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April 17, 2014

No walk today.  Dad had an appointment with Dr. Bagley to have the Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Situ scraped and burned from his arm.

As might be expected when time for a shower is limited, Dad took an extra half hour in the bathroom.  We made it to the doctor’s with four minutes to spare.  We waited another ten before we were called to follow the nurse down the hallway.  While waiting, Dad  reluctantly agreed to draw and write.

Chair on floor, table on wall

Chair on floor, table on wall

Now, how did that happen?

The table ends up?

On the wall

Hmm, hmm

Though unable to comprehend the need for another visit to a doctor, Dad followed directions and climbed into the “procedure” chair.  The lovely nurse lifted the leg rest, bid him “Make yourself comfortable” and left the room.  Dad scowled and called out to her.

“I need this leg rest to be moved out!”

“I’m sorry Mr. Carter.  It doesn’t move out.  You’ll just have to shrink a bit.”

“If it doesn’t move out, then it’s a poorly designed chair.”

Dad trying to make himself comfortable in the poorly designed chair

Dad trying to make himself comfortable in the poorly designed chair

He lasted all of two minutes before flopping his legs off each side of the leg rest.

“It’s a terrible design.  It cuts off the blood circulation.”

Dr. Bagley arrived and the four of us enjoyed a short conversation regarding the chair.  the procedure took less than ten minutes.

Dr. Bagley performing the Scrape & Burn procedure on Dad's arm

Dr. Bagley performing the Scrape & Burn procedure on Dad’s arm

As the wound on Dad’s arm was being scraped and burned, the nurse shared her story of disappointing her engineer father by not being able to draw in perspective when taking classes toward an engineering degree (that she didn’t want to pursue anyway.  Her father had designed the GM facility in Linden, NJ.  During the design stage, a scaled model of the building lived on her dining room table forcing the family to eat in the kitchen for several months.  One evening her father was perplexed and asked what had happened to all of the bathrooms.  All fifty of them had been moved away from the elevator shaft area.  Her brother explained that her really didn’t like the way the bathrooms looked located next to the shaft and had taken it upon himself to make the layout a bit more visually pleasing.  Her father explained the reason for locating the bathrooms next to the shaft was that all the plumbing could be run through the shaft, saving a great deal of expense.  The brother  acknowledged that the reasoning was okay and took it upon himself to return all fifty bathrooms to the location in his father’s original design.

Priceless story, Priceless glimpse into the lives of others, the lives of children who grow up in families with inventive parents who include their children in the thought process from planning through to execution.  The nurse’s brother has followed in his father’s footsteps, designing the plumbing and ventilation systems in corporate buildings.  Just as her story ended, the procedure was completed and we headed out into the beautiful, sunny but chilly afternoon.  The smell of fresh cut grass, the first of the season, filled our nostrils and brought smiles to our faces.

Another good day with Dad.

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April 10, 2014

Each week the challenges change.  I recall my sister-in-law once telling me, “Life as a parent never gets easier, it just gets different.”  The same goes for being a daughter … “Life as a daughter never gets easier, it just gets different.

As I signed my name in the book I glanced over and saw Dad sitting in the dining room sipping coffee, alone at his table.  I approached.  He stared into space, eyes glazed, shirt stained, shoulders hunched.  There is no question in my mind that shaving is no longer a priority, nor should it be.  His walker was nowhere in sight.

“I guess I don’t need it.”

We returned to his room with his lukewarm coffee which he insisted on drinking in his chair before the task of showering, shaving and shampooing.  Half an hour later, I still couldn’t get him to release himself from the comfort of his chair.

 

Dad, content in his chair sipping coffee

Dad, content in his chair sipping coffee

I busied myself by gluing and clamping a broken chip of wood into another chair.  I traced the shadows of the window shades as they fell upon my sketchbook.  I sorted his newspapers, sifted through his laundry, made inventory notes on his calendar.  Still, he wouldn’t budge.  I handed him a pencil and his green book.

“Well then, Dad, I guess it’s time to write another poem.”

Blank expression…. no response.

“Drawing something usually helps you find your words, Dad.  How about drawing this stuffed owl?”

Dad smiled and set to work on drawing the owl and moved right along to writing his poem and agreeing to take a shower, though he remained grumbly about the idea of going shopping for new sneakers.

The owl drawing

The owl drawing

Inspirations galore,

Where do you start !

The sunshine from above, –

The breezes from somewhere.

The number of choices

Are infinite for sure

Make a choice now

And go for it, – go NOW.

Shave ….. Shower ….. (“Don’t forget to use that green shampoo when you wash your hair, Dad!” I shout through the door).  He came out of the bathroom with wet hair, but the level of the shampoo remained the same, not falling below the line of the rubber band used to keep track of whether or not it’s being used.

Halfway to the car I couldn’t bear to go shopping for sneakers.  The day was gorgeous and Dad looked so happy being outside in the sun with the blue, blue sky above.  The wind was gentle and the air smelled of spring… finally.

“Dad.  Change of plans.  We’re going for a walk instead of shopping for sneakers.”

Huge smile

“You did well last week at Lord Stirling Park.  What do you think about taking the walker for a more adventurous walk?  We made it through gravel and puddles at the swamp, do you think we can handle rocks and tree roots with this walker?”

“I guess we won’t know until we try, will we?” (How lucky am I to have a dad like this?)

I parked far away from the trail head so that we could still get a decent walk in if we couldn’t get very far along the rooty, rocky path.  The last time we visited Hofheimer Park we took the short path to the grotto.  This time I wanted to try the whole loop, ending up at the grotto.

Happy to be in the woods again!

Happy to be in the woods again!

I missed sharing the giant beech trees with Dad.  Severe storms had uprooted so many trees that the trail was too dangerous when Dad was using his cane for balance.  Why did I think it would be easier with the walker?  I didn’t.  But I wouldn’t have to worry about Dad falling.  We had developed a method for rough terrain last week at Lord Stirling Park.

Guiding Dad's Walker

Guiding Dad’s Walker

I walk ahead and slightly to the left with my right hand on the front of the walker to lift it slightly, keeping it from digging into mud, jamming against rocks or roots and making it easier for Dad to push.  Lucky for me, I was hanging onto the walker when I stepped in a deep hole hidden by leaves.

A rough and rocky road

A rough and rocky road

With each step Dad looked happier and more bright-eyed.  His stamina amazed me.

Walking along the smoother terrain

Walking along the smoother terrain

Walking on the boardwalk around the small pond at Chelsea tires him out more than climbing a steep trail over uneven ground strewn with obstacles while having both hands on an unhappy  walker. He is not as happy walking around the pond as he is surrounded by the giant beech trees.  We had reached the top of the hill and were on our way down before Dad requested a short break.

Taking a break

Taking a break

There had been several short stops for him to blow his nose. Fortunately I remembered a paper towel this time.  At Lord Stirling Dad had resorted to his tried and true method that he had learned as a boy on the farm. Dad taught me how to blow my nose without a hanky when we ran together in the morning before I boarded the bus for high school.  I’m pretty sure Alexis is practiced at the method of nose-blowing while running.  Dad has mastered the techniques.  His dementia has not stolen from him his expertise.  The visuals had been a bit dramatic last week and I made sure to stuff a paper towel in my bag this time around.

Remnants of a Home Run

Remnants of a Home Run

As usual, we found treasures along the trail.  “Looks like someone hit a home run, Chris ….. a long time ago.  I bet that was a good day!”  The tattered ball awoke memories of coaching my brother’s baseball team many, many years ago.  That lead to memories of Dad and I running our first run together around the parking lot of the school where he coached Howard’s team.  Dad had just purchased the first edition of Aerobics and wanted to test it out.  We continued to run together until I left for Germany after graduating high school.

The aerobic runners, forty-six years later

The aerobic runners, forty-six years later

Trees were terribly bare for this time of year.  Spring has been so late in coming.  A few bits of green appeared on tired branches.

A hint of spring.

A hint of spring.

The algae glowed with the pride of being greener than anything else in sight.

Spring algae

Spring algae

We made it all around the loop and stopped in at the grotto before returning to the car.  There will be more good days to come and more not-so-good days to come.  There will come a day when we will no longer be able to walk the rocky, rooty trails together.

Almost at the bridge, but not quite yet.

Almost at the bridge, but not quite yet.

We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. We may be close, but we’re not there yet.

 

 

March 6, 2014

While Dad showers and shaves I sort through newspapers, hang up clothes and sketch.  I have plenty of time…….. plenty of time.  A very long time passes before the shower is turned on.  A long time passes…… and then another long time passes.  Eventually the bathroom door opens and a clean but unshaven Dad joins me.  I send him back to shave.

CWM43-color-wheel-scheme-mandala-no-43-geometry-playing-cards-Queens-art-chris-carter-artist-030614-ink-watercolor-600web

Playing Card Queens – Mandala

I’ve been remiss lately, not having the energy to go through what it takes to convince Dad that if he puts one words down in his green sketchbook, more words will follow.  When I awoke yesterday, I decided that I wanted Dad to complete his green book. He has only a couple dozen pages left.  After telling him that I needed a bit more time to complete my “Queens” mandala, he agreed to pick up his pencil.

Drawings or Words ... or both

Drawings or Words … or both

Drawings or Words

Drawings or words, –

My choosing.

How about if I just sit, –

And think about

Drawing or writing?

No?

Words seem

Not to be coming

Or drawing either, —-

What’s to be done?

What’s to be done?

Words fill libraries

Libraries galore

So why should I add

Anymore?

When he finished his poem, he drew his sketchbook.  I asked him to try the clock and he happily continued to draw.  I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Dad’s poems. It is definitely worth the struggle to pull these gems out onto the page. Words may be difficult for him to find these days, but playing Rummy 500 isn’t difficult at all!  Again, he clobbered me .

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

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.

Father’s Day 2013 …. A gorgeous day for a walk with Dad….

Chris and Dad on Father's Day 2013, Leonard J. Buck Gardens, Far Hills, NJ

Chris and Dad on Father’s Day 2013, Leonard J. Buck Gardens, Far Hills, NJ

The frogs croaked loudly, harmonizing with the screaming mating call of the cicadas when I arrived at Chelsea to spend Father’s Day with Dad.  I awoke him from his slumbers.  Forget the shower…. we’re going for a walk on this beautiful day!

oops…… Leonard J. Buck Garden doesn’t open until noon.  No problem.  Dad had missed breakfast. I had whisked him off without even a cup of coffee.

Coconut Truffles for breakfast?

Coconut Truffles for breakfast?

There’s a lovely cafe just up the road from the garden.  While Dad held our table, I ordered breakfast….. double cappuccino, bran muffin, spinach quiche and coconut truffles. Dad was a bit confused by starting the day with coconut truffles while we waited for our quiche to be heated.  Perfect time to write a poem.

Patches of Blue

A table out front

Of a sidewalk cafe

We sit in bright sun

Daughter, Chris and I

The sun shines brightly

Upon the paper I write

The cars roll by

The pedestrians are chattering.

The sun shines so brightly

Upon the paper I’m writing

While Chris waits expectant

For something to be “said”.

But, words seem to delude me

a most common thing

Words are most powerful things

If carefully used.

Watching Dad ponder over his words while the quiche cools.

Watching Dad ponder over his words while the quiche cools.

We returned to Leonard J. Buck Garden, greeted by open gates.

Admiring beauty

Admiring beauty

We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to walk the gardens, the paths drenched in the fragrance of blossoms bursting from the wet, spring weather.

Walking without destination

Walking without destination

We tackled one of the steeper paths and rested on a bench when we reached to top of the hill.  Dad commented on the noise of the cicadas.  It was a perfect time for me to pull out the letter I had written for him seventeen years ago.  He listened intently as I read it aloud.

Seventeen Years Ago

Seventeen Years Ago

At the end, he patted my knee and nodded.

The descent

The descent

Climbing up the hill was far easier than descending.  My heart was in my throat most of the time.

“Steady, Dad….. steady.”

He made it down safely.  Stopped, took a deep breath and looked up at the sky.

Reflections

Reflections

We stopped one more time to rest on a bench beside the pond.  We sat in silence for a long time until Dad remarked, “Life is good.”

“Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Yes, life is good.”

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