Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Both of my parents are from the "Greatest Generation That Ever Lived" as described by Tom Brokaw in his book of the same name. They lived through the Depression, World War II and the raising of four children between 1948-1976.  They saw lots of changes in their lifetimes.
New inventions routinely made appearances within the household over the years. Electric washer replaced the wringer, electric dryer replaced the outdoor clothesline,  a dishwasher took the place of washing by hand (which was great in a house with four kids), a side by side replaced the traditional refrigerator, push button telephones replaced rotary style only to be replaced by cordless later on.  Black & white TVs were replaced by color TVs and got thinner and used remotes as opposed to turning a dial manually.  When made available, microwave ovens were purchased, as well as, a personal computer. Now my father, Bill, was familiar with computers from working at North American/Rockwell,  although they were nothing like today's PC.

My mother, Mary Beth,  never learned how computers operate. She never used a cell phone.  And I doubt she ever understood texting, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  New technology flummoxed Mary Beth whether it's computers or something else.  Sometimes I envy her lack of technical knowledge because she still believed in phone calls, personal letters on personalized stationary and direct contact when dealing with the outside world.  I never saw the importance of that beyond it being quaint.  Now, I am not so sure.

When I was growing up in Bexley, Ohio in the 60's and 70's, our phone rang all the time.  One would assume it was due to having 4 kids in the house, but it was more likely because of my mother.  To describe Mary Beth as a "social butterfly" would be accurate.  She knew a lot of people.  Her best childhood friend from the 30's.  The wife of my father's co-worker from the 50's.  A neighbor from the 60's.  The ladies she met at the Bexley Pool and in tennis classes in the 70's.  Several  ladies from church in the 80's and 90's.  Plus, lots of ladies who were acquaintances.  I find that pretty impressive.  It's hard to find one kindred spirit in life, let alone 6!   Since she preferred life when it was pleasant, Mary Beth didn't morn the dead.  She had seen her share of death. She announced decades ago that she was through with attending funerals.  They cramped her style.  It was her intention to avoid her own funeral by making it known before she died that there would be NO service of any kind.  My mother simply avoided bad news, by waving off the messenger and pronouncing that "it" was too complicated or unpleasant to hear about. If my father printed out emails for her to read,  she would refuse to read them if he confirmed that it contained any bad news.  This coping mechanism worked well for her.

She did care about the living, though.  Sending handwritten notes to check on her friends or grandchildren even if they didn't respond back was a priority.  She would send magazines, recipes, and birthday cards on a regular basis.  When she did receive a response it made her day.  When she didn't get mail she announced that nobody loved her.  Her self-worth was directly connected to the attention she received from others.

The calls and notes dwindled over the years.  Many of her dear friends died leaving a void in her life.  Writing long-hand became more difficult for my mother and I know it frustrated her.  Her childhood friend is in a nursing home in California with dementia.  She is also blind now, so even if she understood who my mother was to her she wouldn't be able to read the letters.  The thought crossed my mind recently about the possibility that my mother lost the will to live because her friends were gone.  I wanted to talk to my mom about her friends, but I know how that conversation would have gone since she considered past memories to be unpleasant.  I almost find it to be a bittersweet thought.  I've had quite a few of those this past year.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Squirrel's Tale

When my parents first moved here they were both relatively active.  Neither one used a walker, cane or wheelchair and they could manage stairs with little effort.  They were able to do for themselves in most situations, such as making light meals or simple housekeeping.  Over the last 5 years, though, I've watched both of my parents gradually deteriorate. My father uses a walker now and my mother is in a hospital bed. Before she was bed-bound she hadn't attempted a flight of stairs in years.  Many things have happened that made me realize that having two octogenarians in the house requires close monitoring 24/7and as a result, I spend the majority of every day at home.  So one drawback to taking care of my parents is my lack of socialization.  It has a way of  isolating me from the outside world which I would not have expected in this age of social networking.  Most days I talk only to those who live here.  My husband, my children and my parents.  I don't think talking to myself counts.  Which I don't do.....yet.  

I love animals, particularly wildlife.  I am still awed by the sight of deer in my front yard, opossum  & box turtles on my back deck, chipmunks raising across sidewalks and squirrels digging through my flower pots looking for buried peanuts.  Competitive hummingbirds vie for the feeder like dog-fighting between Rickenbacker and The Red Baron.  I never tire of watching them, so I guess it was only a matter of time before I turned to the animals for socialization.

It started in the summer of 2013.  I had always given scraps to the animals.  I would throw them toast crusts, broken chips, leftover popcorn, trail mix, peanuts & granola.  I noticed the food was gone almost as soon as I put it out.  I continued this habit and started noticing one particular squirrel coming to partake of the assorted goodies.  I recognized her (yes, I know the difference between male and female squirrels!) because her tail had a "V" split in the tip and her side had an orange spot on it.  After she'd finish off the last tidbit she would look toward the door.  I was curious to see her reaction so I opened it.  She ran off into the closest tree.  I was intrigued and wondered if she would ever become less shy.  So I continued to watch for her often whenever I put out scraps.  After about 6 weeks, Harriet (that's right, I named her!) didn't run off at the sound of the door opening.  In fact, she would move closer each time to see if I was going to feed her.

Several weeks after I began feeding her, my little squirrel got bold and started coming to the door, stood up and peered inside with her little paws clutching together.  I found great joy in that simple act.  I then began to create items specifically for Harriet.  I had noticed that peanut butter sandwich crusts were always gobbled up quickly, so I started making her peanut butter crackers.  I was further intrigued by the way she would grab the cracker sandwiches, scamper to the railing ledge on the deck and proceed to lick the peanut butter off the crackers once she had pulled them apart!  Sometimes she would eat the crackers, too, once the peanut butter was gone, but she would also bury the naked crackers in my flower pots for safe keeping!!  To simplify the process further, I made peanut butter balls by mixing powdered sugar into some peanut butter until I could roll them into dime-sized treats.  She loved them so much she told her friends who began coming to the deck to stare at the kitchen door.  One thing about squirrels, though, they don't like to share!  If I gave out treats, they would chase each other.  Sometimes, the squirrel with the food did the chasing which was quite a sight!  Imagine a squirrel with a mouthful of food running around a tree in pursuit of a jealous rival!!

Since I began this post in June of 2014, both of my parents have died.  First, my mother in October 2014, then my father in December 2015.  During one of my conversations with my brother this past month, I learned that Nanny, my maternal grandmother, had an affinity for feeding wildlife, in particular, squirrels.  Apparently she would hold peanuts in her hand and wait for the squirrels to come to her to take them from her.  I never knew this!  I can certainly believe it, though, seeing how I am the same way.  My grandmother died when I was only 3 years old so I never knew her like my older siblings did.  I've been told I look just like her, but knowing that she was also a "squirrel whisperer" makes me smile.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Arrested Development

I turned 55 on July 9th this year.  They say you are as young as you feel, right?  Well, in my case then, I am about 14.  You wanna know what I did on my birthday?  I went to see a children's movie, "Despicable Me 2".  My daughter went with me, she is 26.   I liked the movie so much I saw it again that weekend with my husband.  Before we went to the theater, Steve and I stopped at McDonald's for 2 Happy Meals. That's right.  Happy Meals.  They came with toys.  From the movie.  We now have 6 Minion Happy Meal toys.  I didn't tell my parents, though.  They would never understand why a grown woman with adult children would care to have toys.  Thankfully, they haven't seen my bedroom.  I have quite a few knick-knacks that would leave them shaking their heads.  I have a Hello Kitty clock 
radio and plush, a Madeline doll (from the books), teddy bears, a life-size opossum, beanie baby bears & giraffe, the aforementioned Minions and a 17-inch Beaker Muppet.   One of my most prized possessions recently acquired is a miniature replica of my favorite movie character, Wall-E.  My husband gave it to me as a birthday present.  It has to be my favorite birthday present...ever!  (Even more than the ukulele I got last year!)  I have seen Wall-E at least 20 times and if you count partial views, it's closer to 40.  Fry's Electronics store showed Wall-E in their DVD department continuously for over a year.  I never went there without checking to see if it was playing. I have probably seen that movie more than any other.  Neither of my parents have seen it once.  My mother doesn't like animation.  I love cartoons and animated movies.   She thinks it's silly.  I guess that means I'm silly.  I can't argue with that.  It's how I resist getting old.  Oh, I'm sure I LOOK old to the youth of today.  My dark brown hair is long, but it has streaks of gray.  I am not 118 lbs. anymore and I have to wear glasses to read.  I still dress like a teenager, though.  T-shirts and blue jeans, every day.  I think I have worn a dress once since my parents moved here 4 years ago.  I dress this way because I take care of my parents and it would be ridiculous to wear nice clothes.  I spend most days in the kitchen, doing laundry, cleaning or going to doctors, running errands to the bank, the post office, the drugstore or getting groceries.  (I spend a LOT of time getting groceries!)  

I'm not sure why my generation acts the way we do, but we are most definitely NOT our parents' generation. Our parents have looked and acted like adults since their teens!   Baby Boomers approach aging as a challenge or a dare.  Baby Boomer women don't dress like old ladies and they don't cut off their long hair simply because of their age.  My generation doesn't care if we have gray strands and telling our age does not require a security clearance!  We go to
children's movies and Disney World without small children.  We attend conventions such as ComicCon or DragonCon dressed as a favorite character.  We ride bikes, rollerblade and skateboard.  Instead of getting rid of our toys we add to them. Collectors of vintage and newer toys have created a billion dollar industry although some collections don't always do well, i.e. Beanie Babies.  The point here being, we don't shun the things that made us happy as children, we embrace them.  My parents have never talked about things from their childhoods.  No mention of favorite toys or activities or even pets.  I don't understand that.  It's as if denying the existence of such things makes them more grown up.  As if appearing that way brought them more respect from society.   I grew up believing that my parents were old even though they were younger than I am now!  I could not imagine them as children.  Don't get me wrong, growing up is a necessity, but doing so shouldn't mean never enjoying child-like interests or hobbies.   Taking care of elderly parents is extremely stressful and there are times when I am at loose ends.  Being able to relax and regroup is imperative not just for my health, but for my relationship with my parents.  Cartoons and movies provide a much needed outlet.  Nothing is as joyful or cathartic as laughing at something silly.          

I am an adult who does responsible things, but I believe one must embrace whimsy & whimsical things to stay young at heart.  Dr Seuss said once, “Adults are just obsolete children and the hell with them.”  I agree.  It's important to mature, but one should be able to have fun no matter what their age.       

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Parental Guidance

I was driving down the street alone this morning when a Taylor Swift song came on the radio.  I love Taylor Swift.  I love the music of a lot of young singers today.  They are fun, peppy and usually uplifting.  Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyonce, Rihanna, Shakira, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood......and Taylor Swift.  So as I usually do, I sang along.  I did so because, well, that's what I do.  Always have.  As long as I can remember since learning to drive, I have sung in the car.  When my children were young, I sang in the car and it wasn't a problem.......until they were about 8 years old.  Then things changed.  If I sang to the songs of the 60's, 70's or 80's, that was okay on occasion.  But if I dared to sing along with anyone else, the eyes would start to roll and a whiny "Mawwwwww-um!!" would be uttered and I would shut-up.  This morning I sang and no one rolled their eyes.  And it got me to thinking about the unwritten rules for parental behavior.

Children are naturally embarrassed by their parents.  Especially when peers are present.  Babies and toddlers love being with Mom or Dad, but  when a child reaches elementary school they gradually learn from their peers that parents just aren't cool.  Conversely, kids aren't cool if they like being with their parents.  So  around age 8, the shunning and eye rolling begins.  However, the rules for parental behavior are not set in stone.  If your child is a rule-breaker, a trend-setter or popular, he/she can decide what is verboten and what is not.  This type of child doesn't care if peers find parental behavior objectionable.  Their parents are allowed to be room mothers, den mothers, car pool drivers, field trip chaperones or  PTA President without incurring the wrath of their children.  These parents also possess an abundance of photographs of their kids taking part in school plays, recitals, concerts or sports.  It's one of the perks of admittance to their world.

So over the years I have mentally stored knowledge for the rules of unacceptable behavior and followed them because, to be honest, I was scared of my kids.  I gotta say it can be truly heartbreaking when you realize that your little peanut doesn't want you around anymore.  And telling an insecure child to ignore peer pressure is tantamount  to asking them to wear a sign that says, "I'm a momma's boy (or girl)!!".  They would rather cut off a limb before appearing in public with their parents.  And you never know when something seemingly innocuous is suddenly added to the list.  What was acceptable yesterday can be on the list today without a memo or warning.  Parents are expected to know the rules and if they forget, there are penalties. Usually in the form of verbal condemnation.  It's not pleasant.  Believe me.

In solidarity with parents everywhere, I give you The List.  You are welcome.

Rules for Parents (according to their kids):

 1)  Don't wear sexy clothes, especially nightgowns.  And NO cleavage, ever!!
 2)  Don't sing along to songs done by a younger generation.
 3)  Don't do "raise the roof" gestures or "high 5-ing" me or my friends.
.4)  Don't yell out "You go, Girl!"  at public functions.
 5)  Don't wipe my face, straighten my clothes or comb my hair in public.
 6)  Don't attempt to imitate characters from movies or TV.
 7)  Don't ask to be Facebook friends.
 8)  Don't get too chatty when my friends visit.  Say hello & LEAVE!
 9)  Don't try to sound cool by using the latest vernacular of my generation like the word "dude".
10)  Don't hug or kiss me in public after age 5.
11)  Don't call my name & wave at school functions or in public.  One exception: graduation.
12)  Don't make noise during sex or smacky kissing sounds with spouses.  
13)  Ew, on second thought, just don't  have sex.  EVER!!!
14)  And for god-sake, don't dance!!!
15)  Don't be offended by my rules.  I love you, but I am awkward, full of angst and I just want to fit in.
16)  Don't ever stop loving me or being there.  This is just a phase. 

If I knew then, what I know now. .......

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Testify to Justify

One of the things that my mom will do is to ask us to make something for her.  She can never seem to just ask and leave it at that, though.  She always has to give a reason for asking.  It's gotten to the point that after 3 years of telling her she doesn't have to have a reason, we've given up.  She continues to justify her requests.  She will do the same thing when giving reasons for changing her mind or her plans.  Some of them have bordered on the ridiculous.

My mom practically lives in nightgowns.  If she gets dressed, it's usually in light weight clothing like a khaki skirt and a 3/4 sleeve top.  Not the best choices for someone who gets cold all year round!  This past winter I actually got her into sweats and it helped, but not all the time.  When she gets cold she usually wants a hot beverage or hot food.  She will ask me to make her some hot chocolate or hot coffee "because I'm so cold".  If I ask what she wants for dinner sometimes she'll ask for Ramen noodles.  "I want Ramen because I'm cold" or  "I want Ramen to warm me up".  She also uses being cold to have Cream of Wheat or soup.  It goes the other way, too.  "Could I have a milkshake?, my throat is parched" or "Do you have any Sprite?, my throat is hot".  She wants ice cream with Craisins because she heard cranberries were good for you.  I asked her if she just wanted a handful of Craisins.  Silly me, she was justifying the ice cream!  I told her once that she need not give reasons to explain her requests.  That if she wants or needs something, then just ask.  Period.  She continues to justify.

She's canceled doctors' appointments weeks ahead because someone is expected to visit.  Now the visit wouldn't coincide with the appointment.  In fact, the visit is either planned for days before or days after.  I actually canceled an appointment for her once because we were having company the following month!  It's as if she can't multi-task even if it's weeks apart.  The other day after I washed her hair she mentioned that she would've had me do it the day before except it was Alex's birthday.  Alex would've been asleep then as he was when I did do her hair!  She also gives explanations for not getting up, not taking a shower, not walking with her walker, but being pushed in the wheelchair.  She said once that she had removed her hearing aid at 6 because she'd be going to 8!  She then proceeded to be yelled at by everyone for 2 hours since she couldn't hear!  Then she complained that we were yelling at her.  Oy vey!

I figure that these moments will be talked about in my family long after my mother is gone.  It may frustrate us now, but it is an endearment and we know it.  When we remember how she did these things, we will smile.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Pants on Fire

It's bad enough when you deal with children when their main objective is to avoid their parents' disapproval over things they've done.  You expect and anticipate dishonesty, half-truths and little white lies from children because they are children.  At some point in the child-rearing process, parents get past that stage and are rewarded with a more open and honest relationship with young adults.  That's where Steve and I are with Alex and Taylor.  We nurtured them in such a way as to foster communication and that led to their ability to trust us enough to be honest in most situations.  They were raised to believe they could talk to us about anything no matter the subject or serious nature. At times we had to control our emotions for fear of spooking them when they told us about concerns.  As young adults they have talked to us about things I couldn't ever have imagined before they were born.  So when my parents moved in with us it was hard to adjust given the level of dishonesty I had to deal with.  My parents fib often.  Sometimes it is really frustrating. 

At first I thought that the lying was a result of being here.  That they were being willful about having to follow certain guidelines that we have for doing things here. Recently my brother told me about his experiences with it before they left Ohio.  He said, 
"It had become painfully apparent for their last two years in Bexley the viability of remaining there was totally untenable and I was becoming very scared.  This was exacerbated by discovering numerous 'cover-ups' and deceptions by them (you can just imagine - yes?) which they engaged in because 'We didn't want to worry you!'   More of that 'keeping up appearances' horseshit!  On occasion, I would find out a day or two later one of them had been rushed to the hospital. Or, they would call and ask me to come get them home after they had been rushed to the hospital the night before! Those requests often came around 6am on a workday for me. I, fortunately, have "sick leave" which includes caring for family members." 
Apparently, Bill & Sue knew much of what Steve & I had just learned soon after my parents moved here.  Knowing that it had been going on in Ohio is actually a relief.  It tells me that it's a sign of aging not necessarily obstinacy.  However, we have had our share of having to deal with untruthfulness.

One Sunday I was in the shower when Steve heard my Dad call out my name.  He went to see what they needed or wanted.  My mom just waved him off by saying she didn't need anything.  He asked them if they were ready for lunch, but got no response from either one.  He was determined to get an answer about calling out to me, but neither one volunteered any comment.  Steve then looked at my dad and said, "Well I'm perplexed!".  My dad said, "Okay" without a hint of emotion.  Once I came upstairs, he told me of the exchange so I went to my parents' room to inquire about them calling out to me.  My mother looked right at me and said they didn't call for me.  When I reminded her about Steve, she then said that they just wanted to know if I was in the living room so they could come watch TV.  What???  She did not!  When I asked her why they didn't respond to his inquiry about their lunch, she looked right at me and said, "We did!  We said we weren't ready for it yet".  At that point all I could do was roll my eyes because any further discussion would just frustrate me.  So I dropped it like I usually do.

Just like I did with the pee pitcher.  That's right, I said pee pitcher!  As explained in an earlier post, my mother has decided that walking a few feet to the bathroom is just too much trouble. Even though she is able-bodied.  She started doing it in Ohio.  When I mentioned about her doing here she waved me off saying that she wasn't going to do it anymore.  Really??  No, not really.  Soon after they moved in we found a ceramic pitcher in a desk drawer with trace amounts of urine in it.  I know one thing, that pitcher will NEVER be used as a pitcher again!!  She actually thought that laying her bed jacket on top of it would keep me from finding out.  Steve confronted her about it and she just stared at him and said nothing.  Then she started talking about something else completely unrelated to the pee pitcher.  Steve rolled his eyes and gave up.  We have a lot of eye-rolling moments around here.

Another issue that elicits dishonesty around here is the subject of hand washing.  Soon after my parents moved in we noticed that they would exit the powder room in the upstairs hallway as soon as we heard the toilet flush which could only mean one thing.  They weren't washing their hands.We also noticed that they would sometimes turn the water on in the sink, but it would run for literally 3-4 seconds.  Not nearly long enough to kill or clean anything!  We were reluctant to say anything to them because they might resent it and feel like we were spying on them.  After several instances of the quick exits, though, I decided that I had no choice.  I reminded them of the dangers of germ-y hands.  Both said that they were washing their hands.  I knew that changing their behavior was a losing proposition so I decided to be proactive and assume their hands remained germ-y.  I placed sanitizer dispensers in all the bathrooms.  We also started wiping down the entire house with Lysol wipes.  Anything they touched was wiped with anti-bacterial solution.  It seems to be working.  None of us has been sick since they moved here, including them. 

Another hygiene issue for my parents was/is bathing.  My mother would look straight at me and swear she took showers often, just not everyday.  I knew this was not true.  When she did get in the shower the water would literally run for less than 3 minutes!  I knew this because I'd time it.  When she emerged from her bathroom I asked her how she could get clean that quickly.  I never got a definitive answer.  So you know what I did?  Yep, I rolled my eyes and dropped the subject.  When we had bathing assistants here for a few weeks earlier this year I voiced my concern about the showers.  Both nurses showed my mom (and dad) the proper way to shower.  My dad showers about once a week.  I was thrilled if mom showered once a month!  Lately I've been helping her, so I hope to get her bathed more often.  Good hygiene trumps any discomfort I may have about bathing her.

I could give more examples of these types of situations, but it never ends.  Reminds me of a song that Sherry Lewis had on her show Lamb Chop's Play-Along called "The song that never ends".
This is the song that never ends.
Yes, it goes on and on my friends.
Some people started singing it not knowing what it was,
And they'll continue singing it forever just because...
This is the song that never ends.
Yes, it goes on and on my friends.
Some people started singing it not knowing what it was,
And they'll continue singing it forever just because, Etc.

On and on it goes.  But just as with a lot of conflicts, you sometimes have to choose your battles.  It doesn't help to win the battle and lose the war.  As long as my parents are comfortable, pain-free and safe I can deal with the attempts to deceive.  I cannot imagine living that long just to have someone almost half your age controlling every decision or condition in your life.  Someday, if I am lucky, I may understand more fully their reasons for the behavior.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

May I have this dance?

I recently began exchanging emails with my big brother about our childhoods.  Apparently, we had different parents growing up.  Bill's parents were Bill & Mary Beth and my parents were Bill & Mary Beth.  I know what you're thinking.  Same people!  They may have been in the same bodies, but they were different people!  There were 4 children in my family.  Kristie, William III, Franklin and Heidi.  Kris & Billy were born in the late 40's and Frankie & I were born in the late 50's.  Which means that their parents were 10 years younger than our parents and 10 years can make a BIG difference!  
Our emails led to his recollection of a time back in the 50's when he and my sister would go to Athens from Columbus to visit my mother's parents, Pop & Nanny.  In his words he said,

"When we would visit Pop and Nanny's Pleasant Hill (Pleasanton) farm, Dad would often accelerate over the many hills until we were momentarily airborne! I know - doesn't sound like mundane Bill,  does it? Of course - responsibly -Mom would offer up some obligatory  complaint, but I bet she was having as much fun as we."
Now I can guarantee that Frank & I never saw our father ever do anything like that!  My father, at the time, also held a pilot's license and flew Kris & Billy to many places.  He quit flying because my mother didn't like it since she always got airsick, so Frankie & I didn't even know he had the license until we were grown.  My parents often left Kris & Billy with Pop & Nanny while they worked in Dayton.  This led to a very close relationship between the kids and grandparents.  Neither Frankie nor I were ever left in Athens while my parents worked.  In fact, after we were born my mother became a stay-at-home mom.  Frankie & I didn't know our grandparents especially since my grandmother died in 1961 when I was 3 and Frankie was 5.  However, Kristie was so close to Nanny she had an identity crisis when Nanny died.  She saw Nanny as more of a "Mother" figure than she did with our mom.  It took a decade for that rift to heal.  Bill remained close to my grandfather until Pop died in 1987.  In fact, Bill was an ordained minister at the time so he.officiated Pop's funeral.
Another memory Bill related to me was about his love of music.
"I think a strong reason for my interest in rock n roll goes back to the music they started exposing us to in the early fifties when we lived at Ruhl Avenue in the Colonial Williamsburg Apartments. I vividly recall Dad bringing home a 45rpm record with Elvis's "HoundDog" on one side and "Don't Be Cruel" on the other.  What punctuated that memory was then seeing Mom and Dad "Jitterbug" to it! Mom usually initiated their dancing, but Dad jumped right in - definitely felt like someone was in love!"
NEVER in my entire life did I ever see my parents dance!!  They were in their 20's when the first 2 kids were born.  They had more energy and time to devote to playing with Kris & Bill.  In hindsight I also see how the affection between my parents had cooled somewhat.  I knew they loved each other, but outward displays of it were not demonstrated in public. To this day  I've never seen my parents hold hands, let alone dance!   
My dad has always had a fascination with all planes regardless of whether they were big, little, commercial or military.  The mere sound of an engine overhead got my dad's attention quicker than just about anything.  Ruhl Avenue is in the flight path to Port Columbus, as well as, North American Aviation(now Rockwell).  My father worked at North American as an Aeronautical/ Aerospace Engineer.  His captivation was ingrained to his core.  He and my mom were also smokers in the early days.  I find that near impossible to imagine.  Bill told me during a recent visit about an incident that occurred that combined planes and cigarettes when he was a little boy.
"Dad was looking out the window in the kitchen door. He loved (as you can imagine) to catch a glimpse of any jet flying over. This was for two reasons: we were quite close to the airport, so they were usually low overhead; also, they were usually one of the planes he actually worked on (F-86, F-100-I am sure he was very proud of that!)  In addition, in those days they were allowed to go supersonic, which afforded us with the most delicious "sonic booms" when breaking the sound barrier (another reason I came to love Rock Music!)  But I digress....So, Dad is perusing yonder aircraft whilst puffing on his cigarette. The ashtray is behind him on our little dinette table. He absentmindedly, without taking his eyes off the skies, reaches back to crush said faggot out in the tray, unaware little hands had decided said receptacle was for closer examination. As he pressed the beast hard against the ashtray, he was reasonably unconscious of my wrist being betwixt cigarette and tray!!!What happened next is blurry, I recall great pain, screaming, startlement from him, hugs, tears, more hugs, probably ice (I'm not sure.)Well, I survived, my "tatooing." For many years I thought it resembled a 3-leaf clover. Now it is barely visible."
He showed me the scar when he was here.  This memory is as clear to him as if it happened yesterday.  This single incident traumatized my parents so much, they both quit smoking if not that day, soon after.  Cold turkey.  Neither Frank nor I even knew they smoked. Some years ago I saw a picture from the 50's that was taken at a nightclub or event my parents attended.  They were seated at a table with other people and everyone had a drink and a cigarette.  I remember staring at that picture and being mesmerized by the image.  My parents smoked?  And drank liquor?  It was unfathomable!
After Frank was born they moved to Bexley, an affluent suburb of Columbus.  I had prim and proper parents who didn't smoke, drink or dance.  I'm sure it was for appearance's sake.    Most things done in Bexley are and it changes people.  I'm sure it changed my parents greatly.  It's hard work keeping up with the Jones'!  I've often wondered how different it would have been had we lived somewhere other than Bexley.  Maybe I would have seen different parents who were easy-going, less concerned about what other people thought, spent more time enjoying their kids and............danced.   

Monday, July 16, 2012

My Melancholy Baby

Living with my parents have brought many new insights into their habits, personalities and beliefs.  Some discoveries were total surprises.  Some were mere confirmations of past suspicions.  For me to live with my parents meant facing a demon that has followed me for decades and in facing it I received the power to overcome it.

My father has a very low opinion of himself.  This has been clear since he spent time in the hospital in 2004.  I do not remember him being like this when I was growing up.  However in the hospital he was highly medicated and I guess less inhibited about hiding his emotions.  I would go to sit with him all day to keep him company.  I would cross-stitch "cardinals in snow" while we watched TV and talked.  We talked a LOT.  This may not seem unusual to most people, but until January 2004 I had never had a conversation with my father that lasted longer than 10 minutes.  I do not exaggerate.  Growing up I was painfully aware of my father's shyness.  He was a good father.  I saw him as a giant when I was little.  He could fix anything and was always there for me when I was scared or injured.  One particular memory I have occurred when I was 8.  He ran down a hill to scoop me up as I lay bleeding profusely from my bare foot after stepping on a large piece of glass.  I remember seeing the blood on his good pants and feeling bad about it.  He didn't care.  His greatest concern was about getting me to the hospital for stitches.  I always felt safe in my father's arms.   He had a quiet strength that came through despite his lack of conversation.   

At Kristie's 25th Jubilee-2001
So as I sat with him in the hospital I was quite surprised when he announced that he had not been a very good father.  I was flabbergasted.  All I could do was look dumbfounded.  Finally, I said, "Are you kidding me?  Daddy, I drove 600 miles to be here, Bill goes out of his way to come see you, Frank is flying in from    San Diego to be here and Kristie has received permission to leave her cloistered monastery to come here for the first time in 28 years!  Why in the world would they do that if you had not been a good father?"  In that moment the stilted relationship with my father disappeared and we began to talk about everything and anything.  It was the turning point I had wished for my entire life.  During that year I drove to Ohio alone 6 times.  My father and I spent countless hours together during his numerous hospital stays and rehab.  I knew it was probably due to the medications, so I accepted the gift knowing it could end.  I have fond memories from my time in Ohio.

The morning after my parents arrived in Atlanta in 2009 I found my father in the kitchen crying.  I think waking up here was a bit disorienting.  He started talking about being worthless and wishing he was dead.  I stood there not knowing what to do.  I was 50 and I had never seen my father cry before!  I hugged him and told him it was going to be okay, that he was going to be okay.  I realized through the next 2 years that that scene had nothing to do with being disoriented.  My father would constantly put himself down, call himself stupid and a waste.  It was extremely difficult to hear because his words were the same words I heard in my own head about myself.  My father seemed angry and depressed about his loss of usefulness, but it was more than that.  He was melancholy.  In 2011 I realized that being melancholy was probably genetic and therefore the reason I felt the way I did.  After 2 years of caring for my parents it was difficult to fight the dark moods. Everything felt so hopeless and I felt like a trapped animal. I was disappointed in my life and the choices I had made.  It was like getting sucked into a vortex or falling down the rabbit hole as in "Alice in Wonderland".  I felt overwhelmed taking care of my parents.  It was much harder than I thought it would be.  As a result, I had alienated most of the people in my life.  Looking back on it I can't blame them for abandoning me.  No one wants to be around a gloomy person.  Being melancholy is hard work and I had had enough.   So I decided to fight it.  I forced myself to smile, laugh, act happy and pretend to enjoy things I did and people I met.  Pretty soon I realized I wasn't pretending anymore that I was truly happy, smiling because I meant it and getting joy from life itself.  Someone I recently met remarked I had a delightful joie de vivre.  I had to smile because just one year ago I wished I was dead.  People seem to like me now.  They respond positively to me anyway.  My brother Bill remarked the other day when he came to visit how surprised he was to find me being so happy and gregarious.  He expected to find me dour and down about taking care of our parents.  I think he might have dreaded the visit because of it.  He says that he, too, suffers from occasional melancholy.  Genes, gotta love 'em!

Don't misunderstand.  I still get melancholy once in a while, but I am able to hide it from most people..  I have also noticed a change in my father, as well.  I'm thinking that our moods fed on each other, but once I changed my behavior his moodiness seemed less frequent.  I haven't heard him disparage himself in awhile so I hope that means he believes it less.  I do regret not knowing I had the power within me to control the melancholy, but I have the rest of my life to make up for it.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Getting Psyched

Trying to understand the psyche of an elderly person is nearly impossible in my experience.  Their ability to reason has taken a detour from it's normal route.  My parents have been here for a little over 3 years and we have had to weather all sorts of situations.  In a sense, we had to find a "rhythm" for being here all together.  Once we got into a groove, so to speak, we had less outbursts and more harmony.  Getting to that point was at times quite a struggle.  One of the struggles was over the issue of their safety.

Bill & Mary Beth still lived in my childhood home in Bexley, Ohio in 2008. I felt it was dangerous for them to remain there because it had 4 floors which meant 3 sets of stairs.  Their bedroom was on the 2nd floor, kitchen on the 1st floor and the washer & dryer was in the basement.  They would have to maneuver stairs at least once or twice a day and that was unacceptable to me.  Both of them have had balance issues starting 9 years ago when my father suddenly fell ill in the Winter 2003.   I drove to Ohio to help my mom while he was hospitalized in January 2004.  (I ended up traveling to Ohio 6 times that year!)  While he was in the hospital he became less and less mobile to the point that he could not walk at all.  The hospital staff was flummoxed.  No one could figure out what had caused it.  As a result, he was discharged to a rehab facility so that he could receive physical & occupational therapy several times a day.  It was during the rehab stay when he first started using a walker.  It was also the beginning of  his change in gait.  He resisted using the walker once he was able to stand without falling, but relented in using a cane after he fell several times.  Watching him go across a room was similar to watching a toddler learning to walk.  Very unsure, wobbly and unpredictable.  He would habitually leave the cane behind and attempt to cross the room by grabbing hold of anything within reach.  Unsecured bookshelves, floor lamps, end tables and china cabinets were some of the things he'd grab if he felt unsteady.  All the grabbing of air, stumbling through rooms and falling never seemed to be enough to convince my father to heed the doctors' orders about using walking aids, though.

My mother has had problems with balance as a result of her feet becoming more gnarled over the years. I find this incredible because she had foot surgery in the 70's.  I think her condition now is directly linked to the high heels she always wore after the surgeries.  When she walks she shuffles and as a result she can't move quickly.  In February 2012 she broke her shoulder outside her doctor's office.  I guess if you re going to fall the best place to do it is at the doctor's office!  She had received a walker in January, but she didn't want to use it outside the house.  She said it was because the doctor's office was cramped, but we knew she just didn't want people to see her using it.  So there she was with my dad walking out to the car.  My dad was using a cane.  It was like the blind leading the blind.  I had gone to get the car to pick them up at the curb, first mistake.  I  did not get out of the car when I pulled up, second mistake. I didn't insist on them walking to the ramp, third mistake.  She came over toward the car and stepped off the curb and kept going down, down against the open door and landed between the car and the door.  I watched in horror when she fell.  I swear it was in slow-motion.  My dad said without any affect, "oh, dear".  I'm not kidding.  His wife is lying on the asphalt and he says, "oh, dear" as an after thought, just in case I missed that my mother had taken a dive and lay on the ground!  The nurses and her doctor were there immediately.  I was actually quite calm.  I knew she was in good hands.  Plus, falling is pretty routine with my parents.  One or the other falls in any given month.  I learned while raising children that you temper your reactions to minimize the child's fear when something happens to them.  When you jump up and run to a fallen child it scares them more than if you wait to see if they are injured first, then go to them.  I follow the same guideline with my parents because they don't need some drama queen fussing about nothing.  She was loaded onto a gurney and as she was being rolled to the ambulance she looked unfazed still wearing her ever present sunglasses.  I remember thinking how even now she holds appearance as a priority!

As a result of falling my mother received a wheelchair that my father now pushes.  It serves two purposes.  One good, one bad.  On the one hand my dad is forced to walk with assistance when pushing her around, but on the other hand she has become even less mobile than before she fell.  She already spent 80% of her time lying in bed because, as she puts it, "that's where I do all my stuff".  Just as we tried to get my father to use his cane or walker, we try without success to get through to my mother about spending so much time in the bed.  On occasion she will come out to the living room to watch TV.  She will always bring attention to us that she is doing so.  Just to prove we are wrong about her always being in the bed!  Sometimes she has him bring her in the wheelchair which isn't really the same as her walking.   They will both use walkers if my father is feeling particularly shaky.   They come into a room  hunched over their walkers as if in some sort of old people parade.  And just in case you didn't notice the sound and sight of it, one of them announces, "here comes the train!"   I don't dare say anything.  I WANT them to use the walkers!!  My dad finally understands his need to walk with assistance.  Now if I could just figure out a way to get Mary Beth out of that bed...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Time to make the donuts!!!

Do you remember the Dunkin' Donuts commercials in the 1980's that had Fred the Baker portrayed by actor Michael Vale.  In the opening shot he was enthusiastic and had a cheery "Time to make the donuts!" but then with the passage of time he became increasingly weary.  By the last shot, he was practically dragging himself out the door without changing out of his pajamas as he absentmindedly grabbed a coat saying. "time to make the donuts" in an almost inaudible tone that reflected an unenthusiastic attitude and weariness.  This phrase has permeated my life with gusto.

When my parents arrived here in 2009, I told them I would make their breakfast for them until they became acclimated to being here and accustomed to the layout of the kitchen.  They arrived on a Saturday, so I knew I would be rising early on Sunday morning.  I just didn't know HOW early!  As an earlier blog post mentioned, we chose this house because of the arrangements of the bedrooms.   Master on the main, in particular was important because I wanted them to have a large room with their own bath. My bedroom is directly beneath theirs in the daylight basement.  As long as I can remember my parents rise at a very early time.  Dark-thirty to be exact.  In real time on that first Sunday?  It was around 5:15am!!  Because they are above me I knew when they were awake.  Actually, as it turned out, just my dad.  I literally bolted up and RAN upstairs!  Yep, ran!  The last time I moved that fast out of a dead sleep there was a squalling baby involved.  My youngest is 25.  I think I pulled something as I sprinted up the stairs to the kitchen.  I cooked his breakfast for several weeks and then he took over. He cooked his own breakfast for about 4 months. One day my Mom approached me to say that she noticed that he was practically on his knees in front of the stove trying to cook breakfast.  I think he was relieved that I was taking over.

So the next day I got up at the usual ungodly hour to fix his breakfast.  I was happy to do it, but man, was it hard to be up that early!   (That's another thing.  I have NEVER used an alarm clock.  This is unbelievable seeing how I used to sleep until after 9am before they arrived!)  Steve & I would get up, stumble up the stairs and start breakfast without saying a word.  Getting up up like that gets old REALLY fast.  Each day became blurred into the next one to the point that I actually had to look at the kitchen calendar to see what day it was on some mornings.   It became so monotonous.  I don't when, but one morning I woke up and as I reached for my glasses I heard my husband say unenthusiastically somewhere in the darkness, "time to make the donuts!"   It didn't help, but it did bring a wry smile to my face.  We have continued to make breakfast together, but it's so routine we don't feel the fatigue and the early hour quite as much as before.  Every once in awhile after a particularly short night I will rise feeling extremely tired and in the darkness I hear in a sing-song lilt, "time to make the donuts!"  And everything is okay.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

I'm Not Pig-Pen....Yet.

One issue that is paramount in caregiving  is the physical and mental health of the caregivers.  Even before my parents moved here three years ago, people I met would tell me to be sure and take care of myself.   As far as the emotional stress from being a care-giver goes, I'm good.  I have a great husband who helps out when he can and a daughter who routinely keeps up with dishes, recycling and keeping surfaces germ-free with Lysol wipes.  An absolute must in this house!  None of us have been sick during this three year period.  Knock on wood.  I also started a blog after keeping journals for three years.  This has helped tremendously!  Quite cathartic!  I take several breaks during the year to visit friends when I can get away.

The physical aspect of taking care of myself is a different story.  Easier said than done. I have neglected myself to the point of distraction.  I walk around in yesterday's clothes, unwashed hair and old make-up.  I also tend to stay in pajama bottoms most of the time and I've become a bit of a slob   My daughter has found cheese and peanut butter in my hair.  I found a Cheeto in my bra once and I've had popcorn fall from several shirts when changing clothes.  I guess I'm part chipmunk.   I've looked in the mirror many times to see mascara smudged under my eyes or streaked over my temples.  Once when driving my parents to a doctor appointment I realized I was still wearing slippers!  I had to drop them off and drive 10 miles back to the house to get shoes. 

 I have also found all sorts of food stuffs under my nails.  I quit having mani-pedis when we moved here. That may have been a mistake.  I tend to treat my nails as though they are screwdrivers, pan scrapers or food testers.  When I had pretty nails they were pampered.   I stopped cutting my hair.  This wasn't my plan.  I just needed to find a place to go to in the new area.  I still haven't figured that out.  No time.  My hair has grown out in it's natural color and with gray streaks since I also stopped coloring it.  I pull it back constantly, but because I can never remember to carry scrunchies, I frequently have pens, pencils or shish kabob skewers stuck in ersatz buns.

As expected my mind has begun failing.  I walk out of a room to retrieve something from another room, but by the time I get to the second room I've already forgotten what I was going there for.  I forget entire thoughts when talking to someone and rarely ever remember what they were.   I even searched for almost 15 minutes once for my glasses...I was WEARING them!!!  I have left tasks half finished when I forget I was doing them in the first place, sort of like having selective ADD.  I'll go back into a room to find a deserted vacuum, iron, half folded laundry, abandoned projects or tools.  I have not only forgotten to take showers,  but I am notorious for putting off running to the bathroom.  I do, however, brush and floss my teeth daily and go to the dentist twice a year.  So I might look deranged, but I have a nice smile.

Ewe's not fat, Ewe's fluffy!
I have lousy eating habits.  I fix meals at least three to five times a day, yet I can get to the end of the day and realize I myself have had nothing but coffee and ice tea all day.   I often eat cereal or popcorn for dinner, just to get it out of the way.  In 2010, I went on Weight Watchers and lost 42 pounds.   I describe myself as fluffy.  Oh, I know I am at least 30 pounds overweight, but I like the term "fluffy" better.  It means I'm cuddly.   I have been lucky that the weight and eating habits have not led to health issues, however last month I started having loss of appetite which led to unexpected weight loss.  I have an endoscopic procedure in July to determine if it's related to stomach issues.  Since the appointment was made, though,  I seem to have found my appetite and the weight loss has stopped.  Go figure.

There are so many things to do for my parents. There's a lot to do all the time.  The list never gets finished.  Laundry, housekeeping, cooking, grocery shopping, prescriptions, doctor's appointments and trips to the Dairy Queen keep me very busy.  The reminders to care for myself did not fall on deaf ears, but I have my own errands, appointments, cooking, cleaning, etc. to do for myself and my family.  I need to pay attention to myself.   Like I am going to remember to do that!  But even if I'm not dressed well or have my wits about me, I think I'm hanging in there with the care-giving gig.  I can always take a shower  tomorrow!

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Hobbits are a fictional diminutive race who inhabit the lands of Middle-earth in J. R. R. Tolkien's novel,
The Hobbit.  The novel The Lord of the Rings includes more hobbits as major characters.
So, as most people probably know, hobbits have odd eating habits, eating six normal sized meals a day. Here's a list of the meals they eat:
1. Breakfast
2. Second Breakfast
3. Elevenses
4. Lunch
5. Afternoon Tea
6.  Dinner
7. Supper
My parents are becoming hobbits.  No, really.  They are.  I know this because over the last three years I have observed their eating habits and they have changed dramatically. When Bill & Mary Beth first moved here in 2009, they took care of most of their own meals, in particular breakfasts & lunches.  Once they were comfortable in the kitchen, familiar with where everything was kept, they were able to take care of themselves.  I thought this was good because the more involved they were in such matters the quicker they would feel like they were home and not guests in their daughter's house. 

First breakfast is served around 7AM.  For over 60 years, Bill has had 2 scrambled eggs for breakfast with bacon or sausage, toast, OJ and coffee with cream & sugar.  No deviations, except on occasion I think he'd have over easy eggs - you know, for a change of pace.  He made his own breakfast.  There wasn't a day during my entire childhood that I didn't see him whipping up eggs in a bowl using a fork.  My mother didn't eat eggs but maybe once a week.  Mary Beth preferred cold cereal with toast in the morning, usually plain cereals like Corn Flakes or Cheerios.  Sometimes she'd go for plain shredded wheat - the kind that looks like the baled haystacks you see in fields when passing farms.  These breakfasts were the same even after moving here until about a year later.  Mary Beth informed me that Bill was having a hard time making breakfast due to physical limitations.  Actually what she said was that he was so slumped over the stove she thought he'd catch on fire!  Now THERE is an image for a caregiver to contemplate!  I went to him and suggested that I do breakfast. Because of his diminished appetite, my dad only eats 1 egg now with OJ and coffee.  No toast or bacon.  Mary Beth still eats cold cereal everyday, however after she discovered Froot Loops in our kitchen, she never ate healthy cereal again.  .

So that takes care of breakfast.  For about 30 minutes.  Second breakfast is served around 8AM.  After returning to her bedroom, Mary Beth will call out for more coffee and usually something to go with it.  Sometimes a pastry, cookie or an onion bagel with peanut butter.  Don't ask.   Bill carries chocolates in his pockets, as well as, cookies.  If there is pie or cake from the night before, they will ask for that.  

Elevenses time can vary anywhere from 9-10AM.  It usually consists of cereal or waffle topped with ice cream.  That's right.  Ice cream.  The waffle will also have fruit on it.  Strawberries, peaches or bananas.  No syrup because that would make it too sweet, you know.

Lunch is served anytime between 10-noon.  That usually consists of a half sandwich with coffee or soft drink for Mary Beth.  Bill used to eat that, too, but now wants Froot Loops with ice cream.  He will sometimes have Cream of Wheat, but with honey & butter.  No ice cream.

They usually take a nap after lunch, wouldn't you?  When they wake they will have a snack with something to drink.  I guess that's Afternoon Tea.  It takes place between 2 & 4PM. Many times they will come into the living room to watch TV and they have their Afternoon Tea in there.  Cheez-its and coke for Bill.  Flavored Wheat Thins and Sprite for Mary Beth.  They love to have milkshakes, too, so if I make a milkshake, they will share it.

Around 4PM they are looking for dinner.  They have had it as late as 6PM, though, depending on the household schedule.  They have become finicky in their golden years.  If I fix a roast with potatoes and root veggies, they may eat some.  Many times I have fixed a meal like that only to have them ask for Cream of Wheat, soup, Ramen or canned tamales.  This used to aggravate me, but I came to realize that if they are eating, that is the more important issue.  After dinner, they both want dessert.  It can be ice cream(again!), pie, cake, cookies or sometimes another milkshake.

Between 6 & 8PM is supper. That's usually cereal or sometimes a handful of cookies or chocolates.  Then it's off to bed between 8 & 9PM.

See what I mean?  Hobbits!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Meatball sub, anyone?

A sandwich is a food item, typically consisting of two or more slices of bread with one or more fillings between them.  The sandwich generation is defined as the people who care for aging parents, as well as their own children-a phenomena that has become more commonplace in recent years in this country.  For my family, our stint in the sandwich generation began in 2009 with both of my parents on one side and my daughter on the other side.  One year later my son would boomerang back to become part of the sandwich.  A three generational home is the norm in most countries except in the United States.  Many cultures do not understand the need to push children out of the nest.  Nor do they expect their aging parents to live in retirement homes.  Family taking care of family.  It's been traditional family life in other countries, but because it is a new concept for most people in this country new challenges arrive on a daily basis.

One consideration for my parents, Bill & Mary Beth moving here to live with us was where they would sleep in the house.  We chose the house based on their needs more than ours.  A bedroom on the main floor was the first requirement of a prospective house because we knew at some point they wouldn't navigate stairs well.  What we found were many houses with guest rooms on the first floor and although that would be fine for a temporary guest, it was not a viable solution for permanent elderly residents.  This house was perfect and we knew it the minute we walked into the front door.  We  have them in the Master bedroom on the main floor.  Our downstairs bedroom is directly below them and allows us to hear my parents if they call out during the night.  Selected pieces from my parents' home went into the dining room and parlor on the main floor.  This allows them to continue to enjoy it and to feel a little more at home while here.  They lived in their last home for almost 50 years, so I never wanted them to regret being here.  One thing we didn't plan for was the maneuverability of a wheelchair within the house.  Thankfully, the open floor plan on the main floor has worked well for the wheelchair my mom now uses since breaking her shoulder in February.  So the layout has worked for them quite well.  That's the first side of my sub sandwich.

The second side of the sandwich is my children.  The house has a loft area that consists of a mini-living room with two bedrooms, a linen closet and bathroom.  They are both in college, but living at home. It's like they are suite mates.  The only thing it lacks at this point, according to Alex and Taylor, is a mini fridge and microwave.  I told them not to push it.  Let's face it, we want them to leave eventually!  The loft is a bit of an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of elder care-giving.  (There will be plenty of opportunity for that when I move in with them in 30 years!!)  If I need help, I ask.

The loft overlooks the living room, so even if they are upstairs we are never really out of range.  Amazingly, as much room as we have here we still tend to gravitate toward each other.  One unforeseen aspect of this arrangement is that the family has become closer-knit.  I worried that we would have problems with six adults under one roof, but that has not happened.  Don't get me wrong.  We do have disagreements, but we seem to work them out without too much trouble.  Something occurred to me recently, too.   I actually like the people I live with and not just because they are relatives!  Each member of this house provides something positive as a result of being here.

You can't have a sandwich without the insides. The inside of our three generational sandwich is the caregivers, Steve & me.  I am a meatball because meatballs are complex.  They are soft, yet solid and have substance.  Steve is the sauce and the cheese because they temper the meatball, smooth out its roughness, gives it flavor and provides stability.  Without the sauce and cheese the sandwich would fall apart.  Steve has not once complained about bringing Bill & Mary Beth here.  In fact, I think he had less reservations about it than I did!  Steve was lucky when it came to in-laws, though.  My family accepted him with open arms and my siblings have always treated him like a brother. Actually, my mother chose my husband for me.  Not in the traditional sense, mind you.  I had a tendency to date "mutts" and I knew this, but couldn't seem to attract a decent fellow.  When I met Steve the first thing I learned was that he was already a college graduate and was in graduate school.  He was spiritual, conservative and he thought I was cute.  We were friends for a year before dating.  After dating for two months he met my parents.  I knew that if my mom didn't like him, he was history.  I have talked about her penchant for judging based on looks, so I held my breath as they were introduced.  They loved him  right away because he was respectful, gentlemanly, and talkative.  He talked to them as if he always knew them and it impressed them both.  She later remarked that she couldn't help but like him since it was obvious he was crazy about me.  Can't ask for more than that.

So it was Steve's turn to welcome my parents into our home with open arms.  All six of us work very well together and the sandwich is now complete.  A meatball sub sandwich.   It can get messy, but oh so good.  Welcome to the sandwich generation!

Friday, June 15, 2012


Watching active people lose vitality  & memory is so heartbreaking.  My parents, Bill & Mary Beth have become mere shells of who they used to be.  They have forgotten so much of what they did, where they went and who they knew.  It is difficult to balance what they are like now with the people I knew growing up. The aging process is nothing if not cruel and it is definitely an unforgiving nemesis to one's cherished memories.  Recently I started talking to them about their life experiences to stimulate their memories..  They also have created new memories while they live the remainder of their lives with us.

I was born in 1958, so my age of awareness is somewhere around 2-3 years old.  I think being at my maternal grandparents' house in Athens when my grandmother died is possibly my earliest memory.  I remember standing in the living room a midst dozens of people and I asked my sister where Nanny was and Kristie, being her forthright self said, "She's dead!"  I would have been 3 years & 4 months old.  Another memory from earlier that year is getting an umbrella stuck in my mouth..  I'm not kidding.  Remember the J-shaped umbrella handles?  I got this bright idea to stick in my mouth and it got lodged in the area directly behind my bottom teeth!  Having no background in geometry, biology, physics or common sense, I was flummoxed as to how to free myself.  There I was standing on our screened-in porch with this contraption stuck in my mouth, arms flailing and crying!  At some point I got outside to where my  mother stood talking to a neighbor.  She turned to see me walking toward her with this umbrella handle stuck in my mouth and the opposite end trailing between my legs because it was longer than I was tall.  My flailing arms stretched out and crying I looked at her unable to speak.  She said, "Oh, good lord!" and reached down to extricate the handle from my now very sore mouth.  That was 51 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday.  I remember the pain I felt when the hard plastic dug into my skin inside my mouth.

Most memories are not that clear or detailed.  With the passage of time they become blurred and forgotten.  It is worse with dementia.  Thankfully neither one of my parents have signs of any dementia.  I don't know if they appreciate that, but I do.  I am able to talk to them about different aspects of their lives and lately I have written them down for posterity.  My mother doesn't understand why.  I try to explain that everyone has a story, but no one thinks their own stories are interesting because they know the story inside and out.  When someone else hears those stories its with fresh ears and it is interesting.  My parents have 88 and 87 years worth of memories.  When I was growing up they were always on the go.  They attended church activities during the week, symphonies, concerts, plays, movies, cocktail parties and fund-raisers.  During the 60's my father scuba dived with my brother Bill and had a strong interest in HAM radio, as well as Toastmasters.  In the 70's my mother learned how to play tennis and played on a team.  In the 80's my father bought his first pair of walking shoes and they both started walking for exercise.  They also traveled extensively in the 80's and 90's.  Both of my parents were larger than life to me growing up. My dad could fix anything and my mom was always doing for others.  They started slowing down only in the past 8 years, but even after spending the majority of the year in the hospital in 2004, my dad climbed up onto the roof of the garage in Ohio to clean the gutters!  Even though he knew his fixer-upper days were over he still wanted to contribute.   The purpose of me talking about the things they did is so they feel a sense of accomplishment with their lives.  Feeling like one mattered in this world can make the difference in how one views the experience.

The lack of mobility taints my parents' view of their lives, too.  The first year here in 2009, they went with us to the Dunwoody 4th of July parade.  No walkers or wheelchairs, just a cane for my dad.  Mary Beth resisted using any assistance until this last year.  She was told to use a walker.  She didn't use it much and chose to leave it at home when she had a doctor's appointment this past February.  As she left the office she attempted to step down off the curb and fell breaking her shoulder. Ironically, for 6 weeks she had to be transported by wheelchair.  She continued to be pushed by my dad months later.  Only after being accused of getting lazy did she finally agree to use the walker, but only on occasion.  When he isn't pushing the wheelchair my dad uses a walker upstairs and a cane downstairs.  He has become much too shaky & unstable to move about without some type of assistance.  He gets easily frustrated when he cannot do the simplest of tasks.  That is one reason he started sleeping in his clothes, less work than wearing pajamas.  I had considered putting his computer in their bedroom, but then I realized that going downstairs to his office is one thing he can still do.  As long as it is not dangerous, he should keep doing it.  My mother stopped doing stairs last year.  She does continue doing artwork to a lesser extent than she used to.  It has become difficult, though and as a result frustrating.

Bill & Mary Beth were both only children, so when they married they wanted a large family.  They had 4 children and subsequently, 8 grandchildren.  Two of them are mine and they live here in the same house.  The ability to see their first 2 grandchildren become young adults is an experience that I know my parents enjoy.  Something they do here that they couldn't do in Ohio is to sit on a deck and watch hummingbirds.  We also have a plethora of wild animals in our yard.  Chipmunks, possums, hawks, owls and lizards have been seen in our backyard.  Our front yard has seen a fair share of deer coming and going, a site never experienced in Ohio.  We also have crepe myrtle trees, gardenias, azaleas, magnolias and irises that delight my mother to no end every spring and summer.  My parents also enjoy our cat, Buffy.  Buffy has taken to my dad quite a bit.  I have witnessed her coming into a room, survey the occupants and go directly to her grandpa.  She sits on him with a look of pure love on her face.  I know he loves her because he will sit still for hours while she sleeps in his arms or on his lap.  Another experience new to my parents being here is going to Dairy Queen every Sunday afternoon.  It started pretty soon after they moved here after they found out there was a DQ near-by.  The day I knew my mom was getting better from her broken shoulder was when she said she wanted DQ.  Getting into the garage and into the car was taxing, but she persevered and I knew she was going to be okay.

Having Bill & Mary Beth here has been an experience that I will not likely ever forget.  It is harder and more rewarding than I ever imagined.  I get told by people who hear what I'm doing that I have earned the entrance to Heaven, but I don't care if I have or not.  I'm doing this because of who they've been to me.  It is my goal that their last years are memorable.  After all, don't they deserve that much?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bill & Mary: The Love Story

Mary Pierce Engagement Picture-1946
Most love stories begin the same.  Boy meets girl.  Boy falls in love. Boy marries girl.  My parents were no exception except that it went more like this- Boy sees girl then takes entire summer to ask her out and finally has first date the night before she's scheduled to leave town.  But fate is a funny thing.  That first night both of my parents knew they'd not be apart for long.

In the Summer of 1944 my father, Bill,  was working at Curtis-Wright (now Rockwell) as part of his Engineering Co-op work study through the University of Cincinnati .  My mother, Mary, was also working at Curtis-Wright as a temporary secretary during her summer break from Ohio University.  The first time Bill Johnston saw Mary Pierce he was on a city bus on the way to work.  He looked out when the bus stopped and saw a beautiful, young, slender woman with long dark wavy hair running to catch it.  After boarding the bus she found herself face to face with a tall, lanky gentleman dressed in a typical suit and tie.   Mary looked up at him and smiled and said hi. She says he was drop dead gorgeous. According to Bill, he was already in love at that point.  He would see her on the bus daily, but didn't feel confident he could get a date.  He wondered about it  for 3 months and near the end of the summer someone told him  that Mary would be leaving the next day because her summer break was over.  Bill finally found his nerve.  They went on their first date that night at the VFW for dinner and dancing.  When he walked her home he was not sure of what to say so he told her to travel safely the next day and turned to leave.  She watched him walking away and knew that she was in love and at that moment called out to him softly saying his name, "Bill?"  He turned and ran back to her open arms taking her in his and kissing her for the first time and cementing the bond between them that has lasted 68 years.
Mary returned to school in Athens, Ohio and Bill returned to the University of Cincinnati.  At some point in the semester he sent her a letter suggesting that she come visit him in Cincinnati.  He had even arranged for her to stay in the Alpha  Gamma House on the UC campus, but my grandmother said it would be improper for my mom to do that.  According to my mother, my grandmother never put her foot down about very many things, but when she objected to my mother going to UC, my mom listened to her.  The following semester at the beginning of 1945, Mary left school to work for the war effort.  She wanted to go to either the Pentagon or to go work in Tampa, Florida at a Discharge Post.  She had never been to Florida so off to Tampa she went.   They had no openings so she went to work at a newspaper in the area.  It was in that office that she found out about the death of President Roosevelt when it come over the teletype machine in the newsroom.
Mary continued to work at the newspaper until a friend from OU came to Florida wanting to work in Sarasota and asked my mom to go with her.. Marcie and Mary arrived in Sarasota to get jobs at drug stores right after the movie "The Greatest Show on Earth" was filmed there.  Being a hub for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus my mom made friends with many of the circus performers and even stood bridesmaid when a friend married one.  Marcie soon got bored with Sarasota and returned to OU.  My mom finally got a spot with the Discharge Post and went back to Tampa.  When the Discharge Post closed she went to work for the VA in St. Petersburg.

Bill was Honorably Discharged from the Army Air Corps for having a bad chest x-ray, but he kept the uniform.  After Mary went to work in Florida,she didn't see him since travel was limited because of rationing.  During his summer break in 1946, Bill hitchhiked in his uniform from Cincinnati to St. Pete.  Mary says that she was on lunch break at work on the beach in St. Pete and when she returned to the office she saw this good-looking man in uniform walking toward her with a huge grin on his face.  She said she was so shocked to see him, but extremely happy.  She was crazy about him and he obviously felt the same way!  After he went back to school, Bill sent her a letter proposing marriage and she returned a letter accepting it.  In the Fall of 1946, he got a ride with other UC students going to the UC/OU football game in Athens, Ohio.  While in Athens he met Harold and Flora Pierce, my grandparents.  It was during this visit that he asked her father for her hand in marriage.  They both immediately gave them their blessing.

After becoming engaged, Mary returned to Athens but did not return to school.  Bill was doing his Co-op in Dayton at Wright Field and wrote to tell her that the R & D (Research & Development) Department badly  needed secretaries and that she could get a job there.  Harold and Flora drove her to Dayton where she lived in a Girls' Residence and worked at Wright Field. They decided not have a long engagement so in November Bill Johnston & Mary Pierce took a city bus to the county courthouse and were married by a Justice of the Peace.  It was November 16, 1946 and so began a union that produced 4 children(Kristie, Bill III, Frank & Heidi) and led to 8 grandchildren (Alex, Taylor, Sean, Fiona, Maggie, Liam, Colin & Brendan).   This year they celebrate 66 years of marital bliss.  And they are still crazy in love.  Is it any wonder why this writer is such a hopeless romantic?
July 9, 1962