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Is it Thanksgiving that kicks off the Holiday Season, or is it Halloween?  While the “they” forces are debating the question I’ll take a quick sentimental journey back to my own childhood remembering Christmas decorations lurking on the high shelves of our local “5 and 10 Cents” stores waiting for the Halloween masks and costumes to disappear.  No different from merchants of today, they couldn’t wait to push an early start for Santa’s helpers to swing into action.  My sister Janet and I used to ask one another, “What happened to Thanksgiving?”  Even at 9 and 12 we were aware that every holiday had its own tradition, and it wasn’t Christmas, but Turkey Day that arrived in November.   In school we had learned of the pilgrims sharing their harvest with the local Indians and giving thanks to the Almighty.  Nice beginning.   America’s first Thanksgiving has long since been tradition, and we continue to celebrate as the first gusts of cold air remind us that winter (and Christmas) is, indeed, on its way, but first let’s have our day of gratitude.

When we were children both Ken and I spent Thanksgiving day with family — not friends — family; unless the friends joined us for dinner.  As youngsters we were yet to meet, but family traditions were pretty much the same.  Dinner was either at home, or everyone gathered at someone else’s house; that house belonging to anyone on the long list of the aunts and uncles.

After we were married we continued to share with one another the Thanksgiving traditions of our parents, aunts and uncles. It was a little more difficult because we now had his family and my family from which to choose.  It was also noticed that our cousins were  growing up, getting married and having children, as were we.   With so many invitations and so many relatives, the older generation soon realized that traditions needed to change — not disappear — just become less rigid,  less cumbersome, evolving — even morphing — into a family solidarity of  love  and genuine affection for one another — which they did —  all the while respecting the new chosen Thanksgiving traditions of the younger generation.

We settled on Grandmother’s house – either one.  When Ken’s parents, Rose and Nick, began to have health problems we brought our brood, their brood and Rose and Nick, health permitting, to the home of my parents; a country setting located in Northern California’s Sonoma County.  For years my personal tradition was to arrive on Monday to help my mother prepare; making pies, cooking ahead and cleaning – getting ready for family on Turkey Day.

It was during dinner that last year when I noticed my mother seemed to be talking endlessly about not much of anything.  Her dinner plate was untouched as she droned on and on until my father said, “Irene will you stop talking and eat your dinner.”   She paused, took a few bites and began her filibuster once again.  I had noticed her being inattentive the previous three days, losing concentration and not listening.   Later, much later, we realized she was slipping away into Alzheimer’s.

Nick and Rose had already journeyed into the disease.  It was more than 35 years ago when doctors weren’t even certain what was wrong;  “Just old age,” was the usual diagnosis, “or senility – maybe dementia.”  The medical community groped and we did too.  Uncertain about what to do, we did the best we knew finally placing them in full care facilities when we could no longer cope.

My parents moved back to the Bay Area to be near us so we could supervise and be a part of their care, and life continued.  So did tradition, but once again a new one:  Thanksgiving dinner was at our house just as I had promised Mama.

Years before when I could see my mother was growing tired, not so much because of the work involved with family gatherings, but more of the house being filled with company; the laughter and chatter of adults, the clamor and joyful sounds of children, the cry of a new baby seemed to tire her.  Interesting, no matter how much we might love family and parties there comes a time when a little peace and quiet is better.  My parents were ready for love and devotion to be served in small portions.  I suppose we can compare the often overwhelming joy of family to a lifetime of being stuffed with Thanksgiving dinners – some better than others – but appreciated none the less.  When age finally dictates after such a life-long feast, and we are filled to the brim, all that is wanted is a very thin slice of pumpkin pie.  I understood what she meant; enough was enough.

Nevertheless, she worried about letting go of the reins of her tradition, “If I don’t have the family come to our home, then where would they go?”  Smiling a sad smile I reassured her, “Then they will come to my house, and when I’m not able someone else will have the family Thanksgiving at their home.  There will always be someone to hold it together because family tradition is so precious.  Just let me know when you and dad are ready to let it go.  I’ll be there.”

We took photos after dinner that year: family photos, group photos, candid photos, couples photos and Mom and Dad photos.  With everyone being in a jovial mood, Dad made the announcement, “This is the last Thanksgiving here at the farm.  Mama just isn’t up to it any longer.”  The invisible baton of tradition was handed to me and for all of these years I have held it close.  It has changed, been reshaped, gotten smaller – and larger – depending on the number of guests.  The door of Ken’s and my home swings wide, and there was/is always  room for one more.

Since Ken’s AD Thanksgiving is always the holiday which hangs precariously in limbo until November.  By then I know whether we can do it one more time — or not.  In October we had a small family gathering.  Ken was very good.  Somewhere in his damaged mind there remains a spark of social.  He did so well that evening I decided yes; we would have Thankgiving dinner at our house once again.  Our daughter Julie and her daughter-in-law Marisol did the cooking last year, and what a wonderful gift it was.  This year I will have Ben to help when he isn’t watching Ken, and those coming will all bring a dish of something fabulous for the table, as usual.  What a bounty of blessings abides in my home.  I am forever filled with gratitude.

Last Thanksgiving I wrote about “Fiddler On The Roof,” Tevya and his ever-changing tradition and reluctantly accepting what he could not change when his daughters began their own traditions.  I see my battered baton fragmenting as did Tevya’s; bits and pieces scattering in many directions as members of our family move to various locations throughout our great land, but that’s okay even though we will miss them.   I think of tradition as a lighted candle –  like love.  It’s by sharing, giving it away,  allowing it to spread that  it becomes bigger, better and brighter.

Following the “tradition” of Tevya and his humble friends I decided last year to place a metaphoric fiddler on my roof as a reminder that in spite of the adversities we all have, life is good.  As far as I know my fiddler remains.  Listen, once again I do believe I hear the lilting strains of music.

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Granddaughter Liz, following her yachting experience as a crew member, is taking time to really see the world by living abroad for a while.  An exciting time for her.  Presently, she resides in Montenegro in a small apartment all her own.  She keeps in touch with family and friends through the internet, especially Facebook.  Liz is also a budding writer.

Recently she posted a question asking, “What’s it like to be in love.”  Talk about opening Pandora’s Box – but instead of problems pouring forth to trouble mankind butterflies of vibrantly colored messages soon filled an almost endless column of wonderful responses – and wise – all about love.   Amazing how pushing a certain “button” in people can open the floodgates of thought.  Facebookers not only wrote about what it’s like to be in love, they mentioned the many facets of love, the different kinds of love, degrees of love, receiving and giving love, the highs and lows of love, the ecstasy and agony – with one referring to love as positive rage – and they even touched on the ultimate:  God’s love.

Possibly believing that their friend had met some wonderfully handsome, dark-eyed and brooding foreigner her friends might have been giving her their very best advice, as were her mother and I. Yet, we stood our distance – no personal questions.  Near the end of everyone’s comments Liz interjected, “This, by the way, is for a book I’m working on.  Thanks everyone for your posts.”

Grateful that my granddaughter, on the other side of the world, is still thinking clearly I went about the day’s business.

The long list of “Honey do” chores which I now do or assign to a handyman still plagues my daily life.  Home and rental maintenance is a constant.   Today, I decided to sand some drawers which had been waiting for the final touches for years. With the weather mild I chose to work in the backyard.  The drawers were one of those things my procrastinating husband had put off without realizing how precious little time he had left to be my “Honey Doer.”  Alzheimer’s does that.  It would seem that even I didn’t fully grasp how the disease quickly robs the victims of just about everything they knew and understood: relationships, years of acquired knowledge, skills, talents and even love.  That’s the hard one for me to accept:  love.

Does he love me?  And at times I wonder if I love him even though I am duty bound?  I know I am devoted to the man.  On the other hand there are times when I am afraid of him.  His strength is still amazing and when he is angry I try to stay out of what could be harm’s way as he can become combative.  Nevertheless, I truly care about him and I’m constantly concerned about his health and well being. Fearful that he might fall and seriously hurt himself, Ben, David or I watch his every move. Each night before I go to bed I check him, as I did our children, making sure he is safely in bed, covered, seeing that all is well before I retire.  The thought of placing Ken in a full-care facility rips my heart out, and if he passes on before I leave Planet Earth I know my loneliness will be beyond measure. Does all of this add up to love?

Working on my project my back was to the house.  Ken was inside with Ben content to sit and rest as he does most of the time.  However, this afternoon he must have noticed me doing something out of doors.  Did he know it was me or did he presume I was an intruder on his property?  I was unaware of even the door opening.  Suddenly I heard, “Boo.”  My first though was that we had unexpected company yet I recognized the voice as that of my husband.   “Boo?”   Turning, I saw that it was Ken and he was smiling.  His eyes were bright as he continued to recognize me.   Apparently, he had known that I was the one working outside, and came out to surprise me with a gentle “Boo” to get my attention.

It was as if years had been swept away.  I said, “Hi Honey,” the same way I would have greeted him long ago when he came home from work and found me immersed in a project.  He leaned over and I gave him a welcoming kiss as I had always done in the past.  I almost expected my husband to ask, “What’s for dinner?”  He didn’t, but he did continue to talk about his day — as if he really had one.  However, he made no sense, but it was the way he continued to talk – as if the scene was taken from yesteryear.  During those moments my heart jumped, and I was filled with love for the man I had married: my husband who was standing with me as the sun began to dip.  What I felt wasn’t the love/devotion of a care-giving spouse, but the love of a long-married wife — love — like a comfortable pair of old, favorite shoes — soft and warm.  The moments didn’t last long before Ken complained of being cold, and we all went back into the house where he sat down — soon drifting back into the fog.

Fragments of time such as this still make me wonder about the disease, and I’m sure I sound like a broken record as the thought surfaces over and over again in my mind.  Is memory destroyed because of the plaque, or is it so buried under all of that gook it can’t come forth except at certain times when the fog seems to momentarily lift?  If it is destroyed then why does he, at times, get these sudden bursts of remembering?  I have no answers, but whatever it is that allows me a glimpse of who Ken was, who we were as a couple is a gift, and I am reminded that, yes indeed, I do love this man.

Samuel Butler, a writer of long ago once wrote, “To live is to remember and to remember is to live.”  Today I am alive and I remembered love — so did Ken — if only for  a moment.

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