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Posts Tagged ‘Walks with Dad’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

When Dad opened his door I was glad I’d taken my vitamins.

Dad writing a poem in his big black chair

He seemed quite content to return to his big black chair.  I handed him his green sketchbook and mechanical pencil.

Nothing ……

We headed for Lord Stirling Park.

Pushing for Poems

Pushing for Poems, –

May not work well, –

Good poems flow, –

Without a push – or a pull

I could write more words

But these words about

Say it pretty well

Adding more, would be dull.

***

“Those words are OK,

But don’t you have more?”

I am sure that I do,

But, — where did they go?

Walking the Trail, Lord Stirling Park

Though not a great day for writing, it was a wonderful day to walk the trails.

An incredible sky

Dad concentrates on his footing, often forgetting to turn his head from side to side.  I remind him to look at the autumn colors and the beautiful sky.

Dad stopping to admire the sky

When reminded, he stops to soak up the beauty of the clouds, calculating the speed of them as they make their way across the sea of blue.

autumn begins in New Jersey

Each new moment is more beautiful than the last.  When I ask Dad if he knows what season it is… he doesn’t.  When I ask him what year it is he replies, “2014”.

Lost in a world of autumn grass

One foot in front of the other.  One foot in front of the other.  No stories, no questions.  One foot in front of the other.

A winding path

We weave our way through the fields of grass.  The insects, birds and frogs scream loudly but Dad hears only the roar of a distant plane.  That, too, becomes silent.

Retracing our steps

In spite of precautions, nature calls and Dad heads into the woods.  I call to him when he fails to return.  He is making his own way, deeper into the woods.  We call, back and forth, until he has returned to me.

Turning back

I decide to turn back, knowing that Dad needs a rest.  We return to the herb garden where our journey began.

Black-Eyed Susans, past their prime

We sit on the benches

Chris and I – Resting from our fresh

walk through the woods

Clouds drift by

While we both write.

The clouds seem the same

As they did years ago, –

When I, as a kid

Looked up at the sky

I could write more

But the words, above,

Seem to say all, —

That I have to say, today.

Sept 20, 2012

Birdhouse at the edge of the pond beside the fragrant herbs

The silence is awesome

The leaves are still

The clouds in the sky

Seem to be frozen pell mell.

No movement at all

Can be seen, even when

Clouds are lined up with branches

Hanging down, quietly and still.

Some days are better than others.  Today was beautiful.  I will remember the sounds, the light, the smells and walking beside my father as his memory slips away.  As long as he is able, we will walk, side by side, enjoying the feel of the ground beneath our feet, the wind caressing our cheeks and the blue, blue sky above.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

One of the best days Dad and I have had in a long while!  Dad’s energy was high and his writing poured out onto the pages. The weather was glorious and our spirits were high.

Carefully parked K-car

When I park the car I try to find a spot where Dad can throw the door open without hitting anything, such as another car.  I try to avoid problems whenever I can so that we have the best chance possible to have a wonderful day together.

Dad gently rubbing the fragrant herb leaves

I drove to Lord Stirling Park.  Dad surprised me when he remembered that before our picnic we rub the leaves of the herbs to see if his sniffer is still working.  It wasn’t.  The only scent he could detect at all was a subtle whiff of camphor.

Gramps writing first poem of the day

I waited until after our picnic lunch … then handed him his green sketchbook and pencil.

Dad reading his poem aloud

Poems emerge

From images within

Of times gone by.

It seems that just

As we try to grasp one

It slips through our brain waves, –

And splashes away.

That is sad, because, –

Times have been good

Very good, indeed.

Dad walking the trail

We headed into the swamp along dry, level trails.

A world of beauty and mystery

For the first time in a long while, the weight and worry of my father’s dementia lifted from my shoulders.  We walked together, bathed in the beauty of the moments.

Another bench …. another poem

We stopped at each bench along the way.  Dad wrote a lovely poem …. his muse was enjoying the beauty of the day, too.

One last bench, one last poem

The poems are meant to be shared at another time ……  you’ll just have to wait.

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Catching up ….

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jane, Dad and I visited the newly restored Duke Estate, now called Duke Farms, in Hillsborough, New Jersey.  “The mission of Duke Farms is to be a model of environmental stewardship in the 21st Century and inspire visitors to become informed stewards of the land.” (pamphlet)

Jane and Dad on the Tour Tram

We began with a ride on the tour tram, stopping along the way to take short walks along several of the trails and returning to the tram stop to continue our ride. It felt odd to ride a Tour Tram so close to home.

Statue Garden in burned out shell of hay barn

The history and the mystery of Doris Duke’s life wafted among the trees like ghosts.  Dad repeatedly reminded us that it was smoking tobacco and chewing tobacco that had paid for the property, the buildings, the greenhouses, the gardens and the artificial waterfall.

Duke Gardens Greenhouses

During the sixties when the greenhouses were lush with tropical trees and plants of every kind I recall wanting to remain forever beneath a fragrant, flowering olive tree.  The exotic plants were given away many years ago.  The greenhouses are now used to propagate native plants for the estate landscaping and gardens as well as research, I believe.

Overgrown ruins of a fountain

Not all of the grounds and gardens have been restored.

Jane and Dad taking a rest on a bench before checking out the statue of Athena

Due to the expense of running the artificial waterfalls, they are only activated once or twice a day.  We were too late.  When we return we’ll test the food in the cafeteria, walk the longer trails and see the waterfalls in action.

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

Seen from the porch

The Scene is serene

It’s where sea and sky blend

And sailboats bob by.

The breeze ruffles Jane’s hair

As she reads, then looks up and smiles

Ah, that smile that so beams

Almost always, it seems.

Lift pencil from paper

For no more need be said

Too many words hide the story

Detracting from the glory.

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

The Great Swamp. Gramps with Mike on his shoulders

Always the teacher, pointing out interesting things….

The boardwalk at The Great Swamp, 1987

Nicole exploring at The Great Swamp, 1987

 

A walk through the woods, 1995

Sharing Curiosity, 1995

At the Reservoir, 1995

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

 

 

 

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It has been a difficult week…..

Thursday, July 26, 2012

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

Thinking of what to write

Pencil to paper

she says

or no lunch

too many thoughts

none simple

time is so special —-

I’ll hug my sister

Perhaps I should backtrack to last Thursday …….

Thursday, July 19, 2012

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

Rock Climbing in Boulder Canyon

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

Michael playing banjo

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

Dad working out

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

Goldfish No. 1

Goldfish No. 2

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

Puzzling over the geology

“You look puzzled, Dad.”

Hofheimer Grotto

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

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

“Dad, this is a man made structure.”

Cement and Rocks

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

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

Tree Graffiti No. 1

Tree Graffiti No. 2

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

Dad waiting patiently

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

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

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

Fascinating Tree growth No. 1

I continued to be distracted by the trees.

Natural Tree Sculpture

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

Not very fascinating trees

Odell, Indiana

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

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

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

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

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

Climbing with Michael in Boulder Canyon, 1977

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

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

Memories mingling with words

Pencil to paper

she says

or no lunch

too many thoughts

none simple

time is so special —-

I’ll hug my sister

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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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