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Posts Tagged ‘Family History’

April 17, 2014

No walk today.  Dad had an appointment with Dr. Bagley to have the Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Situ scraped and burned from his arm.

As might be expected when time for a shower is limited, Dad took an extra half hour in the bathroom.  We made it to the doctor’s with four minutes to spare.  We waited another ten before we were called to follow the nurse down the hallway.  While waiting, Dad  reluctantly agreed to draw and write.

Chair on floor, table on wall

Chair on floor, table on wall

Now, how did that happen?

The table ends up?

On the wall

Hmm, hmm

Though unable to comprehend the need for another visit to a doctor, Dad followed directions and climbed into the “procedure” chair.  The lovely nurse lifted the leg rest, bid him “Make yourself comfortable” and left the room.  Dad scowled and called out to her.

“I need this leg rest to be moved out!”

“I’m sorry Mr. Carter.  It doesn’t move out.  You’ll just have to shrink a bit.”

“If it doesn’t move out, then it’s a poorly designed chair.”

Dad trying to make himself comfortable in the poorly designed chair

Dad trying to make himself comfortable in the poorly designed chair

He lasted all of two minutes before flopping his legs off each side of the leg rest.

“It’s a terrible design.  It cuts off the blood circulation.”

Dr. Bagley arrived and the four of us enjoyed a short conversation regarding the chair.  the procedure took less than ten minutes.

Dr. Bagley performing the Scrape & Burn procedure on Dad's arm

Dr. Bagley performing the Scrape & Burn procedure on Dad’s arm

As the wound on Dad’s arm was being scraped and burned, the nurse shared her story of disappointing her engineer father by not being able to draw in perspective when taking classes toward an engineering degree (that she didn’t want to pursue anyway.  Her father had designed the GM facility in Linden, NJ.  During the design stage, a scaled model of the building lived on her dining room table forcing the family to eat in the kitchen for several months.  One evening her father was perplexed and asked what had happened to all of the bathrooms.  All fifty of them had been moved away from the elevator shaft area.  Her brother explained that her really didn’t like the way the bathrooms looked located next to the shaft and had taken it upon himself to make the layout a bit more visually pleasing.  Her father explained the reason for locating the bathrooms next to the shaft was that all the plumbing could be run through the shaft, saving a great deal of expense.  The brother  acknowledged that the reasoning was okay and took it upon himself to return all fifty bathrooms to the location in his father’s original design.

Priceless story, Priceless glimpse into the lives of others, the lives of children who grow up in families with inventive parents who include their children in the thought process from planning through to execution.  The nurse’s brother has followed in his father’s footsteps, designing the plumbing and ventilation systems in corporate buildings.  Just as her story ended, the procedure was completed and we headed out into the beautiful, sunny but chilly afternoon.  The smell of fresh cut grass, the first of the season, filled our nostrils and brought smiles to our faces.

Another good day with Dad.

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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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Last week, I finally sorted through several boxes of papers I saved when we cleared out Dad’s house.  Among the papers, I found a letter I wrote to Dad seventeen years ago.  Now, as I retype the letter to share with you on Father’s Day, the seventeen year cicadas are again singing their mating song…… quite loudly!

17 year cicada

17 year cicada

Father’s Day 1996

Out of bed early, as usual, later than a weekday morning, but early nonetheless.  The first alarm sounded at four-thirty…… roused the kids at seven.  both Nicole and Mike had games this morning so the three kids spent Friday night with us instead of their father picking them up last night.

What a pleasant evening we had.  Mike explored the farmer’s fields on his mini bike and then joined the girls in the pool to splash off the day’s heat and to taste the freedom of the weekend.  The sky exploded with the threats of a storm but amounted to nothing more than thunder.  After the sun set we all joined together in the living room to watch a movie Tom had picked up on the way home, Parenthood, in honor of Tom’s first year as a parent.

I left for the ball fields before the rest of the family.  They would follow later in the van.

The morning air blew cool against my bare skin and the sun painted long, shadowed, morning patterns across the fields.  My right leg ached as always.  I have to run on the right side of the road.  The tilt of the left side tortures my aging, damaged body.

Hah!  Aged and damaged.  I felt like a million dollars this morning as I ran past the cornfield that draped the gentle contours of the land like a chenille bedspread across a sleeping body.  Another half mile and my body would find a comfortable rhythm.  Another half mile and perhaps my mind would empty the clutter that raced through it.  Dad always says that a walk clears the head.  Dad always says that a walk is a good time for ideas to flow, to form, for thoughts to sort themselves out and solutions to emerge.  Dad always said that taking car of my health is a priority.

Among the clutter of thoughts that fought for my attention lay the dilemma of a Father’s Day gift for Dad.  For months I’d been thinking about it.  In the past, money was always a factor.  Now, it’s not.  Now it’s even harder to decide on a gift because I have the freedom to choose something very special.  Hmmmmm. No more airplanes, no more kites, no more books, they’re not what I want this time.  Hmmmmmmm.

The screeching drone of the cicadas steals my attention.  I try to think of what they sound like.  What else have I heard in my forty-four years of life that sounds like the deafening sound of cicadas enjoying wild sex after seventeen years underground?  Hmmmm.  I’m a bit like a cicada myself.  I lived buried, in a way, for seventeen years, too.  Now I’m out of the ground having great sex.  But I’m luckier than the cicada.  I get to stick around for a while.  Ah!  I know the sound.  Every Halloween, stores stock a noisemaker for children, an oval-shaped tin box that revolves around a short stick held in a child’s hand.  With a whipping, circular motion, the child can get it going.  If amplified a hundred fold, it might sound like the mating of horny cicadas.

Whew!  Glad I figured that one out.

I turn right, onto Woodglen Road.  The fragrance of the wild roses saturates the air.  With each deep breath my mouth is coated with another layer of sweetness.

I feel strong.  My body is tan.  My legs are showing muscles that have lay hidden for too many years.  Running is good for me.  Running has always been good for me.  I started running a long time ago.

there I was this morning, running to a ball park.  Thirty years ago, I started running in a parking lot next to a ball park where Howard played.  Dad and I decided to try out something new called Aerobics.  Around and around we ran.  We ran together that night and we ran together for the next few years.  We awoke early.  We watched the sun rise together.  We turned the last bend together calling out “Home stretch!” and we ate breakfast together after showering (not together).  Dad went off to work and I went off to high school.  I liked the feeling of already having done something worthwhile before I even stepped up into the giant yellow school bus.

I was the only girl that ran in my high school.  I often skipped lunch to run.  Students and teachers couldn’t figure out what made me do it.  I didn’t care … it cleared my head.  It made me feel strong.

Thirty years later, I have a new partner to run with, Alexis.  I smile, knowing that in thirty years she will still hold precious the memories of our morning runs together as i hold precious the memory of runs with Dad.

Dad and I didn’t really care how fast we ran.  We wanted to be side by side to share a favorite tree, to smell the same smells, to share ideas.  I learned how to spit while running as well as how to blow snot out of my nose without getting it on my face.  Dad taught me those useful skills.

…. A jeep passed, leaving me in a vacuum, a void, robbed of all smells and sensations.  Gradually the void filled once again with life.  I checked my body…. legs fine …. lungs fine.  Hmmmm. Still no brilliant idea for a Father’s Day gift.

I ran past a garden filled with peonies in full bloom.  Mine didn’t bloom this year.  I moved them.  Maybe the ants couldn’t find them.  If the ants don’t eat away the covering of the bud, the peony won’t bloom.  Hmmmm. I wonder if I could make a picture book based on the relationship between ants and peonies.  Illustrations exploded inside my head.  I began to think of a possible storyline.  Dad would think of a good one, I’m sure.  Dad is so incredibly good at making up short stories that teach simple, and sometimes not so simple, lessons.  I wish I had his ability to tell stories.  Hmmmmm. Stories…… Writing.

Not only did Dad play a major part in my physical well-being by getting me on the road to running, he played a major role in my life as a writer.  Mom, too.  both Mom and Dad read to us all the time.  Dad and Mom are a good team.  they are honorable.  They are honest, They are caring and loving.

I arrive at the ball field.  Only on Dad and his daughter are there before me.  Within the next twenty minutes, the field behind the school fills with children and parents.  Four games are beginning, two softball and two baseball.  Michael’s game is first, at nine, then Nicole’s at eleven.

Tom Donelly umps Michael’s games.  He’s a perfect ump.  I met him fifteen years ago.  He owns Autumn Harvest, the health food store in Scotch Plains.  He lives near the Bunnvale Library.  His son, Joel, goes to school with Michael.  They play baseball together.  Tom looks like he stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting, his baggy pants, his cap on backwards, his slight build, the dusty rose rag that hangs from his right pocket, the stance, the movements.  And, he is fair.  he is incredibly fair, never showing favoritism.  Dad was like that when he coached Howard;s team.  A lot of parents didn’t like Dad’s fairness because it meant losing games sometimes.  But Dad doesn’t know how to live life any other way.  I think some of that fairness rubbed off on me.

I haven’t always played life fairly, but I’ve tried to.  When push came to shove I played fair because I didn’t know any other way, either…. just like Dad.

As I sat at the ballgame watching Michael play, watching Nicole take photographs of interesting things (Dad also got me interested in photography and helped me with my first darkroom that Mom was kind enough to allow me to set up in the kitchen after the sun went down), I decided that the best gift I could give Dad is my shared thoughts and reflections of our times together and the influence, the incredibly powerful influence he has had on my life….. and I am grateful.

Thanks, Dad.  I love you.  Happy Father’s Day!

Love,

Chris

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

Without hesitation, Dad began to write ……

Dad writing love poem for Jane

Dad writing love poem for Jane

A poem seems fitting

This Valentine;s Day

For someone I love

Who’s name, I say

Is Jane

Whenever I think of her

I picture a smile

For, it is there,

All the while

It’s her style!

Focused on love

Focused on love

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

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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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Dad has just returned from spending a wonderful week with Jane and her family in Cape Cod.  On their last day, as Jane signed the guestbook, Dad wrote this incredible poem!

Seen from the porch

The Scene is serene

It’s where sea and sky blend

And sailboats bob by.

The breeze ruffles Jane’s hair

As she reads, then looks up and smiles

Ah, that smile that so beams

Almost always, it seems.

Lift pencil from paper

For no more need be said

Too many words hide the story

Detracting from the glory.

I’m about to leave my house to pick Dad up and bring him for his B12 shot before we take our walk.  I couldn’t resist posting this poem first, along with some photos I found while he was away.  We have been going for walks together, as adults, for a very long time!

The Great Swamp. Gramps with Mike on his shoulders

Always the teacher, pointing out interesting things….

The boardwalk at The Great Swamp, 1987

Nicole exploring at The Great Swamp, 1987

 

A walk through the woods, 1995

Sharing Curiosity, 1995

At the Reservoir, 1995

Always curious, always excited about discovering new treasures that nature offers us!  What a Dad!

 

 

 

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It has been a difficult week…..

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I drove my brother to the train station this morning.  I handed him a pencil and Dad’s green sketchbook. Dad is in Amherst, Massachusetts with Anna prior to joining Jane and her family in cape Cod.

Thinking of what to write

Pencil to paper

she says

or no lunch

too many thoughts

none simple

time is so special —-

I’ll hug my sister

Perhaps I should backtrack to last Thursday …….

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I picked Dad up early.  I was distracted by the fact that I would be visiting with the kids’ Dad after having lunch and a nice walk with Dad.  Michael was diagnosed with lung cancer last November and was not doing well.  We had a date to play music together, something we hadn’t done for about eighteen years.  Michael and I met rock climbing in 1977.

Rock Climbing in Boulder Canyon

In addition to rock climbing, we both loved playing music.

Michael playing banjo

Dad’s was ready to go when I arrived.  We stopped in at the physical therapy room so that I could find out what the adjustments are on the machine he can work out on every day if he wants to.

Dad working out

After a short, ten minute work out, we drove to Hofheimer Grotto.  But not before a serious photo shoot of the fish tank.

Goldfish No. 1

Goldfish No. 2

We decided to walk the trail backwards, starting at the grotto.  Of course, Dad had no recollection of seeing the grotto before.  In fact, he didn’t really know what it was.

Puzzling over the geology

“You look puzzled, Dad.”

Hofheimer Grotto

“I’m wondering about this strange geology.  This must have been created by changing water levels.”

I remembered our visit to Watkins Glen State Park many years ago.  Every twenty steps Dad would give another geology lesson to the kids, telling them how many billions and billions of years the layers of rock represented.

“Dad, this is a man made structure.”

Cement and Rocks

He didn’t believe me until I pointed out the cement that holds the rocks in place.  We moved on ……

The theme for the day turned out to be Tree Graffiti.

Tree Graffiti No. 1

Tree Graffiti No. 2

Dad waited patiently as I veered off the path to snap dozens and dozens of photos of wounded trees.  Notice the initials “KS” in the upper right corner.

Dad waiting patiently

“Hmmmmm…..”KS” ……… that reminds me of a girlfriend I once had….. Katherine Stokes.”

Katherine Stokes and Dad were twelve years old.  Katherine was blonde, short and of medium stature.  Her father owned one of the two general stores in Odell, Indiana.  Odell was small and could support only one general store.  Katherine’s father went bankrupt.  John P. Hatt’s general store did not.  Katherine had a half-brother named Carl Dinwitty.

Katherine’s best friend was Lucille Schultz.  Lucille’s boyfriend, John Borum, was a friend of Dads.  the four of them would go behind the church and kiss.

Fascinating Tree growth No. 1

I continued to be distracted by the trees.

Natural Tree Sculpture

When we arrived back at the car I handed dad his book and sketched the trees as Dad wrote about Odell, Indiana.

Not very fascinating trees

Odell, Indiana

It was a little village, about 3 miles from the farm.  John P. Hatt owned the only store there and I believe he sold ice cream cones (as well as eggs, flour, gloves, etc.)  For a little while, a second store was owned by Russell Stokes, my girlfriend’s father, but two stores was probably too much for one little po-dunk village to support.  I wonder where she is now, — if she’s still around — an old lady in a rocking chair ?!

I remember being told to hurry up and eat the ice cream cone — it was melting (Wow!  the things that you remember !)

We stopped at the grocery store to buy our lunch and had a picnic in Dad’s room before I left for South Orange.

My visit with Michael was wonderful.  We talked and laughed and played music together …. Will the Circle Be Unbroken, John Hardy and one that I didn’t know.  It was just two chords, G and D, mostly D.  Mike then played me Tennessee Waltz on his pedal steel guitar.  Though he clearly was weak, I understood why he and Karen were still hoping for the best.  He was due to have another scan in a week’s time to see if he was responding to the third treatment.  We agreed to get together again in a week or two.  He asked me to bring my fiddle the next time.  There would be no next time.  Michael passed away two days later.

My brother caught a train from New Hampshire to come to the service. He and Michael had always enjoyed one another.  They both were rock climbers and woodworkers.  I was climbing with my brother  when I first met Michael.

Climbing with Michael in Boulder Canyon, 1977

I am grateful for my family, friends, siblings, for my children and for my husband, Tom.  I am fortunate.

I dropped Howard off at the train station this morning …….

Memories mingling with words

Pencil to paper

she says

or no lunch

too many thoughts

none simple

time is so special —-

I’ll hug my sister

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