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Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’

old fashioned canned food

Once a multi-talented woman, Alzheimer's took away Irene's ability to do any of the things she was so talented at, including canning food.

My mother, as I have mentioned before, was a multi-talented woman.  I doubt there was anything she couldn’t do once she set her mind to it.  I recall as a little girl someone had given us their old couch shortly after she and Dad moved the family to San Francisco in the middle of The Great Depression.  You might say the springs of its life had sprung.  Not only the springs in the foundation, but the springs in the three cushions bulged in every which direction – no foam rubber back then.  For a family who was without a couch, however, it was better than no couch, but its sorry-looking condition didn’t last long.

She went to the library and found herself a book about upholstery.  Little by little she tore the whole thing apart, bought some twine, fabric and several boxes of carpet tacks.  Following directions from the book it was only a few weeks before she had all of the springs retied, cushions and sofa sewed and/or tacked in place with a new fabric. Abracadabra!  We had a “new” chesterfield, as a sofa was often referred to way back then.  That’s just a sampling of all the things she continually did to make our rented “flat” a home.

In the kitchen she bottled a goodly supply of fruit, made jam and stored staples to make sure we would always have something to eat during an emergency, such as my dad being without work.  Mama also read books on nutrition.  A well-balanced meal with the necessary food groups became part of the way she cooked and served my father and her three growing daughters.  She had saved her spare nickels and dimes to purchase a set of waterless cookware to preserve each vitamin found in the food she bought.  Every so often we pleaded for fried potatoes like Aunt Esther made, but Mama was firm in her knowledge that potatoes cooked with the skins – and steamed — in three tablespoons of water were better for us that those occasional greasy fried potatoes at Aunt Esther’s house.   I know we didn’t appreciate her chosen, healthy lifestyle, but I’m also certain we were the beneficiaries of her good, nourishing meals.

Life, though, wasn’t all steamed potatoes and veggies, she made delicious bread and the very best Parker House rolls in the world.  No matter how hard we girls tried as adults nothing we made compared to them.  With no convenience foods and no boxed cake mixes, any desserts Mama made were from scratch.  Furthermore, the fruit from the jars in the dead of winter was a treat in itself.  So was the jam, especially when spread on one of the Parker House rolls.

Even though we resisted, my sisters and I grew up knowing what was nutritious and what wasn’t.  Who could have believed grocery markets of the future would be flooded with everything one might want packed into a box with more vitamins in the cardboard than in the food inside.  With her example before us and our acquired knowledge of nutrition, we three girls continued with most of her ways when we married and began our families, keeping in mind, always, what was good for us and what wasn’t – perhaps allowing our children a little exposure to what is commonly known as junk food.

When she and dad left San Francisco and retired to “The Little Farm” in Sonoma County, she continued with her healthy lifestyle.  Planting additional fruit trees and a vegetable garden, my mother fashioned them after what she had known in her youth and young adulthood. Back then, everything was organic, grown in nature’s own way, but no one had put a name on it.  Her modern-day garden was cared for in the same way long before it became the popular thing to do and had a special name, and summer visits from Mom and Dad always included a few buckets filled with fresh-from-the-garden produce.

They had a wonderful 20-plus years of retirement before we realized she was becoming mentally ill, and my father  recognized the need to move closer to us.  “She just doesn’t do much of anything anymore,” he sadly explained, adding that he was having problems with his own health. A few years prior she had forgotten about the fruit trees, overgrown bushes and her garden, spending her time reading, something which had always been one of her great pleasures.  It appeared she had lost all motivation in continuing with so many of the other joys where she had been so capable.  I visited one day while she was still making an effort to do some of her favorite things.  On the work table in her sewing room I found a small platform rocking chair.  She had managed to remove the old covering getting it down to the bare frame.  I commented about her work and asked to see the new fabric she was planning to use, hoping to spark an interest.  Dismally, she asked if I would take it home.  “I don’t know how to do this anymore.” she stated.  “Can you finish it?   Being my mother’s daughter, I could, and I did, covering it with a pale blue fabric dotted with small pink flowers.  It was perfect next to our fireplace.

When they were ready to move I spent a week with them packing.  My niece, Dee, who lived in the area, came to help.   Stimulated by our activity, Mama bustled around with a bit of excitement much like her old self.  She supervised in her own way and actually made a few good decisions about what we should pack and what we could toss.  I was pleased with her participation.

When meal time approached Mama said she would prepare dinner for us if we wanted to keep on working.  Dee and I agreed and she scurried off to the kitchen.  Several minutes later she returned with a spoon filled with cooked ground beef for us to taste.  “What else do you think this needs?” she asked.  We both took a taste as Mama looked on.  Had I not know the ground beef was fresh I believe I would have declined dinner.  Neither Dee nor I could figure out what she had added to make it taste so awful. In response to her question I suggested, “Tomato sauce, add a can of tomato sauce.”  “Maybe a bit more salt,” advised Dee.  Off she went, back to the kitchen.  Dee and I looked at one another as she asked, “How can anyone make hamburger taste so bad?”

It wasn’t long before she called us to dinner.  Dad wolfed it down with no comment.  Perhaps he was getting used to her loss in creating quality cuisine.  Dee and I stared at our plates filled with non-descript food.  Looking around, we spotted a few empty cans and some trimmings from vegetables, so we felt assured dinner wasn’t going to do us in.  Good, it was not, but we muddled through.  Besides, we were hungry.

Alzheimer’s does that to people.  No matter how capable Mama had been, AD was taking it all away.  Over the next year or so her decline picked up speed, and when my father no longer could identify his food he took over the cooking.  “I’ve done it before and I can do it again,” he stated in a matter-of-fact manner.  Eventually, it became necessary to hire a caregiver to be with them for the remainder of their lives.  Besides caring for Mama and her child-like ways, Jayne also did the cooking.

I think often of Mama and the example she set, of the security we felt during the dark times of the Depression as she made sure there was food in her larder for us and comforts in our home.  Perhaps it wasn’t what we thought we wanted, and at times it probably lacked in abundance, but we felt secure.  We weren’t really aware of their struggle – only in retrospect did we grasp the fear and uncertainty they must have felt.  With adult understanding, we were – and are — filled with the utmost admiration.

I am grateful so much of her has stayed with me.  I know that when I pull out my jars, lids and cold-pack canner as the apricots ripen on our tree or when I stir a kettle filled with bubbling applesauce, Mama is not far away – watching and pleased that her daughters have learned about being self-reliant, about making do with what we have, or doing without.

There seems to be an ebb and flow with economics in this life which, at times, renders us to be more frugal than we might want to be.  No one knew better than Mama how to deal with difficult times, and she handed that legacy down to her three girls. Recently, I have noticed the small, blue platform rocker next to my fireplace is getting rather shabby.  Years have slipped by since I brought the bare frame home at Mama’s request.  Perhaps instead of replacing it, though, I think I’ll just recover it – again — using the knowledge and skills that I not only inherited — but observed and learned from my wise and talented mother.

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car keys

Giving up the driving privledge can be difficult for some Alzheimers' patients.

Rose had stopped driving on her own volition relying on Nick’s ability to see that the two of them got to whatever destination was necessary. She made a list of needed groceries and told him he could do the shopping as well.  Forgetting to refer to the list, his selections alone should have tipped us off that he wasn’t thinking sensibly.  More often than not he came home with what he believed to be essentials: peanut butter, bananas, milk, bread and Sweetie Pies.  The pies, consisting of a large 3” cookie covered with a marshmallow of equal size and held together by dipping the treat in chocolate, had become his favorite dessert.  Sealed in individual packets of cellophane, his choice came 12 to a box, and he always bought two boxes.

That all changed when his driver’s license came up for renewal.  He didn’t do well with the written test, but the examiner believed his reading skills might be off, so the test was given orally.  He passed, but for his age he was required to take the mandatory driving test.  He didn’t think it a problem, but asked Ken to go with him.  Alone in the car with the examiner, he made a poor choice resulting in a near accident.  “Stop the car,” bellowed the examiner.  Shaken amidst honking horns and cursing drivers, the examiner drove Nick back to the DMV where Ken was told, “Your father is not capable of driving a car.”  Nick was outraged, insisting he had been tricked.  “The examiner was prejudiced against me,” he lamented, “because I’m old.”  His anger, however, didn’t last more than a week or so when he found that I would drive him and Rose anywhere they needed to go.

It all came together about the same time: their growing list of needs and my availability.  Nick still liked to do the shopping, but with me by his side, we bought a lot more “real” food which Rose continued to cook, but he still was allowed his Sweetie Pies.

Later, at another time and place I found that relieving my mother, Irene, of her driver’s license posed no problem.  Like Rose she just stopped driving, allowing the license to expire.  Dad was the driver and had been for years.  Always a one-car family, he took it to work and she used San Francisco’s public transportation or walked during those mid-life-plus years. She applied for a license only when they moved to Northern California’s Sonoma County.

It wasn’t as if she didn’t know how or had never driven a car.  In the farmlands of eastern Utah Irene had cranked and bounced their old truck over mountainous, rutted roads without hesitation.  It was city traffic which kept her in the passenger seat.  After their move to a more peaceful landscape, and knowing her capabilities Dad insisted she get her license.  He was not happy about being her chauffeur whenever she wanted to go somewhere.  Country living did not provide the same transportation convenience she had enjoyed in the City.  A little study and a little practice and my mother earned her license, driving herself when my father couldn’t – or wouldn’t.  It was as simple as that, but after several years of additional age and recuperation from a broken hip she decided her continued driving just wasn’t important.

I’ve always been grateful that family, which included me, didn’t have to be the bad guys when it came to taking away the car and the car keys from any of our parents. Even at 88 my father (who had no sign whatsoever of AD) handed me his car keys because my driving both of them answered all of their needs.  Willingly, he surrendered the keys, but not the car.  We always traveled in his big, roomy Chrysler which, next to Mama, was the love of his life.

Sometime before Ken was diagnosed with AD there was a close-call incident for us and three pedestrians which gave me cause to question his driving responsibility and understanding of the laws – let alone common courtesy.  He needed to make a right turn.  We had a green light and so did the three pedestrians who were midway through the cross walk.  Rather than wait until they were safely on the sidewalk, he right-turned in front of them allowing less than three feet of space between them and our car.  They yelled at him, not cursing, but probably wanting to, and his remark was, “Stupid people.”  After I closed my shocked mouth, I reminded him they had the right-of-way.  “I had the green light,” he snapped.  “So did they,” I returned, “and you know the law: The pedestrian ALWAYS has the right-of-way.”  That led to a ridiculous debate about jay walking and all of the other possibilities where the pedestrian was still in the right when it came to an automobile vs. a human being.  We argued until we reached that moment of agreeing to disagree, but his change in attitude was troubling.

The entire episode had surprised me because if anything, Ken was a good, courteous and responsible driver with quick responses.  I suppose in retrospect I should have listed the incident with the other occasional happenings which were proving to be more and more suspicious.  In my heart of hearts I knew that Alzheimer’s disease would be part of our future, and I needed to begin thinking about how he would respond to having his car keys taken away.  Furthermore, how would I manage the dirty deed without making him furious with me?

Actually, the surrender of his keys was very smooth.  Once diagnosis was made, our neurologist said that he must report his findings to the DMV.  He did. Three months later Ken failed the scheduled written test so miserably he was disallowed taking the driver’s test.  Shortly thereafter, we had a follow-through appointment for a personal interview where a final and absolute decision would be made.  Ken was asked many questions; some having to do with driving, others just about the world and life in general.  In conclusion, the DMV examiner stated, “I’m sorry, Sir, but you shouldn’t be driving.  Your license is revoked.”

Ken, the affable person he always was, reached over and shook hands with Mr. Spoiler wishing him a nice day.  Ready to cry, I turned and left the room.  Disappointed and furious at hearing the decision I was angry with everything: the world, the examiner, his biased questioning, the DMV, life and its unfairness, the rainy weather, the negatives that came with getting older and Alzheimer’s – and the list went on.  I suppose much of what I felt was the weight of overwhelming responsibilities which were falling on my shoulders one by one.  Now I had to be the driver in addition to everything else.

Time, they say, is the great healer.  As Ken’s disease became more and more evident, I realized that I was grateful that Mr. Spoiler and the DMV had, once again, been the bad guys in taking away his license and car keys – his privilege to drive — having spared me telling him that he was no longer capable of operating an automobile.  How does one tell their loving husband, or their mother or father who have become victims of these horrible mind diseases that they have become incompetent, useless, bungling, inept, ineffectual, unskilled and are no longer of value?  You don’t.  Of course you don’t.   Instead, you just take possession of the keys and remind these same exemplarily people who were once so amazing, so talented, so wonderful, so needed and so full of life – who had contributed so much to our society — that they are still cherished, respected, and most of all – they are loved.  And you tell them often – even when you believe they no longer understand or hear what you are saying, you keep telling them.

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treadle sewing machine

Alzheimer's took away even the memory of the sound of a sewing machine for a professional seamstress.

I could barely hear it as my mother asked, “What’s that humming sound?” Pointing in the direction of the bedrooms she continued, “It’s coming from over there.” Having just arrived, I paused, and with neither of us saying a word I too wondered what we were hearing.  Following the hum it led us into a bedroom where there were two large oak dressers, a few chairs and an industrial sewing machine from her years of owning a custom-made-fashions shop with my sister, Janet, in San Francisco.

Mama was fast approaching the middle stage of Alzheimer’s with lots of cognitive loss, but she periodically remembered bits and pieces from her past when something familiar triggered her memory.  Apparently, she had passed by the bedroom earlier that morning, and recognized her sewing machine.  Or perhaps it was the small rip in her slacks which needed to be mended that brought her to what had been so familiar. Sitting down in front of her old “friend,” her hand could have automatically reached over and flipped the switch turning on the motor of her outdated, but still efficient, sewing machine.  With the fickleness of Alzheimer’s her reasoning probably vanished no doubt leaving her to wonder why she was sitting there. Puzzled, she got up and walked away – leaving the motor running.

Conjecture for sure, but AD is often guesswork.  I turned the motor off and pulled the plug from the wall knowing that if she had gone further in an effort to mend her slacks, the speed and power of the needle could have seriously damaged her fingers.  With the humming noise stopped my mother returned to be with my father while I lingered.  Nostalgia swept over me as I rubbed my hand over the solid wood “apron” which housed the “beast” as Janet called the powerful machine.  My thoughts were of Mama and the woman she was other than a parent with three grown daughters – the woman she was before AD had ravaged portions of her brain.

My mother, Irene, had been blessed with endless talents: articulate, funny, inventive, tall and beautiful to look upon and delicate in appearance, but strong in every practical sense.  She also had an artistic flair that touched just about every aspect in the field of fine arts.  Phenomenal designs or a painting quickly took shape as her pencil, charcoal stick or pastels skated across a blank sheet of paper.  These natural talents were gifts with which she had been born, and developing them to their utmost had been one of her goals.

While artistic design was her passion sewing came naturally from a long line of women progenitors; each woman teaching her girls the skills and practicality of stitchery in all of its forms. During the Great Depression, my mother supplemented my father’s sporadic and meager income by sewing custom-made clothes for women of means.  Her skills plus a designer’s genius and fitting expertise caused her customer’s to exclaim, “Irene is a wonder.” My sisters and I agreed, and we all looked forward to our 10th birthday when she would begin teaching us dress making and tailoring on her old treadle Singer sewing machine.  My two older sisters had already reached that pinnacle.

Being the youngest, I could hardly wait to be ten.  With small pieces of fabric from Mama’s scrap box I envisioned what dresses I could make for my dolls once I learned to sew.  Every so often when my mother was out of sight I sat in front of the sewing machine with my pieces of cloth and tried stitching them together.  Watching Mama many times as she worked, I knew the steps about putting the pressure foot in place, giving the wheel a pull and coaxing the treadle to move with my feet.  I could never do it right – the treadle thing –back and forth, back and forth so the pulley turned the wheel in the right direction.  I failed each time leaving the threads from the needle and bobbin tangled or broken.  Quietly, I would slip away never telling anyone of my attempt, but I’m sure Mama knew I was the culprit who kept messing up the threads.  I wondered if I would ever master the foot rhythm.

Months before my 10th birthday I came home from school to find Mama removing the contents from the sewing machine’s drawers.  I sensed it was more than just cleaning and asked what she was doing.  “We’re getting a new sewing machine,” she happily informed me, “a new electric Singer.”  With instant tears spilling from my eyes I plopped down in a nearby chair. Feeling betrayed, I could not share in her joy, and tears came because she was trading in the old treadle for some new-fangled electric machine that disappeared into a desk.  I just knew I would never be allowed to touch – much less sew on it until …. I couldn’t even imagine when.  My dolls would be forever naked.  “Now I’ll never learn how to sew,” I sniveled.

Placing the drawer back into its slot, Mama rose from her chair and knelt down beside me.  “Now, what makes you believe that?” she asked.  “The new sewing machine is too good for me to use.   I might break it,” I whimpered.  “How would you like to be the very first one to sew something on the new ‘Singer?’” Mama offered.  My tears turned off like an empty cloud.  “Could I – really?” I questioned, “even if I’m only nine,” not sure of what I was hearing.  “You will be the first,” she promised – and I was.

With my hand still resting on the “beast” I remembered my wedding dress designed and sewn by my mother, and then there was my graduation suit of light-weight pink wool featuring a peplumed jacket trimmed with black cording on the collar, cuffs and the small strip of belting attached at the waist back.  It was exquisite, and when I wore it I was stunning.  My mother had taught me to sew nearly as skillfully as she, but for special garments there was nothing like Irene’s original creations.

Standing there musing I wondered when she had stopped being that fabulous, creative person I had known.  What had been her last sewing project and how long since she had painted a meadow filled with blossoming apple trees or the ocean’s waves pounding the shore?  When was it that Alzheimer’s had stilled her artistic fingers, devouring the brain cells which fed her talents?  What subtle variations about his wife had my father noticed that brought about his decision to change their comfortable life?

My parents had moved from their wonderful retirement home in the country outside of Sebastopol, California in the late 1980s when Dad admitted they could no longer be so far from family because of Mama’s declining mental health.  Finding a house just a few short blocks from me and Ken was the perfect solution to their needs.  My father had always said, “I don’t want to live with you, just near you in our own home.”  With help a few minutes away he was able to care for most of her needs, or call us in an emergency.  Nevertheless, I didn’t wait for a call. Instead I stopped by at least once a day, knowing how lonely he was, and to make sure all was well.  Important too – I doubt my father would have heard the beast’s motor running with his poor hearing.

I was glad to be there for them, and within the next few years it would be more of the little things, the gradual changes made by Alzheimer’s insatiable appetite that Dad and I would observe in caring for my mother. Irene would regress from the woman we fondly remembered, spinning down through the years of her life eventually becoming a sweet-natured child who spent afternoons with her mother who — she insisted — was me.

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 For the loved ones who have been entrusted to me – my husband’s and my parents (three out of four having Alzheimer’s) and now Ken who is well into advanced AD – I have always endeavored to do my very best as their caregiver.  If that sounds a bit martyrish, I don’t mean it to be.  Sometimes in life you just “gotta do what ya gotta do,” and all in all it’s been a labor of love and devotion.  However, at times I feel as if I’ve lost my identity — my very own place in the world — especially without Ken by my side to help me over the hurdles.  Feeling tired when the weather is scorching doesn’t help either.  Nevertheless, it’s still Ken’s well being that’s paramount, his comfort, nutrition, cleanliness and security – it’s all a part of my long-term goal.  Coupled, though, with managing our rental property, our personal finances and home, assistant to Ken’s caregivers, and all sorts of things that just pop up without warning, there are days when I can’t help but feel, “Hey?  What about me?”  I suppose Thursday was one of those days.

It was hot in San Francisco’s Bay Area. The East Bay, where we live, is several degrees warmer than the City itself.  Usually, weather conditions here are near perfect.  Once winter passes and the seasons get into spring and summer, the days are sunny and comfortable.  However, when the temperature zooms from the 60s to the 80s from one day to the next with no gradual warming period in between, people tend to be a tad terse.  Myself included.

Rental property was something Ken and I thought to be a good idea when we were younger.  It would be a wise diversified investment to our “portfolio.”  The venture has been a good thing all of these years when we both worked together, using our “How To” talents to restore, renovate and rent our real estate purchases, but now that Ken is unable to do any of the work, I find it impossible for me to do it alone.  We have great tenants who keep up the interiors, but the outside of our 4-plex needs constant maintenance and yard work.  Ken and I did all of that as well, but now there is just me and the person I hire.

Thursday is yard day.  With the heat already promising discomfort at 8:00 a.m. I wanted to call my help and cancel mowing, trimming and sweeping, but I knew I couldn’t. We did, though, manage with a minimum effort.  Still, my day wasn’t over.

Tuesday, the tenant in another rental called to report the toilet tank needed to be reworked.  He questioned, “Do you want to rebuild the inside with new parts, or with a crack in the bowl do you want to replace the whole thing.  Mason, my tenant, would do either task after he got home from work.  I opted to replace the whole thing, picking up a new commode at Home Depot (along with some new faucet handles for my deep sink) sometime on Thursday. How simple is that? Help from the store could load it into my pickup and Mason would unload.

“GET THIS TOILET FREE!” announced the sign at the beginning of the plumbing isle.  I found an associate and asked the secret for obtaining free merchandice (i.e. the toilet) still holding the handle of the flatbed I had rolled through the store for its purchase.   “It’s a water company rebate,” he explained reminding me that only certain toilets qualified for the promotion of $50.00 or $100.00 — depending on which water company provided the service — and only certain old toilets were eligible.  We began by examining all the features on the newest low-flow models.  “Do you have the correct measurement from the wall,” he asked.  “I don’t know,” I replied.  Shaking his head, he cautioned, “If you don’t a have a 12” space from the back wall to the bolt holes,  you can’t make the connection.”

Problems, problems, I thought.  Recalling how easy it had been when Ken and I shopped for toilets, I hadn’t realized I needed measurements.  We simply picked out a commode we liked at the right price, loaded our choice onto a flatbed and off we went.  I can’t count the number of toilets Ken has purchased and installed, nor do I remember if he measured for the 12” space, although he may have.  “I can’t answer that question,” I said, wishing my cell was in my pocket.  It wasn’t.  “I’ll be back,” I promised pushing the flatbed, which held the faucet handles I had picked up first, to the nearest check-out.

I drove to the rental, rang the bell and Tara opened the door surrounded by her little ones.  I explained my mission, and with my small pocket tape she stooped (even though she is very pregnant) and measured the distance from the wall to the bolt.  “Twelve inches,” she said.  “Good,” I replied, “Thank you.”

Back in business I waved to the children and drove again to Home Depot, glancing at the clock.  I needed to get home to help Criz with Ken, but there was time enough if all went well. After all, what’s the big deal about buying a new toilet?  My associate saw me coming dragging another flatbed.  Quickly, I made my selection.  After all it wasn’t a fashion statement.  “Let me see if this model is listed to qualify for the program,” said the associate, reminding me again that all styles didn’t.  Checking the computer, he then went to the phone, and then to the printer.  Returning minutes later with several sheets of paper he began to survey the qualifying numbers and brand names.  I checked the time and was tempted to say, “Forget the rebate,” but I didn’t.  The $50.00 was better in my pocket than in an account belonging to the water company, so I waited.  Besides, with water rates going up they would get their money back soon enough.  He studied the list and compared numbers.  Finally, he said, “Here it is,” pulling the box from stock and loading it onto the flatbed.  He handed me a paper with the numbers underlined.  “Take it to the contractor’s register at the end of the store and someone will load it for you.”  Feeling a bit relieved, time still on my side, I rolled the flatbed to the directed check out.

Of course, there was a long line even at 5:45 in the evening, but I was committed so I waited.  Finally, it was my turn. “I need someone to load this onto my truck,” I said to the cashier handing him a credit card.  “Just drive up to the door and you’ll have help,” he assured me.  I parked, climbed out of the driver’s seat  and hurried inside saying, “I’m here.”  Time was running out and I should be home.  Criz may forgive me for being late when he sees I’ve purchased new handles for the deep sink – the deep sink being an important part of Ken’s evening clean-up.

I sat in the pickup waiting.  It was hot and I was getting edgy as time slipped away.  Suddenly, I began feeling angry.  Why isn’t Ken here and why does he have to be sick?  If he were here we could load it together and be gone. Doesn’t he know how much I need him – how much I miss him – and besides, what about me?  Who am I anyway? I’m his wife, but I’m not a wife; feeling like a widow, but I’m not his widow either.   He’s here, but he’s gone.  Why did he desert me leaving me to fend for myself?  That’s how I felt – as if I had been abandoned – the way he felt last month when I wanted to go to the bank.  Here I was left alone, deserted, with no one to touch my shoulder and reassure me that everything was going to be all right.  No one can rescue me and it’s never going to be all right.  I felt my eyes begin to puddle.

Finally, I spotted my desperately needed help as he appeared through the exit doors wheeling the flatbed toward the truck.  Quickly, he dropped the tailgate, and without a hitch the damn toilet was on board.  “Thank you,” I mumbled, holding back the gathering storm.  Inside the cab – with a small amount of privacy — I permitted a few tears to flow.  Not a lot and not for long, just enough to relieve the pressure behind the dam.  Besides, it’s not safe to drive and cry, and Criz is waiting.  One day they will flood out – my lake of tears — when I have the time, place and another frustrating reason to allow for such a luxury as a good, hard, sobbing cry.

At home I handed the faucet handles to Criz.  He smiled.  We had removed the originals a good while back because Ken, when no one accompanied him to the bathroom, always left the water running, at times flooding the floor.  Eventually, one handle became lost and Tuesday the second one fell behind the washer.  Opening the package we found that another customer had “taken” the screws. Tomorrow I will return the set to Home Depot, and buy another.  This time I’ll check to make sure all items are included.  The good part is I will be rested, the weather cooler, and after all is said and done I’ll be fine – until another unbearably hot day and another broken toilet.

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From the time I was old enough to remember hearing adults shout “Happy New Year,” I believed there was something magical happening as the clock chimed 12:00 on December 31.  Furthermore, I was missing it all because I was a child and had to be in bed early.  Then one year my parents went out with friends on New Year’s Eve leaving my sister, Janet, and me in the care of our older sister, Polly, who was 16.  At last, Janet and I knew we could stay up until the bewitching hour because Polly was caught up in her own reverie of sadness in not having a boy friend at year’s end. 

The two of us knew there must be noise to welcome in The New Year so Janet fortified us with metal dish pans and heavy spoons.  Polly didn’t care what we were doing, taking to her bed early.  My favorite big sister planned we would march up and down the sidewalk in front of our building (the fourth floor being our home) banging our dish pans at the first sounds of celebration.   At 12:00 we heard horns honking and whistles blowing in the distance, but that was all, so we high stepped our march and drummed our pans more vigorously.  Still nothing.  “Is that all?” I whined with great disappointment.  “Come with me,” ordered Janet.  I followed her up the flights of stairs into the kitchen where she took one of  Mama’s best cooking pots (the heaviest of her hammered aluminum cookware) and ran to the front of the flat overlooking the street.  Throwing up the window and calling, “Look out below,” she tossed the pot into space watching it fall down and down until it hit the sidewalk.  Still no magic.  If San Francisco had no magic, where could it be found?  Janet tried three more times with the same result, “Thud, clunk, clunk, clunk.”  We retrieved the pot (fortunate that it hadn’t taken out a drunk from the corner bar) put it back in the kitchen and we both went to bed still wondering where was the magic —  the celebration — this miraculous thing that changed one year into another — where was the old bearded man carrying the sickle — and the stork delivering the Baby New Year?

The next morning, Mama tried using the pot being puzzled about why the lid didn’t fit.  Among her many talents, the woman of our house was also an excellent detective.  After a few minutes of interrogation, then piecing together the events of the previous night she was less than happy.  Having saved precious dimes and nickles through long Depression years until there were enough dollars to buy a complete set of cookware, she cried over the bent and apparently ruined pot.  My father tried to reshape the damage by clamping one side of the utensil into a vise and pounding the other side with a hammer.  In doing so a two-inch zagged line appeared down one side of the traumatized pot.   The lid fit, but when Mama used it, a thin spray of telling steam escaped through the crack, forever reminding me and Janet that the magic wasn’t found by throwing pots from a four-story window.  That New Year did not begin on a happy note.  Even so I was still convinced that somewhere there must be wonderment — something spectacular — something special — happening at year’s end — and I would continue my search.

As young adults we gathered with friends, tossed confetti and serpentine, put on party hats and blew tiny tin horns.   Marriage and children brought us together with neighbors to celebrate the incoming year, while keeping our little ones close by.   As the children grew older we were free to house hop, visiting other friends wishing them well, ending with Sofia and Don at their home where we watched the ball drop at Times Square in New York.  Instead of confetti we tossed popcorn, exchanged hugs and kisses and wondered what the coming year would bring.   When our nest was empty Ken and I often took BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to the city in the late afternoon of December 31.  Getting off at mid-town we walked up Powell Street, through China Town, and over the top of Nob Hill and down to Fisherman’s Wharf which was still sparkling with Christmas decorations.  We wandered the shops of Pier 39, had an early dinner, took the Cable Car back to Market and Powell, caught BART and were home before midnight — usually asleep as the clock struck 12:00.

The last time we celebrated New Year’s Eve was in 2006.  Our daughter, Debbie and her husband Mark, had moved to Ogden, Utah the year before.  Following Christmas, we flew back to spend time with them.  “Come with us,” Debbie urged as the end of the year approached.  “New Year’s Eve in Salt Lake is so much fun.  In a few selected buildings on Temple Square they have great entertainment until about 11:30, and at midnight the city puts on a fireworks display from the rooftop of a downtown building.” 

Ken’s AD was evident with considerable memory loss at the time, but he was aware enough that he still enjoyed life.  He remembered Christmas and its meaning and the Holidays in general — and me — most of the time.   At midnight the four of us stood among the crowd, huddled together, arms around one another as snow flurries melted on our cheeks while watching the sky light up in a spectacular welcoming of another year.

So did I ever find the magic?   I’m not even certain when my “Search” lost its importance, but about magic:  it doesn’t have to come at the end of the year, nor does it come in a puff of smoke, or out of a tall silk hat, or at the wave of a wand, or even with fireworks no matter how beautiful.  It comes in small things and in small ways, appearing so naturally it’s hardly noticed; and  yet it can be wonderment and often spectacular and oh so special, but you have to watch or you might miss it.   And what’s most important; rather than finding it at midnight of December 31, I have found bits and pieces, sometimes big chunks of it on any number of the 365 days that have made up each incredible year of my sojourn here on earth.  It’s life at its best and at its very worst.  It’s love and marriage — or not — love extended to our fellow-man in the way of devotion and service.  It’s also caring, friendship, success and failure, falling down and getting up, faith and hope, family, birth, a baby’s first smile, first word, first step;  it’s fear, anguish, adversity, worry, work, wealth and poverty, abundance and hunger, disappointment, unbearable sorrow and despair, pain so intense you believe you cannot survive, but you do, sickness and, yes, ultimately death.   But there is also magnificent happiness and joy beyond measure to be found.   Yes!   It is magic:  this grand experience of life is magic, and for those of faith, an even greater magic is yet to come.  So, Happy New Year — and during this new beginning of 2010, go out and find the magic for yourself.

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My friend, Kenny, (not to be confused with my son Kenney nor my husband, Ken) loves winter and everything about it: the cold outside and the warmth inside, the threatening storm clouds filled with buckets of rain, and a blustery north wind eventually pushing him home for a cup of steaming hot chocolate, but most of all he loves Christmas and all that it represents.  And one of his favorite Christmas songs is “Silver Bells.”  No doubt written long before he was born, he hums the melody and chants the words reminding me of another time and place when Ken and I were young and living in the “City.”  The city for us being San Francisco.

We lived in a one-bedroom flat just north of Twin Peaks and three long blocks up the hill from Market Street.   Then it was down the hill to Market Street where we would catch any street car taking us downtown to shop.  Unlike my friend, Kenny, I never did memorize all  of the words to “Silver Bells,” but bits and pieces spring to mind when I think of me and Ken shopping for our first Christmas in the city.  Let’s see, what were some of the words?  “City sidewalks, busy sidewalks dressed in Holiday style……….”   Then it spoke of “children laughing, people smiling….,”   and somewhere it told of shoppers hurrying home with their treasures —  and the bells —  “Ring-a-ling, hear them sing….soon it will be Christmas Day….”  It is such a joyful song and the lyrics tell it just the way it was — and possibly still is — somewhere.   

I remember the two of us being part of the happy crowds along Market Street, dodging raindrops as we wandered from one department store to another until we reached the Emporium which was our favorite.  The windows were a panorama of Christmas, mostly winter scenes with colorful lights and delightfully animated.  Everywhere you could see the Salvation Army bell-ringers next to a donation kettle and when you listened you could hear “Ring-a-ling.”   Whether the writers of the song were thinking of the donation kettles we never knew, but it didn’t — and doesn’t — matter.  That’s who we always thought of when we heard the song — and to this day it’s their image — the bell-ringers for the Salvation Army that enters my mind when I hear “Silver Bells.”

A week and a half before Christmas when Ken and I walked through the neighborhood to see the lights and he remembered he hadn’t done any Christmas shopping, I promised him we would go the following week.  Of course, he didn’t remember his remark, but we went shopping anyway.  My list had a few empty spots so we drove to the Mall three nights in a row; short trips so Ken didn’t get too tired.  

I like the Malls.  They are warm and dry and convenient, but this year, somehow, I missed getting wet and I’m not sure if I noticed as many smiling faces and laughing children, but most of all I missed the bells.  In front of the Post Office, there was a bell-ringer and a donation kettle, but I don’t believe I saw any others.  I doubt that San Francisco’s Market Street would be any different.  The Emporium has long since been absorbed by Macy’s, its glory days gone, the display windows dark  and forgotten.  I miss that almost innocent, joyful spirit  from long ago — you know — the way you feel when you watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,”  and I wonder if the bell-ringers and the donation kettles are as few and far between in San Francisco as they were here.    Not having them  …….”on every street corner”…… with their silver bells somehow diminishes the celebration of the Season and sharing our abundance.  

The year 2009 is now a Christmas past.  The hustle-bustle is over and so is the cherished music of the season.  I doubt we’ll be hearing “Silver Bells” any time soon and the donation kettle in front of the post office is gone.   

Our Christmas with family went very well and Ken was fine.  However, his AD has advanced considerably since last Christmas.  Opening gifts was meaningless to him even though I coached him through the procedure.  Our daughter-in-law, Sabina, and our granddaughter, Jessica, baked him some cookies.  He was impressed with that gift.  “These are mine,” he proclaimed.  I thought to myself, “A bit of enthusiasm, how nice.”  While each passing year comes with a little more melancholy, I still acknowledge that I have much for which to be grateful, and I periodically pause to express my thanks to the All Mighty.   

Tomorrow, though, I think I’ll go to the Mall and pick up some silver bells at one of the big “After Christmas Holiday Decoration Sales,” but, I won’t be packing them away.  Instead, I’ll keep them close by and ring them joyfully to remind me to keep counting my blessings and that in spite of AD, life is good.

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During those first romantic years of early marriage I rarely thought of the state of matrimony as a partnership.  How unromantic was that?  A partnership sounded like some kind of business deal and I thought of “us” as being more than that.   He was the husband and I was the wife.  Husband and wife were the important words as were the titles of Mr. and Mrs. on the outside of some of our addressed mail.  Before we married I remember how exciting  it was to sit and doodle during spare moments; practicing the best way I was going to write my new name.  Flaring the M for the Mrs. part, I then curved the K for Kenneth and looped the R in as many scrolling ways as could be imagained for Romick.  I was going to become Mrs. Kenneth Romick as my doodle paper would testify, and it wasn’t going to be some kind of business arrangement.

The “he” part of our marriage was a G.I. student and I was the working wife, but when we were home, it was togetherness.  We moved into our first San Francisco flat where we cleaned and painted the shabby place — together.   We went everywhere together; we played together; we shopped together, we cooked and ate together — then he studied and I cleaned up: not together. 

 So, perhaps everything wasn’t meant to be together — but still we weren’t ready for a business partnership. Partnership in marriage, we believed, was like what our parents had: tired and worn, yet pulling together for a common goal; not always at their best with one another, but having it not matter; spending a whole evening together exchanging only a few words and that didn’t matter either.  Yes, they were comfortable partners and Biblically speaking, they were  — more or less — equally yoked:  a team.   A team, we noticed, where one member sometimes pulled harder than the other, and then at other times it was the opposite member who pulled the load.

I always believed that our “Honeymoon” lasted longer than most couples we knew, even with the birth of our children, we had our times of romance.  So, it would be difficult to say when during these past five-plus decades of togetherness we became a partnership, but partnership we became — without sacrificing the “us.”   However, I am certain that the younger generation has long-since viewed our marriage as old and tired and as comfortable as Ken and I once viewed the marriages of our parents.  What I have found most interesting during  these years of coping with Alzheimer’s is how much I miss the partnership. 

I had planned a trip to Washington state  in 2006 to attend the 50th anniversary celebration for long-time friends, Julie and Bob.  The couple planned to renew their vows with me as the matron of honor, which I had been, and the best man planned to be in attendance as well.   I explained to Julie that we were planning on coming, but I had to make the decision on a daily basis, depending on Ken’s condition.  Yet, I couldn’t wait until the last minute to make reservations and route our trip.  I pulled up the Internet, punched in motels for our stops and read what was offered.  Several looked good.  I asked Ken to sit with me and help decide where we would stay.  Together we had planned all of our previous vacations.  But with AD he had no idea what I was talking about, especially viewing the screen and listening to the information I read to him; it all meant nothing.  I wanted his input — a discussion, to bounce ideas back and forth between one another, to hear what he liked or didn’t like — to help me choose.   He was incapable of helping and in the end, it didn’t matter.  The chosen motel was fine and the trip went well, but I missed my partner — my husband — my team member.

The motel decision wasn’t all that important, but it was an example of what was to come.  The responsibility of “us” is all mine; we are no longer equally yoked, much less a team and our partnership is in name only.  Our rolls have changed.  I am now the caregiver and he is the patient, and I care for him in much the same way as I would care for a child — a very difficult child — who at times is stubborn, explosive and unappreciative.  Although, every so often he is lucid enough to call me sweetheart.  If I’m fast and ask him for a hug, he complies, wrapping his arms around me as in days of old, and for a few moments we are “us” and we are also partners.

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