Posts Tagged ‘Feltville’

Patience is not one of my strengths, especially on a hot, humid day in the middle of July in New Jersey.  I do my best to keep a sense of humor throughout the weekly, bizarre visits with my dad.  His eternal optimism and positive outlook on every aspect of life saves the day every time.  If he wasn’t so damn much fun to be with I might just strangle him to get it over with.

If you have a judgmental look on your face right now, you have not yet dealt with a loved one suffering from dementia of one sort or another.  Hopefully, you will be spared that challenge.

Thursday, July 12, 2012:

Feltville General Store, Church and School

I emptied my refrigerator into the big yellow, thermal bag and tossed in a few ice packs.  Peanut butter and jelly is easy and lightweight.  Dad loves whatever I bring for lunch.  Unfortunately, I was out of bread.  It gave me the opportunity to make up for the lousy lunches of the last few weeks.

Where would we go today?

Criteria #1 …. (really the most important criteria of all from now on) …. Restrooms!

Criteria #2 ….. picnic table for the fancy picnic

Criteria #3 …. somewhat even ground and trails that offer a small enough loop to get back to the car before fatigue changes the odds for falling.

Criteria #4 …. somewhat close to Chelsea so we aren’t driving around in a hot car too long.

Criteria #5 …. someplace we haven’t been in a while.  I needed a change of scenery. Dad doesn’t.  We could go to the same place every week and it will be new for Dad.  He doesn’t remember going to any of the trails we’ve explored over the past year, even the ones we go to on a regular basis.

We headed for Feltville. (read more about Feltville from the post of our first visit to this fascinating place.)

Meeting Criteria One

Modern, clean restrooms are located at the back of the main building, the General Store.  I checked to see that they were unlocked and in service before we walked further down the road to the picnic area.

Picnic Tables, Criteria Two

Dad thought the bottle of dressing was a juice drink (I think).  When I explained that it was dressing, he poured it over his pasta and vegetables rather than his salad.  I’m sure it tasted yummy.

Salad, Pasta and veggies, Cherries

Unlike last week, Dad initiated conversation, of sorts, on the drive to our destination.  Last week he was utterly silent and relatively unobservant of the surroundings as we passed them by.  Today, his dial must have been set to Standard Conversation Number Two – Clouds in Sky, Large Trucks and Tall Towers.  After our lively car conversation I was hopeful that our after-lunch brain games might be less frustrating for me than last week.  I began with a few follow-up questions.  I wanted to know if he really did meet Amelia Earhart and I wanted to know if his degree in electrical engineering was essential for his research and development of building materials for Johns-Manville.

No, he doesn’t think he ever met Amelia Earhart.  He did touch the controls in her plane when it was on exhibit at Perdue.  He turned the knobs to watch the dials move and was reprimanded by a guard.  The connection between electrical engineering and building material research and development left me sinking into the abyss of frustration.  I opted to redirect the conversation with a variation on last week’s brain stimulating game of tapping into the area of imagination.  At one point he had said that he would like a job that would allow him to travel with his family.

“If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go.”

“Indiana, I guess.  Back home to Indiana.  It would be nostalgic.  I’m familiar with Indiana.  And maybe the South Pacific.  That’s familiar to me, too ….. and Australia.  And I wouldn’t mind going back to Indiana and visiting some of my old, familiar places.  Maybe I could find some of the people I used to know.”

“Anyplace else?”

“I think I would like to go back to Indiana.  I know Indiana.”

“Are there places you haven’t been that you would like to visit?”

“Hmmmmmm.  I’d probably like to go back to Indiana.….. Oh, places I haven’t been?  Maybe China.”

“Any other places?”

“Hmmmmmmmmm…….hmmmmmmmmmm……..hmmmmmmmmm…..hmmmmmmmmmmm.  What was the question?”

I repeated the question.

“Places I haven’t been?  hmmmmmmm …. I’ve always enjoyed action.  Maybe a place where business is prospering, maybe parts of Europe and places I don’t know about…… and China ……  and I think Indiana.  What was the question again?”

I could cut and past the above conversation half a dozen times more.  I tried to move it along.

“What are my options, Chris?”

“We’re playing a game, Dad.  You have ten seconds to tell me to buy a ticket to anyplace in the world.  If you don’t pick a destination, you will sit on this bench for the rest of your life.  Those are your two options.”

“What was the question?”

I repeated, several times.

“Indiana, I guess.  It’s familiar.”

At some point, Dad clicked into another part of his brain.

“China.  Maybe the Himalayas.  And maybe, if I didn’t have to stay there too long, the Sahara Desert.  If I could stay a little longer, I’d pick a place where I could meet and chat with the people.”

“Where would that be, Dad?”

“China.  Maybe South America…. or China.  I have curiosity …. not to live, but to visit Africa.  I’m interested in how the people live and how I could improve their way of living.  I used to do that.  I sold Real Estate to help people better their lives.”

“You didn’t sell Real Estate for very long, Dad.  If you liked helping people that way, why did you stop selling Real Estate?”

“I don’t know.  What did I do after that?”

Dad definitely seemed stuck in Indiana.  I gave him a hint.

“I was born in Indiana, Dad, but I didn’t grow up there.”

“Hmmmmmmmm.  I went to work for Johns-Manville, didn’t I?”

The conversation turned to Dad’s transition between selling Real Estate and his job at Johns-Manville.  I was exhausted and pulled out the sketchbooks.

“Time to write, Dad.”

First poem of the day

It Is What It Is

The silence is deafening

In these woods —

Ah, now there’s a plane overhead

And the pattering of footsteps

As joggers

Go jogging by.

Chris contributes to the silence as she sketches away, —

While sitting at the picnic table, —

Across from me this warm summer day.

I pop another grape in my mouth, —

And sip a sip of Poland Spring water

Hoping more exciting words

Will come for me to write down, soon.

It might be a quite long wait

For words that somehow make some sense

Until then it seems a bit wasteful

To sit here pushing pencil on paper

It is what it is

Dad … a day in the woods with Chris

Dad’s illustrated poem

I asked Dad to draw a few cherries (we didn’t have any grapes) on the page with his poem.  That led into more drawing.

Cherries and Words

We played with writing words along the cherry stems in our drawings.

bending words along cherry stems

The expression on Dad’s face changed as he wrote the words along the cherry stem.  I presented another graphic word game to him.

Dad’s second attempt at word game

Dad’s third attempt at word game

I think he would have been happy to be stuck on the bench for the rest of his life playing this game.  Maybe he would choose that next time instead of sending me to buy a ticket to Indiana or China.

Waiting for my return

We packed up our picnic and continued our walk, stopping first at the restrooms.  The yellow, thermal bag, filled with pottery bowls, ice packs and bottles was too heavy for me to carry through the woods.  I left Dad on a bench while I brought the bag back up the steep hill to the car.  I left him with pencil in hand and green sketchbook open on his lap, hoping I would see words on the page when I returned.  Even more importantly, I hoped I would see Dad still sitting on the bench when I returned.

The wooded area speaks history

Of trees reaching high

Search for Sun’s rays

Coming down from the sky

The green grass below

Carpets the ground

And prevents rains from the skies

Leaving big ditches all ’round

I can’t help but believe that drawing helps Dad to put words together poetically.  There is a dramatic difference between this poem and his first poem.

Lost somewhere between tree tops and sky

The afternoon light distracted me and I snapped dozens of photos of a pipe while Dad drifted into the tree tops.

Beautiful pipe

It was getting late.  After a very short walk through the woods, we trudged up the hill to the car.  Dad needed to stop only once to rest.

Dad with pencil in hand

Next week I’ll tuck a few sheets of graph paper into Dad’s sketchbook.  We’ll play the word game again.

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When I arrived late at Chelsea Dad had already had a haircut and was napping in his chair.  He had forgotten to shave, his bed was unmade and his pants had coffee spills on them, all incidental details that could easily be remedied after getting his Vitamin B12 shot.

Waiting for Dad's vitamin B12 shot

We were scheduled to meet Jane at the author’s presentation at 12:15 back at Chelsea.  Jane had just returned at 3 am this morning from competing in Texas playing Women’s Singles and Doubles Tennis.

Not realizing that the presentation included lunch, Dad and I stopped at Benny’s to get lunch-to-go, thinking we would eat it after the author’s talk.  We dashed to his room to put the food in the fridge.  I made the bed and straightened up the room while Dad changed his clothes and shaved.  He looked dashing when we walked into the activity room and saw Jane smiling at us from one of the luncheon tables.  In her pocket were the two medals she won at the National Senior Games in Texas, Bronze Medal for Women’s Singles and Silver Medal for Women’s Doubles!

Jane's Bronze and Silver Medals!

Jane’s partner, Suzanne, could neither see nor hear while they were playing.  Her hearing aid had fallen out at one point making communication between the two partners difficult.  Still, they won a Silver Medal.  Pretty remarkable. You have to qualify in your state the fall before.  Jane came home with a Gold Medal (singles) and a Bronze Medal (doubles) from the qualifying tournaments.  At that time she and Susanne were playing the 70’s since Susanne was not yet 75.  In Texas they competed in the 75’s. I am so proud of both of them.

Following the luncheon, Patti Kerr, author of I LOVE YOU … WHO ARE YOU Loving and Caring for a Parent with Alzheimer’s gave an excellent presentation.

Patti Kerr giving Power Point Presentation at Chelsea

The presentation began with an information sheet listing statistics and risk factors of Alzheimer’s Disease.  Dad may have forgotten the rest of the presentation, but he certainly did not forget the first five minutes.  An hour later he surprised both Patti and I when he said to her “Your prognostications are quite fearsome!”

Patti had several excellent suggestions for making family and friends more comfortable when visiting with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s.

Conversation Starter Cards

I find that one of the greatest challenges is altering my mode of conversation.  Most conversations depend on references to previous experiences, often recent events or activities.  Conversations with Dad are successful when we talk about distant memories and when we talk about the present moment, the clouds in the sky, the smell of freshly cut grass, etc.  It takes a bit of reprogramming to adjust to this kind of conversation.  The Conversation Starter Cards give visitors simple clues to start a conversation that will not end in awkward silence.

Following the presentation Jane, Dad and I played a quick game of Crazy Eights before Dad and I headed out to Feltville to explore the archeological dig site that we had seen marked on the map when we visited Feltville a couple of weeks ago.

As Dad got into the Honda Civic he commented on how low the seat was.  “Today’s car seats are much lower than those in the old Model A Fords.”  Wow…that was a leap back into time.

On the way to Feltville Dad mentioned that he had been thinking about the day he was riding in the backseat of the family car (Model T Ford) when his mother pulled too far to the right to make room for an oncoming car.  The road was narrow with a deep ditch on either side.  The wheels of the Model T slipped into the ditch and the car flipped over.  Model T’s had canvas roofs back then.  Dad remembers seeing his mother crying, holding his two-year old sister, Dorothy.  Dad was five or six years old.  He remembers Dorothy’s casket in the living room of their farmhouse and people coming to pay their respects.

Housing for the workers at Feltville

We parked in the car and prepared for our walk.  I brought the hip pouch Lou and Dave and given Dad a couple of years ago to carry his writing supplies when he took his daily walk through the woods.  It holds two, leaky water bottles and has a large enough pouch for my sketchbook, pens and markers as well as sandwiches  It is perfect for our Thursday walks.

Hip Pouch for Thursday Walks With Dad

We didn’t linger at the houses this time around.  We headed straight up the path to the site of the archeological dig.  When we came to a fork in the path I couldn’t resist thinking of The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost.


At the end of the path we found two giant dumpsters and three park benches, not quite what we were expecting, but suitable for our drawing and writing purposes.

Always expect the unexpected

Still Life of Earlier Times

Dad rolled up his long pants, wishing that he had worn shorts.  Once comfortable he immediately pulled pencil and paper from his pocket and began to write.

Dad writing poetry on Bench Number One

Today’s reminiscing is inspired by the tree-crowded woods,

the deep blue sky spotted with slow drifting clouds,

and the dry, winding gravel road.

Here it is so quiet.

Occasionally, the sound of traffic is heard –

from cars on some distant highway

and the groaning of jet engines propelling planes

to and from Newark Airport runways.

But luckily

daughter Chris and I are paused

from another of our frequent walks,

resting on a roadside park  bench.

Today we have met a few fellow walkers;

most of these walks we see no one else.

The solitude is welcome,

much enjoyed.

She sketches; I write.

Who will gaze upon

and read our works?

Maybe no one.

But we love

and will remember

the glorious experience.

And yet some may see and read our works,

and maybe even imagine the pleasure

of feeling and smelling the gentle breezes,

Seeing Nature’s trees,

grasses and occasional wildlife

moving about.

It’s been grand

It’s been beautiful

It is peaceful.

Gramps 6/30/11

My drawing from Bench Number One

After completing our drawing and writing on Bench Number One, I suggested we put all three benches to good use.  It is odd that benches are placed for perfect views of the dumpsters rather than views of the gorgeous open field and forests.

Bench Number Two beside Dumpster Number Two

Dad is such a good sport.  He didn’t think my idea was ridiculous at all.

Dad getting down to business on Bench Number Two

Bench Number Two

Brings memories of years

Of the joys of our growing

With almost no tears.

My drawing of Bench Number One as seen from Bench Number Two

Bench Number Three sat high on the hill overlooking the two dumpsters by Bench Number One and Bench Number Two.

Bench Number Three hidden among the grasses

Once again, Dad made himself comfortable and began writing.

Dad writing on Bench Number Three

Turned 180 degrees

With the breeze to our backs

We paused, with pencils raised.

Bees fondle yellow petals

On te ends of weeds’ stems.

My pencil fondles this paper.

The bee seems more productive.

the bees, flowers and us

Are products of Nature’s deeds.

We work, play and produce,

While our children plant more seeds.

Bee fondling yellow petal

Dad and I were on the same wavelength while sitting  on Bench Number Three.  We both focused on the plants at our feet.

Weeds .... English Plantain?

As we walked back to the car Dad remarked that the terrain reminded him of Three Bear Camp where he and Merl Bunker stayed while fighting forest fires in Idaho. Two percent of their time was spent fighting fires.  Ninety-eight percent of their time was spent pulling weeds.  They were involved in the Blister Rust Control program that fought the disease in white pine trees caused by insects that laid eggs on the weeds.  Small worms hatched out of the eggs and strangled the white pine branches, killing the trees.  Blister Rust was what was seen on the branches of the dying trees.  Acres of White Pine was being destroyed along with the lumber industry that depended on the pine trees.  Checks were written by the US Forestry Service.

Route 78 taps into Dad’s memories.  As the eighteen wheelers whizzed by us on our way back to Chelsea, Dad said they reminded him of Warehouses on Wheels.  He recalled when he used to help load the fiberglass tanks made at Polyfibre onto huge, flatbed trucks for transport to their final destination.  One of the tanks never made it to the customer; it vanished somewhere in the Mid West and was never found.

I find it difficult to believe that a 12 foot diameter fiberglass tank could bounce off the back of a flatbed truck without the driver noticing.  Dad explained that there was a great deal of flex to the tanks.  If the truck went over bumps, the tension of the ropes on the tank could be lost when the tank flexed.  The tank could roll off the truck, bounce to the side of the road, roll down a hill, bounce over a fence and never be seen again.  I still have a hard time believing such a tale.  Apparently, the insurance company thought it possible and paid for the lost tank without questioning its disappearance or the cause of it.  Polyfibre made a new tank for the customer and all was well.

We arrived back at Chelsea at about 5:30, too late for Dad’s dinner.  Fortunately, we still had our picnic lunch from Benny’s in Dad’s fridge.  We brought it out to the patio next to the herb garden and had a picnic supper.

Picnic Supper with Helen's biscotti for dessert

The gate to the parking lot must be kept closed at all times to keep the deer from eating Chef Mike’s vegetables and herbs.  Dad was relieved that we didn’t have to worry about deer coming over to the table and eating our supper.  He laughed, remembering the time, long ago, when he and Mom were eating with Jane and Howard Kutsch.  They were at a restaurant, eating at one of the outdoor tables.  Jane had her elbow on the table, her sandwich held high in her hand.  A seagull swooped down and stole the sandwich, leaving Jane’s hand empty, as well as her stomach.

Another Thursday came to an end.  I mentioned to Dad that I was grateful to have such wonderful places to walk together.  His response was so typically Dad…

“Let’s face it.  The world is full of nice places to walk.”

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Another spectacular adventure with Dad.

Fortunately he was properly attired when I arrived.  We were scheduled to meet Luke at his parents house at 10:30 and had very little time to spare.  Dad informed me that he had fallen earlier that morning while getting out of his chair to answer the phone.  He made light of his injury, which he had bandaged.  It appeared to be a rug burn, yet also looked as if he might have hit the waste basket on the way to the rug.  It was quite swollen, red and sensitive to touch.  He assured me that it would not, in any way, get in the way of our walk … and it didn’t.

While gathering pencil and paper for writing poetry he mentioned a show he saw recently on TV.  The show was about research studying the parts of the brain that are activated while attempting to memorize poetry.  I am curious as to when Dad saw this program.  It is the first time in months that he has brought up something that he has recently learned either through reading, conversation or television.

Off we went to meet Luke.  The plan was that Luke would drive us to Feltville, the Deserted Village, currently a part of Watchung Reservation, and take the K-car to his father’s shop to give it a new set of front brakes.  He would then pick us up later in the day, drive back to his parents where we would drop him off and head back to Chelsea.

While driving East on Route 78 we passed under high tension wires.  Dad began to talk about the REMC program funded by the Federal government to teach citizens how to wire their own homes for electricity.  Thoaks the Carter family farmhouse was chosen as a training site.  Half a dozen neighbors gathered at Thoaks to be trained under the guidance of a technician from the local power company.  It took maybe two or three weeks to complete the wiring of the farmhouse.  Dad had purchased a radio kit from Sears and Roebuck.  Apparently the power switch was in the “on” position when he finished assembling the radio.  The sound of the radio announced the moment when power reached the farmhouse.  A kid’s program Terri and the Pirates was just coming on the air.

And so our day began …

The Feltville General Store / Church

David Felt purchased the property in New Jersey from Peter Wilcocks in 1944.  Felt began his Stationers business in Boston in 1825, moved to New York City and by 1844 needed a larger facility to manufacture his paper.  Peter Wilcocks had dammed the Blue Brook to power a sawmill around 1736, a perfect setup for Felt’s growing business.  He built a small village, housing for the workers, a church, a schoolhouse and a general store.  Dad and I both found it ironic that the process of making paper is also a felting process. Does a person’s name direct a person’s occupation?

Dad explained the whole process of felting in the manufacturing of wood fiber boards.  A slurry is made of wood fibers, water, and perhaps a bit of rags.  The slurry is deposited onto a moving screen.  The water drains from the slurry leaving a wet mat called a felt which is then fed into a forced hot air dryer (Coe Dryer). The screen moves slowly through the 300 to 400 foot long dryer.  When the slurry comes out the other end it is hardened wood.  The wood comes off the screen onto rollers and moves along to circular saws where it is cut into 4′ x 8′ pieces.

After my first lesson in building materials we walked through the woods along a bridal path to the Village Cemetery.  Only one of the original headstones remains.  Retracing our steps to the main road we turned left and headed toward the houses that had been built for the workers.  Seven of them still stand.  Across the street from the first cluster of four we found several picnic tables.  Perfect timing for lunch.

Picnic Lunch

Our picnic consisted of cherries, watermelon and egg salad sandwiches on rye bread.  The walk up to the cemetery left Dad with a healthy appetite.  He devoured two whole sandwiches!  In the past, he has had difficulty finishing one.

Housing for the workers at Feltville

After David Felt sold the business and returned to New York City, the village was abandoned until it was purchased and transformed into a vacation resort in 1882.  At that time the partitions that had divided each house into units for multiple families were opened up to create single family dwellings.

A roof detail of one of the houses

Dad investigating the weather resistant quality of the wood siding

“Part of my job at Johns Manville was to develop products that were weather resistant.  The semi-hardboard I developed did not pass that test.”

"It's been a while"

Johns Manville roofing materials

Chances are, the roofing materials were manufactured by Johns Manville.  Only two companies were making them, Johns Manville and Flinkote (possibly American Cyanamid, but probably not).

Unique Gutters

When I asked Dad what he thought about the gutters he answered, “antique”.


Does anyone know what this is?  I think it might be a walnut.

We left the houses and headed down the hill to Blue Brook where the mill had once stood.

The path to Blue Brook

Along the way we saw two pressure tanks in the side of the hill.

Whopper Jawed Pressure Tank

Dad commented that the one up the hill was really whopper jawed.  I love the expression.  I asked where it came from and Dad’s answered “country ….. Kentucky, Tennesse, Indiana, Arkansas……. it’s quite common.”  His example was if a man’s toupee was falling off to the side it would be considered whopper jawed.

When we reached the brook we found it hard to imagine that it could have ever powered a mill.

Blue Brook

All that remains of the mill is a bit of the foundation.

Feltville Mill

We returned to the picnic table to draw and write poetry.

Dad's Feltville Day Poem

Good Times!

A poem is the goal

that’s my role —

During short rest stops

On our family stroll.

Easy it should be

Considering the sitmuli, —

The woods, the soft sounds,

The Breezes, the blue sky.

The memories of good times prevail

When the children, their mom and I

Wondered through forests, roamed through woods

Telling stories as time flew by.

That seems to be the problem:

So many good times are now passed, —

and yet, good times, even with aching bones

Are still here, so “What’s the problem?”

you might ask.

We packed up our things and headed back toward the parking lot where Luke was going to pick us up.  We stopped and sat outside the General Store / Church for one last drawing and poem.  Only a few words were jotted down before the phone rang announcing our ride was waiting.

A seed to seedling

Smaller than a blade of grass

Headed to the sky

Fighting for a glimpse of sun

Dad had been impressed, throughout the day, by how tall and extremely straight so many of the trees were.

We returned to Chelsea.  I let Dan know at the front desk that Tom and I will be joining Dad for dinner on Father’s Day.

Back in his room, he asked to look again at my sketchbook.  He wanted to sign his name to his poems and the little drawing he had done on our visit to Natirar.  Though he doesn’t feel inspired to write, he is glad that he has written anyway, and enjoys rereading his words.  Once he starts, he becomes engaged in the process and is utterly focused on the words and the thoughts he wants to express.  We both look forward to our Thursday walks together.

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