Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Walks with Dad’

June 6, 2013

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

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

“What’s he doing in the tea room?”

“Well, I don’t know”

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

“I’m not really sure,” Dan replied.

That was the beginning of our exceptional day together.

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

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

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

“Can you hear the cicadas, Dad?

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

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

“Yes, of course I can hear them.”

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

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

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

“I think I know why, Dad.”

“Why?”

“They’re speaking in Spanish.”

“Oh, well, that explains it.”

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

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

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

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

“You betcha, Chris!”

"You betcha!"

“You betcha!”

First stop… as always … the fragrance garden.

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

“Try this one.”

He rubbed …. and sniffed.

“Hmmmmm …… spearmint.”

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

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

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

Ouch.

Real Whopper

Real Whopper

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

“Now that’s a real whopper!”

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

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

Making the big step up

Making the big step up

Did he approve?

Testing the bench

Testing the bench

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

Blocked for the yearly Snake Synopsis

Blocked for the yearly Snake Synopsis

“Why do you think it’s blocked off?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Gray, The Fern Man of Bunny Fern Farm

Jack Gray, The Fern Man of Bunny Fern Farm

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

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

Multiflora Rose and Honeysuckle

Multiflora Rose and Honeysuckle

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

Dad enjoying the beauty and fragrance

Dad enjoying the beauty and fragrance

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

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

“You betcha!”

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

May 30, 2013

It’s difficult to predict how many more walks my father and I will take together.  It could be a hundred …. and it could be only one. Dementia of any kind is such a puzzle, and totally unpredictable.

Do I really need both?

Do I really need both?

Dad appeared to be in another world today, distant, unengaged.  Though he had a great deal of difficulty getting out of his chair.  Once he was on his feet, he moved slowly……. very s-l-o-w-ly, but well-balanced and cautious. His standard remarks were left unsaid.  He didn’t glance at the sky until I mentioned it to him.  He didn’t ask about my family, or how I’ve been, or where we were going. He voiced only one concern.

“I don’t need both of those, do I?”

The opportunity to ask that same question came up at least six times before we headed to the herb garden at Lord Stirling Park.  I continued to simplify my answer until I ended up with.

“Either both or a walker, Dad.”

He surprised me the last time by saying, “Oh, I pulled you down, didn’t I?”

Months ago I had stopped mentioning the episode of his falling and yanking me down beside him on the ground.  It had only distressed him to think that he might have hurt me.  Perhaps memories continue to be made, only to be called into action at random.

I handed Dad his green sketchbook and pencil as we sat side by side in the herb garden.  As usual, he began reading his previous poems.  I assumed that he was avoiding writing something new.  Because of his extreme silence and lack of response to anything we passed on the way to the park, I decided to see what would happen if I didn’t remind him to write a new poem.  I began to draw….

Birdhouse beside the pond, Lord Stirling Park, NJ

Birdhouse by the pond, Lord Stirling Park

No more than five minutes passed before Dad settled in and put pencil to paper!  He didn’t even glance around at his surroundings.  He bent his head and focused on the words that poured from his pencil.  I suppose he doesn’t need to look around anymore to know what he would see. He feels the air on his cheeks and he knows he is outdoors.

Dad writing a poem

Dad writing a poem

On a Bench in the Park, Chris and Dad

The solid blue sky

Hovers overhead

While one tiny bird

Chirps a nice tune

The song of the bird

Is the only sound.

The leaves wave

But no breeze is heard.

That’s about all

There is to be said.

Enjoy the quietness

There is to be had.

I checked for the date

But my computer is dead.

So we’ll enjoy the silence

That is to be had.

June 30, 2014

When Dad’s phone appeared to be dead, he asked me the date.  I told him it was June 30th (my mistake…. it was still May).  For more than a year now he has thought it is 2014.  I was puzzled by his phone being dead since he had unplugged it from the charger right before we left Chelsea.  His phone was charged.  He just forgot how to turn it on.

Fortunately the bugs are not out yet at Lord Stirling Park.  We had a lovely, silent, s-l-o-w walk along the somewhat soggy paths.  Dad watched his feet the whole time, never looking up to the sky or out into the marshes.  It appeared that moving one foot in front of the other demanded all of his attention.  I’m glad I captured him square dancing a couple of weeks ago.

We took a short path, but not the shortest.  I spotted a bench and asked if he wanted to rest.  He shook his head and kept walking.  The day had grown quite warm and I feared Dad might overheat.  He had refused to change into his shorts, insisting that he would be fine in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

“Big sips, Dad, not tiny mouth sips.”

Each time Dad handed the water bottle back to me the water level looked about the same.

The trail brought us back to the herb garden where I found a bench in the shade of a grove of trees.  Out came the green sketchbook and pencil.  Again Dad read a few of his previous poems, and then set his mind to writing …. without any coaxing or coercing from me!

At a Later Date, Another Stroll in the Park

It’s quite warm.

Sweat runs down my right cheek.

Tiny birds flitter by.

A spider crawls across the page.

Tree’s leaves

Block the rays

Making it cool

To sit on the park bench

Resting the legs, —

Soothing the soul.

Nibbled Leaf

Nibbled Leaf

On occasion I’m asked why I draw rusty pipes, run-down shacks, lopsided trees and eaten leaves.  Why not draw lovely, new houses and perfectly shaped trees and leaves?

“Because real life is never perfect, except in its imperfectness, in its struggle and celebration of survival.”

I remember my first job, picking strawberries at Johnson’s Farm when I was fourteen.  I ended up being hired to work at the fruit stand where I sold the berries picked fresh each morning.  Most people wanted the large, perfectly shaped strawberries.  I sold them the big, beautiful berries wearing a smile on my face. They were practically tasteless, beauty without flavor.  I knew that the most delicious berries, the odd-looking little runts called “Sparkles” were the sweetest, most delicious of all the varieties and they would be the ones that hadn’t sold at the end of the day.  The Johnsons and I would be feasting on Sparkles for dessert after supper.  Some of the best moments are disguised by imperfections.

In the end, my walks with Dad will be among the many highlights of my life.  Fast or s-l-o-w, we walk together, sometimes talking, sometimes not.  Each step is so precious.

Read Full Post »

May 14, 2013

Dad has been having trouble with his balance.  Walking is sometimes difficult even on level ground.  I’ve wondered why he hasn’t fallen when square dancing with Jane.  I decided to see for myself….. and here it is!  Amazing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFzq4DrZRjE&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Read Full Post »

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I awoke to one of the most beautiful mornings I’ve ever experienced.  A layer of snow on every branch and cornstalk, illuminated by veiled sunlight created a fantasy world of exquisite beauty, a perfect vision setting the tone for a special day.  Valentine’s Day, a day focused on loved ones, brings out the best in people.  After a quick stop at the Califon A&P where a crowd of people broke into smiles as I bought an “I LOVE YOU” balloon for Dad, I headed to Chelsea.

Dad, Bunny and John

Dad, Bunny and John

Dad was still in the dining room with his table mates, Bunny and John.  Dad looked perky and happy.  I joined them for coffee and the four of us….. all four of us had a delightful chat.

Valentine-Candy-from-Chelsea-wwd-021413-web

A Valentine’s Treat from the Chelsea staff

The snow had not been cleared from the path around the pond, making it unsuitable for Dad’s daily walk.  Having had such a great experience at the Califon A&P, I decided to try out the Basking Ridge A&P at Dewy Meadow Village, just up the road from Chelsea.  I hoped that the parking lot would not be as hectic as the one down the road in Warren.

A new place to walk

A new place to walk

It turned out to be a perfect place to walk with Dad.  We made four giant loops around the lot without danger of cars hitting us.  Surrounded by trees, we felt close to the woods.  I took advantage of Dad’s memory loss by telling him over and over again that he was riding in the K-car for the last time.

“Why?” he asked.

“I just bought my first brand new car, Dad!”

“How wonderful, Chris.  I am so happy for you!”

A huge smile crossed his face as he asked me all about it.  We both grinned from ear to ear as we walked around the lot talking about my new car, again and again.  He liked the idea of not squeezing himself into the front of my K-car anymore.  My blue-rasberry FIT doesn’t have a bench seat.  Dad will be able to adjust his seat any way he likes.  He’ll finally be able to stretch out his legs as we drive to and from Lord Stirling Park!

One last photo of Dad and the K-car

One last photo of Dad and the K-car

After Dad had successfully crunched himself into the front seat I couldn’t resist taking a Valentine’s Day photo of Dad’s red jacket, the bright red vehicle next to us and the fragrant pink roses Dad had picked out to give to Jane.

Really Red and Roses

Really Red and Roses

We returned to Chelsea in time for Dad to sign his Valentine’s Day card for Jane and to shower before Jane arrived to play cards.  As Dad showered I did a little drawing of the card from Jane that sat on his table.

Zing! Woo-Woo! Boing!

Zing! Woo-Woo! Boing!

When Jane arrived, I handed Dad the card he had just purchased at the A&P to give to Jane.  He smiled and began to take the card out of the envelope.

“Why thank you, Jane!”

Jane and I smiled at one another…..

“Dad, that’s for Jane… You bought her lovely roses, too.”

I retrieved the fragrant flowers from the water glass in the sink.

The cards were shuffled and another game of Rummy 500 began …….. Neither Jane nor I could keep track of whose turn it was to deal out the cards.  In the game of life, it doesn’t really matter.

Read Full Post »

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dad and I both needed a good walk in the woods.  I hoped that at least one of the trails at Lord Stirling Park had been cleared of fallen trees.  Hurricane Sandy devastated the area, uprooting giant trees as if they were blades of grass.

Chatter of Children on Trail Lord Stirling Park

Preschoolers on a field trip

Dad wore a giant smile as we trailed along behind a group of chattering children.  He commented on the fun they were having, splashing in the puddles, finding seed pods and running to catch up with their guide.  Eventually, we passed the group when they stopped to learn about the habitat of the blue herons.

Waling alone in silence

Walking alone in silence

Dad’s smile left his face as the silence of the woods replaced the laughter and chatter of the children.  My thoughts raced back to my childhood. I remember Dad smiling at me while giving me rides in the wheelbarrow.  I remember the airplane rides in the living room as he lay on the floor and lifted me up with his feet on my tummy.  When he knew I was safely balanced, he let go of my hands and let me fly above him with arms spread out like the wings of a bird. I remember riding on his shoulders.  I also the remember the piggyback ride he gave my daughters, Nicole and Alexis (both at the same time), when we spent the day together on the beach at Wildwood.  Dad has always loved children and loved playing with children.

Toppled and tilted trees

Toppled and tilted trees

Nature also brings a smile to Dad’s face.  He usually makes comments about the trees, their height, their straightness, their condition.  Today, he seemed unaware that something dramatic had happened in the woods.

Uprooted by Hurricane Sandy

Uprooted by Hurricane Sandy

Not once did he remark about the uprooted trees.  When I pointed them out, his expression never changed.  I wondered if his thoughts still lingered with the children and his own memories of childhood, his own, his children’s, his grand children’s and his great-grand children’s.

Hazardous Conditions

Hazardous Conditions

I had intended on taking a short loop, but Dad’s stamina was great and he opted for the longer loop.  By the time we reached the caution tape blocking the trail, Dad was ready for a rest.  Naturally, when one needs a bench or a log to sit on, in spite of fallen trees everywhere else, there wasn’t one in site.

Finally ..... a resting spot

Finally ….. a resting spot

Dad began to shuffle his feet, sway a bit from side to side and reach out to grab me for extra support.  Still no bench or log…… he stopped to lean on a tree, looked surprised that he was leaning on a tree and promptly started shuffling along again on the trail.  At last, we made our way back to the aromatic herb garden and a multitude of benches to rest on.

I didn’t have the heart to force Dad to write a poem.  He was happy to sit and rest.  In the distance we could hear the sound of the children preparing to return to their school.  I saw a smile return to Dad’s face.

Read Full Post »

While I was checking with Ashley to see how Dad made out at Chelsea during the three days Chelsea was without heat during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Dad slipped into the dining hall for lunch.  I panicked when there was no response to my knocking on his door.

“I think he went to lunch” remarked a woman in the hallway.  She was correct.  The dining hall had been empty when I arrived. Dad now sat alone, reading his paper.  I whisked him away before he could place his order.

Deciding on a suitable outer garment for the day’s adventure presented more of a challenge than I might have expected.  We settled on his red sweater and his yellow sweatshirt in spite of the fact that the sweater is missing three buttons.  Fortunately, there are four extra buttons sewn to the collar ????  I’ll cut off the extra buttons and use them to replace the missing ones.

We stopped at Muscle Maker Grill for lunch before exploring the condition of the Hofheimer Grotto trail.  Dad quickly decided on a chicken breast sandwich as well as a baked potato as his side dish.  Wow!  No indecisiveness today!

“And would you like a beverage?” asked the woman behind the counter.

“Coffee, please.”

“Dad, they don’t have coffee here, would you like water?”

“What?  No coffee?  That’s impossible.”

“Dad, they don’t have coffee here.”

“They have to have coffee …. everybody has coffee.  What kind of a place doesn’t have coffee?  How can a place stay in business if they don’t serve coffee?”

I grabbed a bottle of lemon water and led Dad, still carrying on about the coffee, to a table where I distracted him by pulling out his green sketchbook and pencil.

“Dad, please write a poem about not being able to order coffee.”

No Coffee?

What? No Coffee?

Unheard of, —

What is a restaurant like, —

That has — NO COFFEE?!

I do not ever, ever

Remember going to a restaurant

That does not have

coffee!

Woops. — Chris tells me

That we have been here

Seven (well at least five) times, —–

And they have never had coffee.

(Hey, —- how do they

Stay in business? Hmmmmm?

Men at the Muscle Maker Grill

While Dad wrote, I drew the men sitting at the counter enjoying their food and non-caffeinated beverages.  He finished his poem in record time.  I hoped to burn off the remainder of his disgruntled mood by asking him to draw the bottle of lemon water.

The DASANI bottle of lemon flavored water

Dad devoured his lunch, all but the potato skin.  I thought it best to squeeze one more poem out of him before we took our walk.

Opportunities

Opportunities

Minutes of each day

Are full “to the brim”

With opportunities.

We can write

We can sleep

We can sit and think, –

But once the minutes are gone, –

They’re gone.

“Are you done?”

Chris asks.

“I’m not done.’

That’s my answer.

I’m still at it.

Thankfully

Dad

Opportunities

Staying “at it”

Is the key.

Always having a goal.-

Is food for the soul.

Food for the soul.

We left the Muscle Maker Grill and drove up the road to the grotto trail.  In spite of the multitude of trees fallen from the winds of the hurricane, we made it to Hofheimer Grotto by starting at the end of the trail loop rather than the beginning.

Trying to make sense of the fallen trees

Dad has a habit of knocking off dead branches and attacking limbs that are in the way of paths.  I imagined Dad creating a domino effect of falling trees with his good intentions of clearing the path.  I’ve become more cautious while walking with Dad, hoping to keep him safe from falls and injury.  Rather than walk the trail through the woods, climbing over fallen trees and risking more trees falling on top of us, we walked around the five ball fields.

Ball fields

“Did I ever tell you I used to pitch softball?

Thinking about pitching softball

“I practiced by throwing the ball at a knothole in a board on the side of the barn.  I got pretty good … until someone accused me of throwing sidearm.”

“What happened then, Dad?”

“I didn’t know I was throwing sidearm, but you’re supposed to throw underhand.  I lost both speed and accuracy.”

“How old were you?”

“Oh, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.”

We made our rounds of the ball fields and ended up back at the bleachers.  I suggested to Dad that he write a little bit about pitching softball.  I had jotted down a few notes about him pitching sidearm.  Instead of writing in my sketchbook, I had written in his by mistake.  He appeared baffled by my notes.

Reading and re-reading my notes

After a lengthy spell of reading my notes, Dad put pencil to paper.

Reviewing his words

He wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and wrote.  He reviewed his words and wrote more.  He turned the page and wrote more.

Dad writing about pitching softball …. or so I thought

What a strange day.   Dad fought me tooth and nail, not wanting to write at lunch, not wanting to write after our walk, yet there he sat scribbling away.  Occasionally he stopped and looked as if he had finished.

“Could you read me what you wrote?” I asked.

“No, I’m still at it.”

I picked up my pen and sketched Dad’s gloves peeking out of his pocket.

Gloves in Dad’s Sweatshirt Pocket

Somehow, Dad had switched gears…..

Softball Pitcher at age Fifteen

Trapping For Muskrats in Indiana

A near-one-mile-long creek ran through our farm in Indiana.  It ran through our corn and wheat fields.  The banks were 1-3 feet high, perfect for muskrat “runs”.  I would set steel traps at the base of these runs.  They were very effective in catching the muskrats.  A chain would run from the trap to a stake driven in the middle of the stream.  The muskrat would start down the run, get trapped at the base of the run, and get tangled up with the chain wrapped around the stake in the middle of the stream.  The muskrat would drown trying to escape.  I would sell the muskrats for $1 each.  Our hired -hand, Owen Connor, lived in an upstairs bedroom, ate three meals a day with us, and was paid $1 per day.  He was a bachelor who was born and raised in Kentucky, and smoked Tuxedo tobacco in a pipe.  He wore out two or three pairs of gloves a year, “shucking corn”. He would “shuck” a wagon-load in one day, working perhaps 10 hours, – drive the horse-drawn wagon to the corn crib, – come in the house to eat supper, then go out after supper and shovel the load of corn from the wagon to the corn bin on the barn.  It was a long day – a typical day.  My job was to feed and milk the cows, and run the milk through the “separator” (separating its cream from the milk). About once a week, I would churn a batch of butter from cream skimmed each morning and evening from the milk.  I loved the taste of the buttermilk from the butter jar.

Well then ….. walks with Dad get more interesting all the time.  Maybe next time, after we talk about trapping muskrats, Dad will write something about pitching softball.

Read Full Post »

October 25, 2012 ….. Happy Birthday, Jane!  With love from Dad and Chris.  Poems written by Dave Carter.  Drawings by Chris Carter

Jane reading the collection of love poems to Dad

Dad and I combined our skills and presented Jane with a handmade, coptic bound collection of love poems Dad wrote specifically for the special woman in his life, Jane.  I added drawings I’ve done of Dad writing while on our Thursday walks.

page 1

page 3

page 5

page 7

page 9

page 11

page 13

page 15

page 17

page 19

page 21

Happy Birthday, Jane!

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »