather here once a year on this very day.  The park has agreed to close off the trail so they can come and go as they please and gather together freely one day a year as long as they stay off the trails the rest of the year.”

“You always did have a great imagination, Chris.”

“I think I got it from you, Dad.  You used to make up wonderful stories for me at bedtime when I was little.”

I could almost hear the pages turning inside Dad’s brain as he searched for another word that started with “s”.

“You think it might be a Snake Synopsis?” he asked.

“I think we can find a better word.”  We both struggled for a bit.  The best we could do was a Spring Snake Symposium.  Not very good.

Jack Gray, The Fern Man of Bunny Fern Farm

Jack Gray, The Fern Man of Bunny Fern Farm

At this point we came upon Jack Gray planting a small garden of ferns.  We asked him if he knew why the trail was closed.  It turns out that he doesn’t work for the park.  He is The Fern Man of Bunny Fern Farm and volunteered to create a small fern garden beside the fragrant herbs. 

We headed in the opposite direction from the closed trail and walked the loop behind the Visitor Center.  The bugs weren’t too annoying, thanks to the cool breeze that was leading the predicted storm our way.  When the trail opened into the meadow we were welcomed by the essence of wafting wildflower scent.

Multiflora Rose and Honeysuckle

Multiflora Rose and Honeysuckle

Though multiflora rose can be overbearing, the combination of the rose and honeysuckle was refreshing and pleasantly exotic.

Dad enjoying the beauty and fragrance

Dad enjoying the beauty and fragrance

When I stopped to snap a few photos, Dad walked ahead, but not too far.  He stopped to take in the beauty.  I wasn’t quick enough to catch him leaning back, gazing up at the blue, blue sky, smiling from ear to ear.
When I was closer he looked at me, took a deep breath and said, “What a beeeeauuutiful place to walk.  Wheeeeeeew!”

“We’ve had a great day today, haven’t we, Dad?”

“You betcha!”

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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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Catching up ….

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jane, Dad and I visited the newly restored Duke Estate, now called Duke Farms, in Hillsborough, New Jersey.  “The mission of Duke Farms is to be a model of environmental stewardship in the 21st Century and inspire visitors to become informed stewards of the land.” (pamphlet)

Jane and Dad on the Tour Tram

We began with a ride on the tour tram, stopping along the way to take short walks along several of the trails and returning to the tram stop to continue our ride. It felt odd to ride a Tour Tram so close to home.

Statue Garden in burned out shell of hay barn

The history and the mystery of Doris Duke’s life wafted among the trees like ghosts.  Dad repeatedly reminded us that it was smoking tobacco and chewing tobacco that had paid for the property, the buildings, the greenhouses, the gardens and the artificial waterfall.

Duke Gardens Greenhouses

During the sixties when the greenhouses were lush with tropical trees and plants of every kind I recall wanting to remain forever beneath a fragrant, flowering olive tree.  The exotic plants were given away many years ago.  The greenhouses are now used to propagate native plants for the estate landscaping and gardens as well as research, I believe.

Overgrown ruins of a fountain

Not all of the grounds and gardens have been restored.

Jane and Dad taking a rest on a bench before checking out the statue of Athena

Due to the expense of running the artificial waterfalls, they are only activated once or twice a day.  We were too late.  When we return we’ll test the food in the cafeteria, walk the longer trails and see the waterfalls in action.

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The name Lawrence Pitzer came up on one of our earlier walks.  Lawrence was the father of Dad’s classmate.  Dad mentioned that Lawrence was the National Corn Husking Champion.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

On our way to Natirar we stopped and bought wraps for our picnic.  Dad appeared to be disoriented, both in the car and in the deli.  He surprised me with his rapid choice of wrap.  “I’ll have a Veggie Wrap”, he declared.  Usually has meat.

Tracking down sounds

The sounds of children and cars parking next to the picnic area distracted Dad in a way I haven’t noticed before.  Fortunately, the disorientation and distractions didn’t detract from his appetite.  During lunch I mentioned to Dad that I had been going through a box from the house in Martinsville.  I reminded him that he had told me that his friend’s dad was the National Corn Husking Champion.

“Yup….. Lawrence Spitzer.  He was my classmate’s father.”

“I found the program for the Pitzer Jubilee Banquet in 1939!”

Program for Pitzer Jubilee Banquet, 1939

“Yup …. the invention of the corn picker put an end to those contests.”

And so began a fascinating conversation that brought me back in time when all of the gathering of corn for livestock was done by hand!  The farmers walked the rows picking and shucking simultaneously.  The trick was to watch the weather and make sure the husks would be dry enough to break off and husk (or shuck) in one motion.

The banquet was quite the affair ….

Banquet Program

The menu consisted of tomato juice, fruit juice, combination salad, baked ham, green beans, candied sweet potatoes, hard and soft rolls, butter, coffee, ice cream and cake.  There were musical performances and speeches.  The reception committee numbered thirty: twelve at the door, five at the east aisle (my grandfather was one), six at the west aisle, seven for distinguished guests.

Lawrence Pitzer’s Record

It turns out that Lawrence won many championships between 1932 and 1939.

I googled his name and found the history of the Corn Husking Competitions online.  Lawrence, of course, was mentioned.

Another farm just across the field from NFS hosted the 1932 state corn husking contest, and boasted local farmer Lawrence Pitzer as the winner. He was amongst the five top national finishers in 1935 as they shucked to new world’s records. In 1939, Pitzer won the national contest held in Kansas in a town fittingly named Lawrence.” (from online history of corn husking events)

My grandfather and Owen, the farm hand, shucked corn from dawn to dusk for three weeks straight.  Workers would often come up from Kentucky to help with the shucking.  My grandfather would hire one of them for one dollar a day.  He thought that was a pretty good deal.  He would brag about it to the uncles at the family reunions.

My grandmother cooked enormous meals during shucking time.  It was women’s work to keep plenty of food on the table, three times a day.

“I remember Dad and Owen coming in for dinner with holes in their gloves from shucking corn.”

Eventually all the farmers had corn picking machinery and the contests died out.

After the wraps were gone and the story told it was time to write and draw. I met with the usual resistance.

Pencil to paper

To write a poem

Is the aim

If it doesn’t happen

I’m the one to blame

Putting pencil to paper, —

That alone won’t do it.

Putting the brain in gear

Let’s say —– how do we do it?

Look up to the sky, —

Scan the trees, —

Put pencil to paper casts a shadow

For Chris to sketch, don’t you see?!

We set out on our walk.  Dad’s stamina was low.  We walked the short loop, stopping at every bench and sitting on each bench for a long time.

Resting

Clouds sweep the sky

While breeze airs the armpits

As we sit on the bench —

Chris and I

On to the next bench:

Resting from a walk

Less than 3 minutes in length

More to follow

As we gain gain strength

Cumulus clouds gliding

Slowly cross the sky

Feet throbbing our heartbeats

We lean back with a sigh

Several benches later:

Another short walk

Another short stop

Sitting on a bench

Feeling our hearts throb

The last bench of the day:

Reading the words

I have written before

I find less than remarkable

Surely I could do better!

But at least we are trying

Daughter Chris and I

These hot summer days

Are relished, I say.

08/09/12

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I started my day with a quick (and overworked) watercolor sketch of Dad using a rather bizarre photograph as reference.  It looks like a studio photo.  He’s dressed in a suit and has an odd haircut.  I was going to add his glasses, but didn’t.  Getting lost in my painting, I ran late and decided to call Dad when I stopped at the post office.

Dad at an awkward age

Having somehow deleted all my contacts from my phone, I could not call Dad before arriving at Chelsea.  He was not in his room.  Much to my surprise and delight, his bed was made!  I found him with Danielle, having just completed his physical therapy session.  He will be meeting with Danielle three times a week.  He did so well this morning that he will be allowed to go in on his own to work out on one of the machines.  I doubt he will think to do that, but perhaps if we call him and have him walk upstairs while still on the phone, he will do it.

First stop was a quick visit to Dr. Frisoli’s for the vitamin B12 shot.  While waiting, Dad stared at the painting on the wall.

Sketch of Dr. Frisoli’s painting

“What are you thinking about, Dad?”

“I’m thinking about the view from the bench.”

Sitting on the bench

As the river goes flowing by

And as time passes, too

We ponder, never to have a chance

To visit those moments again.

New opportunities arise, however, —

New events around the bend;

Grab the moment, take the time, —

To receive the signal, or send.

It’s harder to listen, then to send.

I asked Dad about that last line.

“It’s always easy to talk.  It’s never really easy to listen to people talking to you — to really listen.”

I probed a bit more.

“When you listen, you have to think about what the other person has said.  It’s easier just to talk.  You don’t have to think as much.”

Probing still deeper …..

“In conversation, you often listen just enough to be able to respond and start talking again as soon as there is a pause.”

Wow!

After the B12 shot we drove to Dealaman Nature Trail for a picnic and a walk.  Dealaman Pond is where Dad stepped off the dam, falling onto the bed of rocks.  Crossing the dam was not part of today’s plan.

Dealaman Nature Trail

The weather was extremely hot and sticky. I thought a short walk through shaded woods would be perfect.  What I didn’t remember was the abundance of roots crossing the trail.  I hadn’t taken notice of them before.  Now, after Dad’s recent falls on level ground, the roots looked like an obstacle course…… and they were.

Roots everywhere along the trail

Fortunately, Dad had his walking stick.  Several times, it saved him from losing his balance.  The combination of flickering sunlight through the leaves and the roots crossing the trail, challenged his footing.  I had to keep reminding him to slow down.

Walking the path with care

The benches are plentiful along the trail.  That has become an important consideration for us.

During our lunch of sandwiches and apples, we talked about his childhood picnics.

“Mother did fix picnics.  I think she put all the food into a basket.  I think we might have had picnics in the front yard.  We also went to State Parks, Turkey Run and THE SHADES.”

Every time Dad said The Shades, he said it quite emphatically.

“We had deviled eggs, sandwiches …. once in a while we had angel food cake, Kool-Aid.”

When I questioned the Kool-Aid he said maybe it was lemonade.  However, it might have been Kool-Aid.  Edwin Perkins created Kool-Aid in 1927!

“We went to two parks, Turkey Run and THE SHADES. It was very common to go as a family reunion … Mom got really sick of family reunions …… chuckle, chuckle, chuckle. (Dad was referring to my mother, not his mother.) Sometimes we might have brought a ball to play with, but never the croquet.  There wasn’t enough room for croquet when we went to the parks.  We used to go to Turkey Run and THE SHADES.”

“Most of the time we had reunions at the home of one of the relatives.  There would always be a croquet game. The uncles all played croquet.”

“Did any of the women play?”

“Seldom.  The uncles played croquet while the women talked and prepared the food.  The women enjoyed talking and cooking …. I think they enjoyed it a lot.”

“Did any of the uncles help with the food?” …….

“I wonder where the aunts and uncles are now.  Do you know, Chris? …….. We’ve totally lost touch with the Wonsons, haven’t we?”

Dad and I made a list of old friends that we will start writing notes to on Thursday’s when I visit.

Post Picnic Poem

All the people

We no longer see

Friends and relatives

We saw at reunions

Sundays, usually were

When farmers

Took a break

Except for chores

Attended night and day.

Cows had to be milked,

Hogs had to be fed.

Lady’s Thumb, Persicaria vulgaris

As Dad wrote, I painted the little Lady’s Thumb on the ground in front of our bench.

We put away our books and continued along the trail to the pond where we played a new mind game.

View from the bench

While we were talking, a pair of blue heron flew in and landed on the pond.  One flew off before I could snap a photo of both of them.

The game was to imagine what you might want to be Next Time Around.  If Dad has the opportunity to be born again on earth, what would he be?

I will post the answer in a second post ……. stay tuned!

We returned to Chelsea, safe and sound.

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Tra-la, tra-la ….. a spectacular day with Dad!

View from our picnic table

Dad was awake and perky when I arrived this morning.  Within ten minutes we were on our way to Natirar in Far Hills.  The day was sunny with a cool breeze that freshened the air and chased away the humidity.  A quick stop at Country Picnic Deli provided us with a delicious picnic of paninis (Southwest Melt for Dad and Fire Roasted Vegetables for me), a small container of curried chicken because we couldn’t resist, coleslaw and a brownie for dessert.  We forgot to eat the brownie.  I’m eating it now as I write.  Yummm!

On the drive to Natirar I played the Dust Off The Cobwebs game with Dad.  I bombarded him with questions about people, places and things. Had it been a television quiz show he would have been eliminated in the first round.  The poor score did nothing to dampen his spirits or diminish his sense of humor.

“Why do you have a pencil in your pocket, Dad?”

“I guess I’m going to write.  I don’t think I’m going to pick my teeth with it.”

Dad’s hands as he writes his first poem of the day

A Pause in the Woods

A deep blue sky

And a cool, gentle breeze

Are very much enjoyed

While sitting in the shade

At a picnic table, —

With Chris.

She is sketching

As I write.

The sky, deep blue,

Holds a single white cloud

And a noisy single-engine plane, –

As it goes passing by.

The noiseless leaves falling

From the trees overhead

Are ignored as we write, —

This almost totally silent

Wonderful, warm

Fine summer day.

Natirar 5/31/12

Dad as he writes at the picnic table after lunch

We headed up the hill to the path along the river.  I pointed out the strange lighting on the trees. Dad explained the reason for the odd illumination of the trees.

“That’s because the sun’s sending a ray through that hole in the cloud.” He pointed to the cloud directly above us.

The hole in the cloud

We didn’t get very far along the path before we came upon a bench.  Naturally, Dad wanted to stop for a rest.  I handed him his green sketchbook.

“What do we do when we sit on benches, Dad?”

What do we do?

“What do we do

Each time we sit on the bench?”

Was the question put to me

By daughter Chris.

“Write? I asked.

“Right,” she answered.

So here I sit, —

Writing.

the wind futily tries

To turn the page

But I cannot let that happen

I have more to say.

Opportunity abounds

And good health allows

Time to write a word or two

About the things we do.

Like taking walks

On a gorgeous summer day

And parking on a bench

To write what we may.

If only the words could begin to relay

The joys brought to us

This most wonderful day.

Wow…. Dad was on a roll.  While he wrote his poem, I sketched the odd lighting from the hole in the cloud.

Trees and grass lit by rays of sun through the hole in the cloud

We moved on ….. a little way ….. and came upon another bench.

Bench by the side of the stream

In the shade, by the stream

Is a good place to write

Or so it would seem.

Especially, with a silent breeze

And a silent stream passing by

A noiseless, beautiful scene.

And the event is well worth remembering, —

A walk in the woods with daughter Chris

And a pause to sit, and to write a bit.

View from the bench by the stream

Onward ….. past the stream, stopping along the river to pose, repeating the photo on the cover of Walks With Dad.

Reliving a forgotten moment

Dad showed no signs of fatigue.  Perhaps because we stopped every five minutes to sit on a bench.  Rather than circle back to the car, we took a left at the fork and climbed the hill to the upper meadow.  Half-way up the hill we rested on another bench.  No poetry writing this time around.  Dad was trying to figure out the brother, sister, husband, wife connection of Grandmother Carter, Grandfather Carter, Uncle Lafe (Lafayette) and Aunt Tiny.

Carter Wilson Connections

The Carter brother and sister each married a Wilson brother and sister.  I haven’t checked the family tree to see if that’s right.  The topic came up when Dad told the story of the uncles coming to the farm from the city (West Lafayette) to visit.  Dad and the two uncles would go fishing at the gravel pit.  The uncles didn’t know where to drop their lines because they didn’t know where the fish were … but Dad did.  The fish hung out on the far end where they dumped the old wire fencing.  “The fish must have fooled around in the fencing.”

The story became more complicated when I asked Dad which uncles they were.

“Well, Uncle Lafe always came to visit.”

“Who was the other uncle?”

Dad couldn’t think of who it was or who it could be……  “Uncle Lafe was married to Aunt Tiny.  They lived right next to us.”

“Next to the farm?”

“Yes.”

“I thought you said Uncle Lafe came from the city to visit.”

“He did.”

“But I thought he lived right next to you.”

“Hmmmmmm.”

One confusion led to another.  We were glad to find the bench to rest on to sort through the story.

Dad looking at the barn in the meadow

Dad looking at the barn in the meadow

The barn in the meadow usually brings back memories of moving hay on the farm.

The barn in the meadow

You had to have three people to get the hay into the hay mow.  One to work the fork that grabbed the hay, one to drive the horse on the other side of the barn to lift the hay bale up into the hay mow and one to release the hay bale once it was in place.

“Usually the kid in the family was the one with the horse. I was always the one with the horse on our farm.”

Dad rests as I chase butterflies

At the far end of the meadow we saw little white butterflies flitting about.  They were the same type of butterfly we had seen last week at Lord Stirling Park.

“Dad, do you think those are butterflies or moths?”

“If you ask me, they’re moths.  Butterflies have color on them.”

I had a feeling his answer would be the same as last week.

“But Dad, moths fly around at night, butterflies fly around during the day.”  I don’t know if this is really true or not.

I couldn’t get a photo of the little white winged creatures, so we moved on.

Dad stopped, startled by the sight of a train going by in front of us.

“I didn’t think we would have a train cross our path!”

Wires for the train

Train tracks run along the far side of the meadow.  It looks as if the train is running along a path in the woods.

With our backs to the train tracks we took another rest on a bench.  Dad wrote, I drew, and we both re-hydrated.

An isolated tree on a hillside

Reaching for the great blue sky

Catches sunlight and breezes

And certainly enriches the scene.

the isolated tree in the meadow

Dad re-hydrating

Still Dad was showing no fatigue.

Climbing the last hill of the day

Nearing the top of the hill

Unbelievable.  Dad hasn’t had this much energy in months!

Our favorite bench is at the top of this hill.  We didn’t write, we didn’t sketch.  We sat and smiled at the expanse of meadow that lay before us.  After a bit, reluctantly, we moved on, leaving the meadow behind and entering the woods between the high meadow and the Raritan River.  We crossed back over the cement bridge and out into the sunshine of the open grass below the mansion.  There we found another bench.  It was getting late.  We didn’t write, we didn’t sketch…. even though that is what we do when we sit on benches.

Another bench

What do we do?

We always have a marvelous day together.  Today was exceptional.

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“Look, Chris, the clouds are making a cross in the sky!”

The Cloud Cross in the Sky

Puffs of cumulus clouds

Fill the deep – blue sky, —

They are moving rapidly —

Pushed by the winter breezes.

Dad had written ‘Pushed by fall breezes”. I reminded him that it was winter.

I parked the car in the lot next to the playing fields behind the Municipal Complex in Warren.  While Dad wrote a few words about birthdays in Indiana I sketched a young tree.

A few clinging leaves

Birthdays in Indiana

Were often big events

Mothers baked big cakes

They were festooned with icing —

And glowing with candles.

The birthday song was sung

Candles were blown out

Cake was cut.

It was a glorious time

Smiles all around the table

The candles we see dimly in the past

The memories glow brightly.

Dad's drawing of his birthday cake

We had talked about birthdays while driving from Chelsea to the Hofheimer Woods.  Dad’s cousin, Dick Davison was born on January 24th.  Dad was born on February 24th.  The Carter family loved the coincidence and celebrated both with big family gatherings.  I reminded Dad that he was about to have a birthday.  He wasn’t sure if he was turning 88 or 89.

“You’ll be eighty-nine, Dad.  What was your favorite birthday cake?”

“Angelfood!”

“You answered that mighty fast.”

“I noticed that.” ….. ” Chris, do you remember the name of the doctor who delivered me?”

“Wasn’t it Doctor Allhands?  Is is name spelled with one ‘L’ or two?”

“Two ‘L’s'”

“You answered that question pretty fast, too.”

“I noticed that.”

The day was off to a great start.  Dad had made his bed and was clean shaven when I arrived.  I made a note to myself to look up the definition of festooned. (Festoon – Adorn (a place) with chains, garlands, or other decorations: “the room was festooned with balloons”.)

“I also remember the name of one of your elementary school classmates, Dad.  Her name was Cleonice Decay, the most dreadful name I’ve ever heard. ”

I had packed extra plastic bags and a spare pair of shoes for both of us.  I didn’t want Dad to have to walk sock-footed into Chelsea again this week.  What I hadn’t realized is that there was a loop of trail on high ground behind the Municipal Complex.  Perhaps we could have an afternoon without life threatening adventure and mud packed shoes.  A bit dull, perhaps, but a nice change of pace.

We closed our sketchbooks and got out of the car.  My less than detailed description of the trail indicated that it started behind the playing fields, looped around the Hofheimer Mausoleum and led back to the parking lot.  As we turned toward the fields, a young woman walking a German Shepherd stopped dead in her tracks about twenty yards from us. I thought her dog might not like strangers, but the dog looked rather friendly to me.

While spending time with Dad I find I am more open to conversations with strangers.  I assumed that the woman had just returned from walking the trail with her dog.

“Could you tell me where the trail loop is?”

She remained quite still.  “I’m not sure.  I might have seen it.  I would be careful though if you plan on entering the woods.  Limbs might fall on you!”

I thanked her for the heartfelt warning.  Dad and I passed, keeping what we felt was a safe distance from the woman, hoping she wouldn’t feel threatened.  Her dog looked as if he might like to join us, but stayed by her side.

A scary place

I saw Dad glance up at the branches.  Not the slightest rustle could be heard from the few leaves still clinging to the branches.  There was not a whisper of a breeze nor gust of wind to shake a limb loose to fall upon our heads.

“Do we dare enter the woods, Dad?”

“Well sure.”  We started down the trail.  Dad paused to check out the limbs.

Practicing Caution

We both broke out laughing.   “I’m sure I couldn’t have convinced that woman to cross a river on a fallen tree like we did on our last walk.”  I reminded Dad of our earlier adventure.  For the next two hours we explored the woods, joking about the danger of treacherous rocks, leaves and fallen branches from the early October snow storm.

Dangerous limbs

One tree after another beckoned us to leave the trail.  First it was a giant oak (I think).  Its trunk had split into multiple trunks quite early in its youth.

King of the Forest

I snapped a photo of its upper limbs to help identify it later… I still haven’t checked it out.

Branch patterns

The leaves on the ground beneath it appear to me to be oak leaves mixed with beech leaves.

Dad contemplating the identity of the tree

Dad was not convinced the other trees were beech trees.  They were so straight and tall, unlike the gorgeous beech tree at 1813 Middle Road.

The Mastodon Tree

Heading up the hill, away from the oak and beech trees, we found a tree with giant tusks. At the top of the hill the trail curved to the right to avoid a golf course.

Golf Course Dangers

I left the trail, cut through the woods and stepped out onto the golf course to snap a photo of what I felt to be a greater danger than falling limbs, the possibility of being hit in the head with a flying golf ball.  After snapping a few shots I turned to see a lone golfer swing his club in my direction.

As we walked, I asked Dad if he knew when he became aware of the high degree of competition in the world.  Every week he talks about the trees growing straight and tall, competing for sunlight.  He talks about gas stations competing for business and coffee shops competing by offering better food and pleasant service.

“Grandmommy always talked about her flowers having to compete with the weeds for sunlight, water and nourishment from the soil.”

Grandmother Carter loved flowers.  She grew some in pots and some in gardens.  She often had fresh flowers in a vase in the center of the dining room table.  Occasionally there was a vase of flowers in the living room and even in the kitchen.

Our shadows with the fungi tree

As the trail circled back we came upon a tree covered in fungi.

“Do you know what side of the tree fungus grows on?” Dad asked.

“Moss is said to grow on the north side of trees, so I suppose fungus might, too.”

“You’re right, Chris.”

I glanced around at the other side of the tree and saw even more fungi.

“Take a look at this side, Dad.”

“Hmmmmm.” He pulled out his cell phone to check the time.

I pulled out my cell phone to check my compass app.

We both came to the same conclusion.  The north side of the tree was the only side that didn’t have any fungus on it at all.

“Dad, do you realize that most kids don’t use clocks with hour hands any more?  I don’t think they’d be able to tell north from south with their digital watches.  You can use your digital cell phone time because you translate it into the position of hands on a clock.”

“Of course.  You point the hour hand to the sun, bisect the angle between the hour hand and the twelve.  That’s South.  directly behind you is North.”

We got to talking about the wonders of a cell phone.  In my back pocket I was able to carry a phone, clock, compass, maps, dictionary, encyclopedia, flashlight, stereo and a camera.

“Can it make a milkshake?” Dad asked.

Sketching while Dad writes

We took a short break on a log to make a few notes.

Vases – pronounced

Vases (rhymes with faces) by some, (my family)

vases (rhymes with causes) by others, (“city folks”).

Bitter-sweet plants grew on

fence rows on the farm in Indiana.

Mother loved to cut off branches, bring

them in from the fields and place them

in vases on the dining room table.

As I recall, they would stay

beautiful for weeks

2/23/2012

We were coming to the end of the trail loop.  Just ahead on the left I saw what looked to be a stone wall of sorts.  Upon rounding the bend I gasped at the incredible stone structure on the other side of the wall.  Whoever built it had to have visited Gaudi’s Park Guell.

Hofheimer Grotto

Another view of the grotto

I looked back at the map and trail description.  It mentioned the Hofheimer Mausoleum, but nothing about this incredible construction of rocks.  It didn’t appear to be a mausoleum to me.  Fortunately, part of the Municipal Complex is a library with a delightful research librarian who googled it for us.  We had missed seeing the Mausoleum.  We will have to hunt for that on another day.  The rock structure is called the Hofheimer Grotto. For the past several years the township has been trying to restore power to the grotto to keep the pond aerated to minimize the growth of algae.  The grotto was built  over an old copper mine more than eighty years ago by Nathan Hofheimer, one of the founders of General Motors.

In addition to surviving flying golf balls and limbs that didn’t fall, we felt as if we had discovered a hidden wonder of the world.  The research librarian is going to skip lunch to walk the trail on the next nice day.  She had no idea it existed and that it was only a short walk from the library.

Hungry from our exploring, we grabbed lunch at our favorite spot, The Muscle Maker Grill.

Dasani Water Bottle

No coffee is served.  Dad ordered grilled chicken sandwich and water.  As we were finishing our meal I looked up to see Jane heading across the parking lot toward the Muscle Maker.  She had seen the K-car in the parking lot and joined us.  That was the icing on the cake for the day.

I’m glad to be part of a fearless family.  Life is too short to worry about falling limbs on a beautiful, windless afternoon.  We would never have discovered the grotto if we hadn’t taken our walk in the woods.

When we returned to Chelsea, there was a birthday package from Louise and Dave outside Dad’s door.  Inside, wrapped in bright colored tissue paper was an Atlas of Aviation.  Dad poured over the pages of the book for a good half hour, stopping to tell me stories.

“Our hired hand (Owen Conner) had the headphones on in the kitchen listening to the radio.  I remember him getting all excited and saying ‘He made it! He made it!”  Lindbergh had landed in Paris, completing the first solo flight across the Atlantic.  It was May 20th 1927 and Lindbergh had flown from New York to Paris in thirty three and a half hours.

Lindbergh’s plane, Spirit of St. Louis, was a Ryan Monoplane.  The windows had been removed with the hopes that the wind blowing on Lindbergh’s face would keep him awake.  He flew without radio or parachute, using the space for extra fuel.  Dad was three years old.

When Dad was six years old, Glen Goddard landed in the bean field.  He flew Dad to Valporaiso where his Uncle Mac Davison’s family lived.  He thought he returned home by train.  I think he was a bit young to travel alone by train.  Most likely his parents picked him up in Valporaiso and drove him home.  He did ride the train with his Grandmother Carter (at the age of six…… I think Dad’s memory got stuck at the age of six).  She took Dad on a trip top Detroit.  I asked Dad if that might have been after his sister Dorothy died.  Maybe Grandmother Carter took Dad on a trip to give his mother some time to recover from the tragedy.

“In Wheeler Cemetery I think there’s a gravestone for Dorothy.  The cemetery is between Odell and Wingate.”

“Are any other family members buried in that cemetery?”

“Oh yeah….. my father’s father and mother, Charles and Etta Carter.  I think my father and mother are buried there, too.”

“Dad…… Let’s call Lou and Dave and thank them for this wonderful book.”

Dad dialed the number.  The phone was ringing.  Dad covered the phone, leaned over the open Atlas, reached to look at the cover of my sketchbook and, seeing it blank, asked in a whisper …. “Chris, what am I thanking her for?”

Dad and I will spend many hours turning the pages of that beautiful book.  Many stories will be told.  It was another good Thursday with Dad.

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A few things remained to be dealt with in the tool shed.  I drove over to pick them up and to check the house one last time.

Empty swing and toolshed / workshop

Hammock

A few boxes of paint, antifreeze and other hazardous materials as well as a box of garbage, two brooms, and a pile of paper plates, bowls and napkins needed to be packed into my car.  The task took too little time leaving me feeling awkward and lost as I stared at the empty hammock, the empty swing and the empty tool shed.  On the other side of the brick wall all the rooms in the house stood empty, screaming to me through the emptiness.

Welcome mat at the French Doors

During our childhood years we were never permitted to use the French Doors, one of our family oddities.  In recent years we have used it more than either the front door or the back door.  We have left a welcome mat for the new owners.

Fireplace and built-in Mahogany Shelves.

I unlocked the door, perhaps for the last time.  I walked through each room, slowly, listening to the sound of my footsteps, listening to the whispers of the past bouncing from wall to wall.  Nothing more to do but to leave and close the door behind me.  One last trip to check the furnace room and the back bathroom provided a relief from the emptiness.  I found a note still tacked to the wall beside the back door, a reminder list Dad made either for himself or for anyone who was caring for the house in his absence.

A useful ladder left in the tool shed

Croquet set for the new family

We left behind a croquet set for the new family. This set belongs with the house.

Having finished my job of checking the house and clearing out the tool shed, I could return home.  My shoes turned to lead and refused to move until I decided I should take one last round of photographs. Click, click …. click, click, click.  I clicked my way through one entire battery and felt grateful that I brought a spare.  Click, click….  I had to stop and couldn’t.

Ancient Nanny Bush

The Nanny Bush.  In spring it delighted us with a dress of green leaves and white flowers.  In the summer it wore only green.  In the autumn the leaves turned to purple to show off the beautiful red berries that clustered on the branches.  When the bushes grew tall enough to be trees, Dad pruned the bottom branches and created a covered terrace to dine beneath.

Hole for the clothesline pole

Path ending at the clothesline

One of my favorite memories is lying on the grass watching my mother hang the wash.  When she was done, I ran between the damp sheets and watched the shapes change through the translucent fabrics as they dried.  My mother always smiled and often whistled as she hung the wash.  Those happy moments at the clothesline inspired the first and only adult novel I have written.

Rocks for baking mud pies

I never tired of baking mud pies.  These rocks, heated by the sun, were my ovens.  The pies were turned out and decorated with violets and buttercups. I began eating flowers, even poisonous flowers, at an early age.  I don’t remember getting sick.

Toolshed / Workshop

Hours upon hours were spent in Dad’s workshop.  Louise  set up an experiment to see how different colored lights effected the growth of plants.  I smashed tiles late into the night to make mosaic maps for history class.  We learned how to use tools.  I made dollhouses for dolls I didn’t have nor want.  It was making the house that was important.  After building small houses I built an elevator that worked, though not very well, using a  small motor from a model car I made.  One summer I rebuilt an engine for a lawn mower a neighbor had given me to earn a bit of money. Dad was always within earshot to help.

Each tool had a home

The tools hung neatly arranged on hinged plywood; tracings marked where each tool belonged.  My favorite tool was the wood plane, not because of what it did, but because of its shape and the way that the metal and wood worked together as a unit.  Of course, I loved the wood shavings as they curled and fell onto the carport floor.  The fragrance of the freshly planed wood was perfume to me.

Carport Fireplace

The carport was our playground.  When we were very young we roller skated round and round for what seemed like hours.  That was before the concrete cracked.  As we grew older we had a ping pong table set up.  I learned to play well enough to beat the high school students I taught in Brookline, Massachusetts many years later.  It was a special high school for delinquent teens.  I made a deal with them to stay after school and play ping pong with every student who behaved himself.  Through my expertise at ping pong (thanks to my dad) I didn’t end up in the hospital like the art teacher who preceded me.

We toasted marshmallows and cooked burgers in the fireplace.  We also burned paper.  When I returned from Germany in 1970 I was in a mood to purge my past and tossed my high school yearbook into the flames.  A decade later I found it in the attic.  Dad had saved it from the flames when I left to find more material for purging.

Treasures under the Forsythia Bush

These treasures might have been placed under the bush by my siblings or perhaps by the grandchildren.  Carters love to collect stones, shells, nuts and interesting rocks.

The Bench Dad built for Mom

Mom’s ashes are spread beneath this bench, built with love by Dad.

Annette Craven Carter and David Charles Carter

Buddha beneath the bench

Either Anna or Dave placed Buddha with the bench during our last weekend together in Martinsville.

The Beech Tree

Another shot of the Beech Tree.

Roots of the Beech Tree

The roots have spread in a giant circle, perhaps thirty feet in diameter showing above the surface of the lawn.  Like the roots of the tree, each child ventures away from its childhood home yet still is connected, sometimes a bit too tightly.

witness of my grief

From afar, a deer watches as I cry beneath the Beech Tree.

the front window

Whenever anyone left the house, Mom stood in the picture window and waved.  I still see her there, wearing her white, terrycloth robe, waving as I left to walk to the school bus stop.

Dad's note pinned beside the back door

Dad is an eternal optimist.  The first six reminders don’t matter to him anymore.  He lives only by the last … 7.  Enjoy the Day!

Time to go.  Time to let go.  I backed out of the driveway and headed down the hill only to make a right turn and circle around to the house once more.  I justified my return by not remembering if I had shut the tool shed door.  Without getting out of the car I backed out of the driveway.  On my way down the hill I passed a young man, hair hanging loose half-way to his waist.  He appeared lost in serious thought.  I waved.  He smiled.  He is part of a new generation enjoying my childhood stomping ground.  I wish I knew his name.  He set me free.  Somehow, he helped to lift the weight off my heart and break the chains that bound me to my early programming.

The Carter Home in Martinsville

In 1952 the roof was higher than all the surrounding trees.  Goodbye house, you have served our family well.

I’m ready to spread my wings and fly to heights I’ve never dared fly to before.  Thank you, Mom. Thank you, Dad. Thank you, Louise, Anna and Howard.

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