Monday, May 02, 2011


"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 -1981
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 here to see my father, an Alzheimer's patient. Four years ago I had never heard of Alzheimer's. 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...
'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, there's 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 Alzheimer's 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.

Dad smoked big Cigars - Stogies - 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 television; 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 bespectacled 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 huge Roy-Tan cigar 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 together, huge clouds of smoke, and slapping each other on the back

So I hand dad his cigar. There won't be any matches, there haven't been any matches for a while, but dad is happy to smell it and to feel it in his mouth. I am happy to see him roll it from one side of his mouth to the other, magically, without ever even moving his lips, the way he always did from the time I was just a little boy

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.
But that is a whole 'nother story.

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