At my writing group last night one of the women wrote about care-giving for her father who had Alzheimer’s. She wrote of herself as a reluctant caregiver. She found a lot of reasons why she didn’t want to make the 2-hour drive to Columbus and stay overnight at her parents’ house.
I applauded her for her honesty.
And then I started to wonder about myself. Did I resent feeling a responsibility to take care of Mom and Dad over the past years? I don’t remember not wanting to go visit them. I don’t remember it being a burden. What I remember most was being driven to try to fix the problem, to help ease their pain, to scramble to make things better somehow, someway. It was a vocation for me.
I’m sure there were days when I might have preferred to stay home, but I really can’t recall feeling that way.
And it makes me wonder whether I am now in denial, or whether my personal history has made me approach or feel differently about care-giving than some others might. I learned care-giving from a very early age as I stooped to pick Annie’s toys up off the ground where she dropped them, or straightened her up in her chair, or fed her a meal. When I moved away from home it wasn’t very many years before I was giving care to what would eventually be four children in our family.
I know there were times when I grew tired, or frustrated, but I don’t think I would ever refer to myself as reluctant. I wanted to help my parents. I was desperate to make things better.
When things fell apart last December, I spent nights on a sofa in the lobby of a hospital, on a sofa at my Mom’s house, on a Hospice chair that converted to a very hard bed, on an air mattress on the floor, in a recliner beside my father’s bed. I wanted to be there. I went home and slept in my own bed only because I knew that if I didn’t take breaks I would not be able to sustain the level of support I wanted to give.
But in this place of grief where I now dwell, I wonder if I will ever know the truth of any of it anymore. Can we ever really know the truth?
Grasshoppers dot the sun-warmed paved path every couple of yards or so where I walk Arthur beside the rippling lake on a cool autumn day. Arthur gets close and pokes his nose at one. It hops away.
Arthur scampers along beside me in the grass, his nose to the ground. Following a trail. His little white paws startle grasshoppers hiding there. Arthur ignores them.
I remember a long ago fall day on the river levy of my dad’s youth where we scampered along the hillside, our little Ked’s-clad feet startling the grasshoppers who hid there. Grasshoppers popping up all around us.
We set chase, catching them with bare hands then letting them go again. The thrill of the catch enough.
We had time for grasshoppers then.
I feel my past slipping away like a landslide, the topsoil steadily moving down behind me like a carpet pulling everything with it into the deep dark void. Unstoppable. Taking the houses, the trees, and me.
“Who took the Adams’ Bible?” my aunt wants to know. “There was a big ruckus over that Bible. It landed in the hands of an alienated family member. Aunt Flo finally got it back and your mother got it from her.“
I scanned all the black and white photos in Dad’s leather album from his time in the army in Germany, transcribing all the little handwritten notes on the backs.
“Me standing at attention. Shaner messed this up. He didn’t tell me I was shadowed.“
“This is my equipment that we had to carry most of the time. I took it Sunday when we had inspection.“
“We had a demonstration yesterday and here is a shot taken right after the air force dropped some napalm on the target before the tanks and big guns moved in. It was some show.“
“Me sewing up a pair of shorts. The general is coming to inspect. (It didn’t do any good. We failed.)“
Mom’s framed wedding portrait with a telegram from my grandfather to my dad in Germany.
“Congratulations. It’s a little girl. Arrived at 9:30. Everything okay.“
I scanned all the photos of Mom and my sister in the back of Dad’s army album that I never realized were there.
“She’s got her eyes open a little bit more here. Isn’t she the cutest thing you ever saw?“
“This is where I give her a bath. Right by the stove. I turn the burners on so it will be nice and warm for her.“
Mom and Dad’s memories, recorded on film, sent across the ocean, returned home, arranged in a photo album, held in place with black photo corners.
Envelopes of color photos from the trip to D.C., my grandmother’s 90th birthday party, Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary. Grandchildren.
I’ll keep the things they saved from their parents. Photos, marriage licenses, death certificates. A hand-written diary from Mom’s grandfather and his farming days.
I’ll put it all in the cedar chest with their high school graduation photos and yearbooks; with the outfit Mom wore in the photo with her great-grandson just two years ago, and Dad’s captain’s hats from his pontoon days at the cottage at the lake.
Little mementos. Articles of genealogical interest. Sentimental items.
I’ll store them all away, for what purpose I do not know. Small fragments of a past that is no more.
I woke up to a fascinating, no, more than fascinating, soul-stirring, comment on one of my blog posts. Although I had planned to do another post about our recent trip to New Orleans, in keeping with my intention when I started this blog of writing about what was on my mind when I woke up, I am sharing this story with you.
When I arose this morning, I checked my iPhone for email and found this blog comment to moderate by a new reader, Roseanne, who wrote, “. . .I was just lying here looking for sleep, when my Mother came into my thoughts. I got up and put into the computer ‘My Mom had a very hard life ‘ and found your blog. I’m going to put it in my favorites and follow you. I have never done anything like this before. . .”
I retraced her steps and found the post I had written about my Dad and his mother.
But Roseanne’s words struck a cord with me, because even though I had never written about it, my mom had a hard life, as most of my loyal followers might imagine.
When she was young my mother often had to care for her two younger siblings because her mother suffered from heart disease and was quite ill a lot of the time. Then my father was sent to Germany in the army and Mom had their first child, my oldest sister, while he was thousands of miles away. A few years (and children) later, Annie was born with severe brain damage and Mom, along with Dad, took care of her every day for 51 years. Annie died shortly after Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Mom went directly from caring for her daughter to caring for her husband. She never got a break. Not one. That’s one of the hardest things I’m dealing with now in the throes of my grief.
So the fact that Roseanne found me by searching for those terms had me take notice. Thank you, Roseanne.
But Roseanne wasn’t the first person who found me recently. A few days ago I got a couple of comments from a person named Kathy and her brother Kenneth on my “Remembering Grandma” post that I had written about my mom’s mother. They recognized the Adams’ name and the house that my grandmother grew up in.
It turns out that they are distant relatives. Their grandfather Adams was my great-grandfather’s brother. They have remained in the same basic location that my, and their, Adams’ family set down roots when they came to Ohio from New York sometime in the 1820s. We are talking about meeting each other in the near future. It is an exciting find for an amateur genealogist like myself, and even more stirring for my heart that has found new family, albeit extended, after experiencing the painful sense of loss of family following the deaths of my parents. I only wish I could tell my mom. She would have been thrilled to know. Thank you, Kathy and Kenny.
My new “cousin” Kathy wrote me and said, “I just have to say that I think my Grandma Adams up in heaven was pushing for us to meet. There were so many events leading up to me finding your blog and things that occurred afterwards that led me to believe it was not ‘just a coincidence.’”
I wrote her back and said that I believed my grandmother, in cahoots with my mother, may have had something to do with it too. Isn’t it a nice idea to think about loved ones plotting and scheming in Heaven, trying to find a way to break through the veil of life that separates us?
Now, I realize some of you will agree with me whole-heartedly, and some of you will think this is a bunch of bunky and I should devote my active imagination to more production purposes like writing a novel, perhaps. And I’ll be honest and say that I have been all over the map in what I believe about after life.
I can say, though, that when you lose someone you love dearly, it can make you want to believe. And belief, after all, is a choice we make. Belief, according to dictionary.com is, by definition, “confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof.” If there was proof, you wouldn’t need to believe. You would simply know. It is something we can choose to do.
My mom believed in the power of prayer. And in the thinning of the veil from this life to the next. As she was near the end of her days in a bed at Hospice I told her, “I’m going to miss talking to you, Mom. I’m going to have to find another way to talk to you.” And she replied, “Yes. You will.”
So I’ll repeat the question I asked in my very first blog post, that I read again today while I was looking for what I actually said about the purpose of my blog:
“Mom are you out there?”
She’s been so strong through all of this: fifty-one years of caring for my severely disabled sister followed by her death, three and a half years of caring for my father through moderate and then late stage Alzheimer’s, a sudden revelation that she has advanced, considered incurable, metastasized cancer, and my father’s hospitalization followed by his move to a nursing home.
Sometimes my mother’s strength is my undoing.
Yesterday, the day the world was to end, the first day of winter with a snow storm blowing through the area, we moved Mom out of her home of 32-plus years of family memories and into a small assisted-living apartment under the same roof as my father.
As soon as we got Dad settled in his new home earlier this month, my siblings and I turned our efforts to packing Mom up and readying her to move as well. It wasn’t until the day before the move when my husband, sister, and her family, were on their way to Mom’s new home, in their cars filled with packed boxes of fragile items and original artwork from talented family members, that Mom put up any complaint. She sat on the sofa across the room from me, her shoulders hunched, the wall behind her bare in spots from removed artwork, and said, “I don’t want to go.”
“Transitions are hard,” I reminded her. “I know this must be so hard on you. And I feel very bad that you have to go through all of this change and confusion now when you are feeling so bad.”
“I don’t like anything about this,” she said.
“Do you think we’ve made bad decisions?” I asked her, knowing that after my mother’s virtual collapse at the beginning of the month she has done little more than move from the sofa to the bed and has not been able to participate very much in the the planning of this monumental transition. “Should we have done something different?” I asked her.
“Well, I would have waited until I had my doctor’s appointment and knew my test results,” she said, referring to the ultra-sound and biopsy that were done last week as an outpatient since she refused to stay at the hospital for the testing when we first took her to the ER and the cat scan revealed her cancer.
Through this whole nightmare I’ve been living, there have been a few funny moments, and there have been some all-time low moments. This was a bad moment for me.
“We thought you wanted to be where Dad was,” I said, remembering that was her only criteria for what nursing home we selected for Dad. She wanted to be in the same building and not have to travel there by car or golf cart. “Dad had to go somewhere. Dr. R. recommended this place. We were lucky they had appropriate rooms for both of you. They weren’t going to hold an empty apartment for you forever. We were afraid of losing it.”
Yesterday morning I woke up at 5:00 a.m., early again as I had done the previous two consecutive nights that I spent at my parents’ house. I slipped into Annie’s room down the hall where my mom was sleeping in her queen-sized bed we moved there when Dad started sleeping in his hospital bed and Mom in a twin bed beside him in their own room. I could see she was awake, even in the dim light that shone under the door from the bathroom. I sat down on the glider beside the bed and we talked for a while.
The five hours before we were scheduled to leave at 10:00 passed by relatively uneventfully, helping her dress, sewing patches on her blanket and afghan to label them for her, taping and labeling last-minute boxes.
Just before 10:00, I helped Mom put her coat on, walked her out through the garage and into my waiting and, courtesy of my husband, warmed up car. As I backed out of the driveway I saw her looking at the house and I struggled not to think about the fact that this might be the last time she saw her home. Little snow flakes were drifting around although the ground had only gotten a dusting and the streets were relatively clear. My bare hands were cold on the steering wheel. I looked at Mom’s face. She was calm and without tears.
“This reminds me of the story Dad told me about the day his family moved to Miami Street,” I said as I turned out of the drive, onto the road and away from the house. “He said it snowed the day they moved.”
“Oh yes,” Mom said as she laughed, “I remember that well. I got stuck at work downtown at Murphey’s Department Store.”
“Did you have to spend the night there?”
“No. Your dad came and got me,” she said as I stopped at a red light.
“It had snowed so hard my dad couldn’t get his car away from the curb to come and get me, so your father walked there from Miami Street to get me. I spent the night at his new house on a mattress with his two sisters. The three of us slept sideways across the mattress.”
“Was it a queen-sized mattress?” I asked as I turned onto the main road that led to the nursing and assisted-living facility.
“I think it was probably a double. When they saw how bad the weather was going to be they decided to get the mattresses moved over there first. All they had been able to move were the mattresses and an ironing board. Your grandmother had brought the ironing board over because they were putting up wallpaper. My parents were sick with worry about me spending the night at your father’s house.
“In the morning, your grandmother cooked eggs for breakfast. They must have either moved the stove as well, or maybe it was there when they bought the house. This was the first house they ever owned. They always rented before. Anyway, she served the breakfast on the ironing board. There weren’t any chairs to sit on.
“Then your dad walked me home from Miami to Manier. It was so cold, my eye-lashes froze. The snow was deep and I think I borrowed a pair of boots from one of his sisters. We walked down the middle of the street. No cars were out.
“Your dad and I used to talk about that from time to time,” she said, as we turned into the parking lot of her new home, accompanied by Angels We Have Heard on High playing on the car stereo.
It was the pumpkin wagons that pulled me in. I just couldn’t resist the look of wooden wagons loaded with pumpkins.
Mark said we brought our children here a few times. And although I remember many years of visiting pumpkin festivals and pumpkin farms, I don’t have a clear memory of this exact place.
In the past we focused all our efforts on finding the perfect pumpkins, sometimes out in a field where they dotted the land from their decaying vines.
Yesterday I focused on the vibrant colors. All the colorful mums, variegated gourds, and bright orange pumpkins saturated my vision—it was like when Dorothy stepped into Oz.
This particular farm does a top-notch job with displays that draw casual passers-by in, like ourselves.
Actually, we stopped here briefly the day before for some apples on our way home from the Fernald Preserve (more on this later). I was tired from shooting a lot of photos and didn’t even get out of the car, but the loaded wagons of pumpkins called me back.
So we brought Arthur this time, who thought he had died and gone to heaven.
Nature’s bounty is amazing. The small pumpkins and gourds fascinate me.
In addition to more apples, we left with a trunk full of mums and pumpkins. How could we resist?
I’ve been seeing abundant back-to-school ads lately, the only herald to the new school year now that folded supply lists are not arriving here, one way or another, in duplicate, triplicate and at times quadruplicate.
I had a love-hate relationship with school supplies. Office supply stores with their stacks of colored notebooks, racks of hanging pen packs, and an endless variety of sticky notes, erasers, rulers, scissors, and well, office supplies in general, have always enthralled me. Like a good hardware, craft, or fabric store, I love the possibilities of an office supply store.
Over the years I developed a system that worked fairly well. First we dug out the school backpacks from the corner of the closets where they were carelessly tossed on that last day of school, still filled with the broken pencils, doodled-on spiral notebooks, dried out markers, and lots of dust, paper scraps, broken lead, and pencil shavings.
Then we sorted out the salvagable from the trash.
That’s where the negotiations usually began.
“My list says I need five one-subject spiral notebooks.”
“You have two in here that you only used a couple of pages in.”
Problem number 1. No one wants to use old notebooks that may have curled corners on the covers, scribbles inside, and a few missing pages.
I have a box full of partially used notebooks that will provide all my notebook needs for decidedly the rest of my life.
It would go on from there.
“Do you really need a new eraser? What’s wrong with this one?”
“It’s got ink marks all over it.”
“It looks to me like someone wrote in ink all over it. Who could have done that?“
“And the corners have crumbled off.”
“It still works, doesn’t it?”
Granted, we’re only talking about a few cents here or there at times, but the bill when we left the office supply store never failed to shock me.
How I miss those days of juggling 2, 3, or 4 supply lists and keeping track of who had what, crowding the five of us into the store aisles while the cart filled up with necessary items, denying the unending stream of appeals for the frivolous, until my willpower ran out from fatigue and confusion, and I found colored gel ink pens and mini-staplers in my cart at the check out.
We’d arrive home with our heavy bags and set up in the dining room where we sorted, labeled, and filled backpacks.
Actually, now that I think about it, there is a lot about those days of school-supply shopping that I frankly don’t miss at all. But some parts of it were rather nice and I remember those days of excitement for a new beginning in a new grade at occasionally a new school.
And I love office supply stores.
I think I’ll go there today. There are a few things that I need.
Songs really have a way of transporting me to a different time and place.
Pandora is one of my best discoveries on the web. I love defining my own radio stations. If you’ve not done it, you should give it a try. I just heard “Don’t sleep in the subway Darling,” on my Petula Clark station.
Now it’s playing one of my old favorites – Ferry Cross the Mersey by Gerry and the Pacemakers. I just love this station.
In the time it took me to look up the links, Ferry Cross the Mersey ended and now they’re playing another goldie, God Alone Knows by the Beach Boys.
Earlier today I heard Build me up Buttercup by the Foundations and was instantly transported back to the talent show my 7th grade year of grade school. I wasn’t performing in the show, but my sister Carol was. She and a friend had worked out a baton routine to this song. My sister had never really done baton before other than to just play around, but her friend knew what she was doing, and she taught Carol.
Carol practiced and practiced and practiced, forever engraving the song into my mind. I knew every step of the routine by heart from watching her practice.
They had little costumes made up and everything. And I think it could have been a knock-out performance.
But Carol didn’t have as much confidence as perhaps she required. She told me before the show, “I hope I catch the first toss. If I catch the first toss, I’ll be fine.”
I sat in the front row of the balcony as Carol and her friend came on stage with their batons and the music started. I held my breath when Carol tossed the baton into the air. Then my shoulders slumped when her spinning baton fell with a thud and a bounce to the floor. Oh no.
I don’t think Carol caught even one of the subsequent gazillion tosses during that song that never ended. And I cringed from the cheap seats every time. The rest of the audience responded as you might expect teenagers of the junior high variety to respond. It was mortifying for me as a mere spectator to my sister’s disastrous performance. My heart bled for her.
But she stayed out there on the stage and kept doing the routine, tossing the baton into the air and dropping it. I suppose she had options. She could have left the stage in the middle of the routine in tears. But she saved the tears for later and saw it through.
Here’s to you, Sis, for an amazing performance of perseverance.
And thank goodness we’re not in junior high anymore.
This is the third in my 10-part series about women ancestors and needlework called The Stitches We Leave Behind.
The real story of sewing in my father’s family starts with Mary Katherine’s oldest daughter, Cecelia Pearl Bryant, who was a quilter and kept a quilting frame in her dining room, folded up and pushed against the wall when it wasn’t in use.
Cecelia Pearl Bryant was born October 6, 1887 in Kentucky. Her family moved to the Salina, Ohio area when she was six years old. She was the oldest of nine children. Her name was Ora Pearl originally, but she changed it to Cecelia when she converted to Catholicism. Her family and friends called her Pearl.
When she was 22 years old, Cecelia Pearl had a son out of wedlock. She had worked for a family named Hall. According to my great aunt Agnes, Mrs. Hall was either pregnant, was in the hospital, or was deceased. Cecelia later went to court to prove paternity. She named her son Louis Hall. But according to my great uncle Ben, she never talked about Louie’s father.
Cecelia moved to the city of Piqua and got a job in the mills, sewing, to support herself and her son. Later she worked at an underwear factory, the Hosiery. Cecelia met William Wirrig who was from a farming family north of Piqua. They were married on November 6, 1913. My father’s mother, my grandmother, was their first child.
Times were difficult when Cecelia and William were raising their family. But although money was scarce, Cecelia always tried to give the children a nice Christmas. She would make doll dresses for the girls. A car accident and arthritis eventually prevented Cecelia from being able to walk later in life.
My father remembers, “She used to sew and sew and sew. And talk to her bird.”
I never knew my great-grandmother Cecelia quilted until recently. I don’t have anything that she made. I hope to locate one of her quilts some day.
I do have the treadle sewing machine that my great-grandmother Cecelia Pearl Bryant Wirrig used at home. My sister and I used to sew doll clothes, that we designed ourselves, on it when we were young. Too bad I didn’t save some of those gems.
See The Stitches We Leave Behind under the Series tab above for more links in this 10-part series.
My dad was a great fixer-upper. He knew how to do a lot of things: build with wood or bricks, fix plumbing, fix car engines. If it was something mechanical, he could figure out how to fix it.
I loved to go to the hardware store with my Dad. Just me. I don’t know whether I loved it so much because I loved the hardware store or because I craved the one-on-one time with my dad. Growing up in a household with four siblings, sleeping on the trundle bed in a small room with bunks occupied by two sisters, sitting at a kitchen table waiting while everyone was served, crowding four across the back seat of a station wagon, any time I was going anyplace alone with my dad was special.
But I also loved the hardware store with it’s scents of oil, leather and especially freshly cut wood. I loved the bins of shiny metal bolts, the spools of heavy chains, the long lines made by the smooth tubes of plumbing and the curved shapes of connectors, the stacked rows of lumber, and all the vast possibilities.
On this particular day when we were going to the hardware store, just me and my dad, I was excited and went out to wait in the car. The doors were unlocked, as everyone’s were in those days of the early 60s. I think people thought of the push down locks more as a means to keep children inside the car while it was moving than keeping others out while it was parked.
One of my classmates fell out of a moving car once. I know this because her mom was driving me home one time. I was sitting in the middle of the front seat between my classmate and her mom when my classmate opened the passenger door. I don’t believe she fell out that time. As faulty as my memory has become, I’m pretty sure I would have remembered that. But based on what I heard, I believe that she had fallen out before. I do remember her mother’s frantic scream with a litany of threats or warnings about falling out that has lasted me a lifetime. You can bet I lock the door when I’m in a moving car.
I was waiting for my dad in the car and I slipped behind the steering wheel to pretend I was driving. I knew I wasn’t supposed to play in the car or touch anything, but I was keeping an eye out for my dad. Then I noticed the new seat belt my mom had gotten him for Christmas and he had installed. It was the original simple lap belt that didn’t retract but was adjustable, very similar to airplane seat belts that you have to flip open the side of the connector to disconnect. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that.
I decided to try out my dad’s seat belt. I connected it across my lap just fine with a click. And then I couldn’t figure out how to get it back off. I pulled. I examined the connector. I turned it over and pushed on a little tracking button on the bottom. I pushed on this little tracking gizmo, and pulled on the belt and I felt it move a little. I pushed and I pulled and it shifted a little more. I was getting frantic. I was going to get caught playing with the seat belt behind the steering wheel. I had caught myself red-handed.
I’m not sure how I got out of that seat belt, but I did. And it wasn’t by flipping open the clasp. Panic helps us do great things.
I was safely settled in the passenger seat with the sweat that had been dripping in my eyes dried off my face by the time my dad got in the car, at which point I showed interest in how the seat belt worked and asked him, with a nonchalant air, how he got it off. Just wondered.
Today I wonder why I was so afraid of being caught in that seat belt. I don’t remember ever getting in big trouble with my dad, or my mom either for that matter.
But then maybe my propensity towards panic kept me out of untold troubles.
“By the 1930s in America, the automobile had been mass-produced for several decades, and more and more people were car owners. Yet an estimated 30,000 people died each year in car accidents. In light of these alarming statistics, a group of doctors banded together and created lap restraints for their own vehicles. After initial testing in their cars proved a success, the doctors urged car manufacturers to make the seatbelt standard on all vehicles, as they were on aircraft.” (The History of Seatbelts-eHow.com)
By 1965 all 50 states had laws requiring seat belts for the front seats. Two years later they were mandatory for all seats. Car makers weren’t required to provide seat belts until 1975, although many, if not most, did.