Feeds:
Posts
Comments

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.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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.

 

 

Read Full Post »

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!”

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »