This is a very lengthy post that consists of the "Six Part" posts that chronicled my Dads battle with Alzheimers. to see the beautiful comments I received during the writing of this series, click on any of the Chapter titles in blue for the original and comments. also, on the Chapter called "We were all Problems" click on that title for a great picture of my Brother Don. It was in making the caption for that picture that I finally broke down over this story.
My Dads best friend, Bruce, was Hospitalized back in December. It was this event that prompted me to write these pieces. More stories of Bruce can be viewed by clicking the label at the end of this post.
A ROY-TAN CIGAR
"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
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"
"Its your son, Jack"
"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:
"THATS MY DAMN SON"
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. He could see the nit on the nut of a gnat now.
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.
THE POTENTIAL POSSIBILITIES
"Now take my hand and hold it tight.
I will not fail you here tonight.
For failing you, I fail myself
And place my soul upon a shelf"
The Book of Counted Sorrows
1977 (continued from previous post)
I don't remember the real reason I moved back home.
My best friend and I had an Apartment for the last two years. The sign over our front door read in rustic script on a weatherbeaten board "Little Hoss Ranch".
"Ranch" was right and we entertained nightly.
Every week my mother would call and I was generally so stoned that I could not speak.
I held a good job at the time as 1st Cook for a gourmet Restaurant making the whopping sum of 3.15 an hour. I didn't know it then, but I had yet to grasp any real Culinary Fundamentals.
I did not know that within the year my father would be in a VA Hospital and that these would be the last days that our relationship would be domestic... that this would be the last time to fix his breakfast and have him tell stories about coffee so hot that it had to be "Saucered and Blowed" several times before it was drinkable.
A stack of pancakes and a frosty glass of milk goes a long ways towards relaxed conversations and the turning of dusty pages. So does the Psuedo Welsh Rarebit I used to fix that he enjopyed immensly.
More so, so much more so, than the words
"You have a Visitor, Jack" .I
It would be the last chance to have him wax about the Steaks he had eaten in Chicago at Northwestern in the years before his time in North Africa, as he wolfed the ones I had prepared in the backyard. I still think those were the best steaks I have ever cooked. And I did not realize at the time just how much my mother was relieved to have both her boys at home, or how much help I was in taking care of an early onset Alzheimers patient*.
To think that I cried a sorrowful cry the day that I finished moving back home, with the 3 Lisa's that had helped me move saying 'Living at home won't be so bad".
Dad and I , it seems to me now, were equally handicapped.
Dad used to tell me the Doctors were wrong.
Dad used to tell me he could "beat this thing".
We would be heading out the back door to look at the beat up Alaskan Freight Canoe that we had bought. We were going to cover it with an Epoxy resin Dad knew about. She was was in bad shape, this vessel, and a real concern for my Mom.
Mom would whisper to me in hushed tones
"You and he both try to fix things with gum wrappers and soda straws, you will never get that thing afloat!"
Looking back I know that she was right, but at the time I thought she was kind of poisoning our well. All we ever really did was look at it and discuss the potential possibilities.
Dad would say 'These Doctors dont know what they are talking about. I can beat this thing. I can see... the nit... on the nut... of a gnat."
His is voice would crack with something torn between a rage and a will and a fear.
"Sure you can, Pop... if anyone can , it will be you."
And we both would enjoy a somewhat disingenuous Belly laugh.
His ice blue eyes would dance and look straight into mine for moment.
He would turn and ask
"Now wheres that doorknob?"
He knew the door was there but the knob always eluded him.
"I got it Dad"
Now the laughs came real. With his quick wit, the irony never eluded him. Laughter always trumps sorrow.
And it reminds me of just how quick and observant you have to be to catch a Night Crawler, much more dceptive a creature than one would imagine, and the importance of gathering bait.
To be continued.....
*You can google Early Onset Alzheimers for the Medicos on it so I will refuse leaving the link. I can put it into a bit of a personal perpective for you... you hears about folks in their 60's and 70's that are Alzheimers victims... my Dad became completely disabled at the ripe old age of 58 and unable to work...I was barely out of High School...and the story you just read was but 2 years later, Dad being 60.I won't try to tell you that these were the best days of my life, but I will say that there has been much fruit and treasure;
still today there remains both of these, unimagined, yet to be fully realized...
so many potential possibilities...
YOU HAVE TO BE SMARTER THAN THE WORM
"The pleasantist' thing in Angling
is to see the fish on Golden Oar
shoot through the silver stream
and greedily devour
the treacherous bait"
"Out of the blue and into the black..."
Dad absolutely loved to fish.
My first memory that I can put a date to was after my sister Lisa was born; I would have been 27 months or 2 and 1/4 years old. Mom had been home from the hospital for a week or two and was laying in bed nursing Lisa. Dad had asked if she were OK and if he and I could go out to Grapevine Lake for the afternoon. I assume permission had been granted and as he and I walked out the garage Door.
I remember asking very soberly if "Mother" was going to be okay with us gone.
We climbed into a big ol' Oldsmobile, a 1958 punked out with Jet Fighter Wings and a motherlode of Chrome, and within 10 minutes we were hopelessly stuck in a muddy field. It was a short cut Dad had been using to get onto the Blacktop from the house.
To think that moments before I had been concerned about "Mothers" welfare.
"Ahab, beware of Ahab."
This is my first memory.
We spent the whole afternoon trying to get unstuck. We did not make it to the lake that day.I think it explains a lot about why Mom was always a little concerned for us, outside of just being a Mom. I'm sure that she was relieved that day, with us close by in the field.
One evening in Detroit, Dad shakes me out from in front of the TV.
"Come along here boy, I need some help."
He is grinnin' like a Butchers dog, has an empty Coffee can, and also his Headlight-Flashlight on. Its the business end of a flashlight attached to a headband that you wear on your head, a separate battery pack that clipped to the hip; it was manufactured in the 1940's and would be worth a lot of money now.
No, probably it wouldn't be worth much to anyone but me.
Dad kept it with all his Camping and Fishing gear in his Sea Chest.
Down the street we go in the dark, Dad looking like some kind of spelunker that has lost his cave. I have no idea what this one is about, but Dad always had some kind of project/adventure going. We get to Mr. Bowles house. Dads illuminating gaze is directed down, down into Mr. Bowles flower bed and laying on top of the ground are the Biggest worms that I have ever seen. They are almost a foot long, as big around as a pencil, and you can see the big blue vein though the Opaque reddish and tan wormskin. There must be hundreds of em'!
"Wow, thats cool Dad... what are they?"
"Yes, and we are going to use them to fish with"
'Now that one there, where the light is shining, get him."
I take a step towards the bed and drop to my knees. As soon as I hit the ground, all the Night Crawlers, quick as lightning, zip into their holes. I had no idea that a worm could move that fast
"Out of the Blue..."
"You have to creep up on em' nice and easy" Dad explained. "They feel the vibratiions."
"...and into the Black"
We move down the bed to where there are more laying undisturbed.
Stealthily, I go to my knees and crawl up to where I can reach one.
"You're going to have be fast..."
"Yeah, Dad I get it!" and I try to grab the first one.
Not only do you have to be fast, you have to choose the right end of the worm to grab; you have to grab the end that goes back into the hole. Otherwise, all you get is mud. The worm is no dummy, and never comes all the way out of the hole, and stands ready to go below to safety.
You have to be smarter than the worm.
I got pretty good at it.
The Coffee can would be full of worms. A fishing trip would follow the next day, and what fish we caught with our worms!!!
We did not sit on a dock, catching Bluegill...no... Dad rigged the live worms to where we could troll them from the boat, and we caught Walleye, Pike and I even took a 4 foot Musky one day
...my my, hey hey...
But the time spent simply gathering bait, being outwitted and outrun by a worm that was faster and smarter than us...
I would laugh, and Dad would chuckle...
during the 5 years we spent there...
Mr Bowles never seemed to miss his worms!
I didn't know then that one day I would be in charge of gathering the bait, planning the trip, packing the tackle and gear and even setting up and baiting Dads rod on what would be his last Fishing trip.
"Theres more to the picture
Than meets the eye
Hey hey, my my"
We Were All A Problem
There's an old magic Eight Ball
Right next to my plate
When I ask it a question
Regarding my fate
It says "reply hazy, please try again"
It wont say where I'm going
It don't know where I've been ….
but I'm right here now…
PART 4, 1975
I have heard it said that the bond between a Father and Son is a fragile bond, full of mistrust and fears and failures on both sides. By the time I graduated High School, the bond between Dad and I had been severely tested.
On Friday nights as I prepared to go "carousing" around, Dad would give me $10, and say
"Don't spend it all in one place!"
Every week the same conversation would ensue.
"What are you getting into tonight?" '
"Nuthin' I can't handle Dad"
"Well, just remember… that Wisdom… is the greater part… of Valor."
"Fer shure' Dad"
and within the hour I would have a $10 bag of trouble, which would greatly enhance my other vain pursuits, chiefly Sex and Rock and Roll. I didn't realize back then that Dad was really being kinda cool about the whole thing.
Those mornings years later, when we would talk as we ate breakfast, he referred to them as my "Wild Bill Cody" days. I definitely had the hair for it.
It took a some years, after the Diagnoses, after considering the years he spent severed from hiis family, splintered from even himself, living an unimaginable existence that could not be foreseen, that I came to realize what a problem I must have been.
Dad was a man of few words. He told good natured stories, clean bone dry jokes and used the ever present cigar for punctuation. He had a slow and steady cadence to his pattern of speech that allowed every word to sink in.
He met and married my Mother after returning from WWII. She had a 4 year old son, Don Lynn, and Dad legally adopted him, giving Don his name and his love.
Don told me a story about the first time that Dad was going to discipline him, and give him a spanking. Don could not recall what the infraction was, but this he vividly remembered:
"Mother, not wanting her child spanked, jumped to my defense.
'You are not going to spank my Boy!'
Dad turns and faces Mother and in his slow methodical way, says softly but firmly;
'We are going...to start…right now. You are my wife…and this is MY son…and ..I am going to…to raise him as best… as best as I know how"
My first memory of Don was the day he snatched me off the front porch as I was taking a piss… Don came out all right…he graduated from West Point in 1964.
In 1982, Mom had a stroke. After a few weeks she seemed to be making progress, and I had been keeping Don advised, but he was able to come home from his station in Saudi and I was glad to have him there. During a late night conversation , I expressed regret at having been such a problem for Mom and Dad through the years. You know what he said?
"Steve, we were all problems."">
Pretty smart, my brother.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
RECEPTION TO FOLLOW
Ya' know that old trees just grow stronger,
And old rivers grow wilder ev'ry day.
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say,
"Hello in there, hello.
1984 Part 5
"He probably won't know what we are here for, or what has happened, but I'm glad for you to meet him just the same."
"Oh I can't wait, I know I'll like him"
"He's a great guy"
My new Wife just looked at me with that soft look that says "Of course he is. He must be".
The first year...anything associated with me must be great. Its just a shame that she will never really know, about dad I mean, but I don't say that. For now we can pretend that everything is the same as it ever was.
I was never sure what to talk to Dad about when I came and I wondered what Mrs. Bulletholes and he would find to discuss. I'm just hoping he will know who I am. We are almost to the VA Hospital, when new Wife says"How does this look?"
I glance over and she has unwrapped one of the cigars meant for Dad; she has stuck it into her mouth. It looks like a giant Gobstopper and her eyes are flashing blue as she shakes her shoulders, removes the Stogie and blows imaginary Smoke rings at me.
"Thats real nice Babe, he's going to like you a lot."
"JACK, YOU HAVE A VISITOR"
He is led into the visiting Lounge, he sees me and I see the recognition in his face, then he spies the New Wife and I see a little confusion.
"Dad, its me- Steve!"
"Steve? My son? Well, Ill be damned!"
I give a hug and motion to Wife...
"Dad, I want you to meet someone. I found an Angel Girl and I got married and she wants to meet you."
She steps forward with her hug and says her name.
Dad used to tell me when I was a boy that when I got married he would decorate my Car with cans tied to the back and honk his horn as we drove down the street. That was nothing compared to what he would give us today.You could see the wheels spinning as he tried to make all the connections... but it really didn't take that long for this weary mind to grasp the moment.
He looked at me then back to her and pulls her back for another hug.
"Well, let me welcome you into the family. You are a Bullethole now; you are my Daughter."
Mrs. Bulletholes cannot believe it. But she never missed a beat.
"Is it OK if I call you 'Dad" Dad?"
'"Sure. Do we have any Scotch?"
'They took my Scotch or we could have a Toast"
"No, but we've got these" and holds up a fistful of cigars.
Big chuckle from dad as he says "Now theres a good girl"
She has heard the stories and the warnings about how far gone this man is. The expectations are that we are going to confuse Dad, and in that confusion there will be a sadness and a sense of loss. Instead there is a sense of place and ...Redemption for all the years of waiting for a "Hello" and paying double for a line that has been disconnected.
Nothing could have prepared me for his sudden lucidity.
Had he been saving it, hidden in reserve for the moment he would need it?
Are we not all Psychic, with our brains operating like Time Machines, where information from the future influences events of the past?
I was so proud of him that day.
I always wonder if he knew how good he had done. Certainly he had recognized something significant.
Years ahead he would have another great day...
We sat, and as he talked, the Cigar was used to great effect. At times it was a Baton and he was the Maestro. As he and his new Daughter discussed her career in Sales, it became a Pen writing a new customer a letter of introduction. Then it was his Crystal Ball, as he gazed into it and declared that someday, somehow, he would "beat this thing" and find a way to move closer to us.
I wonder if he knew he had met a Hero that day.
His Hero, and mine.(to be continued)
Sunday, February 25, 2007
I heard newborn babies wailin'Like a Mournin' Dove
And old men with broken teeth stranded without Love
Do I understand your question, Man
Is it Hopeless and Forlorn
"Come in" she said "I'll give ya
Shelter from the Storm"
On December 1st, my Mother died at home. She had battled Emphysema and Cancer for several years. On her birthday in 1982 she had had a Major stroke; after months in the hospital, she recovered enough to go home and from there her capabilities improved to where she could drive and be fairly independent.
She had tried to take care of my father in the year or two that he was in the beginning stages, she had tried to be able to keep him at home, but the effects of Alzheimers demand much more care than what she could provide. Putting her Husband into a VA hospital just must have been gut wrenching for her.
I remember a Christmas where she had gone down and brought him home. It must have been about 1980 or so. When I came over the next day, she had already taken him back. I got the feeling that she wasn't able to handle him being there emotionally and she had already taken him back to the VA Hospital, 100 miles from home.
She never tried that again.
Gut wrenching stuff.
In 1984 I married and the girl I married was an Angel. You have already read how she and Dad had gotten along and I want you to now that she probably added a year and much happiness to my mothers life as well.
The Xmrs B'holes spent a lot of time with my Mother.
The only wish or hope that my Mother really had, except for the hope that she would live to see some little Bulletholes, was that she die before Dad. If she had had to bury Dad, that just would have been too much.
We spent Thanksgiving '86 and the following weekend with Mom. She had begun to take Morphine to help ease the pain she was in from the Cancer, but we had a good Weekend.On Monday she started to fare badly, and that evening the Lungs just gave out.
I had to call the Police and Fire Departments, the Funeral Home and then began the task of calling family and friends.Finally I had to call work and it was my friend Jeff that answered the phone. Thats when I lost it. I could barely speak.
I can't begin to tell you what a blessing it was that Mom should go first.
We brought my grandmother home from a Nursing Home, hired a Nurse, set her up in the guest bedroom and hung Family Pictures all over the Walls. She had been in the Nursing home so long that she was like Dad, maybe worse. But after a few weeks, she began to come back; there were moments that she seemed to recognise us, and had become quite fond it seemed of certain pictures on the walls that we moved closer to her. Mostly it was the Pictures of my Grandfather, her husband. After about 3 months, she died. You can't imagine how good it felt to have brought her home to spend her last days with us.
A few months in the future, the VA Administration would move Dad from the VA hospital into a Private Nursing Home, setting the stage for the last part of this story.
ALL ABOUT COMING HOME
"time is the echo of an axe within a wood"
1987 The Conclusion
There were a lot of ways for this story to end, but they all really end the same, don't they?I think, all things considered, I could not ask for a better one.
The night before Thanksgiving I was up all night , smoking a Turkey on the Grill outside.
I thought about how Mom had died less than a year before, in the room right in there.
I thought about how we brought Grandma home, and put her in the room right in there, and how when she died, we were right there with her.
We did not get a call from a nursing home 100 miles away... we were right there.
And as I watched my old friend Orion rising in small hours of the morning, I thought about the last 4 weeks, and what they had brought...
I had quit my job with a large Hotel.
I’d had enough.
While I served out my 2 weeks notice, my wife had gone to check on my father at a Nursing Home. The VA had had to move him to a Private Facility, and though they still picked up the tab, it put him another 50 miles further from home, and if we were to move him, they no longer would pay.
What my wife found on her visit set her already Red hair ablaze. The care at the VA had been spectacular. Now she found that within 4 weeks of being at this Private facility, he had bedsores and according to her ‘smelled like an outhouse with fecal material and urine on his bed and person”.
I want you to know that when the xmrs B’Holes gets her blood up, the shit will hit the fan. I can only imagine the coals that she raked those folks at that Nursing Home over that day.When she got back to town, we decided on this:
With Mom and Grandma no longer in need of Dads money and Estate, we would move him to the Nursing Home that was 2 blocks from our house.
To hell with the expense.
We entertained the notion of bringing him all the way home, like we did with Grandma, but that had been hard on us.So the next week, the day after my last day of work, I drove the 150 miles and removed Dad from the Nursing home from Hell, and brought him home, to the Nursing Home around the corner called the LaDora Lodge.
I had a Van, and laid the seats out in back with him on them. I straddled his chest, taping paper over the windows to keep the sun off him and as I looked down into those Ice blue eyes I said
“Are you ready to go home, Pop?”
His face came alive with knowing.... his eyes flashed and I knew he understood. It had been a long time since he had spoken, and he did not speak now ...instead he gave me his big belly laugh and a tear rolled from the corner of his eye.
After all we had been through I can tell you I would not trade that moment for anything in the World.
We were going home.
We got him to his new home and we visited and had visited everyday for the last two weeks. I also want you to know that the Xmrs B’Holes can talk the ears off a Wooden Indian and she talked to Dad like he had always been right there.
She is like a Superhero to me....
Its Thanksgiving morning.
I checked the Turkey; lookin’ good.
I checked Orion and he was where he should be at 5:00A.M.
The phone rang. Who could that be?
Its LaDora Lodge.
‘Mr. Bulletholes, I am sorry to be calling at this hour, but I thought you would want to know your father has passed away”
I like to think that Dad stopped by for a two week visit on his way Home.