H is for Helping

Laurel sat next to me on the couch last night when I started this post by writing the title and inserting the picture I planned to use.

“Are you going to write about me?” she asked. “I help.”

Indeed she does. Laurel is an outstanding sous chef. She is often with me in the kitchen at dinner time helping with meal prep. She scours the internet for healthy recipes and sometimes volunteers to make dinner, on which occasions I am her sous chef. I think that’s pretty remarkable for a 13-year-old.

Mary helps, too, in her own way. She empties the dishwasher, unasked and often unseen. She brings my father his nightly beer. She makes sure he has the baseball game or Wheel of Fortune on after dinner. She has fixed him lunch on days when I’m not available. My father will say, “Mary is solid,” which I think may be cringe-worthy words for a 17-year-old to hear, but by which he means that he can count on her, a high compliment.

And the truth is, all my kids are great helpers. They have acted as gardeners and landscapers around my parents’ property, mowing the lawn, weeding the myrtle, cleaning up sticks and debris. They have chauffeured, accompanied, and assisted, attending to their elderly grandparents in so many ways.

Lately, some of my adult children have been caregivers, staying with my father over weekends when I need to be away. It’s a huge help to me.

I’m quite sure they inherited the helping gene from their father. Bud is one of the hardest-working, most generous people I know.

So thank you to all my helpers. You know who you are. I see what you’re doing and I appreciate it.

This picture is very early in my whole cutting-up-books-to-make-cards adventure.

The tree is from Garth Williams’ beautiful book, The Rabbits’ Wedding, the book that started it all. I picked it up at a yard sale, a gorgeous oversized picture book that had sat in the rain. It was starting to mold and smell — but the illustrations were so beautiful that I couldn’t stand the thought of it going to the dump. So, blindly, I paid a ridiculous amount of money for a soggy moldy book — 50¢ — and brought it home not knowing what I would do with it.

The girl is from Sarah’s Unicorn by Bruce and Katherine Coville. The illustrations in the book were all black-and-white, so I watercolored her, as well as the background.

I don’t know where the bird and nest are from.

New Use for an iPod

For a couple of years, my father kept saying, “I need one of those things,” and he would mimic someone holding a device in their hand and tapping on the screen.

We tried to convince him that an iPad would work well for him — it’s bigger and does a lot of the same things — but no dice. He was sure he needed a smart phone.

Last summer one of my sons upgraded from a iPod Touch to an iPhone, so we gave his iPod to my father. We could connect it to wi-fi in the house and it would function in basically the same way as a phone. My son set up an iTunes account for him, and I had my sister send him his one and only message.

At 87, this is one new trick the old dog can’t learn.

It sits on his tray table. I charge it about once a week for him. The one time I forgot, he told me that we needed to buy new batteries for it. Modern technology is hard for an older person to understand — even the basics of recharging a device.

But every day, he picks it up and pushes the home button. I put a picture of my mother on his lock screen.

“Good morning, Elinor,” he says, and then he sets it down.

I think he finds some security in seeing her face each day.

He found a use for the iPod I wouldn’t have guessed.


Yesterday my father kept commenting on the fog.

“I can’t believe how foggy it is out there,” he said every time he looked out the window.

The dense fog lingered all day. When I went for my evening walk, a heavy mist still rested on the fields.

My father had been bemoaning it. “It sure would be nice to see some blue skies,” he said.

But I thought the fog was lovely.

I could still see the farm buildings.

I knew the river lay beyond the trees because I know this land. I’ve walked this road a thousand times.

The road I’m walking with my father is newer territory, though.

Even though my mother had dementia, my father was her main care-provider. When he made the decision for her to go to the nursing home, we all knew it was the right thing to do. The nursing home was well-staffed, and we knew she would receive good care. I helped, but I wasn’t the main care-provider.

Now I am. I marvel at the job my father did. Often, though, I don’t feel equal to the task. I wonder about the cost to my family.

On my foggy walk last night, I stopped and looked at one tree for a long time.

It was so lovely against the backdrop of fog. Strong and independent.

Maybe as I walk this road with my father I need to look for those beautiful places.

We may not have blue skies, but there’s such beauty in the fog.

Old Habits Die Hard

“Aw, phooey,” he said, as he handed me the shovel and turned to go back inside.

“Aw, hell,” he said, as he hung up his coat and turned toward his walker.

We are in the midst of a major snowstorm. The Weather Channel said something about 48″ around Cooperstown. I believe it.

Even the dog doesn’t like it — and our dog loves snow. Maggie can’t play in this. All she can do is flounder.

Last night and this morning Laurel and I shoveled for a while and barely got past one car. Then my brother, Peter, came down to borrow the car because he needed to go into town. His driveway is much longer than ours, and the plow guy hadn’t come yet.

So Peter walked over and together we shoveled.

And shoveled.

And shoveled.

We finally had a path wide enough to back the car out. I ran into the house to get Peter some money so he could pick up a prescription for my father. Just inside the door stood my father, coat on, gloves on, ready to head outside.

“Where are you going, Dad?” I asked.

“Well, I’m going outside to help,” he said.

“I think we’re all set,” I told him.

“Do you know how much work it took to get all this stuff on?” he asked, and headed for the door.

I sighed, and ran to find my wallet. It wasn’t worth arguing about, and he might like to see all the snow.

When I came back out, Peter was talking to my father on the ramp leading to the house. Laurel and I had barely shoveled a path wide enough for the walker to fit. I gave Peter the money and he left.

“Okay, Dad,” I said, “let’s go back in.”

“I want to go get that shovel,” he said, pointing to the shovel I had shoved into the snowbank.

“I can get it,” I told him, but he pretended not to hear me and headed down the ramp.

When he reached the shovel, I was right behind him. “Let me take that back to the house for you,” I said, reaching for the shovel.

“I’d like to shovel,” he said.

I groaned. He started shoveling. Inside I was feeling frustrated.

“Dad,” I said, trying to sound calm and reasonable, “you may have reached the time in your life when you need to let others do things for you — like shoveling.”

He stopped and looked at me. “I’m not helpless,” he said.

I walked back to the house and stood there. Why can’t he just stop? I muttered in my heart.

I touched Tuga was in my pocket. Go help him, Tuga seemed to whisper.

I grabbed another shovel and went back down to where my father was shuffling snow. He leaned on his shovel when I got there. “Maybe you’re right,” he said, and handed his shovel to me.

“Aw, phooey,” he said, and I felt a little sad.

“Aw, hell,” he said when we got inside, and my heart broke a little more.

His instinct was to help, and I had just told him that he couldn’t.


Remembering Birthdays

Threshold 085

At Laity Lodge

Three years ago for my birthday I was in the wilds of the Texas hill country, without cell coverage and with minimal wifi. Laity Lodge is great that way because it allows guests to make real connections.

But it was my birthday and I don’t think anyone there knew.

Not that it mattered, of course.

I called my husband on a land-line and talked with him and the kids. It was enough.



He told me that my brother Stewart had called and wanted me to call him back.

When I got home, I put off that call.

My brother died from a heart attack 11 days after my birthday.

When did I last hear his voice? I don’t know.

In my mind I can still hear him, though. I remember what my name sounded like when he said it. I remember his laugh.

Mom February 2015

Mom February 2015

My mother forgot my name altogether. I used to remind her.

“I’m Sally,” I would say, and she would repeat back, “That’s right. You’re Sally.”

I used to use photographs to help her remember the names of family members, naming each person as we touched them in the picture. She eventually couldn’t do that either.

I don’t remember the last time she said my name.

And I have more trouble remembering her voice — maybe because it turned dry and creaky. She didn’t sound the way I wanted to remember her.

This year for my birthday, I heard from all my children — most with a phone call or FaceTime. Mary, Laurel, Bud and I went to see La La Land and then went out to dinner. It was very nice.

My morning started with a birthday card in my coffee maker (from Laurel) and birthday stickers on the newspaper (from my brother).

I was curious to see what my father would say about the birthday stickers. I knew he wouldn’t remember my birthday without some sort of reminder.

“Oh! I see we have stickers on the newspaper this morning,” he said as he sat down at the kitchen table.

He peered at them closely.  “It says, ‘Happy Birthday,'” he read. “I don’t think it’s my birthday though.”

“No, Dad,” I answered, giving him his pills and his juice. “It’s my birthday.”

“Oh,” he said. “I guess that makes sense.”

IMG_9693And that was it.

No birthday wishes.

It wasn’t a slur against me. It doesn’t really matter.

But it did.

It does.

Because it means I’ve lost another little piece of him.

We lost my mother in dribs and drabs, an expression she used to use.

Now we’re losing my father the same way.

It’s almost certain that next year he won’t remember my birthday either. Dementia tends to only go in one direction.

I just hope he still remembers my name.



My Mother’s Voice

I can’t remember
The sound of my mother’s voice
Fresh grief at this loss

The telephone at my father’s house doesn’t work terribly well, and I want to try a new one, but I don’t want to lose his voice on the answering machine. Is it silly — the things we hold onto?

I really couldn’t remember my mother’s voice this morning, try though I did.

The crappy phone will stay.

I looked through the videos on my computer. Surely I had one with her voice.  I found a couple from two years ago when she was in physical therapy. She spoke three words total in six videos. Monosyllabic. “Yes.” “No.” “Missed.” That’s not how I want to remember her.

Towards the end of the video below, where we are singing the blessing over a meal, I can pick out her voice. It’s a good place to end.