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Thursday: January 17, 2012

My visit with Dad today was short.   Better a short visit than no visit at all.

Hygiene is top priority these days.  We started off with a good shave.

Dad's pleased with his electric razor

Dad’s pleased with his electric razor

Dad doesn’t remember that the electric razor is next to his toothbrush, but when reminded, he’s happy to use it.  Those Carter creases present a real challenge for him with a straight razor.

He needed a shower and a change of clothing, but I decided we would play cards first and shower afterwards.  I’d already sent him into the bathroom several times for this and that.

Queen of Diamonds

Queen of Diamonds

Unbelievable….. he won again at Rummy 500.  He’s better at Rummy than he is at Crazy Eights.  Grrrrrrrrrr.

It was a long game, an excellent game.  Little time was left for a shower, but a clean Dad is important.

“I promise I’ll shower as soon as you leave.”

Hah…… I knew better.

Half an hour later I kissed a fresh and clean Dad good-bye.

Dementia is baffling.  The workings of the brain are beyond anything I can understand.  I am simply in awe of it’s power and flexibility.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Dad was a bit more than reluctant to take a shower and change into clean clothing.

“I already showered this morning, Chris.”

That might have been true, but unlikely.  I wasn’t going to take his word for it.

“Two showers a day is simply ridiculous.”  Grumble, grumble, grumble.  Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle……

Panic Button and Electric Razor

Panic Button and Electric Razor

Jane found Dad’s new electric razor in pieces on the floor earlier in the week.  I put it back together. Luckily, it still works!  Amazing.  While Dad showered, I sketched his panic button necklace and his razor.

Dad came out of the bathroom smiling.  Embracing the mood change, I suggested we draw together before playing cards.

Playing Cards waiting to be dealt

Playing Cards waiting to be dealt

For the first time in months, he offered no resistance at all.

“Oh, you mean a drawing where I don’t look at the paper?”

“Yes.”

I was stunned that Dad remembered how to do a contour drawing.  It’s been more than a year since he’s known what a contour drawing is.  I asked him to pick one of the three objects on the table.

Dad's contour drawing

Dad’s contour drawing

He drew all three, the clock, the panic button and the electric razor.  He even drew the numbers on the clock without looking once at his paper.  He was on a roll.

“Dad, do you think you could write a short poem next to your drawing?”

“Sure.”

Again….. no resistance.  I began to wonder if I’d stepped into the Twilight Zone.

While Dad wrote, I drew the nail clippers purchased on one of our Indiana Trips by way of the Smoky Mountains.

Smoky Mountains Nail Clippers

Smoky Mountains Nail Clippers

Though Dad’s hygiene leaves a lot to be desired these days, he still takes excellent care of his fingernails.

Dad-writing-poem-in-green-sketchbook-011213-web

Dad writing a poem for his drawing

Looking in space

With pencil and paper

Leaves some sense

Perhaps

It just remains

To be seen

Hm-m-m

To end an exceptional day together, he won playing Rummy 500.  Amazing Dad!

The Chatter of Children

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.

What? No coffee?

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.

Love Poems for Jane

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!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

In spite of having purchased the length recommended by the chart on the back of the package of shoe laces, the laces were about ten inches too long.  I should have taken a photo of the clown-like bows that topped off Dad’s shoes before I cut the laces down to size.

New laces and polished shoes

While I was in the polishing mood, I gave his hiking boots a good oiling, getting them ready for our fall and winter walks through the swamp.

Ready for adventure

My visit with Dad was short.  Jane was scheduled for her shot in the eye at 2:30 and I had the honor of being her chauffeur.  Technology and medical advancements continue to allow our bodies to do the simple things we love to do, like walk and see.

The Black Hole

Unfortunately, we’ve found no way to reverse the tragedy of dementia.  Today was not one of the good days for Dad.  I think that changing the laces and polishing the shoes pushed him over the edge.  His world of words was as blank as the page of his green sketchbook.  The pencil and paper could not connect and Dad was lost in a vapor.

Apples and Oranges

While Dad struggled with to find a word or two, I counted the fruit in his room.  Apples and oranges were everywhere.

Orange sections

Orange sections in a bag in the bathroom with a toothbrush and toothpaste.  I was concerned that Dad wasn’t making it to any of his meals and that the fruit was left over from the trays of food brought to him when he didn’t show up in the dining room.   Much to my relief, Jane explained that he picks up a piece of fruit from the bowl next to the coffee pot every time he gets himself a cup of coffee from the coffee/snack area.  Whew!

I grabbed his pile of newspapers, kissed him goodbye and headed to Jane’s.

pencils, baskets of fortune cookies and a stack of trays

I joined Jane in the waiting room until she was called for her treatment.  At that point I had at least two hours to myself.  Having skipped lunch, I drove to the China Wok and ordered steamed broccoli and brown rice.  With my take-out lunch I returned to the parking lot of Greymark to wait for a call from Jane.

View from the parking lot beneath a giant shade tree.

Lately, I find myself drawing in parking lots quite often.

A view of the back parking lot

My phone rang.  I stashed my pen and paints and drove around to the front of the building where Jane, with patch over one eye, stood smiling.  She is such an inspiration and a great example of the power of positive thinking!  In spite of back pain and wet macular degeneration she is headed to Texas in a month for a tennis tournament!

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.

An Exceptional Day

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.

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.

Shucking Corn

The name Lawrence Pitzer came up on one of our earlier walks.  Lawrence was the father of Dad’s classmate.  Dad mentioned that Lawrence was the National Corn Husking Champion.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

On our way to Natirar we stopped and bought wraps for our picnic.  Dad appeared to be disoriented, both in the car and in the deli.  He surprised me with his rapid choice of wrap.  “I’ll have a Veggie Wrap”, he declared.  Usually has meat.

Tracking down sounds

The sounds of children and cars parking next to the picnic area distracted Dad in a way I haven’t noticed before.  Fortunately, the disorientation and distractions didn’t detract from his appetite.  During lunch I mentioned to Dad that I had been going through a box from the house in Martinsville.  I reminded him that he had told me that his friend’s dad was the National Corn Husking Champion.

“Yup….. Lawrence Spitzer.  He was my classmate’s father.”

“I found the program for the Pitzer Jubilee Banquet in 1939!”

Program for Pitzer Jubilee Banquet, 1939

“Yup …. the invention of the corn picker put an end to those contests.”

And so began a fascinating conversation that brought me back in time when all of the gathering of corn for livestock was done by hand!  The farmers walked the rows picking and shucking simultaneously.  The trick was to watch the weather and make sure the husks would be dry enough to break off and husk (or shuck) in one motion.

The banquet was quite the affair ….

Banquet Program

The menu consisted of tomato juice, fruit juice, combination salad, baked ham, green beans, candied sweet potatoes, hard and soft rolls, butter, coffee, ice cream and cake.  There were musical performances and speeches.  The reception committee numbered thirty: twelve at the door, five at the east aisle (my grandfather was one), six at the west aisle, seven for distinguished guests.

Lawrence Pitzer’s Record

It turns out that Lawrence won many championships between 1932 and 1939.

I googled his name and found the history of the Corn Husking Competitions online.  Lawrence, of course, was mentioned.

Another farm just across the field from NFS hosted the 1932 state corn husking contest, and boasted local farmer Lawrence Pitzer as the winner. He was amongst the five top national finishers in 1935 as they shucked to new world’s records. In 1939, Pitzer won the national contest held in Kansas in a town fittingly named Lawrence.” (from online history of corn husking events)

My grandfather and Owen, the farm hand, shucked corn from dawn to dusk for three weeks straight.  Workers would often come up from Kentucky to help with the shucking.  My grandfather would hire one of them for one dollar a day.  He thought that was a pretty good deal.  He would brag about it to the uncles at the family reunions.

My grandmother cooked enormous meals during shucking time.  It was women’s work to keep plenty of food on the table, three times a day.

“I remember Dad and Owen coming in for dinner with holes in their gloves from shucking corn.”

Eventually all the farmers had corn picking machinery and the contests died out.

After the wraps were gone and the story told it was time to write and draw. I met with the usual resistance.

Pencil to paper

To write a poem

Is the aim

If it doesn’t happen

I’m the one to blame

Putting pencil to paper, —

That alone won’t do it.

Putting the brain in gear

Let’s say —– how do we do it?

Look up to the sky, —

Scan the trees, —

Put pencil to paper casts a shadow

For Chris to sketch, don’t you see?!

We set out on our walk.  Dad’s stamina was low.  We walked the short loop, stopping at every bench and sitting on each bench for a long time.

Resting

Clouds sweep the sky

While breeze airs the armpits

As we sit on the bench —

Chris and I

On to the next bench:

Resting from a walk

Less than 3 minutes in length

More to follow

As we gain gain strength

Cumulus clouds gliding

Slowly cross the sky

Feet throbbing our heartbeats

We lean back with a sigh

Several benches later:

Another short walk

Another short stop

Sitting on a bench

Feeling our hearts throb

The last bench of the day:

Reading the words

I have written before

I find less than remarkable

Surely I could do better!

But at least we are trying

Daughter Chris and I

These hot summer days

Are relished, I say.

08/09/12