Posts Tagged ‘Family History’

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, —


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?”


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

“He did.”

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


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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Our walks together have changed dramatically in the last couple of months.  Rather than adventures, our walks have taken the form of explorations.  Moving at a slower pace through the woods allows us to observe the plants and creatures of the woods more carefully.

To backtrack a bit, I want to include photos from the walk we took a couple of weeks ago when Lou and Dave were visiting from Seattle.  Lou, Dave, Jane, Dad and I walked the trail to the Hofheimer Grotto.

Dad and his sweetie, Jane

Louise at Hofheimer Grotto

Dave at Hofheimer Grotto

Louise and I playing photo tag

Artsy Fartsy photo of old egg vending shack

“Where are we?”

A good time was had by all …. even if it isn’t remembered.

After returning from a week of painting in Maryland, I took Dad to the Leonard J. Buck Garden in Far Hills, NJ.  The gardens were spectacular, flowers in bloom and a few trees still heavy with blossoms.

Stopped dead in his tracks

Dad’s fascination with the Primula Japonica “Candelabra Primrose’ made it difficult to move past the variegated pink flowers.

Taking another look at the perfect geometry of the primrose

“A near perfect one here ……..  And look at the variety of colors!”

Perfect Geometry

Dad marveled at the shape of the clustered blossoms. “Look at the geometry! …… the perfect spheres!”

Every few steps he would find another half dozen of perfect spheres.

“Look at that geometry!”

When Dad finally lifted his head to look up rather than down at the perfect little spheres, he found he was dwarfed by a Metasequoia glyptostroboides Taxodiaceae, “Dawn Redwood”

Dad dwarfed by the Dawn Redwood

His next delightful discovery was each and every white azalea bush that we passed.

“What’s this, Chris?”

“It’s a white azalea bush, Dad.”

“Wow …. it’s beautiful.”

We walked a few steps further to another white azalea bush.

“What’s this, Chris?” ………….

There are dozens of white azalea bushes bordering the Helen R. Buck trail that winds its way through the hilly part of the garden.  Each one we passed was a new discovery and joy for Dad.

When I’m not totally in the moment with Dad, this repetition of comments and questions can get pretty annoying.  However, when I let go and allow myself to enjoy his ability to experience something over and over again as if for the first time, I find it pretty remarkable.  Watching the expression on a child’s face when something is seen for the very first time is a unique moment that can never be repeated….. snow, the ocean, an elephant ……. With Dad, I get to experience an instant replay of that unique moment of discovery, over and over again.  I think that’s pretty cool …. most of the time.

Marveling at the construction of the bridge railing

the twisted vine

Dad lost his balance making his way to this tree with the twisted vine.  The path was steep with shallow steps.  I watched from below as he teetered, then tottered, then teetered again before catching his balance and reaching the tree.  Whew…

I am now confronted with becoming alert to a new level of dangers.

Relatively safe walking terrain.

Level, gravel walking trails are still pretty worry free.

High Risk Danger Zone

A beautiful set of stone steps such as these are hazardous.  Dad allows me to hold his hand while making our way up or down any sort of steps along the path.

High Altitude trail

When the trail has a steep drop off one side, Dad walks on the inside and I walk on the outside between Dad and the drop off.  He loses his balance more frequently when there is a significant change in the spacial relationship of the ground.  Fortunately, Dad doesn’t object to any of my less than ladylike suggestions that go against his ingrained rules of manners such as “A man always walks on the outside to protect the woman.”

A pause to write a poem

We stopped to rest on a bench at the top of the hill.  Time to write a poem.

Many colors

Are sprinkled throughout.

But the greens of the woods

Predominate the view.

The steady sound of traffic

From distant highways

Beyond the hills

Engulf the silent trees.

Not a breath of air

Even wiggles a leaf.

The peacefulness of the forest

Dominates the scene


Buck Garden

An odd feeder

Along the trail we found this peculiar feeder.  Neither one of us could figure out how the bird gets to the food. It reminds me of Dad’s squirrel-proof bird feeder that hung from the beech tree outside the living room window.

Dad’s stamina was good and we were able to walk all of the trails.  The weather was perfect.  We inhaled the beauty with each cautious step.

Before leaving the garden we stopped at the restrooms.  I didn’t have to worry about Dad not flushing the toilet.

Composting Toilet

What I did worry about is whether or not he would be confused by the toilet in spite of the directions posted on the wall.

Rules for using the composting toilet

“Dad, what did you think about that composting toilet?”

“What composting toilet?”

Maybe things were different in the men’s room.

We drove down the street to the restaurant in the old Far Hills Train Station.

“Dad, what do you remember about your life?”  I thought it an odd question to ask, but friends of mine who had recently lost a relative to Alzheimer’s had regretted that they didn’t ask that question and urged me ask it.  Dad and I spent the next two hours sipping coffee and talking about fragmented memories.

Things Dad remembers:

Building the house – laying the bricks – mixing a batch of mortar every night

The old car that looked like a Model A but it was a Pontiac (Lou, he said it was a Pontiac this time around and he insisted that it was when I questioned it.)

Applying for the job at Johns-Manville.  They showed him Spring Run and he picked out the lot.  He doesn’t remember if he picked it out with or without Mom.

“We hired the man who lived upstairs from us on North Bridge street to dig the hole and lay the concrete.”

Dad remembers his sister Ruth Jane ….. and being close to her.

“Hmmmmmmmm …. Let me see if I can remember anything more about my sister or about my mother and father…….. that’s odd …… I don’t remember anything more about them.”

“I vaguely remember when Louise was born.”

“Do you remember where was she born, Dad?”

“Sure I do ….. Somerset Hospital.”  (Louise, Anna and I were all  born at Home Hospital in West Lafayette, Indiana. David was born at Somerset Hospital in New Jersey.)

“I remember graduating from Yale as 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Air Corp.  Dad pinned his gold bars on my shoulder.  He was a 2nd Lieutenant, too.” (Eventually Dad said that he wasn’t sure his father attended the graduation and he thinks that someone else pinned his father’s bars on his shoulder.)

Near the end of our remembering game Dad said “I do remember going through this with my mother and she was doing the same thing I am doing.”

On the way back to Chelsea Dad started tapping on his thighs.

“Are you thinking of a song, Dad?”

Sweetheart of Sigma Chi.  I can’t get it out of my head.”  Dad sang the song to me.

The sweetest girl in all the land

of all the girls I know

Is the sweet coed with the rainbow trail

born on the 4th of July

The blue of her eyes and the gold of her hair

are a blend of the western sky.

the moonlight beams on the girl of my dreams

She’s the sweetheart of Sigma Chi.

Dad learned it in High School.  (Not quite the lyrics I found online, but close.)

“We had quite a nice glee club in high school.  I sang baritone.  I sang in a quartet, too.”

He went on to tell me a story about the quartet that he sang in, but made sure I put my notebook away first.

“I don’t want you to write this one down.”

Dad is cooperative about almost everything.  I felt I had to respect his wishes and not tell the whole world about his High School Quartet.  Sorry folks.

I am so grateful for the trees, the flowers, and the blue, blue sky.  Dad awakens to the sounds and sights and smells of nature.  His heart opens and he embraces the magic and mystery of all living things.  Dad is always so happy to be alive.

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Dad and I had a fabulous day!

Be forewarned ….. this is a long post.

I got out of bed at 3:30 am.  By 10:00 I’d already accomplished a great deal.  My sense of satisfaction gave me a totally optimistic attitude about the day.  I made two giant sandwiches, grabbed two bright yellow napkins, two water bottles and the blue suede sketchbook that I’d given Dad to use at Chelsea … but he never did. I had one page left in my black ‘Walks with Dad’ sketchbook and I had a feeling I would need to start Book II.

I called Dad to remind him to make his bed and to let him know I was on my way.  Today was the day for Dad and I to walk the complete trail at Lord Stirling Park.  For one reason or another, we never made it to Boondocks Boardwalk.  In another week we might be battling with thousands of inchworms hanging from the trees and mosquitoes eating us alive.

Dad hadn’t made his bed and he had shaved only half his face.  I was delighted to see him anyway.  We both were in excellent spirits.  Together we made the bed, Dad shaved the rest of his face, grabbed a sweater, checked his pocket for his key and his neck for his alarm.  I grabbed the week’s newspapers to recycle …. and we were off.

The fragrance garden at Lord Stirling Park

It was a bit early for lunch, but it made sense to visit the herb garden first, eat lunch, then set out for Boondocks Boardwalk.  I reminded Dad to rub the leaves gently, then smell the fragrance on his fingertips.  He proceeded to mutilate the plants without the reward of the pleasant fragrance.

“As my Dad used to say, I don’t smell so good anymore.”

I handed Dad his green sketchbook and asked him to write a few words before we ate lunch.  I’m such a dreadful taskmaster.  I’m surprised he puts up with me.

The columbine are just beginning to bloom.  It was just about this time last year when I began to chronicle our walks together.

Virginia Blue Bells, Lord Stirling Park, NJ

As Dad wrote, I made a quick sketch of a blooming Virginia Blue Bell.

Enjoying the Day 4/19/12

Sitting in the sun

In New Jersey

Enjoying the day

With Chris

Solid blue

is the sky

Comfortable temperature, —

If wearing a sweater.

Silent breeze

Moves the leaves

This is the moment

We can cease (seize).

A bird flies over

Emitting a raucous caw

Is he, or she, claiming territory

Or just enjoying the day

…. Dad with Chris …

The sketchbooks were traded for two giant sandwiches.

“I made us something much better than the open-faced banana sandwiches we had a couple of weeks ago.”


“What kind of sandwich do you think it is, Dad?”

“Well, it’s not tuna fish ….. but it is some sort of fish.”


“Is it turkey?”


“Is it chicken””

“Yes.  It’s curried chicken salad with cucumber and baby arugula on incredibly delicious whole grain bread. I guess you could say you don’t taste so good either.”

“Why? Because I didn’t compliment you on your sandwich?”

“No, Dad …. because you thought it was fish!”


I don’t know if I will ever really get used to Dad losing track of the conversation so quickly.

I was without mercy.  Before heading out on the trail I handed Dad his green sketchbook again and asked him to write a few words about lunch.

About my Lunch

One half of a sandwich

Was ample it seems

It is now time to consider

Walking the woods and streams

Some say rhyming doesn’t matter

“It’s really not that important”

In fact it can often be

Quite distracting

We headed to the far end of the swamp, Boondocks Boardwalk!

The trail to Boondocks Boardwalk

We entered another dimension, somewhere between a sci-fi movie and the land of faerie folk. A blanket of Spring Beauties covered the ground.

Spring Beauties

Occasionally there were flecks of purple from the wild violets.

Violets among the Spring Beauties

A shaggy barked tree loomed over us as if to warn us that we were not in Kansas anymore.

Shaggy Barked Tree

We then came upon a beech tree that one might see in a Faerie Tale, the home of little creatures.

Storybook Beech Tree

Dad followed me off the trail toward the peculiar beech tree.  He then continued on into the woods away from the trail.

“Dad, that’s not the path!”

“What is?”

“It’s over here.”

We continued on our way through a bizarre grove of mutated trees, mostly beech.  I really need to investigate how trees manage to mingle with one another and even growing back into themselves.  I noticed the first two trees because they looked as if they were waltzing together.  I didn’t realize how attached they had become.

Waltzing trees

Two trees grown together

Limb growing back into another branch of the same tree

Branch growing into trunk of another species

And there were more mutations in every direction.

Growing together

A fashionable flare

Dramatic angles

We left the odd trees behind and ventured deeper into the woods.  We found an old car that apparently veered off the trail many years ago.  Dad thought it might be an old Studebaker from the shape of it.

Car wreck... Did it hit a tree?

The woods changed, the blanket of wildflowers became denser and a sweet fragrance filled the air.


“This truly is like a faerieland, Dad.”

“Much of the world is like a faerieland” was his response.

At one point the trail left the woods and led us around a meadow.

Lenape Meadow

“The south-side is better.” Dad announced.  I hadn’t a clue as to what he was talking about.

“The brambles are all reaching south to the sun.  I’m having to dodge thorn bushes because I’m walking on the north-side of the the trail and you’re walking on the south-side of the trail.”

The blue, blue sky and a long, long trail.

As soon as the trail widened Dad stopped to admire the sky.  I told him that if I were ever to make a sculpture of him, I would carve him in the position he takes when admiring the sky.

“I wasn’t really thinking about the sky…. ”  He started singing a song:

There’s a long, long trail a winding

unto the land of my dreams,

Where the Nightingales are singing

And the moonlight gleams.

He went on to explain ….

” I was thinking what a long, long trail this is and the words to the song just followed that thought.”

“Are you tired, Dad?”

“I’m fine.”

I told him I hoped we would make it to the far side of the swamp.

“That’s pretty ambitious.  I hope you can carry me back.”

“If you can’t make it back, I think I’ll just leave you there.”

“It’s a good way to go.”

“There are certainly worse ways.”

A little further up the trail, the boardwalk began.

The boardwalk through the swamp

We walked ….

More boardwalk

And we walked ….

Quickening his pace

And we walked …..

Path to nowhere

“I guess we won’t go that way, Chris.” Dad pointed to the boards that led to nowhere.

And we walked some more ….

Approaching The Dance Floor

Until we came to The Dance Floor, an observation deck above the swamp.

Almost at our destination

We climbed the stairs to the observation deck and rested.  I sketched Dad as he wrote in his book.

Dad writing while resting on the observation deck

The Woods

With a stream running through

With the trees reaching

For the clear, clear blue sky

With their branches’ new sprouts

Announcing that summer is near

And that shade will soon appear.

The floating white clouds

Glide silently over our heads.

Their reflections gleam in the stream.

While Chris and I write

I hope our lines will reflect

some of the beauty here seen and felt.

Dad 4/19/12

We continued on, passing through a “Gateway to Somewhere.

The Gateway to Somewhere

And finally we arrived at our destination, the Boondocks Boardwalk, a roller coaster of a boardwalk.

Boondocks Boardwalk

The slant of the boards was so extreme at some points that I insisted on holding Dad’s hand.  It seems inevitable that I lead him into danger on our weekly walks.  When he moved too close to the edge I mentioned that he had stepped off the edge of the dam a couple of weeks ago and cracked his head on some rocks.

“I remember looking at the ground up close.”

Sometimes Dad’s memory works!

We reached the far end of the swamp and circled back.  Along the way we rested.

Bench Number One

Bench Number Two

Between Bench Number One and Bench Number Two I found a snake on the trail.


“I think you better move it off the path, Chris.  We wouldn’t want it to get stepped on.”

I carefully lifted the stiff, already dead snake, off the path.

Dad was weary and his feet shuffled a bit along the trail.  But his eyes were bright and he wore a smile.  He had done it.  He had walked to the far end of the swamp and back.  I was relieved.  I really didn’t want to leave him to sleep on the topsy-turvy planks of Boondocks Boardwalk.

We returned to Chelsea.  In the parking lot I handed Dad his green sketchbook one last time.

One last entry for the day.

April 19, 2012

What a great, sunshiny day with Chris!  Not a cloud in the deep, blue sky.  We enjoyed riding in the car, chatting about this and that.  My 88-year old joints ache a wee bit, but walking in the woods is what the joints and the mind need.  I ponder what Louise, Ann and David and families might be doing at his moment.  It’s been 89 great years, working on the 90th! Wow.

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Two weeks have passed without posting the experiences of my Thursdays with Dad and tomorrow is Thursday again. I’ve had an emotional block, unable to find enough joy and humor to balance the grief I am experiencing as I watch the rapid decline of my father.

So now I will try to catch up …

April 5, 2012

The day began with a quick visit to Dr. Frisoli for Dad’s Vitamin B12 shot.  From there we drove to the house.  The buyer’s metal scanning crew found what they thought might be an oil tank buried in the yard.  The oil tank was removed in 2009.  I brought Dad to the house hoping he might remember what sort of propane tanks were used to fuel the gas stove before the natural gas line was installed two decades later.

Searching for clues

We circled around the house four or five times.  Each time I tried to trigger Dad’s memory in a different way.  Each trip around the house he asked what it was we were doing.  Each time around he emphatically stated that we never had two tanks buried in the backyard.  Other than that, I wasn’t able to retrieve any useful information.

After the previous week’s bloody mishap I though Hofheimer’s Grotto might be a safe place, a flat, pleasant walk on soft dirt.

Picnic Lunch without the protein

We started with a picnic lunch.  Unfortunately, I left the almond butter on my kitchen counter.

Banana Sandwiches

Instead of eating almond butter and banana sandwiches, which would have been odd enough, we had plain banana sandwiches instead.  Dad, of course, loved them.  He especially liked the yellow flowered tablecloth that matched the banana peels and the napkins.  He is so easy to please!

After lunch we walked to the grotto.  Dad’s balance was fairly poor.  I decided to do the trail backwards, starting at the grotto instead of ending at the grotto.

Hofheimer Grotto

The warm weather had stimulated the growth of algae, but beauty of the spot was not diminished.  Dad wanted to join me walking the rim of the grotto.  I hesitated.  The path was fairly even, but a bit narrow.  I agreed as long as we held hands and walked slowly.

Hofheimer Grotto Reflections

After walking the rim path

We arrived safely on the other side.  Dad was pleased to have different vantage point.

“How are we going back?  Are we walking across that?”  He pointed to the narrow, perhaps ten inch wide, cement wall that acted as a dam.

Crossing the damn?

Remembering the bloody result of crossing a much wider damn the week before, I told him absolutely not!

“Dad, did you want to walk across that?”

“No, not really.”

We had to cut our walk short to return to the house for more investigating.  During lunch I had a conversation with my brother and we thought it best to check out a couple more things.

Dibs on the small one!

We made a pit stop before leaving the park.

“Dad, do you want the big one or the little one?”

“Oh, I think I’ll take the big one.”

Dad laughed on the way back to the car.

“Reminds me of when I was a kid ….  We had a two-holer at the farm.  One hole was big and one hole was small.  When my cousin and I would have to use it, we’d call dibs on the holes, hollering ‘Dibs on the small one! or Dibs on the big one’ ….. but we were small ourselves so we usually wanted the small one.”

I hadn’t heard that story before.

After we finished our detective work at the house we took a walk around the neighborhood.  We ran into two neighbors, both delighted to see Dad.

The blue blue house that matches the blue blue sky

One neighbor recently painted their house.  It stopped Dad dead in his tracks.  The house matched the sky perfectly.  Dad looked bewildered, as if his favorite blue, blue sky had dripped all over the house.

We headed back to Chelsea….. no poetry or sketches today.

April 12, 2012

I spent the morning digging for the ghost tank…… and finding nothing.

When I arrived at Chelsea, Dad was asleep.  The remains of his lunch were on a tray on the floor beside his chair.  On the table was his new copy of  Atlas of World Aviation.  The book had vanished three days after it had arrived as a birthday present from Louise and Dave.

Atlas of World Aviation

Whereas a month ago Dad became totally absorbed by the book.  He appeared a bit confused by it this time around.

I was relieved when Jane joined us for a game of cards.  I needed a distraction from my sadness.  We played one to ten and back again.  By the end of the game Dad had managed to do quite well, as he usually does when playing games.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings.  I’m hoping for good weather.

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Dad is forgetting to charge his cell phone.  Fortunately he has a land line back-up and he answered that one right away.  By the time I arrived he had made his bed and shaved.  He either hadn’t plugged his cell phone into the charger or he had unplugged it shortly after plugging it in, thinking he charged it during the night.  Either way, his cell phone was in his pocket, dead as a door nail.

Dad insisted on wearing his new blue coat.  I’d planned for us to work at the community garden for a short time before our walk.  Not wanting to get his new coat covered with dirt, I altered the plan and drove to Dealaman Pond.  I knew the terrain was level and the trails clear of rocks and roots.  With Dad’s inconsistent balance in mind, I wasn’t planning on crossing the dam as we did on our last visit to the pond.

Reliant,” he read aloud as soon as he settled himself in the car.  “That makes me think of the Stinson Reliant.  That’s a single engine airplane. Glen Goddard had one of those……. landed it, probably foolishly, in our clover field.”

Dealaman Pond was only a few miles from Chelsea.  We continued the conversation the entire ride, tossing it back and forth between Stinson Reliants and clover fields.  I parked the car, pulled Dad’s green sketchbook out of my pack and handed it to him.

“What’s this for?” he asked.

‘To write a few words down about the Reliant.”

“Reliant? …….. Why would I want to do that?”

I pointed to the small metal sign on the dashboard of the car.  “Reliant, Dad ….. what does the word Reliant remind you of?”

He looked puzzled.  “I don’t know ….. nothing that I can think of.”

I reviewed the conversation we had shared only moments before handing him his book.

“Oh ……. okay.”

As Dad’s pencil began to move, I pulled out my own sketchbook to make a few notes.

Sketchbook notes and scribbles as Dad writes

The “Stinson Reliant” Airplane owned rented by my Uncle Glen Goddard.

He landed the plane in our hayfield in Indiana and offered to take me back to Valparaiso, Indiana.  That is where my cousin Dick Davison lived.  His mom was Aunt Avanelle, my dad’s sister.

We landed at Purdue airport on the way back, to get gasoline.  The attendants at the airport looked askance at the weeds hanging from the landing cavity, telltale signs that Uncle Glen had foolishly landed the rented plane in a hayfield to pick me up.  Dad told me later that we had barely cleared the telephone lines when we took off.

With backpack and picnic lunch in hand, we began our walk.  Dad appeared to have difficulty on the trail.

“I don’t seem to be able to decide where to put my feet,” he told me when I asked if he was alright.  The sun was behind the clouds.  The lighting was fairly even.  There were no confusing patches of sunlight and shadows. When we reached the open area around the pond I suggested we stop there and have our picnic.  I didn’t think it was a good idea to cross the dam.

“I don’t see why not, Chris.”

“Dad, you’re unsteady on your feet today.  I don’t think we can make it across safely.”

“That’s ridiculous.  I know I can do it.”  Dad was persistent.

“Let’s test it out first, Dad.”

He gathered his wits and proved that he could find safe footing on the two-foot wide cement ledge.

“Okay, Dad, but we’re going to cross together, very slowly.  I’m going to be right behind you keeping your hips steady.”

We moved across the dam, one slow step after another.  Dad was focused and doing well.  With only eight feet left to go before reaching the grass on the other side, Dad began to sway.  His feet stuck like glue to the ledge, but his upper body kept changing directions.  I tried to hold him steady, frantically deciding whether it would be better to direct our fall into the water on our left or onto the rocks on our right.  There was no doubt in my mind that we were going down on one side or the other.  Dad made the decision as he suddenly lifted his right foot and stepped off the ledge.

My most dreaded fear became a reality as we left the ledge and fell onto the rocks.  The best I could do was resist the force of the fall by pulling Dad back towards me as we went down.  He resisted my effort and pulled himself forward in an attempt to catch himself.  The result was a face down landing on the rocks with feet tangled behind him.  I didn’t start moving his body parts around until after taking stock of the bad situation.  He lifted his head slightly.

“I think I’ve cut my head.”

Glass scraped, not broken … gash and bruise on forehead … cuts on hand …. bruised finger …. lots of blood on his face and in his hair, scrapes on his legs ….. but surprisingly no blood on his new blue coat!

Untangling his limbs was difficult.  Eventually he sat safely on the ledge. I cleaned up the blood with my supply of watercolor water and paper towels.

“Did I just step off this ledge? Why would I have done that? ….. Did I just step off this ledge?”

The trooper that he is, he wanted to continue our walk.  What a relief.  As I saw it, we had five options:

1. Cross back over the dam (I didn’t see this as an option at all.)

2. Cross back over the rocks and boulders (I had my doubts about being able to do that without at least one more fall.)

3. Leave Dad in the parking lot of a nearby office building with a note to remind him that I would be picking him up in the car.  I would run back over the dam, down the trail to the car, drive a mile around to the parking lot where I left him. (I thought this was terribly high risk and erased it immediately from my mind.)

4. Use my cell phone to call for help. (hmmmmmm)

5. Continue our walk on the other side of the pond and hope that we could make our way back without sinking in the bog like we did the last time.

Dad took his handkerchief out of his pocket to clean his glasses.

“Do think this is a permanent scratch on my glasses?”

“Yes, Dad, it is.  We’ll get you a new pair of glasses.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s necessary.”

We continued our walk, stopping at a bench in the sun to have our lunch.

Lunch in the Sun

While eating sandwiches Dad noticed the label on my backpack.

“What does that word, caribou, mean?”

“A caribou is similar to a reindeer.”

“Why does your pack say caribou mountaineering?” …

I brought homemade cookies for dessert.

Cookie Monster Dad

Even though the sun had come out from behind the clouds, the wind was brisk and we felt chilled when we weren’t walking.  Dad, dressed in his hooded blue coat, reminded me of Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster as he took his first bite.

Our picnic calmed my nerves and gave Dad a chance to gather himself together.  By the time we finished eating he had cleaned his glasses at least a dozen times.

“Do you think this is a permanent scratch, Chris?”

We walked arm in arm, navigating fallen branches side by side, one slow step at a time.

Steeplechase Hurdles

At one point along the trail, it switched to a set of vehicle tracks.  Trees crossed the path at regular intervals, a bit too regular to be the result of the wind storm the day before.

“It feels like we are on a fox hunt, Dad ….  jumping hedges.”

“I was just thinking the same thing.”


I stopped to take a photo of the lovely hedgerow.

“Make sure you get part of that branch in the upper corner, Chris.  It will make it a better composition.”

Dad's better composition

Out came the handkerchief again.

“Do you think this is a permanent scratch, Chris?”

With cleaned glasses he gazed upward to breathe in the beauty of the sky.

Taking a moment enjoying the blue sky.

The path appeared to curve around toward the car.

The Dealaman Pond Trail

I’d taken a different path from the one that led through the bog.  Unfortunately, it didn’t lead back to the car.  Instead it lead to a busy road without a shoulder.  We could have bushwhacked our way to the car through the woods but it  would entail crossing a small brook on stepping stones  …. not an option.  Arm in arm we walked along the edge of the road, stopping and stepping back from the road into a bit of a ditch each time a car came by.  It was tedious, but safe.

First thing we did when we returned to Chelsea was visit Vicky, Chelsea’s resident nurse.  I wanted to make sure Dad was okay, that the gash wouldn’t become infected as well as make sure that there is a record of the incident.  She agreed that Dad appeared to be fine.

Back in his room, Dad creamed me in a game of Rummy 500.  After having hit his head, he looked more alert, less in a fog, fewer veils surrounding him.  If it had helped his memory I might consider hitting him on the head more often.  Unfortunately, the memory is still gone.

Dad keeps score when we play card games.  At the end of each hand he asked me if we were starting a new game.  After about eight hands, he spilled an entire cup of coffee onto the table.  I attempted to save books and papers from the tidal wave of brown liquid while Dad grabbed a towel from the bathroom and wiped up the flood.  I took two minutes in the bathroom to rinse the coffee out of the towel and returned to find Dad looking at the deck of cards in his hands, a perplexed expression on his face.

“What’s wrong, Dad?”

“These cards are wet, Chris.  How in the world did they get wet?”

Drying Cards

I lay the cards out on the floor to dry thoroughly before stacking them again.  Dad was scheduled to take a scenic bus tour in a short while and I was sure the cards wouldn’t be dry before he left.  One can only imagine what he might think upon his return.  I asked him to write a note to himself about the coffee spill and the cards.

Dad's note to himself, "Cards drying from coffee spill."

His phone rang.  It was time for the bus tour.  We walked together to the bus.  As I turned to leave I saw Dad pull his handkerchief out of his pocket and hold his glasses up to the sunlight.  I knew he was wondering about that scratch.

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I received an email from my en plein air group alerting me to the early blooming of the cherry blossoms in Newark, NJ.  the Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled for two weeks from now.  I’m afraid there won’t be many blossoms left to see.

Cherry Blossoms, Branch Brook Park, Newark, NJ

The drive from Chelsea to Branch Brook Park was uneventful.  Dad sat quietly in the passenger seat, unresponsive to most of the surroundings.  He did, however, comment on an eighteen-wheeler that attracted his attention.

“Bud Light.  Wow….. that’s an awful lot of beer to drink.”

I passed the truck.  A few minutes later it passed me.

“Bud Light.  Wow….. that’s an awful lot of beer to drink.”

I then caught up with the truck and passed it.

“Bud Light.  Wow….. that’s an awful lot of beer to drink.”

This went on for about ten miles.  Shortly before our exit Dad’s attention shifted from drinking beer to the number of wheels on the truck.

“Hmmmm…… sixteen wheels.  That’s a lot of wheels!”

“Dad, it has eighteen wheels.  That’s why they call them eighteen wheelers.”

“That’s only if you count the two front wheels.”

“Why wouldn’t you count the two wheels in the front, Dad?”

“I guess, you’re right.  If one of those two wheels in the front blew out, the driver would really know it.”

I was glad we got off route 78 at the next exit.

Dad eating his sunflower butter sandwich

Without too much difficulty I found the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center at Branch Brook Park.  There were very few parking spots or picnic tables available but we were able to find one of both.  Our lunch conversation was centered around fruit trees. I asked Dad if there were fruit trees on the farm in Indiana.

“We had at least three pear trees in the orchard and one peach tree.  We had an apple tree in the front yard.”

A few minutes later Dad decided that the apple tree was in the orchard and a cherry tree was in the front yard. the orchard was behind the house.  A stock fence stood between the house and the orchard.

Dad pondering over his sketchbook.

I asked Dad to draw a picture of the stock fence.

Stock Fence at Thoaks

This type of wire fence surrounded an orchard at home in Indiana.  Dad kept lambs in the orchard.  They ate the grass enough to keep the grass level down to where there was no need to mow the grass.

As I packed up the picnic, Dad commented on the street lamps.

Street Lamps

“That street lamp reminds me of Karpinki’s lamp.  I think they told me they got it in Philadelphia.”  The Karpinskis were our next door neighbors on Middle Road in Martinsville.

An abundance of pamphlets and flyers

Before walking along the paths to view the cherry trees we stopped in at the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center to use the restrooms.  Before entering the building I mentioned to Dad that we really didn’t need to pick up any of the pamphlets we might find in the center.  For Dad, a table of informative papers is like candy to a child.  Before I could stop him he had carefully folded an application form for an 8th Grade Poster Contest and stashed it in his pocket.  He was reaching for more…

Walking the Cherry Blossom Path

The weather was spectacular.  Spirits were high and the sun drenched the landscape with early spring light.

Ancient Cherry Tree

Cherry Blossom Landscape

We found a bench beneath one of the cherry trees.

Dad writing in his sketchbook

Sitting on the park bench, beneath the

Spreading cherry trees’ blossoms, watching Chris take pictures — is most delightful!

The breeze is gentle, both warm and cool — feels so good!

The cars glide by.  It is almost noiseless.

The sky is blue — almost cloudless.

It is all so beautiful, so peaceful.

The traffic gliding by does make some noises now and then — especially the motorcycles.

Our writing makes no noise, but preserves nice memories!

Wonderful memories!!

If only Dad could remember those memories ……..

Cherry Blossoms in Full Bloom in Newark, NJ

As Dad struggled to find his words I watched his expression.

Dad searching for words among the cherry blossoms.

We strolled a little further.

Gorgeous Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms and Cattails


Dad's Composition

Dad often stopped and instructed me on the place to stand to take a nice photo of the cherry trees.  I was happy to do so.

People in the Park

The park was filled will people enjoying the nice day and the beautiful blossoms.  We returned to the car earlier than I had planned.  Dad was weary.  His stamina is not what it used to be.  We were able to beat the rush hour traffic and make it back to Chelsea in time for a musical presentation of Vivaldi’s Spring.

Flowers at Chelsea

We sat outside the activity room on a comfy couch, writing and drawing while excerpts of Vivaldi’s music was played and talked about in the room across from us.

Chelsea Music

As years pass

Reminiscence persists.

Music plays

Words are spoken

What do the old ones think

As the orchestra plays?

Of those days with family so young

Who now have friends of their own?

Of days spent with joy

Knowing all is well, —

Who know what tomorrow will bring?

Only TIME will tell.

So, meanwhile

Enjoy the trip.

Dad with Chris


I treasure the days spent with Dad.  And, when I return home I drink a bottle of wine, hoping that it will soothe my anguish over my father’s dementia.  It doesn’t.  It was difficult to get through the fog to make contact with my father today.  The fog grows thicker each week. He is less aware of his surroundings.  I walk at a slower pace, but not slow enough.  He often stopped and looked around for me when I was standing by his side.  For the first time, he had difficulty reading to me the words he had written.

Next week, weather permitting, we will go to Natirar.  We will walk further, rest more often, and breath the fresh air, enjoying one another, even in silence.  The stream will soothe our souls ….. I hope.

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Retracing my steps is something I rarely do.  As a result, I challenge Dad’s ability to handle uneven paths, muddy terrain and steep hills.  He’s a good sport and never complains.  Today I made the call to turn back and retrace our steps.

I was unable to reach Dad by phone prior to leaving my house.  I left messages on his cell phone and his land line phone, telling him I was on my way.  I wasn’t sure he would retrieve them.

An odd choice

The door was unlocked and his room was dark.  Dad lay asleep in his recliner, his body covered with sheets of newspaper.  When I woke him, he folded the papers and made a pile of them beside his chair.  I took another look for the Atlas of Aviation, a birthday gift from Louise and Dave that had vanished a couple of days after its arrival.  Though I didn’t find the atlas, I did find a copy of The Pregnant Virgin on the table beside his chair.  It seemed like an odd choice of reading material for Dad.  He had no idea where it came from and found it just as odd as I did.

“Why on earth would I read a book like that?”

His cell phone rang in his pocket.  Dad looked utterly baffled.

“Why would my phone be ringing?”

“Perhaps someone would like to talk to you.”

“But why would it be ringing?”

No wonder I didn’t get through to him when I called earlier in the morning.

We grabbed his coat, gloves and mud-walking shoes from the closet.  As we walked down the hallway I noticed that Dad was unsteady.  Usually, after about fifteen minutes of walking his balance kicks in and his pace picks up.  Our destination was Ehlens Brook, 46 acres of old hardwood forest containing five brooks, steep hillsides and two large detention basins. “Trail status in 2005 — existing streamside pathways, not planned, marked or cleared.  Surface is rocky, rooted, many stopovers.  Following streams is the easiest traverse.”  A perfect hike for an eighty-nine year old man with unsteady balance …. what was I thinking?  The address given for the start of the trail is 12 Timber Ridge.

Twelve Timber Ridge, Ehlens Brook Trail

The trail begins at the end of a cul-de-sac.  We changed into our shoes and stepped off the road into the woods.

A tree trying to keep up with the Joneses

There is no trail, but the underbrush is sparse, well-cleared by hungry deer. We moved slowly.  Dad’s balance continued to be shaky.  He found a good walking stick to help him cross the narrow brooks.  With the help of the stick and my hand, we crossed back and forth over small brooks five times.  Dad had difficulty choosing where to place his feet.

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk cabbage poked through the leaves like an infestation of alien creatures preparing to take over the earth.

Fallen Beech Trees

We came upon two fallen giants, beech trees that had grown up together like childhood sweethearts.  They lay, having fallen in opposite directions, casualties of the October snow storm that had taken down so many trees, the weight of wet snow upon branches still covered with leaves.  Link to short movie of the two fallen trees.

Fallen trees blocked our path whichever way we turned.  It was difficult for Dad to climb over the thick trunks.

Dad resting on a fallen tree

Dad kept looking up, perhaps searching for the blue, blue sky he loves so much and finding only a blanket of gray clouds. I decided to turn back.  He had no objection to my choice.  All the way back we spoke of the giant beech trees.  Upon reaching the car I handed Dad his sketchbook and asked him to write a few words about the beautiful giants now lying like fallen monuments upon the forest floor.

“What trees?”

We ate a banana and headed to Lord Stirling Park. I knew the trail there was flat. We had taken our first Thursday Walk together there almost a year ago.  Dad was quiet as I drove.  I asked him what it was he was thinking about.

“I saw that pickup truck and remembered when I wanted my father to buy one.”  He bought a hitch and trailer instead.

Back on the Farm

I wanted my dad to buy a pick-up truck.

Our neighbors had one.

“I can’t justify it”

Was the answer.

I later learned the term

“Return on Investment.”

He bought a trailer, –

Hitched it to the car’s bumper

The Herb Garden at Lord Stirling Park

The herb garden has not yet awakened from winter.  Only a few mint leaves dared to poke through the soil.  I showed Dad again how to gently rub the leaves and sniff the fragrance.

Dad carrying our picnic lunch

We enjoyed eating our sunflower butter and rhubarb jam sandwiches on the bench in the garden.

St. Patrick's Day cookies from Chelsea

A hedge of pussy willows separated us from the lake.

Willow Catkins

Grandmother Carter loved pussy willows.  They grew on the farm back by the swamp.  She would cut them and bring them back to the house.

“They were different, thought.  Ours had thicker stems and the buds didn’t stick out that way.  These have a little ball with a seed at the end of each whisker.”

View from the Observation Deck

The trail was groomed, fresh wood chips covered wet areas and new planking kept our feet dry.  Dad still had difficulty balancing, but the threat of falling was minimal.

Hammered or power-driven?

Before leaving the observation deck Dad pointed to the screws.

“Do you think those were driven in with a power drill or a hammer?” he asked.

“I’ve never heard of anyone hammering in screws, Dad, have you?”

“Some nails are threaded you know.”

“But they don’t have slots in the head.”

Hawthorn Tree

Along the trail we found a cluster of trees with extremely large thorns.  When we returned to the Educational Center I asked Doe, the woman at the desk, if she knew what kind of trees they are.  She was new to the job and didn’t have the answer, but was happy to ask Marvelous Monica in the back room who knows just about everything.  A few minutes later Doe returned, smiling.  She identified the trees as hawthorn trees.  The fact that they are clustered together indicates that the spot in the woods, at one time, was where a dwelling once stood.  The hawthorn trees were often planted for protection, a barbed fence of sorts.

Thorns of the Scary Hawthorn Tree

Doe went on to tell me of another use for the tree.  Apparently the Shrike, or ‘Butcher Bird’ impales its prey on the thorns for later consumption, using the hawthorn as a ‘larder’.

Roots, Rocks and Relics

On a lighter note ….. The current exhibit in the gallery hall is Roots, Rocks and Relics, artwork of the AP Grade 12 students fro Ridge High School.  The work is exceptional.

Art by Ricky Jara

Art by Grace Cheung

Art by Peter Woo

Lord Stirling Park

The Great Swamp, New Jersey


Chris and I are resting in a gallery of art work done by H. S. Students.

Imaginations went wild: drawings on placards 3′ x 4′ to 6’x6′ to 2′ x 12′.

On the floor’s center are three platforms, 4′ x 8′, displaying sculpturings of Sea life,

8 to 18 plus in number per platform.

We thanked Doe for her help and returned to the car where we changed our shoes and stashed the muddy ones in plastic bags.  That system has worked well for us and saves me a great deal of scrubbing when we return to Chelsea.

Turning back had been a good choice.  There are enough trails that are without rocks, brambles and fallen limbs.  There are trails with benches to sit on and rest, write and draw. I don’t know how many more weeks of walks Dad and I will have together.  I am grateful for each one.

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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?”


“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


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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Off to a difficult start.  I shouldn’t have stayed out til 3 am painting musicians at the Raven’s Nest Blues Jam! But how could I resist?

Rob Fraser playing guitar at Blues Jam

I set the alarm for 6:45, hoping I wouldn’t fall back to sleep.  Of course, I did.  Luckily I awoke at 7:21, just in time to shower, call Dad and get on the road. Dad and I had a 9 am appointment at Bank of America with a locksmith to drill open Dad’s Safety Deposit Box.

Alas ….. I found myself behind a school bus, then a salt spreader, then a well digger truck. I arrived at Chelsea to find Dad in the dining room having just finished his breakfast.  I introduced myself to the woman sitting at his table whom I’d seen before, but not met.  Apologizing for being a whirlwind, I told Dad we had to leave immediately.  On the way to his room, I asked the woman’s name.

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t you talk to her, Dad?”

“Hmmmm….. I think so.”

We arrived at the bank with three minutes to spare.  While waiting for the locksmith I encouraged Dad to write giving him a few hints at what had already happened that morning.

February 9, 2012.  9 a.m.

Bank of America, Martinsville

Ate breakfast with C…… F…..

Black ice in the parking lot.

We are waiting for the locksmith.

Dad thought I said “Black-eyed peas”, not “black ice” and wondered why he had black-eyed peas for breakfast.

The locksmith arrived and drilled the lock.  The technique reminded me of opening a bottle of wine and took about the same amount of time.  Much to my surprise, the box was not empty.  It contained Grandmother Carter’s death certificate and several envelopes filled with folded documents.  I reached into the long, thin, narrow box to see if there was anything else.  Feeling something hard and perhaps furry, I stifled a scream and withdrew my hand while shivers ran down my spine.  I could understand mice finding their way into the drawers of my oak card catalog where I store art supplies, but I didn’t understand how one could get into a bank safety deposit box.  Before alarming the dignified bank attendant who was acting as witness to the opening of the box, I tipped the box and peered into the darkness.  That didn’t help.  Gently, I tipped the box forward.  A small, well-worn, suede pouch slid into view.  Inside was my Great Grandfather’s pocket watch.


After a typical bank ordeal of no one knowing how to handle a situation that didn’t fall neatly into place, Dad and I returned to the car.  While the experience was fresh, I asked Dad to write a few words in his green sketchbook.

Searching for thoughts

Dad didn’t have any idea why we had gone to the bank.  I took the pocket watch out of my bag to jog his memory.

The Pocket Watch Rodent

The watch belonged to my grandfather

My father’s father

Whom I never met

I think he died

When I was a baby – about 1925

Dad seemed to have fond memories

Of his father.

I have very fond memories

Of his mother, —

My Grandmother Carter.

My cousin Dick Davison

Called her “Nin”.

She lived with The Davisons

In West Lafayette – on Evergreen Street

Until her death.

I roomed there during my Freshman

And Sophomore years at Purdue.

Our next stop was Dr. Frisoli’s office for Dad’s monthly B12 shot.  They took a blood sample to re-evaluate the frequency of his B12 shots.

Contour Drawing Demo for Dad while waiting for his B12 shot

With our two appointments out of the way, Dad and I were free to spend the rest of the day as we liked. I was famished, having dashed off without breakfast.  We headed to Benny’s for coffee and a fried egg sandwich.

Dad and Benny

Before leaving, Dad noticed the framed sign on the wall, one that he had printed and framed himself several years ago.

The Culture Center

He wondered how many other people stop to read the notice of the morning gathering of men commonly referred to by the members as The Culture Club.

Sufficiently fed and filled with caffeine, we drove to Wagner’s Farm where Dad and I volunteer in the Community Gardens.  I didn’t expect anyone to be there, but I thought it might be a good spot to test the sogginess of the ground and to begin our day’s adventure in nature.

Heading up the road toward the farm, I pulled into the parking lot of Trinity United Church on King George Road.  I wanted to jot down a few notes before they slipped from my mind.  Mind-slipping feels contagious when I’m with Dad.

Fence Patterns

I couldn’t resist a quick sketch of the fence we faced while sitting in the K-car.  I handed Dad his green sketchbook.

Pencil to paper

Eyes to the sky

All is so quiet, —

Even Chris and I.

But silence is fine,

It gives us time to reflect

Upon the many fine walks and rides, —

that together we have spent.

Feb. 9, 2012

The fence with cast shadows

After reading me what he wrote, I asked him to write a few descriptive words inspired by the fence.

The Fence draws attention


It scans one fifth of the view

And is flooded with sunlight

Its plainNESS dominates

Its grayness defines it.

The day was improving by the minute…. I started the car and turned out of the parking lot, the blue sky above and smiles on our faces.

Wood Chips from trees damaged in snow storm

Looks like we have plenty of wood chips for the gardens!  I reminded Dad that we are volunteers and we would be working in the garden again in the spring.  He was pleased.  Knowing that the trail bridge crossing the river to the Glen Hurst Open Space had been washed out I left the Farm and drove a quarter mile up the road to the main entrance of Glen Hurst.

Decades Later

From the vantage point of a small gazebo, Dad and I gazed at the open field, now home to small cedar trees.  I stood on the same spot where I made out with my boyfriend in the late 60’s.  Dad’s thoughts were on teeing off from that same spot when playing golf with Gary Kidd, probably in the 60’s.

“Looks like it’s been a while since anyone collected green fees.”

We left our memories behind, so to speak, and chose a trail.

Heading across the overgrown golf course

The trail, surprisingly dry, led us through diverse terrain.

Through sun speckled woods

Walks with Dad always include stopping to marvel at the blue, blue sky!

Breathing in the beauty of the sky

At one point the trail opened up to a cleared path for high tension wires, inspiring comments on electricity, wiring and the enormous size of the towers.

High Tension Towers

We walked about a mile when we came to a fork in the trail.  Dad chose to go to the right rather than to curve back around to the car. His stamina was excellent and it was clear he was not ready for the adventure to end.  Perhaps he would have chosen differently had he foreseen the challenges ahead.  Most likely, he would have made the same choice.

Warning signs?

We noticed metal signs facing a trail to the right.


Maybe the sign registered somewhere in Dad’s brain as a warning.  He didn’t change course, but the foggy thought must have stayed with him.  The trail led deeper into the woods, giant trees uprooted everywhere, having fallen into the river, across the path, taking several other trees down with them as they fell, reminders of the damage from the late autumn snow storm.

Storm damage

“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, Chris.”

“Why not?”

“Well …… this might lead to …… the North Pole.”

The tone of concern in his voice alarmed me.  It didn’t sound as if he were joking.  Before I could respond, he continued.

“….. or, it might lead somewhere  like ….. maybe California!”

“I think we’ll be alright, Dad.  I’m sure I can find the way back.”

“Okay, let’s go.”

Riverside Trail

Soon enough, a paper sign reassured us that we weren’t on our way to the North Pole or California.  The beauty of reflections in the river chased away Dad’s fears.

Abstract designs in the river

Distracted by the patterns and textures of the river and trees, Dad and I followed the trail and took photos from the bridge that crossed the river.  Eventually the trail curved back around and we found ourselves headed back in the direction of the car.  We had walked about a mile and a half.  The trail vanished beneath a section of mud and swamp.  We could see the trail emerge again about fifty feet ahead.  I didn’t want to turn around and retrace our steps.  It appeared that we might be able to cross without sinking to our knees in puddles.

“Are you ready to cross the swamp, Dad?”

“Just wait til I put my swimming trunks on.”

After stepping on what I thought to be solid ground I sank to my ankle in soft mud.  I chose a better route and we made our way across the mud flats.  Ahead, a bit to the right, I could see the barns and silos at Wagner Farm.  I remembered we had crossed the river earlier and that we were now on the wrong side of the river. I also knew the bridge ahead was washed out.  Last time we crossed the marshy fields that led to Wagner Farm, Dad had fallen face first into a giant marsh mound. To the right was a field of marshy mounds, behind us were the mud flats.  Looking to the left I saw a giant tree fallen across the river and decided it might be a better option.  Dad was growing tired and I didn’t want to push my luck.  I pushed it anyway, but not by turning back.

“Are you up for it, Dad?  Are you up for crossing the river on that fallen tree?”


Already I knew that I had stepped into the realm of foolhardiness.  Already I decided not to take a photo of the tree were were about to use as a bridge.  I didn’t want to be disowned by my siblings for endangering our father.

The first three feet of tree was surrounded in brambles, giant thorns along thin, bouncy branches.  I took almost five minutes carefully separating the brambles, securing them on either side of the fallen trunk to allow us clear passage.  I led the way to test the footing.  After two steps along the trunk I stepped down to a pile of leaves that covered a somewhat stable mound of dirt and branches that had washed up near the bank and were held captive by the fallen tree. I turned to give Dad a hand to balance as he stepped onto the trunk and over two small branches that crossed the main trunk.

One foot over…. excellent.  The second foot was in the air when some of the brambles let loose, caught his jacket and threw him off balance.  He was headed into the river on the far side of the tree trunk.  I had hold of one hand and grabbed his jacket with the other, pulling him toward me, redirecting his fall.  More brambles let loose, slapping my face and driving thorns into my cheek. S-l-o-w-l-y he finished his fall and lay safely on top of me, my back resting on the tree trunk.  Not a great time for a photo shoot.

“Are you okay, Dad?”

“Yup …. how about you?”

That was the worst of it.  We made our way across the river safely, climbed up the bank and found the trail that ran along the river on the other side where the car was parked.

“I’m glad you’re not a wuss, Dad.”  I had to explain what a wuss is.

Trailside Bench

We saw a bench ahead on the trail and felt we deserved a bit of a rest.  I wish I could say I wont’ take chances like that again.  The truth is, I probably will.

Around a curve, a couple hundred yards further, I discovered that the washed out bridge is not the only bridge that ties Wagner Farm to Glen Hurst Open Space.

An easier way to cross the river

Back at the car, we took a few minutes to write and draw.

Glen Hurst Open Space Trail Head

Time passed and I asked Dad how he was doing with his writing.  Turns out he had copied everything written on the signs tacked to the Trail Head boards.

“Dad…. after our huge adventure of crossing the river isn’t there something you can think to say about it?”

We crossed the river

By walking carefully on a fallen tree.

We slogged through the marsh

Knees were kept dry.  I didn’t fall,

For I leaned on Chris’s shoulder.

She “saved the day”

The sky is still quite clear.

We are seated in the front seat of her parked car

Both doors are WIDE OPEN.

there is may a sound and no clouds.

No clouds

Sh – Sh.


Our muddy footprints back at Chelsea

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I didn’t think finding a small, plain, fabric gym bag would be so difficult.  Not being a “shopper” made the task even more difficult. Today was my last opportunity to find the only gift Tom requested for his birthday on Saturday, but Thursdays are the day I spend with Dad.  After the recent Home Depot experience of losing sight of Dad, I panicked at the thought of taking him to the Bridgewater Commons Mall, my last hope after a dozen fruitless trips to other stores.  Luke saved the day by offering to join us on our trip to the mall.

After a failed attempt to open Dad’s safety deposit box at the bank, we headed to Luke’s for lunch before our shopping excursion.

Portrait of Luke and water glasses

The sunlight streaming through the window and striking water glasses stole my attention.  More Water Glass Still Life photos are posted on my other blog Third Time Around.

While the pierogies cooked on the stove, Luke made us seltzer in a fancy contraption he bought Carrie for Christmas.

Luke making Seltzer Water

Water Glasses in Sunlight

Did I just post another photo of the water glasses?  Ahhhhhh ….. sorry …… I couldn’t resist.

Still Life with Dad

Oops…. there I go again.  But Dad’s in this one, so I can get away with sneaking it in.

Luke and Dad

I brought a fistful of salad greens and some left-over chicken thighs from home to add to our luncheon feast of pierogies and Texas Toast.  After lunch we moved into the living room to entertain ourselves with a bit of music and dancing.

Luke setting up the player piano roll

Dancing Keys

As the keys danced, playing Has Anybody Seen My Gal, Dad sang along.

Dad singing along with the player piano

Still Life With Water Glass

Oh my …. another water glass still life …. I wonder how that happened ……..

Valentine's Day Still Life with Water Glass

Heavens….. this one is getting a head start on next month’s holiday.  Okay.  I will try to focus on the events of the day.

Blue Danube Waltz

When Luke switched to Blue Danube Waltz, Dad and I danced around the room.  I reminded Dad that he taught me how to waltz when I was a little girl.  In turn, I taught Alexis, Nicole and Mike to waltz when they were young.  I wanted to spend the afternoon listening to the piano and dancing with Dad.  Unfortunately, we had a mission.

Too big, Too bright, Too vinyl

Luke knew of three local stores to try before we tackled the Mall.  No luck finding the right kind of bag at the first store. Dad’s delight in the assortment of odd exercise paraphernalia surprised me.  He had been so bored in the electronics store a couple of months ago.  Being an electrical engineer, I thought he would have been fascinated with all the gadgets.  He wasn’t.

Core Stability Disk

Dad wondered why anyone would pay money for a core stability disk.  His amusement was topped only by Luke’s demonstration of the technique used for working out with the Official Shake Weight.  We headed to the next store.

Shake Weights

Two stores down and one to go before we would have to bite the bullet and go to the mall.  Eastern Mountain Sports did not let us down.  While I conversed with a salesclerk Luke investigated the Leatherman knives and Dad puzzled over the peculiar snowboards.

Dad's new sport

He was pretty keen on trying out that double  board, thinking it looked like it could be a lot of fun.  He was like a kid in a candy shop.  The salesclerk returned with the perfect gym bag.  I paid for the bag as Dad joined Luke at the Leatherman display.  He found the prices completely out of line with his thoughts on how much a good knife should cost.

Glued to the bike

The three of us headed to the door.  Our exit was delayed by Dad’s investigation of a racing bike.  It was impossible to tear him away from the bike.  He tested out the handles, wondering about the little gear levers and the odd downward curve.  While Dad stuck to the bike like a magnet, Luke browsed the bike apparel and found a cute little pair of shorts.  He thought he might start biking on weekends to have a good excuse to wear them.

Luke's new shorts

Fortunately, I talked Luke out of buying them.  We pried Dad away from the bike and left the store.  My thoughts flashed back to the challenge of gathering up the kids when it was time to leave a playground.  We drove back to Luke’s where we picked up my car and headed back to Chelsea by way of North Bridge Street.  In 1952 we rented the first floor of a house on North Bridge Street while Mom and Dad built the house in Martinsville

286 North Bridge Street

The house has been renovated and Dad refused to believe it was the house we had lived in.  I drove down the side street to see if he would recognize it from the back.

286 N. Bridge St. from the back

He didn’t.

“What looks different, Dad?”

“Let’s just say ….. nothing looks the same.  I am sure the house we rented was closer to the highway.”

I pulled back around and we drove passed the front of the house toward the highway so that Dad could see that it was only one house away from the highway.  He agreed that it had to be the right house.

“Things really change, don’t they …..”

We hadn’t written or drawn all day.  As we approached the quarry we talked about how that, too, had changed drastically since we moved to New Jersey in the early fifties.

Quarry as seen from Chimney Rock Inn

 January 19, 2012

The Quarry

Chimney Rock Inn (across the road)

An afternoon with Chris, The Dad-Daughter Combo

Chris and I are in her car, down the road and around a corner or two from where we lived for over 50 years.  They were good years,  —- very good years.

We bought a lot across the street from a Revolutionary War cemetery, built a brick house (mixing the mortar in a wheel barrow and laying the brick ourselves.  I have a photo of “Mom” laying brick.)  We moved in, from Somerville, before we installed the inside wall boards.  The first meals were cooked in the fire places.  The neighbors called us pioneers.

Dad worked hard getting the words into his green sketchbook.  It was a struggle.  It was an emotional struggle, I believe.

As we pulled into Chelsea, Dad mentioned that he had been looking at the croquet set in his room next to his door.  He had been thinking about how he hasn’t used it in a while.  He remembered his uncles playing croquet in the shade of the oak trees on the farm in Indiana.  He remembered Uncle Ken bringing his mallet with him.  I parked the car and pulled out sketchbooks out of my bag once more.

Sketching while Dad writes in the car

Some Sundays in Indiana

Farmers worked hard on week days, but Sundays were considered a “day of rest” (rest being interrupted to milk the cows, feed the pigs and cook meals over a hot, wood-and-coal-burning stove).  Most commonly the main dish was lots of fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, and various vegetables and fruits.  Generous second helping were not uncommon for that huge noon dinner meal.

After dessert the men disappeared to the living room or under the shade trees in the front yard and talked while the women gathered in the kitchen to wash the dishes and talk.  As I remember, it was a day that all members of the families looked forward to.

The uncles would gather in the front lawn and play croquet.  Uncle Ken was the best player, the athlete in the family.  He played basketball in his high school first varsity team.  The woman prepared food and washed dishes over the hot, wood-and-coal-burning stoves.  No one had air conditioning in those days.

Abstract Still Life of Water Glass

Thanks, Luke, for a fabulous day!

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