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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

February 13, 2014

A splendid day with Dad!  I arrived earlier than usual.  He was asleep in his chair ( no surprise), and immediately perky and pleasant when he awoke.  Without any trouble at all he gathered clean clothes and disappeared into the bathroom for his shower, shave and shampoo.  I’m not sure he shampooed, in spite of me cracking open the door and reminding him.

ink and watercolor drawing of playing cards

Playing Cards – Ink and Watercolor Sketch

I hardly had time to scribble a drawing of Dad’s playing cards before he stepped out of the bathroom clean as a whistle.

Before playing cards I reminded him that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and it would be great if he would write a poem for Jane, suggesting he draw a few hearts first so that he can find his words more easily. With a smile on his face, he picked up his pen, drew a heart with an arrow through it and began to write …

Valentine for Jane

Valentine for Jane

The arrow pierces the heart

But does not break it

Why? — Because it’s

Valentine’s Day

For sweet hearts beloved, —

Night & Day

Wow!

We played two games of Rummy 500: Dad won the first game and I won the second game.  He played remarkably well.  Rather than play a third round, we bundled up and drove to the market to pick up treats for his sweetie!  Dad picked out the best card ever.  He amazes me.  I love him.

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January 15, 2015

An amazing day with Dad!  I didn’t have enough energy and patience to try playing Rummykub with him, but I was determined to get him to write again.

drawing of Dad's room at Chelsea

Dad’s room at Chelsea

Typical resistance to taking a shower … no surprise.  When he came out of the bathroom wearing a clean shirt and smiling, I was ready to challenge him to writing a few words.  My only hope for success was to have him draw something first.  For whatever reason, drawing allows him to access his reservoir of words more easily.  he chose to draw the bottle of cough medicine with the disposable dosage cup turned upside down over the cap.

Dad's drawing of his cough medicine bottle

Dad’s drawing of his cough medicine

Certainly not a drawing that one might see hanging in a gallery, but that wasn’t the goal. When I asked him to try writing a few words, there was no hesitation, no resistance, no excuses.  Dad picked up the pen again and started writing.  I didn’t care what he wrote … he was finding words to write on the piece of white paper!  I thought I might never see that happen again.

Upside – down cup

Capping the bottle

Handy for a sip

In the middle of battle

Ah – ah – ah

Now we go 

To another venture

Either fast

Or slow

“What battle, Dad?” I asked.

“What battle is that”

She asks, quite puzzled.

“The battle of life —

Don’t you see?”

After expressing my delight in the words he found, I apologized for being such an ornery daughter.

My daughter’s not ornery, —

Just very interesting

Only fifteen more pages to go and Dad will have filled his green sketchbook with words and a few drawings.  I thought for sure, after a month of not being able to get him to write at all, the pages would never be filled.  You can’t imagine my joy.  All I need is energy and patience and the pages will be filled.

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Happy Birthday Jane!

Before I left for Maryland I wanted to make sure that I nudged another poem from Dad’s heart.  Dad smiled, picked up pencil and paper and began to write……..

Dad writing Birthday Poem for Jane

Dad writing Birthday Poem for Jane

Dear Jane

Birthdays come

But one day a year

It’s a day to remember, –

A day to cheer.

Especially you, Jane

For you always have smiles, –

And they come from down deep, –

Mile after mile.

That must be why

I always look forward

To seeing and throwing you a kiss

Every once and a while.

Much love,

Dave

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June 27, 2013

When I arrived at Chelsea, Dad sat alone in the tea room reading the paper.  He didn’t hear me approach.  I watched as he stared at the paper as if he couldn’t focus on the words.  I waited, watching his determination to grasp a bit of what might be going on outside of his narrowed world.  Almost two minutes passed before he saw me standing beside him.  His face lit up and he came to life again.

Opening packages from Louise and Dave

Opening packages from Louise and Dave

I handed Dad the two Father’s Day packages that had arrived at my house from Louise and Dave.  After explaining that they were Father’s Day gifts, he began to open them…. at least he tried to open them.

Package One - Step One

Package One – Step One

Packaging has changed over the years.  The adhesives have gotten stronger and the plastics have the ability to stretch like salt water taffy.

Package One - Step Two

Package One – Step Two

He thought he had it…… but no…….after a great deal of struggling, Dad was able to open a large enough slit to reach his hand in, grab the bag inside of the bag and pull it out through the slit.

Package One - Step three

Package One – Step three

The bag inside the bag was just as difficult to open.

Package One - Step Four

Package One – Step Four

Dad does not give up easily.

Showing Off his new suspenders

Showing Off his new suspenders

Eventually, a new pair of navy suspenders lay in his hands. He switched his old for his new and sat back down to tackle the second package.

Package Two - Step One

Package Two – Step One

The experience was the same as with the first package….. but now he was a pro.

Package Two - Step Two

Package Two – Step Two

I think you get the picture.  The only difference was that he finally allowed me to help by slicing through the bag with my pocket knife.

Proudly displaying his new dress pants

Proudly displaying his new dress pants

After a quick stop to his room, we headed to Hofheimer Grotto.  We hadn’t been able to walk the paths after Hurricane Sandy.  Too many trees had blown down, blocking the trails.  I hoped that they had been cleared by now.

Cutting a trail through fallen trees

Cutting a trail through fallen trees

Dad hardly noticed the fallen trees or the huge chunks that had been cut from them so that the trails were clear for walking.

the new terrain

the new terrain

Dad just kept walking, focused on his footing and balance, oblivious to the state of the forest.  There was a time, months ago, when he talked non-stop about the trees either growing straight and tall or bending due to the wind and sun.    Here they were, his beloved trees, strewn about like pulled weeds left to decompose in the sun and rain.  Dad said nothing, he just kept walking.

Hofheimer Grotto

Hofheimer Grotto

The Grotto was in shambles.  I felt my cheeks wet.  I remembered the first time Dad and I walked here and discovered the grotto, a hidden treasure, an architectural wonder, surrounded by majestic pines.  Only a few of the pines remain.  The rest fell into the murky water, knocking stones and boulders down with them as they fell.  the grotto had changed and so had Dad.  I didn’t want to linger.

As a change of pace, as well as to distract me from my grief, I decided to take Dad for a haircut.  I don’t usually think of it and I didn’t think it was right to leave the haircuts for Jane to handle.  I wanted to surprise her…… and that I did.  It turns out that she had taken him for a haircut just last week!

Dad smiling when complimented on his great head of hair

Dad smiling when complimented on his great head of hair

Next time, I’ll take him to Sal’s in Martinsville.  A sports cut is not exactly what he needed.  Sorry Dad… Sorry Jane.

Back at Chelsea, I pulled the box of stationary out of my bag.  It has been a long, long time since Dad wrote anyone a note, addressed an envelope, put a stamp on it and mailed it off to a friend or loved one.  I thought I might help him write a thank you note to Louise and Dave.

What is it I am writing about?

What is it I am writing about?

“Why would I be writing a thank you note?”

“Louise and Dave sent you pants and suspenders.”

“Oh… where are they?”

“You’re wearing the suspenders.  The pants are in the closet.”

Dad looked down at his navy suspenders.  “These are new?”

“Yes, Dad.  You just got them today.”

“And where are the trousers?  May I see them again?”

I showed him the new trousers.

“Those are really nice.  Where did they come from?”

As you can imagine.  Writing the thank you note was more of a challenge than I had anticipated.

The Thank You Note

The Thank You Note

Eventually, the mission was accomplished.  I decided to wait for another day to help Dad write a note to his friend, Daisy Horn.

I’ll post what he wrote next time.  I don’t want to spoil it for Louise and Dave.

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

17 year cicada

17 year cicada

Father’s Day 1996

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whew!  Glad I figured that one out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Chris

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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.

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

Without hesitation, Dad began to write ……

Dad writing love poem for Jane

Dad writing love poem for Jane

A poem seems fitting

This Valentine;s Day

For someone I love

Who’s name, I say

Is Jane

Whenever I think of her

I picture a smile

For, it is there,

All the while

It’s her style!

Focused on love

Focused on love

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

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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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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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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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