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Archive for the ‘Help for Alzheimer's Caregivers’ Category

 In some of my previous posts I’ve mentioned having to search for things — mail, keys, TV remotes and any number of objects Ken acquires and hides.  Taking and hiding is typical behavior of victims of Alzheimer’s; part of the paranoia I suppose,  and my searching continues.  I’ve noticed as his disease worsens he becomes less aware of others around him.  He doesn’t notice me standing to one side as he hides a stack of magazines under a toss pillow on the sofa   Nor is he as clever in choosing his hiding places as he once was.  Ken now has more of an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude as he tucks things away.  My detective work is much easier than it was when letters and bills were hidden in books and then placed back on a shelf.

I suppose we could say living with an Alzheimer’s patient brings out the sleuth in many caregivers, and more often than not it is a necessity.  Of course, having been a parent has been uppermost in learning subtle detective work of a different kind when rearing a family, especially when dealing with evasive teens.

However, my parental investigations, or searching for hidden objects in my own home have been overshadowed, and are nothing compared to the gumshoe work done by  granddaughter Kristina and her boyfriend Chris these past few days.

Lately, the fates have not been kind to her.  Her mother, living far away in Utah, can only console her by reminding the young woman that bad things come in threes, and if that’s true, her quota has been filled.  First of all she had a fender bender which put her car out of commission.  Second, she lost her job, and three nights ago someone broke into Chris’s pickup and stole Kris’s purse — and his brother’s backpack.  Every important paper or card she owned was in the purse, including her keys.

Alerted, I thought of having the locks changed as our address is on many of Kris’s papers, but a quick phone call from her the following day informed me that someone had found her purse with her keys still inside.

The theft had taken place a few blocks from Jack London Square in Oakland where the police took the report.  Sorrowfully, the officers concluded the crime was considered a petty theft and they had no manpower to do any follow up.  A homeless man found the purse in San Francisco and called Kris on her cell.  The three (Kris, Chris and the homeless man) agreed to meet near a donut shop off Market Street.  Rewarding him generously, Kris shuffled through the remaining contents finding several important documents missing, including her driver’s license and ATM card. 

Reporting the ATM card as stolen, the bank read them a list where there had been attempted use and refusals.  Determined to find the culprit, the two were allowed to view  tapes from the businesses where use attempts had been made, which included places in Oakland, San Francisco and Vallejo. Their conclusion:  the thief lives in Vallejo. 

“Everyone was so helpful,” said Kris, “but the tapes we have viewed so far were not clear enough for identification, nor could we make out the license number from his stop at a gas station.”  And the search continues.

Their goal is to catch him on tape swiping the card, and hopefully a good tape will show the license plate of the car.  The police have said if Kris and Chris can find that kind of conclusive evidence the accused party will be arrested.

I admire the young sleuths their tenacity and great detective work, and the fact they are still “hot on the trail.”  If there is a positive epilogue I will surely report it here.

Searching every shelf in my home, hunting through all of the drawers, and shaking books to find what Ken has secreted away doesn’t begin to compare to their diligent hard work, but despite her loss this has been an “entertaining” saga for me to share.  It tells me, once again, that life goes on even in the homes of Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.  And while having a young life temporarily turned topsy-turvy with some of fate’s mishaps their adventure, while frustrating for them, makes me feel “normal,” as if I’m still involved in and part of the world out there.

My New Year’s wish for Kris is that she gets her car fixed, finds a great job, and all of her important papers, somehow, show up.  In addition, I wish for them a champion’s feather in their caps for effort – and in the end justice.  I hope they catch the bad guy.

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 Several years ago, when the husband of my friend, Madalyn, was well into severe Alzheimer’s and Ken’s disease just beginning, the two of us went to several support group meetings.   The speaker one evening was a health-care professional; the title of her presentation was dementia.  How often both Madalyn and I had heard the word interspersed with Alzheimer’s, making us wonder if our husbands had Alzheimer’s or were they demented, having dementia.  Were the guidelines established enough that we could tell one disease from another?

“Dementia,” the speaker explained, “is the umbrella, and under that umbrella the medical community is placing what they believe to be related diseases, even though some people are diagnosed as having dementia.”  She went on to explain dementia as a group of symptoms caused by changes in brain function, or a decline in cognition.  Though defined, it still left us a bit baffled.  However, with so little known about the actual workings of a diseased brain and other neurological disorders, dementia as an umbrella seemed to make sense, especially when the speaker placed Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and MS (multiple sclerosis) under the umbrella.  No doubt she included other diseases lesser known to Madalyn and me totalling more than 75 in all, but the link placing them under one umbrella made good sense.  Whether the dementia symptoms may later change and develop into any of the encompassed diseases wasn’t a part of her topic, nor am I a medical person who could make such a determination, but it would seem reasonable to presume that the answer could be “yes.”

Over these past six years, as I have journeyed with Ken into the fog of Alzheimer’s it seems as if the cases under the umbrella are becoming almost epidemic.  I often hear people say, “It’s because everyone is living longer.”  That observation conjures up another burning question.  Is it inevitable that living longer will bring the majority of four score and younger people into the hopelessness of brain disease?

When Ken and I first married we were best friends with three other couples.  We were not a group, but they were best friends, nonetheless, with us, and we have kept in touch with all of them through the years.  Today, two of the women and two of the men are under the umbrella diagnosed with short-term memory loss, two with Alzheimer’s and one with dementia.  All of the disorders began somewhere in their mid to late 70s.  Yet, with our large circle of friends and acquaintances I have also observed early-onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and one death from ALS.

The mother of Barbara, my friend with short-term memory loss, was sent off to a state mental hospital in her mid 50s with what they diagnosed as brain deterioration.  Was it actually early-onset Alzheimer’s?  Earl, who has dementia, is the son of man who suffered most of his life with severe Parkinson’s.  Our  daughter, Debbie, had a favorite beau during their teen years who tumbled dramatically into full-blown Parkinson’s in his early 30s, as did celebrity Michael J. Fox.

With the power of his celebrity Fox brought world-attention, and hopefully more research, to his disease.  Of course, the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, brought the same extraordinary attention to Alzheimer’s during his 10-year battle with the disease, as did movie great Charlton Heston.  People no longer talk about a second childhood, senility, brain deterioration or sun-downer’s disease.  These umbrella diseases — with people of all ages becoming victims — are no longer swept under the carpet to be ignored as just some old folks’ ailment.

If there is a question here it would be:  Will there be a breakthrough in finding a cure, or at least management for these dreadful diseases?  If so, when? And, if a reliable treatment for AIDS was found in a relatively short period of time, what’s holding up research for The Dementia Umbrella?   According to a recent paper from Johns Hopkins the future looks alarming for 1 out of 2 people who will get Alzheimer’s if they live long enough.  That’s 50 percent.  Research and solutions are musts for the coming generations.

Presently, there are no real answers, but there are some quiet observations.  In watching my friends and reading about Fox, Reagan, Heston and others, their spouses are incredible as they walk with, sit by, and worry about those they love.  Collectively, they have all remained devoted which is not only inspirational, but encouraging to all of us caregivers traveling that same unfamiliar path.  The battle which goes on under The Dementia Umbrella can bring out the worst in people or it can bring out the best.  I don’t know everyone struggling under this covering, but those I see, read about and know are phenomenal human beings. Kudos to these caregivers everywhere.

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THE HIGHEST OF HONORS

Most of the people with whom Ken and I have shared our adult lives made the choice, following marriage, to have children — lots of them.   The trend, which was very popular after World War II and the Korean Conflict was to have large families.  As part of that trend, we are the parents of five offspring:  two girls and three boys — stragglers of the “Baby Boomer Generation.”   Our years of rearing children were the best years of our lives, nothing out of the ordinary: normal, I would say.  We did PTA, Dads’ Club, Little League, Scouts — boy and girl — church with all of its youth programs and activities, enjoyed their friends: good and tolerated the bad; we endured sick days, happy days, school days, vacation days, holidays and rebel days.  We angst through the 60s and worried about drugs, hippies and all the ramifications that went with young people coming of age during such a tramatic period of history and being faced with choices where their lives could have been damaged, ruined or even claimed by death, but they survived and so did we.

The growing years went by in a blur as if we had pushed the fast-forward button of a VCR.  Some of our brood went to college, others did not, but in any event, they all did the same — and the normal thing — as young adults they picked up their lives and went their chosen way.  Normal — and happy:  that’s what we wanted, yet as each one left the nest they left an empty spot in our hearts.  For most of the years which followed, they have lived close by with their growing families, and we consider that a blessing.  While we are no longer the strong beacon of influence we hope to have been, we treasure  the grown-up relationship we have with all of them.

Parenting, however, is still such a constant, and while Ken and I had rediscovered “us” and had moved on into our retirement years, we wanted that safety net to remain for these grown children: the knowledge that we were and are still “there” for them — in every way.   It isn’t because they really “needed” us, it’s their knowing that counts.  I’ve often compared us, “mom and dad,” (other moms and dads as well) to the stove and refrigerator — even the washer and dryer — the house, the car — home; “there,” we’re just “there.”   We are part of that security, that solidarity which they have known “always,” and will, hopefully, remember in a good and loving and “normal” way.

So what do we, as parents, expect in return?   Actually nothing, but cards and perhaps a few flowers, or some other small token of love on birthdays, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day; love and respect and occasional phone calls — and visits.  But accolades?  I don’t think so, believing myself and Ken to be ordinary people. Yet, to my surprise my daughter, Debbie, nominated me for “Caregiver of The Year” through a website out of Chicago: http://www.caregiving.com with Diane Brown as the host of the site, and her own internet/radio program.  I am one of the five recipients to receive the award and I am honored and humbled.  When I read Debbie’s letter of nomination, and her description of what she has observed over the years, I cried.   Such a high compliment to receive:  for her to see me not only as her mother, but as a wife, a person — an individual in my own right — someone who has had a life and has, posssibly, made some kind of contribution to mankind and the world in which we all live, and for her to want me honored is an honor in itself.  The following is her letter of nomination:

“I am writing about my father’s caregiver, my mother.  Given all the other service-oriented activities she has been part of:  PTA, Scouts, Little League, and church, this would not be out of the ordinary, but my father is the fourth family member with Alzheimer’s that she has given or directly supervised their in-home care.

“Her first experience with the disease came with my father’s parents.  I cannot remember when they were stricken, or what their ages were.  I remember their 50th wedding anniversary; my grandmother was 68, and my grandfather 12 years older.  They both seemed fine at the event, but shortly after the celebration, my mother began to make more and more visits to their home.  They lived about 40 miles away and my mother made several trips a month to take them to the doctor, for haircuts, or to make sure they had food in their cupboard and refrigerator.  My father’s sister lived a few blocks away from them, but because she was a single mother and worked full-time, she had little time left to spare. 

“My mother was truly the sandwich generation, as I had three younger brother’s still living at home.  I know that she was devoted to home and child care, but she was also realizing some success as a freelance writer.  However,  by unspoken agreement between my father, his sister and herself  it was a given, because she didn’t “work,” the responsibility of caring for my father’s aging parents would belong to her.  Even though the current social climate touted women’s rights, liberation and the importance of career, my mother’s dreams of being a writer were squeezed between appointments, errands and all the other aspects of her busy life and giving nature.  She had no time to think about whether she was liberated. 

“With the death of my paternal grandparents, the needs of her own parents soon crept in and once again began to take over her life.  When her own mother developed the same symptoms that her in-laws had shown, she moved them from their country home, which was two hours away, to another home just a mile from her own.  Her older sisters lived two states away, and the burden of care for their mother fell on mom’s shoulders.  Once again her time was spent in the busyness, stress and exhaustion of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient.  As her mother’s condition worsened, they tried a care facility.  Its effects were devastating not only to her mother, but also to her father who could not handle the toll the confusion and foreign surroundings brought on his wife which only added to his own despair.  Luckily my mother found a dear friend who took over much of the burden of caring for the older couple the last few years of their lives.  Despite the help, mom was very much involved in their care.  She was continually at their home doing what she could and again, the sole driver for appointments and outings, which continued until the elderly couple passed.

“Following a few years respite, the ugly signs of Alzheimer’s appeared in our family once again, this time afflicting my father.  After her experience with her mother and in-laws, one might think she would be an expert, but not so.  Everyone is different and seeing your parents change into people you no longer knew, cannot be the same as having your beloved spouse of almost 60 years, not only not recognize you, but demand that you leave your own home.

“My mother has risen to this challenge with fortitude, determination and a sense of humor.  She has become somewhat of an expert on the holistic treatment of this disease, and in a sense, she has won.  Whether it is the day-to-day battle or the full war, only time will tell.  After six years my father continues to live at home.  Each day he takes a handful of pills and vitamins that may have allowed him to retain enough of his personality to care for his physical needs, and for the most part functions as a young boy in their home, with small moments of time as my father.  The war will be over when he is taken to his Heavenly home.  Hopefully that will happen sometime in his sleep and then my mother will be victorious, as she has finished this last act of marital service and love.  I cannot imagine the emotional pain this has wrought on her, and the torture she has felt as she has lost her soul mate, bit by bit.  Her perseverance and optimism are amazing.  Her example reminds me that we are never given more than we can handle.  And through this all, she has developed her talents and her career.  The disease and her life have given her a story which she shares in a blog.  Eventually there will be a book — an example of courage and service for other caregivers and her legacy of service and love to her family.”

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My friend Dorothy cared for her father following the death of her mother at 94.  Dad was 96.  The couple married in their early 40s, had three girls, and managed to stay alive long enough to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, plus a few more before she left.   Had the old man been given a choice he would have continued living in the family home by himself because he felt capable.  He never owned a car, nor did he drive.  Instead he rode his bicycle to places he needed or wanted to go, often declining an offer of a ride.  His dear wife either walked or accepted that offer of a ride to get her to those places she needed,or wanted to go.

A self-taught man and an avid reader Dorothy’s dad would sit for hours, the newspaper held up to his nose as he laboriously studied each blurring word  through what we all called his thick “coke-bottle” glasses.  He was determined not to slip behind on what was happening in the world.   In addition to his fading eyesight, Dad’s hearing faltered even with the best of hearing aids.   Therefore, conversations were cranked up a few decibels allowing him to share some of his insight.   A delightful old man, with a clear mind, sagging shoulders, a hesitating gait and a good black suit for church come Sunday morning,  he could still preach along with the best.   Surrounded by a loving family, grandchildren and great-grandchildren he often lamented he was alone and lonely. 

“But, Daddy,” Dorothy would say, her head cocked to one side trying to convince him that life was good and worth living, “you still have us.”   “I know, Sweetheart,” he would reply patting her outstretched hand.  ” but with Mama gone, and all of my friends gone, I don’t know why the Lord keeps me here.  I need to be with them.  I miss my friends.”  Dorothy’s dad lived to celebrate a full 100 years.  Ken and I went to the party.  A few months later he joined his wife and friends.

Back then, during our middle years, our lives sprinkled with grandchildren, family and friends intermingling; none of us, neither Dorothy or husband, John, nor Ken and not I fully understood why the old man couldn’t grasp his still  rich life.   If all friends, contemporary friends, were departed, certainly with sadness, life  had to be all right because there was still family.  Right?  Wrong!  Mankind thrives best when they have both. 

Friends and siblings are those with whom we grew up.  They laughed at our skinned knobby knees and we cried together at the movies, and, again, when we got dumped by that really cute guy.  Their concern was pure and meaningful.  Friends were with us at our wedding, wishing us well and cheering that the groom wasn’t that jerk who wouldn’t take no for an answer, and we returned the favors when they stood at the altar with their chosen mate.   As friends we all posed for pictures with our babies and our families grew up together.  Friends shared all of the world and national events of our parallel lives, making our period in time important beyond measure for us.  We wore the same fashions, the same funky hair styles, sang the same songs and danced to the same music.  The “good old days” are still conversational when we get together, our sentences beginning with, “Remember…….”  Friends remember the way we remember.   Now, looking back we see our children have developed their own important friendships, and how their friends are loved by us almost as much as we love our children.  Like us, held together within our own generation, their commonality will keep them close in their own social capsule of time.

With family, and as we are now the seniors, family is mostly our children who are only a phone call away and here at a moment’s notice,  it’s also them we call first with good news or bad.  But  it’s still our generation of friends who know and  understand us, whether they be newly acquired friends or friends since our childhood.   Some of our friends have already passed on, and we miss them terribly.  Now I understand the longing of Dorothy’s dad.   It’s a special missing, a special kind of loneliness.  Yet, there are many friends who remain and for them I am grateful.  They seem to have an  uncanny sense in knowing when to call or drop by often bringing us small tokens of their love when their presence is more than enough.  We still share one another’s joys and sorrows, remembering the good times of our younger lives — and the bad — and they help carry our heavy burdens of illness, no matter what the disease.   Friends and family — family and friends — I am so grateful they are  all a part of my life.  What would we ever do without them?

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I grew up hearing the phrase, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.”  I saw that emotion — hope — shining in the eyes of a desperate mother more than 30 years ago in an Idaho hospital, and I shall remember it always.  Our oldest son, Kevin, during his first week at college had been in a  horrible automobile accident and lay in a deep coma for three days while we waited for the unknown, seeing him minutes at a time in ICU, and then more waiting until we were permitted to see him again.  We met so many good, kind and concerned people during our stay near his bedside.  Some had family members in various stages of recovery so we all shared in the profound commonality of grief and worry.   However, uppermost in all of our thoughts, struggling to banish any negativity, was hope.

We watched our son lying there, seemingly so calm and relaxed, outwardly unscathed by his ordeal, all injuries being internal, including a severe concussion, leaving us to wonder if his brain had been permanently damaged.   He looked so normal sleeping peacefully, except for the occasional outbursts of profanity.  “It’s all right,” said the doctor.  “Base man is injured and angry, and he hurts.  That’s how he responds.  It’s normal.”

There was another couple whose son had been in ICU for some time, until his doctor had him moved to another ward.  Still hooked to his IVs, he needed additional nourishment so they inserted a feeding tube.  Ken and I visited with the parents as they watched over their 15-year-old who had been returning from a football game with a friend at night, his friend at the wheel.  It was dark and the RR crossing was unmarked.  Undoubtedly, they never knew what hit them, and now he lay there, still unconscious, but alive.

Unlike Kevin, the boy was rigid, his hands curled up into tight fists, his body responding not to any stimuli.  We spoke very little.  What could we say,  just giving them a hug for comfort.  My inward thoughts told me this boy would not recover, yet when I looked into his mother’s eyes, I saw the familiar agony and worry we all shared as we hovered over our injured children, but beyond that I could see there was also the most tenacious of all emotions: hope.  The boy was alive and where there’s  life, there’s  hope.

“Mr. and Mrs. Romick?”  asked a smiling nurse.  “Your son is awake.”  We wondered if he would recognize us — he did — but it would take a long time before he recovered.  We were able to fly him home two weeks later to begin his journey back.  I have always wondered about the boy from the train wreck.  We didn’t see the parents again following our visit with them.  Was he able to overcome those tremendous odds?  Were the prayers, faith and hope of his parents enough to bring him back?  I hope so.

And it’s hope that sometimes levels our roller coaster ride with Alzheimer’s — at least from time to time.  When Ken has longer periods of being Ken, and he calls me “Sweetheart,” I find myself hoping.  Treating him holistically, I must have  faith that what I give him in the way of supplements will do him some good, even though I have absolutely no medical training, and it’s because of hope that I continue.  After all, the medical community doesn’t have much to offer.

Today, it was a bit of joy and laughter from both of us that gave me my needed spark of hope.   We were out shopping and just before we returned home, I said that I should stop at one more store.  “Where?” Ken asked.  “The Dollar Tree,” I answered.   Having a bit of  a hearing problem, he hesitated, looked at me a little puzzled, yet smiling and said, “The Adult Tree?”  Then he laughed repeating himself, “Adultery — do they have a store for that?”  Then we both laughed.  Poking him in the ribs I said, “You made a funny.”

We had a wonderful afternoon, but at sundown, the moods returned as did the agitation and other symptoms of AD, but I was nourished with my spark of hope.  Reality check:  I know after nearly six years that his brain is ravaged, yet if he yoyos with good times to mellow the bad, then perhaps it will postpone that awful day when I must consider placing  him in a full-care facility.  Meanwhile, I too can keep in my thoughts that where there’s life, there’s hope.

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The ghosts, goblins, fairy princesses and super powers have come and gone from our house, leaving no tricks, their bags bulging with treats, meaning another Halloween has passed.  I enjoy the sporadic parade of kids in masquerade (I don’t even mind the older set as long as the candy holds out, their voices already hitting the low notes of “Trick or Treat,” who come later in the evening).  In the past so did Ken.  This year he made no recognition of the holiday when I placed pumpkins on the porch, an immense spider clinging to an equally over-sized web hanging from the roof, and a friendly ghost stuck in my juniper bush which was sprinkled with candy-corn lights.  The house looked festive and inviting and I raced to the door with my caldron of candy at the first ring.

I could see the groups of small fry in costumes were confusing to Ken, who managed to get to the door in front of me offering out a jumbled scolding to a mom and dad with little ones.  I pushed in next to him explaining “Alzheimer’s,” adding, “You didn’t get your candy,” as they all scurried down the walk.  The parents, looking a bit unsettled, shouted over their shoulder, “That’s okay.”   I moved my chair next to the door so it wouldn’t happen again.  I strive to be as “normal” as possible, but as Alzheimer’s gets worse, the problems get bigger and more difficult to manage.

Soon, Granddaughter, Jessica, 10, arrived looking extraordinarily beautiful, glittering petals covering the skirt of her fairy princess costume, a jeweled snood for her hair and wings with which to fly, everything stitched and put together by Sabina, her talented mom.  Jessica, while enjoying the trick and treat part, almost likes being the hostess more, taking over my duties handing out the candy while her parents talked with me and Ken, who soon relaxed, his son’s presence and friendly banter calming him.

As I survey the growing problems as caregiver to a person suffering with Alzheimer’s (not to overlook what caregivers all over the world are experiencing) I think of the little ones out on Halloween night with plastic pumpkins and decorated bags carried to collect their evening’s loot.   As young as they are, they have problems and for them, their problems, when they arrive, loom just as large as our problems are to us, which reminds me of my seven-year-old friend, Robert.

While visiting grandparents in Northern California, he was allowed to pick out his own pumpkin.  Selecting it from the vine, helping load it into the wheel barrel, and then into the car, his Aunt Chrissy declared that she would buy the 95 pound pumpkin for his birthday.  At home, the gift sat proudly on the front porch until some thoughtless and mean-spirited thieves took it while Robert was in school and his mother, Malena, away from the house.  Robert was inconsolable.  He sobbed until Malena thought his heart would break, nor did he understand the ways of the world, or why anyone would take his special gift.  The theft of his Halloween-birthday pumpkin was, to Robert, the biggest problem he had ever encountered, and a problem he was unable to solve.  Our story, however, has a happy ending when a family friend, who is also a police detective talked with Robert, assuring him the “force” would see that his pumpkin was found and returned.  Meanwhile, our detective located an equally large pumpkin and, back in full police uniform, delivered it to Robert’s porch. 

Problems and adversity are a necessary part of our growth in life and they have no age preference, whether they be problems dealing with dirty, rotten scoundrels, age and illness, business problems, problems of the heart, families in crisis, or problems of young marrieds making their budget stretch to cover the mortgage.   Like pain, no one can measure the severity of another’s problems, nor can anyone decide if the problem is big or small — only he to whom the problem belongs is allowed to make that distinction.  One thing, however, is for sure:   no matter what the behemoth which might lumber into our lives, the enormity of it is always lessened by love from those who care: sometimes a stranger, family members, friends or a good and kind police detective.

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My father in law, Nick Romick, immigrated to America when he was 15 arriving at Ellis Island in 1906. Coming into the harbor the fresh-faced boy stood at ship’s rail with other newcomers as the Statue of Liberty came into view, his young body full of emotion: excitement, trepidation — he wasn’t sure. The awesome thing about his trip was that he came alone with only a pack on his back.  Fortified with a burning desire to “come to America,” he left Austria with the blessings from his widower father and a loan of $50. to pay for the voyage, which he promised to return. From that point he was on his own.

Through the long process of immigration with thousands of other Europeans who poured through the Island’s gates, Nick stepped into New York City with his last name Americanized from Romic’ to Romich, the first of two changes. Furthermore, his only knowledge of English was, “Mr. Man, Give me job.” Fortunately, a farmer from upstate New York answered his plea and offered him work. For the next few years the industrious young man repaid his benefactor with an honest day’s labor for an honest dollar. He studied, taught himself English, saved the dollars, and then struck out to explore the new immense land.

Nick rode the rails in boxcars, worked in Detroit as a sandhog and in the mines of Montana and Bingham Canyon. Always moving on, he continually looked beyond the next horizon. It wasn’t by chance that he found himself in Pueblo, Colorado where there was work at the steel mill. Still loving his new country, he also missed the old country; the people, the customs and the language of his youth. During his wanderings he had heard of a large Slovenian community in Pueblo and at 22 he thought it time to settle down.

New man on the job, Nick was befriended by the Perse brothers, who invited the lonely man to their home for dinner. Other than the two older brothers, the offspring of Pete and Mary Perse numbered 14 in all, seven boys and seven girls. Comfortable in their midst, Nick couldn’t help but notice beautiful Rose, then only 10. With eyes for no other, Nick left his new-found friends and joined the U. S. Marines. Knowingly, the choice took him away from Colorado and through his enlistment Nick earned his citizenship.

Six years later he returned again to visit the Perse family after serving in Guam and China where the corps guarded the American Legation. Rose was 16. The two developed “an understanding” while he was on leave.  Returning to China for an additional two years before his discharge, Nick returned to Pueblo where Rose was waiting.

The two married in spite of the 12 years age difference with the family’s blessings. “You’re not going back to the mill,” Rose told her new husband, “We’re going to California.” Loretta was their first born with Kenneth following two years later. Nick worked at several odd jobs, eventually, finding permanent employment at Block Tannery in Berkeley where he remained until his retirement, never losing one day’s work throughout the depression.

When I met Ken I also met his family. I found Nick’s stories fascinating and agreed with Bob, their neighbor, who advised Ken and Loretta to write down, or  record in some way,  Nick’s adventures. “He’s a remarkable man,” Bob reminded the two. Young and foolish, they dismissed the advice complaining they had listened to their father’s stories all of their lives and if they didn’t hear them ever again, it would be too soon.

Years later, the editor of the magazine section of our local newspaper assigned me to write about an immigrant who came to America with a pack on his back. Search though we did, we found none — other than my father in law. In spite of the nepotism, Jerry said, “Do it.” I knew that Nick was forgetting the present, but hoped he would recall enough of his early life to make a good article. Through the years I heard most of Nick’s stories myself. Sitting together, I began my interview.  He was pleased that someone wanted to listen and spoke freely about China and his father, of his voyage, but when I asked detailed questions about Austria, upstate New York, Detroit, Montana, Bingham Canyon, his answer was always the same. With furrowed brow, he would say, “I don’t remember.”   The brief article of Nick’s life which spanned the better part of a century was a perfect size for the magazine. However, for the family it was only a portion; the rest of the story, like my mother’s recipe for rolls was gone — held captive within the prison of his padlocked brain.

Somehow, we believe that memory will last, sharp and clear, as long as life itself, and by some kind of self-imposed denial we also believe that life itself will continue day after day just as it is now; that there will always be time to sit and listen to the tales of those who came before; that Alzheimer’s and other devastating brain diseases are something that happens to other people, but none of  that is true.  Loved ones pass on, time for doing runs out and for so many, memory is stolen away like a thief in the night leaving all to wish and wonder about the past, our own roots and remembering the hundreds of curious questions which were never asked and will forever remain without answers.

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