A Rose without any thorns

I have written before about three friends whose friendship began for three of us in elementary school with one joining our group in junior high school. Yesterday, I learned the last of our eight parents had passed away during the night. It is fitting that Rose was the last one to go.

Each of our parents were fine people and raised good families. While we used their first names among ourselves, usually referring to a quirk or possible punishment for our misdeeds, we always called the adults Mr. or Mrs. Except for Rose. We all called her by her first name.

Rose was much younger than her husband, so he passed away in his late 60’s over 45 years ago while we were in junior high. So, we gravitated to Rose. She was as approachable and welcoming a person as you could find. She was not unlike my brother-in-law, Joe, of whom I wrote after he passed away in September. This Rose did not have any thorns.

Raised in Pennsylvania as an American of Italian descent, Rose was a devout Catholic. When I think of her, I remember her well-attended Christmas parties before  Midnight Mass. Each year around 10:30 pm, the party would come to a close to go hear the beautiful Mass, which was memorable for its contemporary music. When in town, I would not miss these occasions. When away, I would call around 10 pm to wish her and her son, Merry Christmas.

The other things I remember are her sense of humor and interest in others. The two went hand-in-hand, as she took delight in being teased and telling stories. Her son makes a living off a self-deprecating sense of humor and ability to tell stories, which he learned from her. Being a good Italian-American, we teased her that if you cut off her hands, she could not complete her stories. If you asked Rose travel directions, she would invariably draw with her fingers on the table. She was quite the animated person.

My wife and I last saw Rose three years ago when we were looking for a memory care facility for my mother. We stopped by to see her in her room at one of the places, as she too, was battling a declining memory. She perked up as she remembered me, most likely without knowing my name. But, we carried on a lovely conversation about the past and her son and my friendship.

Dementia and its evil twin Alzheimer’s are horrible diseases. We are glad to have seen her before further demise. Rose lived  a joyous life, filled with friends. She welcomed her son’s friends into her home and gave us all another mother to hug. Bless you Rose. And, as the Father would remind us, Peace be with you, your son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.

 

Four friends, one parent left

I have shared before that I am blessed to still have two friends dating back to elementary school with a third one being added in junior high school. We four visit when I return to my home town of Jacksonville, usually over much laughter and time well spent.

Unfortunately, some of the recent visits have been for funerals for our parents. Tomorrow, I will be headed down for the next to last parent funeral for our group. Glenn lost his mother this week.

That will leave Frank’s mother as the last parent. Unfortunately, she has been burdened with Alzheimer’s like my mother. So, she won’t likely remember any of us. But, she is a rock for us all, as we spent  more time with her as Frank’s father died forty years ago.

Glenn’s mother was a gem as well. One of my favorite stories about Glenn’s mother is while she drove any of her children, regardless of age, when she braked the car, she would invariably shoot her right arm out to restrain her child. For my British friends, think left arm. Picture an adult child being restrained by his mother when she brakes.

She was a caring woman whose husband was a minister. He passed away two years ago. Her several grandchildren called her “Nana.” I like that as it suits her well.

She will be missed by her family and friends. She lived a full life and raised a beautiful family. Please think a good thought for her. And, if still blessed to have your mother and/or father, give them a call. If not call a brother, sister or friend.

The first missed anniversary

In late August, the 66th anniversary of my parents wedding occurred. Yet, it was the first one that neither parent was alive. My mom passed away last Christmas morning. Being a religious woman, it is somehow fitting she left us that day.

My dad passed away just over eleven years ago. We still miss his laughter and love, but have gotten used to him being gone. They were married just shy of 55 years before he died having met at Berry College in Rome, Georgia.

Mom’s memory had been on the decline for several years, as she was diagnosed with a progressive memory disorder, most likely Alzheimer’s. On the phone, she knew I was her son, but in person she often mistook me for her husband as I look like my dad did when he was my age. She often thought my sister was her older sister Betty.

They were a loving couple that endured each one’s imperfections. Young folks are looking for the perfect match, but there is no such person. We are all fixer uppers. So, couples teach each other how to coalesce.

Both my parents were smart. My mom became a teacher working primarily with first or second graders. After she retired, she was a devoted bible study fellowship leader. My dad started in the grocery business, but migrated to a new profession called data processing. He used to take me to the elevated computer room which was quite cool. I remember the tape readers were as large as refrigerators.

My brother, sister and I were blessed to have such wonderful parents. They loved and supported us, even when we hated being pushed out of bed to attend Sunday school. Thanks for everything Mom and Dad.

Two favorite memories

Many moons ago, my wife and I drove to New York City with her parents. Our mission was to visit her sister’s family on Governor’s Island, since, her brother-in-law was in the Coast Guard stationed there. The trip was eventful and a lot of fun, but two memories linger on as favorites of mine.

The first memory is of a kids play area which overlooked Manhattan. We would sit on benches as our niece and nephew played in a huge sandbox with the skyline across the river. In the early evening after dinner, it offered such a relaxing view and allowed easy conversation. I should note the Coast Guard moved off the island and those two kids are now married, one with two of her own, and the other expecting a first.

The second memory was on the ride home. While we split the ride into two pieces on the way there, we decided to drive the fourteen hours home in one day. But, that set the stage for the memory which was my wife’s parents singing old songs in the backseat after sunset.

My father-in-law was a good guitarist and singer who tried to make a living early on in a band. Unfortunately, he was unable to make a living, so he limited his singing to church and retirement homes, as he got a more mundane job. So, he knew lots of songs to sing on our journey home. We heard Sinatra, Bennett, Como, Clooney, Martin, Cole, and many others.

They are both gone now, but when I think of them, this memory comes to mind. What a nice trip. Thanks for the memories. What are some of yours?

Dad did good

My Dad had a hard life growing up. His parents split up early and neither played a big role in his formative years. Fortunately, he was provided a safety net that would not let him fail. He was raised by his Great Aunt and Uncle.

His Uncle ran a general store in a small Georgia town. My Dad was asked to help out there. This eventually led my Dad to start his career with a regional supermarket after college and a stint in the Navy. More on that later.

He went to college in north Georgia, but it was under a required work study program.  You had to work to attend and that was the only way the students could afford the tuition costs. He met my mother there and they married in 1951 and moved to Jacksonvulle, FL.

He had a stint in the Navy when the Korean Conflict started joining with several friends. Serving on an aircraft carrier, he learned of 25 second showers, discipline and visited some exotic places,  Once home, he decided soon a supermarket career was not for him. Even with his low salary, he would have to cover bounced checks as a manager.

He and his good friend George decided to move into this career called data processing, the precursor to IT. He worked for a regional insurance company and eventually worked his way up. He was there until he retired in the early 1990s.

He and my Mom raised us three kids. She was a schoolteacher. I mentioned in my last post in a comment that he would pitch batting practice to me after work and coached me on occasion. He was a very good athlete in college playing basketball, baseball and track.

He also was a great outdoor cook. He would love to smoke hams and turkeys, and cooked a mean roast and chicken. He would tease us saying the chicken did not have any wings, as he would sample them outside. His team would have indoor office picnics and he would usually bring a ham or turkey. They tended to request this of him.

He and my Mom were a great couple, married for 54 years. He died too early after a life of smoking and drinking, even though he quit both a dozen years before he passed. Like me, my Dad was an alcoholic. I stopped drinking myself the year after he died.

When he passed in 2006, there were a half dozen couples that met in college like my parents and were still together that came to his funeral. He was remembered well, but it was a tribute to Mom, too. My Dad was not perfect, but he was a good man, husband and father. I love you Dad. Your lessons are remembered and appreciated.

A tribute to my mother – may she rest in peace

My mother passed away early on Christmas morning. She was as fine a Christian as we ever knew, so passing on Jesus’ birthday seems fitting for her. She was an elementary school teacher and taught Bible Study Fellowship for many years. She was predeceased by her husband to whom she was married for 54 years after meeting at college. She left behind three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

My mom loved her husband who passed in 2006. Their meeting at college was eventful, as our father actually fell into her lap. The story goes he was playing basketball for the college team and she arrived late. As she quickly sat and waited for the action to clear on one side of the court so she could walk around, he chased a loose ball and landed in her lap. She told me of another story where she jokingly pushed him into a pond, when the Dean saw her talking with a male student on the female side of the dorm buildings, as she did not want to be accused of fraternizing.

Mom loved her children and grandchildren. She was an avid reader and shared that love with each of them. When not preparing lesson plans for her students or fellow bible study worshipers, she was avid about her crossword puzzles, sometimes completing three a day. She was involved with the church making arrangements when outreach to people was needed for sickness, funerals, and celebrations.

And, she was devoted to her mother and siblings before they passed before her. She often travelled to visit them during their times of need. She simply was a doer who helped others. As her memory faded, her ability to help others faded as well, although she was an active participant in events at the assisted living facility.

There are two saving graces to her passing. We were told she did not suffer much and went quickly. One of the caregivers said Mom asked her to pray for her earlier that day, when helping her to bed. Also, with Alzheimer’s, my mother still remained the sweet person we knew, so she had not gotten to the point where the paranoia and unawareness causes routine belligerent behavior. She knew we were on her team, even though she was not certain which teammate we were. I am a better person because of my mother. I will miss her. We all will.

I

 

My mother the planner

Last August, my brother, sister and I made the difficult, but correct decision to migrate our mother into an assisted living facility. She was in a Rehab facility after getting a urinary tract infection, becoming dehydrated then falling, not an unusual triumvirate for elderly women. We were  also awaiting test results from a neurologist on Alzheimer’s, a test she had taken a month before.

The advice from several nurses was to move Mom while she could cope with the change. They noted often families wait too long and the parent becomes paranoid . Later, it was confirmed she has a progressive memory disorder, most likely Alzheimer’s. She is doing well, eating better, taking her medicines and staying busy. But, she is definitely in the right place as her memory continues to betray her.

You see, Mom was a teacher. She double majored in Education and Home Economics, so she was quite the planner. She later taught bible study fellowship up
until eighteen months before her hospital stay. And, when the church needed someone to organize meals for funerals or something, they looked to my mother. She had to be very organized to accomplish her duties, work, family and volunteer.

To make ends meet, she would plan her errands and meals. After leaving teaching to raise us (she would later return), she helped my father make ends meet. Since he was paid every two weeks, Mom would buy groceries based on a preset menu following her Home Economics discipline.

Every two weeks, we would eat fried chicken, pork chops, spaghetti, meat loaf, pot roast, etc. and then do it again the next two weeks. She would allow some variation intermixing fried shrimp or salmon  croquettes, and we usually had a treat of take out pizza. Mind you, this was before Pizza Hut, so we had to go get it.

I speak with Mom a few times a week and try to visit once a month from three states away. To see her now, is disheartening, but she is always my mother. She thinks she is in a college dorm room, which is sweet. At times, she talks about her pictures as if they are real. She has been able to mask her memory loss as she is very social, but it is harder now. I visit and call as I don’t want her to forget me. She knows I am on her team, but she has introduced me as her son, grandson, brother and husband.

Alzheimer’s is a hateful illness. If you have a loved one with any memory disorder get prepared for a demise in memory that won’t come back. And, have good conversations before then about how to handle the patient’s affairs.

 

 

What is really scary to me?

On this Halloween, I was thinking about what has really scared me in life and in the movies. I should note that nothing in the movies is as scary as what happens in real life. The only time it comes close is to show something that really could happen.

In a horror movie called “The Kiss,” about a parasite that would enter one body from another via a kiss, the scariest part of the movie had little to do with the larger plot. Early on in the movie, the husband’s wife was electrocuted in her kitchen as she fiddled with a shorting toaster at the same time someone spilled milk on the floor underneath her feet. The family had to watch her die, but could not touch her as they would have been electrocuted as well.

But, that is not even close to the seconds that seem like hours when your child gets lost out in a public place. My youngest son wandered away from us at the zoo when we stopped for a coke. He kept walking as we paused. Those twenty seconds to find him seemed like an eternity.

Or, when my oldest went into the restroom at the ballpark as I waited outside. He walked out a different entrance and did not see me. He did remember our assigned place to meet if we got separated and that is where I found him. These scary moments are burned in my memory.

Health scares make movie scares pale in comparison, as well. On my 44th birthday, I thought I was having a heart attack on my way to meet my family. Waiting in an ER room with wires attached is quite humbling and scary. I can assure you that you do not think of your job, but focus on your family and what you may not witness in the future and your not being there for them or watching your kids grow.

However, when your child has a health scare, it is worse as you can only react and make things better. You cannot take on his or her pain and anguish. And, that makes you feel powerless. Each time our children have had lengthy illnesses, issues or allergies, it has been a little scary.

I am writing this today as last night, we attended a funeral service for an 8 year old boy, who died of a rare brain cancer. He was the grandson of our neighbors and their family has been in anguish over his fight to survive. There is nothing worse for a parent than losing your child.

In the throes of his battle, this child taught everyone how to live and love more deeply. The service was a poignant tribute to this effervescent little person with a big heart. He helped others, especially his parents, live through this horrible ordeal.

So, the scary stuff is outside the movie theater. We deal with it the best we can with our faith, love and care. And, we do it one day at a time.

 

The end of the beginning

My daughter just completed her senior graduation project in high school last week and the melancholy of her last few months of high school is kicking in. In August, she will be off to college, so we will be officially empty nesters. We are so very excited for her as we were (and are still)  for her brothers, when they headed off. But, this is not the beginning of the end. This is the end of the beginning.

People have said many times that it is interesting to see the change in relationship as their children grow more into adulthood. I totally see this with our oldest son and am seeing this with our youngest son. While it is a journey upward and onward, there are moments when they make child-like errors in judgment. We all do, but they are more in number at this age. Boys take a little longer than girls to make that journey, but we take pride in more adult conversations that we are having with our children.

Our girl has equipped herself with a keen sense of humor and an ability to get along with many. While we could have done many things better, our children share their friends, so our youngest is more mature due to such interaction. She also carries a passion for doing the right thing and standing up for others and the environment. She does not appreciate showing teachers disrespect for the sake of juvenile enjoyment.

She is a neat young woman and we are quite proud of her. We are looking forward to her taking flight and will be there when the need arises. Yet, this is her story to write. It is only the end of the beginning. There is much more story left.

It will also give my wife and me the chance to do things for us. As parents, we are forever planning around events, classes, schedules, etc. It will be quite lovely to do a sudden day trip or take a long weekend. Or, go on a longer vacation. We will be able to date more, which oftentimes is killed because of being tired or busy. So, it is our new beginning, as well.

A pocketful of acorns

My wife and I were walking in the woods this morning and she came across a beautiful specimen of an acorn, brushed it off and pocketed it to take home. We both laughed as our children used to do this when they were little. Each time we went for a family hike or one where I took the kids out to give my wife some “me time,” I would return with a pocketful of acorns. Usually, fifteen to twenty acorns would make it home, sometimes filling both pockets in my pants, as I was the designated carrier.

To my kids, the acorns were treasures, something far more valuable than what they were. So, we would collect them until we had too many and they would forget about them. And, then when we went out again, we came back with more. I think it is the quest for acorns that made them special. Or, they just wanted a memento or souvenir of our morning walk. This morning, my wife’s acorn brought these memories back to top of mind.

When all is said and done, it is these memories that are mileposts in our lives. These memories are our “pocketful of acorns.” I cherish our family and it makes me smile when something happens which brings up one of these mileposts. Witnessing the actions of the children of our niece and her husband is one set of reminders taking us back to how our children acted. This is one reason I surround myself with pictures of our kids, especially when they were little.

My daughter, like many daughters, loved to wear hats and sunglasses. So, we have numerous pictures of her with a joyous smile in such attire. My sons loved their army men, Legos and hats as well, so we have pictures of them clad in hats or playing with their army men outside. I have one “acorn” of my youngest son, swinging on our swing in the back singing his own version of ACDC’s “TNT.” I have another “acorn” of my oldest son in his first Halloween costume as a clown and, just in case you did not know what he was, he would announce “I am a clown.”

I have another acorn of my youngest son asleep on his crib mattress at the bottom of the stairs after we put up a big boy bed and brought the old one down. My daughter left with us several acorns of her trying to wake me when I fell asleep reading her a story again and again. My guys left me with an acorn of laughing at me when I jumped on the bed to tell them a story and bounced off and down between the wall and bed.

Let’s do our best to remember our own pockeftul of acorns. They will bring a smile to your face, like it does to mine.