Wednesday, February 07, 2007


"O Father! - chiefly known to me by Thy rod - mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world's, or mine own. Yet this is nothing; I leave eternity to Thee; for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?"
Father Marple - Moby Dick

Part 1
I pulled into the VA Hospital parking lot in Waco , Texas . It was a 100 mile drive from my home in Fort Worth . I was there to see my father, an Alzheimers patient. Four years ago I had never heard of Alzheimers. He had been here for two years now and this was my third visit. That’s not very many.
I should mention that for the years dad spent at the VA hospital he received outstanding care. Normally I would see him in the visitors area on the first floor. I don't recall ever seeing his room exactly.
Today Bill, the male nurse, ushered me to the second floor and the exercise area where Dad is on a treadmill.

"Jack" says Bill" "your son is here".
"Hmmm?" Dad grunts over the top of his glasses.
"Hey Pop, its me, Steve" I offer.
He is still treading away and...
'What's that?" Dad asks.
Its your son , Jack" Bill talking… "You have a visitor"
'Hi, Dad"
"Its your son, Jack"
"Whose what?"
"I'm right here Dad, in front of you" and touch his hand that clutches the treadmill handlebars.

Dad laughs his fake belly laugh (it’s a coping mechanism, I have it too) and says
"Bill, theres someone here to see you from Chicago ".

I know that he can see me but you wouldn't know it by his expression. Of course Dad can hear us fine, but we are getting louder.
The problem is not his ears ; that would be too easy. Its further in.
Still, you can't help but get louder.
Finally after about ten minutes of this verbal escalation, and the foggy, blank stare that the Alzheimers patient has where they are not quite looking at you, not quite looking through you and not quite looking past you, but a sort of Brainsquinting thing where they are doing all three, Dad bursts out with amazing focus and clarity:

Damn right!
He is looking me right in the eye.
"Man to Man, its a Roy-Tan*, Dad" as I hand him his cigar.

There won't be any matches, there haven't been any matches for a while.
His belly laugh has changed to the genuine one.
There was nothing here that could explain the swiftness of the degenerative process that I had seen for the last 4 years. And there was nothing here that could prepare me for the sharp moments of greater clarity that my father would summon from somewhere within in the next few years, even after the further erosion of his faculties.

to be continued…

*As an addendum and for those of you born later than 1970;
Dad smoked big Cigars- Stogies they called them and they were not namby-pamby cigars- they were big and thick and puffed great clouds of smoke. In the 60's Tobacco was advertised freely on the Television; hell, you could light a smoke while doing your Grocery shopping- and there was a hugely successful commercial for Roy-tan Cigars.
The commercials all followed the same story line, but the one I remember best was a little be-spectacled fellow, Pee-Wee, hitting a large truck with his car. He gets out of his vehicle to survey the damage as the Truck-Driver, Bruno , a huge hairy man gruffly removes himself from his truck to do the same. Just as it looks as though Bruno is going to snap Pee-Wee in half, Pee-Wee produces a Mammoth Roy-Tan from his pocket and Bruno, delighted, lets him off the hook. The announcer says "Man to man it’s a Roy-Tan" and all is well as Pee-Wee and Bruno light up, huge clouds of smoke, and slapping each other on the back.


Anonymous said...

This has to be one of the saddest illnesses known to man - to slowly watch your loved one's memory, mind to erode away - and they, too, having lucidity - knowing that they are on a downhill slide that will end in grandmother at the end, had dementia which is similar - she would ask me who I was.......and when could she go home and see her mom and is almost like seeing a life rewind itself, until they are back to being an infant.......I'm so sorry for you... that's a different story. Smoked my first one on New Year's Eve this year - a real, honest to goodness Cuban, snuck into America.......smelled like heaven......tasted like s&%t!!! Couldn't understand the lure nor the mystique........

steve said...

Thought the illness be sad I have striven not to sadden in my post. There is no power in sadness and my memories, even these are filled with much joy.

Also from the good Pilot Father Marple in "Moby Dick"...
"But oh! shipmates! on the starboard hand of every woe, there is a sure delight; and higher the top of that delight, than the bottom of the woe is deep"

Mother of Invention said...

It is a double-edged sword, this duality of sweet memories and the lost memory. Funny, I just read a post last night of a man who was telling about visiting his mom at the same type of home with the same illness. Everyone seems to have been affected by this. We think my mom has the beginnings of it but my dad doesn't know how to get her to bring it up with the doctor. They've never brought it up and I'm sure she won't be co-operative. She's 85. I can't imagine trying to deal with it.

Old Lady said...

I think blooger (new word) ate my comment. I will come back and check later!

GrizzBabe said...

I must say, Steve, over the short months since you've started your blog, your writing has really developed. You do an excellent job of painting a picture with words. That's good to see. And I really enjoy your stories.

Old Lady said...

Nope, I must have 'screwed up'.

It is wonderful that he came back for you with such gusto. We are interested in what you have to say. We have had similar experiences. But, only do as much as you can stand at one time.

I bet he was a good cigar chomper too!

Anonymous said...

Mom- 85 years is a good run; there may be some tough ones ahead but as long as i am in sucha maritime mood I'll offer this: is it any wonder that the "masthead towers high above the keel and though it offers a delightful view, the keel is ehat steadies the ship" I know its weird, but thats Ok; it'll be alright!
OlLady- you owe me one...
Griz, Griz, Griz...I have known for a long time that I have some good stories if Icould only find the Pen to write them with... and with THANKS TO YOU( a story there as well) and the many posts and comments I have seen the these last several months I seem to have found a Pen less crude than what was otherwise available to me before... now if i could but learn to type! HAH!

Old lady-I'll swanney... thats what she said when she meant "i swear"

Mother of Invention said...

You're right..she's had a wonderful long life and can't complain at all..neither can my dad who is 87. It's all relative. I'm only 53, but if I died tomorrow, I could still consider myself blessed with a very good life.

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