Today was the day.

He knew he knew me but still, he didn’t really know who I was. He couldn’t say my name. He couldn’t say what our relationship was. I wasn’t as shocked as I expected to be when it actually happened. I knew the day would come sooner or later.

Today was sooner rather than later.

Peter hasn’t been able to say our family’s names for some time — Carolynn, Leslie, Samantha, Jeremiah, Martin, Bill — though he recognizes them when he sees them or gazes, as he often does, at their pictures.“How are things in England these days?” he asked. Uh oh, I thought.

What I should have done is explain some little thing about the Brexit crisis. He wouldn’t have understood, but he would have listened, interested. But I said, “I don’t live in England, Peter. I’ve never lived in England.” His eyebrows shot up, and he shook his head as if to clear the cobwebs. His thoughts looped as he asked over and over how things were in England. Finally, leaning close, I asked, “Do you know who I am?”

He bluffed. “Course I do. I could never forget you!

“Mm-m, do you know my name, what we are to each other?”

He gazed into the distance as if the answers might be written in the mist outside. I said his first wife’s name and asked if he thought I was her. He shook his head, but he did ask where she was. I said I only knew she’d moved back to England years ago. “The two of you came here, to Virginia, in 1968,”  I said.

“Well where were you then?”

“In Arizona, getting ready to move to Virginia.” He shook his head again. I was sure he knew he knew me, but he couldn’t say my name. I turned it into a game. “Am I your sister? Your niece? Your grannie? Your mum?” He laughed at my silliness and said no to each question. Then, inspired, I said, “Peter and…J-o-o-o-o-o…?”

He grinned. “JUDY!” His exaggerated wink tried to tell me he knew my name all along.

He hugged me tight and we laughed together.

[The “today” in this post is actually yesterday. I wrote this late last night, but refined it today. Changing all the todays to yesterdays only works in the song.]

Header: Scene outside my window today.

How lovely are thy branches?

The Christmas morning clatter—save the boxes, keep the ribbon, recycle the tissue, read the directions, where’s the receipt, the vac is clogged—is a week in the past. As I write, the new year is just hours away.  I can’t say I’m sorry to see the old one out.

This dwindling year has been an annus horribilis, as Queen Elizabeth II defined her 1992. She referred to her children’s marital follies and questionable clandestine issues, as well as the costly fire in Windsor Castle, one of her favorites.

Even though this has been an awful year for the Clarke family, we’ve found bright spots to keep us laughing. The house didn’t burn down either.

One of Peter’s new helpers, fascinated by his natural affinity with children, observed him interacting with a little boy. They stood on the fringe of a crowd waiting to see the Nutcracker ballet. I wasn’t there but I’m sure my husband’s eyes twinkled while he made silly faces and crouched to the two-year-old’s eye level. More than once, the boy announced loudly to anyone else in range that this, pointing to Peter, was his New Best Friend.

When I heard the story I smiled in spite of myself and my fretting.

For months I’d wondered how, or if, I would cope, how Peter would do, how would we all manage during the holidays. But, miraculously, my husband had settled into his new “digs” and no longer asked, “Is this my room?” every time I led him inside.

With a lot of propping up from family and friends, I spun through Christmas with more good cheer than I’d thought I could muster. I dashed and twirled and muddled, but in many ways, the week was actually one of the best we’ve ever had. The eight of us kept him busy with meals and snacks, card games, walks, movies, billiards, and chatter. Not that Peter talked much, but he smiled, chuckling, as he listened. If he had been able to channel my dad, my husband might have said, “Well, someone has to listen.”

Header: In 2017, Peter lifted a dug-up pine to bring home with help from Leslie who wore red and white striped camouflage.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Better than a dozen roses.

The weekend was perfect for so many reasons. First, Leslie orchestrated a tea party Saturday on the porch at the end of the corridor where Peter lives. Grandson Miah was the surprise guest. What a treat all ’round.

Then, on Sunday, I organized a walk in a favorite park for Peter, Nobby and me. My husband actually remembered having been there, “Once,” he said. I told him we’d been there many times over the years.  “Many times?!” he asked with raised eyebrow. He shook his head. Nobby remembered too, romping as if he were still a puppy instead of an old fellow of ten.

As we meandered back to the car, Peter lagged behind. I kept glancing over my shoulder to make sure he was following — he has a history of getting lost or hiding to scare me. When he caught up, he held up a bouquet of maple leaves. “Would you like to have these?” he asked. His eyes twinkled and he had sweetest smile.

Would I ever!” Thank you,” I said and took his hand, something he usually hates. He actually leaned in to kiss me but knocked both of our caps askew. A laugh, a kiss and a bouquet on a beautiful orange and red afternoon. Better than a dozen roses any day.

I took the scenic route back. Peter laughed when I said I thought we were lost. “You never get lost,” he said, and indeed I don’t and I wasn’t lost then. Then I told him I was more worried about being low on gas. That really made him laugh because he remembered how much I hate to pump gas.

When I opened the door to his room he looked shocked. The space was unusually tidy and the bright potted mum in the window glowed in the sunshine. “Is this where I live now?” he asked. I nodded. “Good!” he said. He took his jacket off, tossed it on his bed, and gave me a hug.

I tuned his tv to a soccer match, parked him in his chair, and headed home to put my fanciful bouquet in water and reflect on the glorious autumn weekend.

Outside looking in, Nobby seems to approve my maple syrup “vase” and fetching bouquet.

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Do you hear what I hear?

Peter and I were getting ready for bed. “I’ve lost me wallet and me keys,” he said. He patted his pockets to confirm his fears.

Peter sleeps.

“You had them earlier,” I said. He loses them so often that I’m immune to his panics. “Let’s go to bed. They’ll show up in the morning.”  Uncharacteristically, he gave up his search. He was as tired as I was, even thought he’d slept most of the four hour drive to Ohio.

We were there for grandson Miah’s graduation from Hocking College. The night before, eleven of us had celebrated with an excellent and jubilant dinner, followed by the ceremony Saturday morning. We ate lunch at place I’d frequented during my years at Ohio University, followed by a campus tour where I recognized only the oldest parts of campus and, later, pizza and a movie. Way more goings-on than Peter and I have in a week, much less a weekend.

Sunday morning, as we rushed to get ready to meet the family for breakfast, Peter patted his pockets again. “I’ve lost me wallet and me keys.”

“Coffee first, then we’ll look.” The strange locale, unfamiliar lodging, and hectic pace had muddled my already muddled husband even more.

At breakfast I mentioned the “losses” to Martin. He was positive Peter had them the previous evening.

“I’ll help you find them after we say goodbye to Miah,” he said. Suddenly, simultaneously, we  said, ‘trackers.’ Didn’t you put one on Peter’s keychain?” Martin asked.

“Yes!”

“Do you remember the password?” Martin was doubtful.

“Ha! Yes.”

TrackR™

A TrackR™ is an inexpensive gadget I bought to supplement the very expensive GPS/watch, PAL, that Peter hates. PAL (protect and locate) helps me to find him if he decides to take another five-hour walk away from home or gets lost on a short walk. He refuses to wear it inside; so far though, he hasn’t taken it off outside. In fact, he shouldn’t be able to remove it at all. The locking mechanism — I have the “key” — is foolproof, supposedly. It is not, however, engineer proof. He can and does remove it when he gets back from walking Nobby, but often “loses” it in the house. Hence, two 50-cent-sized TrackRs, one attached to his keys, one to Nobby’s collar.

So, there we were after breakfast, Martin holding my phone, already paired with the TrackR app, as we listened for the shrill beep.

“I hear it!” Martin said.

“I hear it!” Peter said.

“Hear it, Judy?” Martin asked.

“No-o.” (The one drawback to TrackR is, I cannot hear the beep, although I can locate it with my phone.)

“Bathroom,” Martin yelled. We crowded into the tiny space, laughing because there was nothing there except tub, toilet, two wet towels…and us.

“No, out by the sink,” Martin said. Nope.

“The bed.” Peter pulled the covers up and shook them. Nothing.

“The sound is right here,” Martin said, “so close. Where is the darned thing?”

“Wait, what’re we looking for?” Peter asked.

Martin and I were dumbfounded. “Your keys. Your wallet.”

“These?” he said, holding his keys up.

We howled.

“Where’s your wallet then?” Martin asked.

“Here,” Peter said. He pulled it out of his pocket. We’d never thought to check his pockets again because…well…because. When and where he found them we don’t know. We do know why he didn’t remember he’d “lost” them: he simply can’t remember anything.

It felt good to laugh uncontrollably after two-months with nothing to laugh at. Side-splitting hilarity was the perfect end to a fun-filled, celebratory weekend.

Header: Family and friends,Samantha, Kenna, Lucas, Leslie, Miah, Caitlyn, Martin, me, Peter, Mason, and Tim.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

‘A good time to laugh is any time there is.’

“Any news from upstate?” Peter asks. It’s dinnertime and that’s the question he repeats over and over during our meals.

“No,” I say.

We listen to the evening news while we eat, me grumbling at the goings-on in Washington, Peter listening carefully to the weather report.

“Any news from upstate?” he asks again.

I start to shake my head, but instead, decide to try a different response. “No,” I tell him, “but Leslie and Martin spent the weekend at the river.”

“Really? In this…?” he asks. He nods his head towards the fog outside, the rain-streaked window. “What did they do?”

I laugh. “We were there, too,” I say. I’d hoped he might remember the two days, the cozy fires, the good food, log-wrangling with Martin, Leslie and me laughing hysterically over nothing at all.

He shakes his head disgustedly, but recovers with his usual line, “Oh, well, that was a long time ago. I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast.”

I nod, laugh, frown.

Laughter in the face of reality is one of the finest sounds there is. In fact, a good time to laugh is any time there is.”  Linda Ellerbee

Header photo: Foggy weekend at the river.

Do I know where I am?

Peter was unusually silent. “Something wrong?” I asked. I was driving along a narrow road so could only glance at him.

The silence lengthened. “Do I know where I am?” he said at last.

Whoa, what?  “Do you mean this instant, here, on this road?”

“Yes.”

“Well, we just left Carolynn and Bill…we’re heading home…we’ll soon be in Waterville…” I paused to see if my words rang his bell. “Remember last week, on the way here, we had to stop for a parade in Waterville?”

Nothing.

I thought back to that Saturday. The long drive north had been uneventful until we got to Waterville (pop. 1,548), where we were blocked by a parade longer than the main thoroughfare. Stuck, twenty minutes away from Carolynn’s front door. I fumed, but Peter said, “It’s a pretty day. We’ve got time.”

“But I want to be there, not sitting here.” 

Forty minutes later we were zooming along the downhill drive to — whoops — Road Closed and Detour signs. “OK, I know how to get there from here, I used to bike along this road.” Several miles later I turned left onto another favorite bicycling road. “Do you remember? We used to ride along here a lot.”

Peter sighed. “You seem to know your way around.”

“We lived here seventeen years!”

“You did. I didn’t.”

A right at the next stop sign, then a quick left and we were on their street. “You sure know your way around,” Peter said again.

“We lived here seventeen years!

“I didn’t,” he insisted.

When I turned into their drive, he sat up straight and smiled. “I didn’t know we were coming here!” His eyes sparkled and when Carolynn and their two Westies ran toward us he chuckled. He knew where he was.

I laughed. “I’ve told you for weeks we were coming to see them…”

“I. Didn’t. Know.”

14434919_10209208268636888_3725915689511961625_o

Bill and Peter in front of a rock-hugging tree.

14425407_10209208252836493_4343794603384394606_o

Big Guy and/or It.

Throughout our visit, his usual confusion at being away from home eased a bit. After a couple of nights he was able to get from our bedroom to the bathroom and back without going into their room or Carolynn’s office. He didn’t even try to remember Duffy’s or Lily’s names, calling them instead “Big Guy” and/or “It.” He didn’t understand how to use the Wii remote to play golf or bowl with Bill, but he had fun trying. He could still keep track of the dominos played and plan moves accordingly. Bill took him fishing, golfing, and shopping; Carolynn and I took him to the farm stand; I took him to the Polish butcher and past our old house. He remembered the butcher, but had no memory of living in that house. It does look quite different — terrible — minus the two enormous maple trees in front.

screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-4-52-26-pm

Bill, Lily and Duffy follow Peter around Moss Lake as if he knows the way.

But now, headed south again, Peter had asked if he knew where he was. I reminded him of all the things we’d done, his outings with Bill, our hike in the Adirondacks with the dogs. He shook his head. “Sorry, I just don’t remember.”

But I do. I remember a visit special for the girl-time with Carolynn and her friend Robin, a visit with friend Lisa, time off from caregiving thanks to Bill taking charge, and the laughs. Always the laughs.

I won’t forget.

Header photo: Walk in the Adirondack Park.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

These bubbles don’t make trouble!


“Why are they all different colors?” Peter asks. Bubble-blowing is a new experience for him.

“‘Cause they’re soapy, I guess,” I say. Heck, I don’t know why bubbles look like floating rainbows in the round.

“But the stuff in the bottle is purple!”

Oh, I get it. He thinks the bubbles should be purple. “Food coloring maybe?”

“Why?”

“To make it look like grape pop.” The tiny bottles were made to look like look like pop — soda — bottles.

“Pop?”

“You know, a soft drink…Coke…Coca Cola….”

“Not me! I drink beer!” He smiled to see if I got his little joke.

GLYCERINE!” I say, inspired. “The bubble juice has glycerine in it, I’ll bet that’s why they’re so colorful.”

“How do you know that?” he asks.

“I don’t. I’m guessing. My mom used to make a bubble concoction with a cake of Ivory soap…and something else….” Back then, little kids had bubble pipes,, not plastic wands like now. I played with mine for hours because I thought I looked like my daddy. He smoked a pipe. The only bad thing with bubble pipes was, if you forgot and inhaled, you got a mouthful of soapy water.

I’ve since discovered that glycerine doesn’t cause the bubbles’ iridescence, the soap does. Glycerine makes the bubbles supple and extends their life. Either Karo or Golden Syrup can be used in place of glycerine. Who knew?

Peter carries on blowing bubbles, fascinated with a childhood pastime he never experienced. In war torn England, little kids didn’t have such luxuries, I suppose. Mums didn’t have extra Fairy Liquid and Golden Syrup with which to stir up entertainment for their children.

Header photo: Peter is a bubble-blowing expert.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

‘When life gets you down … just keep swimming!’

Dory, the brilliant blue, wide-eyed tang fish who stars in “Finding Dory,” has a problem with memory loss much like my husband does. I’d forgotten that Dory was a supporting player in “Finding Nemo” (2003), so I didn’t realize forgetfulness was key to the storyline for the new movie when Leslie took us to see it.

Peter didn’t remember Nemo at all, even though we saw the movie in a theater and have watched the video several times. Nor did he remember “Finding Dory” on the Thursday after he’d seen it on Sunday. But he liked it all over again.

Dory, who hasn’t seen her parents in years, remembers the importance of family, but little else. We just enjoyed a week with family that was filled with raucous laughter and good food. Peter hasn’t forgotten the good times we’ve all had in the past, though specific memories have faded. He can’t even remember much about the past eight days.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 5.17.39 PMAnytime either of is down in the dumps, I look for reasons to laugh. According to Dory, swimming would help too…if Peter knew how to swim. He can’t even float, except two feet below the surface. That’s always makes me laugh, though he doesn’t think it’s funny at all

Credit: Disney•Pixar “Finding Dory” (2016)

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect do-nothing day.

“Do you want tea or coffee for ‘second breakfast’?” I asked my husband. “I’m fixing waffles.”

“What? Tea or coffee? What are you having? What are we having?”

“I’m having tea, we’re having waffles…and fruit, lots of fruit,” I told him.

“OK, tea then. What’s the occasion?” Peter asked.

“It’s Father’s Day.”

“You’re making me waffles?”

“Mmm-m,” I said, “it’s Father’s Day.”

“What can I do to help?”

“Nothing. It’s Father’s Day, do nothing until I tell you it’s ready.”

“I’m good at doing nothing,” he said.

“Yes, you are,” I said.

This day is perfect — a Crayola box of colors, balmy air, bright sun. I set the table outside, made a pot of tea, washed raspberries, blueberries and a peach, got out real butter and real maple syrup, and popped a whole package of frozen waffles into the toaster.

Peter ate as if he hadn’t had a meal in days. “I would like to have two birthdays every year…” he said, smacking his lips.

“This isn’t your birthday, it’s Father’s Day.”

“Not February? What is it then?

“June. It’s never warm like this in February,” I said.

“Well, I’d like two birthdays like this. This is good.”

“It’s still Father’s Day.”

“Are we doing anything special later?” He made a silly, little boy face.

“Yes, Leslie is taking you…and me…to a movie and dinner.”

“Wow, I’d like another birthday like this.”

IMG_3297

UnknownA card arrived from Carolynn yesterday. On the front, the unmistakeable silhouette of Mickey Mouse, Peter’s hero, and a “Hooray for Dad” message. He looked at it again and again, then put it next to his chair. When I looked at it this morning, I realized why he’s confused about today. The message says:

As far as dads go,
there’s not a more classic
character than you.
Hope your birthday’s
as special as you are.

Beneath that she wrote, I know you can’t remember all the cool things you did with Leslie and me…but we do! Happy Father’s Day!

Birthday? Father’s Day? Doesn’t matter. He’s loved by “his girls” and he’s happy.

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Mickey Mouse webgrab/Pinterest

Header photo: Crayola box colors in the garden.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Why is there a bun in my oven?

There was a hamburger bun in the microwave oven when I opened it to warm my coffee. It was the second time this week.

I didn’t put it there, but I’m pretty sure I know who did. I can’t imagine what he had in mind.

imagesMy skinny little husband does eat as if he were eating for two, but a dried out bun in the oven was way beyond his new normal. I laughed.

No matter what, a good cup of coffee and a side of giggles really hit the spot at 10:30 on this miserable rainy May morning.