(and Dad)

You never know when it’s going to hit. It stems from the smallest, seemingly random things. Often it’s a song, or a saying of his that I use without even thinking. At those times the moment is brief, and might even entice a smile. Other times the moment comes with a pang of sadness that I can push down and move on. But sometimes the moment brings heartwrenching sobs and unimaginable pain.

My mom sent me a birthday card and she signed it “Love, Mom (and Dad)”

It was the parentheses that got me. The parentheses that mean nothing and everything. Parentheses “contain material that could be omitted without destroying or altering the meaning of a sentence.” They illustrate what it means to have a family member with Alzheimer’s disease.

My mom wrote my dad’s name in the card as a lovely gesture. She has every right to speak for him and she knows he would wish me a happy birthday if he could.

But, he did not know it was my birthday and was unable to sign the card. More than that, he will never wish me another happy birthday and I will never have a real conversation with my dad again.

He is gone (he is here)

Fuck (Fuck)

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154 Rose Lane

(For Sue, 1940-2014)

When I think of Green Bay, Wisconsin, I think of summer and my favorite aunt Sue. She had the best laugh in the world – it was a chortle – goofy and hearty, wholesome and infectious. Quite often she threw in a snort, just for good measure. My brother and I spent a few weeks every summer in Green Bay with Suzie, my uncle Dick and my cousins Bryn, Lee and Heather. I absolutely loved it. Green Bay was summer. I was young, out of school, not a worry in the world, and I was away from home. I felt more than free; I felt carefree. Green Bay was Bay Beach, cheese curds at Kroll’s diner, Sue making me pizza and chocolate pie. It was Lynn and Nancy, who lived just down the road. It was magical.

Rose Lane seemed idyllic to me. It wasn’t a cul-de-sac but the lane itself went up, around and down forming a bell curve of sorts. 154 and 139 (where Lynn and Nancy, my “summer best friends” lived) both fell in the top part of the bell – in this analogy we weren’t A’s nor were we F’s. Years later I would find myself explaining this basic bell curve to one of my graduate school professors. “It’s a bell, you see? Not a ‘U.’ You are grading unfairly.” She changed my grade from a 2.1 to a 4.0. She still didn’t grasp the idea of the bell but with my 4.0 in tow, I smiled and walked away, offering no further explanations.

My uncle had a glass-blowing studio in the backyard. Us kids would form a line on the grass hill in the yard and watch in awe as he would take the glass in an almost liquid form and it would shape, mold and move, as he spun it on the end of a big metal rod. We asked a thousand questions and he answered all with astounding patience. I have a few of the pieces he made and whenever I look at them, I am transported back to a member of that audience on the lawn.

Crush
For me, life on Rose Lane was all about Lynn and Nancy and their older brother Steve, my secret crush. His senior picture hung on the wall in their living room and one day I snuck in there and snapped a photo of it. “Isn’t he so cute?” I would ask my friends, proudly displaying this picture of the framed photo on the wall, off-centered and blurry, with a bright flash in the middle, reflecting off the glass in the frame.

All out of love
Lynn and Nancy used to iron for hours. They ironed absolutely every article of clothing – from t-shirts to underwear to towels – everything. I have zero memories of my mom ironing so this was both fascinating and appalling to me. They would iron and we would talk about boys, giggle and listen to 45s. During the “Summer of Air Supply,” all we listened to were sappy love songs. My brother and cousin would sling Sue’s purses over their shoulders and pretend to be Air Supply, insinuating they were effeminate. So when a bully who lived down the hill (on the “F” side of the curve, I presume) shot my brother in the butt with a BB gun, I thought it was the funniest story I’d ever heard in my life. At the end of that summer Lynn and Nancy sent me off with the 45 of “All out of love,” by Air Supply, and they had both written messages to me on the outside sleeve. I cried all the way home on the Greyhound bus back to Minnesota.

Undercat
Lynn and Nancy had a German shepherd, whose name I have blocked from my memory. I was terrified of this dog, and with good reason. This was a trained watchdog that guarded their father’s business. They loved to demonstrate how the dog would protect them by having me pretend to attack them. I really hated that dog. I would get upset and stomp back along the curve to 154 and to where my aunt and uncle had a beautiful collie named Farrah. I always thought that was such a perfect name for a collie and this dog was so sweet, except when my cousins would wrap bologna around the cat’s neck and Farrah would chase the cat to try to eat the bologna.

Sue would come to the cat’s rescue of course; she always stood up for the underdog (or undercat as it were), which is one of the many things I loved about her. And not just the undercat, Sue was always my ally. No matter what , she was on my side. She made me feel like we were in it together; we had a special bond and we were a team.

I was surprised that she seemed so genuinely happy to have these extra two kids join her brood of three. But Sue adored children. When she would take us kids to Bay Beach and later – the ultimate – Great America in Chicago, I don’t know who enjoyed it more. She loved to see us having fun and she would laugh and laugh – all my memories of Sue are of her laughing and smiling. She was always so generous with her love of us and made us feel like we were absolutely welcome in her home. But more than anything, she was generous with that wondrous laugh of hers.

Because she was also a teacher, countless children got to hear her laugh, have her on their side and have been graced with the opportunity to bask in her glow of their own happiness.

I cannot explain in words how much my summers at 154 Rose Lane meant to me. Or how much she meant to me. Rest in peace, dear Suzie. I know wherever you are, you are laughing.

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Aunt Suzie

Walking it out

The accident happened on a warm, sunny day on Lake Crescent in the Olympic Peninsula. The early morning sun cast a blinding, shimmering light on the water as the canoe silently floated across the lake. The only sound was the intermittent dip followed by the drip, drip, drip of water off the side of the paddle resting across my lap.

Lake Crescent enchanted me from the first moment I saw it and became more treasured when I got married there. The water is so clear you can see a dizzying 10 feet to the bottom. A far cry from canoeing the Mississippi river where we put off swimming until it was so damn hot that the brown, murky abyss actually looked inviting. Once in the water, we’d slowly lower our hands under the surface to see how long until we couldn’t see them anymore. It happened immediately.

“You have a completely torn ACL and MCL.
It’s a twofer!”

The doctor held up his hand for a high-five. I fived him, thinking – is this guy for real?

If you look up a torn ACL in Wikipedia, it says “Torn ACLs are most often related to high impact sports or when the knee is forced to stop on a dime at high-speed and when the tibia moves forward in relation to the femur. These types of injuries are prevalent in alpine skiing, Soccer, American football, Australian rules football, basketball, rugby, professional wrestling, martial arts, and artistic gymnastics.”

Surprisingly, canoeing does not make the list.

Scene of the crime. Lake Crescent, Washington.

Scene of the crime. Lake Crescent, Washington.

On the day of the accident, I had already fallen in the water once. To get us over some rocks near the shore, I was sitting with one leg out of the canoe pushing forward as my husband pulled from the front when the canoe tipped ever so slightly, popped me out and instantly righted itself. As if it was telling me in the Amityville Horror way –

“Get.Out.”

An avid canoer all my life (and in this very canoe, transported across country from Minnesota to Washington), I can count on one hand the number of times I have fallen out of a canoe in 40 years – three. On this day the number jumped to five.

Wet but otherwise unscathed, I climbed back in and we paddled around, the sun warming my legs and drying my shorts. We canoed to the far side of the lake, circled around so we could drift slowly past the wedding site, then headed to shore.

My husband got out first and was holding the front of the canoe. I grabbed the bar in front of me tightly, keenly aware that the canoe (literally and figuratively) had already turned on me once.

I stood and carefully stepped one foot out into the water when the canoe (now with no weight in it) caught a current and started drifting away. I tried in vain to pull it back using the leg and arms that were still in it. As I started to do the splits I simultaneously realized,

“Oh my god, I’m going to fall.  AGAIN.”

And I did. Almost the same fall, only this time I sat there not only stunned, but hurt. I had injured my knee.

The full implications of what happened that day continue to unfold, more than three months later. I am still quite immobile. I am slow. I can’t work out, I can’t take stairs, I grab handrails and I limp. I watch in envy as someone runs for the bus. I have no desire to take public transit, but I sure wish I could move like that. I feel and act OLD.

But one result I could not foresee isn’t physical. I have realized that when I go for walks, I re-energize. I get inspired. My feet move forward automatically but my thoughts zigzag all over the place – creating, contemplating, deciding – I do not notice what is around me or listen to music. I zone out.

After, I’m moved to write something new, or have come up with a different direction to take a story. Maybe I have worked through an issue, or found a solution to a problem I didn’t even know I had. Sometimes I’ve devised a life-changing plan. The process is what I call “walking it out.”

Not being able to walk means more to me than just not walking. And that is the worst part about the accident. So when I got my “twofer” diagnosis and was told my options are surgery or live with an “ACL-deficient knee;” I already knew my answer.

Hockock and Hernan: A story about real love and imaginary friends

This is a story about my father who has Alzheimer’s Disease, and our journey together. It was written to honor his life, rather than focus on the disease that is taking it.

This story has been published in Stratus: Journal of Arts and Writing

Found on this blog under: Stories/Hockock and Hernan

Save some for the adults

Still smiling after giggling in a corner with a friend and overcome with nervous anticipation for all that life might have to offer, Patti grabs a paper plate and “happy graduation!” napkin and heads for the avocado colored crock pot, brimming with barbecued lil smokies. She hasn’t even removed the lid when she hears a small but surprisingly stern, reprimanding voice behind her.

“Save some for the adults!”

And this is how Patti first meets my grandmother Florence. The showdown takes place in the dining room of my parents house during my (and Patti’s) high school graduation party. We are newly 18 and high school graduates, so we think we ARE, in fact, adults; besides, she hasn’t started serving up her plate yet.

My grandmother had a preconceived notion that Patti would take more than her fair share. People of her generation typically felt that people of our generation were selfish and greedy, and were often correct in that assumption. This holds true as generations change hands because we remember how we were at each age. We have the benefit of hindsight.

At 18, “Save some for the adults” was an appalling expression. And I thought I knew everything at 18. At 45 I know enough to realize how little I know and I still feel the same about that expression and its delivery. But I now understand the concept. As I witness the aging process first hand – the aches and pains, the ups and downs (and how much harder it is to get up once you’re down), the fears – I have more and more respect for my elders and appreciate why we should save some for them – not only lil smokies but seats, honor, awe.

Like “pay it forward” we should “pay it up” by practicing random acts of kindness to those whose ages are a higher number than ours. Because someday (with any luck) those will be our numbers.

And if we’ve done it right, there will be lil smokies waiting when we get there.

Miracle #1

This is a story about coming back to life, literally and metaphorically.

Found under: Stories/Miracle #1