Tag Archives: Dad

Home For Christmas Again

Does your family tell the same stories, over and over again?  Mine does.  Or my Mom and Dad did.   Oh and in case you haven’t noticed, I do too.

My husband is no doubt rolling his eyes and thanking his lucky stars.  Because  since I started blogging, he is forced to hear fewer repeats of my stories.

To me, the heart and soul of Christmas is Love.  And repeating traditions.  That is what this story means to me.  And even though Christmas is a sadder day than it once was, this story warms my heart.  And I tell it every year.

Here.  If you haven’t read it before, you may need this.

Handkerchief 2

Don’t worry; it’s clean.Google Image.

***

She told the story every year with a warm smile on her face.  Sometimes her eyes got a little bit misty.

“It was 1943, and the War was on, and your father was in the Navy, on a ship somewhere in the Pacific.  We never knew where he was.  Like all the other boys I knew, he was in danger every day.  We lived for the mail, we were terrified of unfamiliar visitors in uniform.  A telegram sent us into a panic.  And ‘I’ll be home for Christmas’ had just been recorded by Bing Crosby.  It was Number One on the Hit Parade.”

That’s how Mom started the story every time.

Of course I’ll Be Home For Christmas was Number One that year.  Everyone, or just about, was hoping that someone they loved would, in fact, be home for Christmas.  That all the boys would be home for good.  But all too many people were disappointed.  I doubt there were many dry eyes when that song came on the radio that year or for the next few.

Mom and Dad got engaged right around Pearl Harbor Day, but the War lengthened their courtship significantly because Dad enlisted shortly after the attack.  It was to be a long war, and a long engagement.  But Mom was in love with her handsome man.  If possible, I think that Dad was even more so.

Mom, Circa 1943

Mom, Circa 1943

 

My Dad was drop-dead gorgeous, and I have heard that in his single days, he was a bit of a ladies’ man.  Every girl in town, it seemed, had a crush on Dad.

Dad, Circa 1943

Dad, Circa 1943

 

In fact, my Aunt Sally once told me that she had been manning a booth at a church bizarre one Saturday in about 1995, when an elderly woman came up to talk to her.

“Are you Freddie E’s sister?” the woman asked Aunt Sal.

“Yes I am.  Do you know my brother?” Aunt Sal responded.

“I did,she sighed.  “I haven’t seen him since we graduated from high school in 1935.  Sixty years ago.  He was,” she stopped to think of just the right word, “… He was dream-my.”

“He still is,” Sally quipped.

One day not long after after Mom had passed, Dad and I were looking at some pictures I hadn’t seen before.

“Dad,” I told him with wonder looking at a particularly good shot, “You should have gone to Hollywood.  You’d have been a star.”

“Nah,” Dad said.  “Mom would never have gone with me.  And once the war was over, well, I wasn’t going anywhere else without her.”

Dad circa 1935

Dad circa 1935

Dad never quite got over feeling lucky that he had Mom.  And he never stopped loving her.

But back to Mom’s story.

“It was Christmas morning, 1943, and I went over to visit Dad’s mom and dad.  Grammy E’d had symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease for seven or eight years at that point.  She could still move around (she was later, when I knew her, almost completely paralyzed), but she could barely talk.”

Mom continued.  But your Dad’s mom was singing ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’  Well, she was trying to sing it, any how. She kept repeating that one line, over and over again.  ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’  I thought she was crazy.”

“You see,” Mom would say, “Your father had somehow managed to get Christmas leave – he was coming home!  He wanted to surprise me and wouldn’t let anyone tell me he was coming.  He was expected any minute, and there I was, trying to leave.  But I couldn’t stay.  That song made me cry; Freddie was so far away, and in so much danger.  I couldn’t bear hearing it.”

So Mom left after a while, she had other people and her own family to see.  Later Dad caught up with her and they spent most of Christmas together.  Both of them always smiled at the memory.  Dad was home for Christmas that year, just like in the song.  It was a magical year for them both.

Mom was always touched by Dad’s surprise and by his mother’s loving gesture in fighting back the paralysis that was taking over her body to try to get her son’s girl to stay.  To sing when she could barely speak.

“I’ve always wished I’d stayed.”

We lost Mom on Easter of 1997, and Dad really never got over her passing.

The song and Mom’s story took on an even more poignant meaning in 2000.  Because on Christmas of that year, Dad joined Mom again for the holiday.  He went “home” to Mom for Christmas again, joining her in the afterlife.

Even through the sadness of losing Dad on Christmas, I always have to smile when I hear that song.  Because I can just see the warmth in Mom’s eyes now as she welcomed Dad home.  This time, I’m sure she was waiting for him with open arms.

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Christmas Stories, Dad, Family, Growing up, History, Holidays, Love, Missing Folks, Mom, Mom Stories, Music, Taking Care of Each Other

Psst! Need a Christmas Tree?

Since I was a tomboy/ragamuffin hybrid as a kid, nobody called me “Princess.” And the one time I tried to be a princess – the time when I was 4 and dressed up as a princess for Halloween and fell on my face in a Queen-size mud puddle – that pretty much cured me of any princess fantasies I might have had.

But there was one time, one time, when I really did feel like a princess. I felt that like a princess because I stood in an actual ballroom.  That’s where princesses hang out, isn’t it?

I looked around the room in wonder.  It was, of course, huge.  I easily imagined hundreds of beautifully dressed dancers waltzing around the floor. There were floor-to-two-story-high-ceiling windows all along the back of the room, covered in Scarlett O’Hara’s curtains. Thick, heavy green velvet drapes with gold brocade tassels holding them back. And through them, I could see to the sea. Long Island Sound.

I had forgotten my cell phone that day in 1965, so I had to use Google Images. Tthanks, Google!

This isn’t the actual room, although there are similarities.   You see, I had forgotten my cell phone that day in 1965, and couldn’t snap a picture.  I had to use Google Images. Thanks, Google!

A balcony surrounded the ballroom on three sides, and it too rose way up. The floor is what I remember most clearly, though: Black and white marble, a massive checkerboard, without a single scuff mark in the entire room.

As was true of all of my childhood adventures (or since it was a princess-thing, perhaps I should call it a fantasy), this one came to me courtesy of my brother, Fred.

You see, Mr. Richardson, the wealthiest amongst our very wealthy neighbors, had invited us to his house. And we were to use the front door! Because we — me and Fred (and our sister Beth) — were heroes.  Heroes always use the front door.

Wanna know what happened?

Well, one hot summer day, Beth and I were out in the backyard, when Fred came racing in from the outer limits of our yard, near “the fields.“ The fields was a tract of land owned by Mr. Richardson, located behind our yard.  It stretched for several hundred acres. Part of it was meadow, but part of it was made up of small, neatly spaced and impeccably trimmed pine trees.

The Fields Behind My House. I think. Google Image. So really, it could be anywhere.

The Fields Behind My House. I think. Google Image. So really, it could be anywhere.

“Tax haven,” my Dad said, rolling his eyes, when he realized what Mr. R was planting.  “A Christmas tree farm.”

Well, yeah. Probably. Whatever.

But Mr. R believed in investing in land, and he bought anything he could. (He was away when our house went up for sale, or according to my Dad, my childhood would have been spent elsewhere.  I will always be thankful for that trip of Mr. R’s.)

Anyway, Fred came running in from the fields, shouting “FIRE!” “THERE’S A FIRE IN THE FIELDS!!”

Beth and I didn’t ask any questions, but apparently we rushed into the house, called the fire department, grabbed brooms and blankets and rushed out to where Fred had seen the fire. That’s where the fire department found us. We had contained the fire, and there was very little damage. Without our intervention, well, who knows what might have happened.

So back to the Ballroom.

Mr. Richardson had invited us over to thank us. And he gave us a gift!

“I want to thank you for putting out the fire in my fields.  You were very brave, and I am very proud of you both.  And as a reward, from now on, for as long as you and your family live in that house,” Mr. R said, “You and your family may take any Christmas tree you want from my field.”*

 

Before becoming heroes, we had managed to get our Christmas trees for the $2 that Dad bartered with with for as long as we all could remember.  But our heroism took us to the upper crust of Christmas trees.  Because from that year on my family did, indeed, get our Christmas trees from Mr. R’s field.  We chose the biggest and nicest of them all, cut it down, and dragged it home.

But (and you know there’s always a “but” or a “butt” in my stories), it wasn’t strictly Kosher.

You see, not a whole lot of years later, in 1972, Mr. Richardson died. He willed the land to the Audubon Society, and ever since then, the Audubon Society has been selling those very Christmas trees. No mention was made, apparently, in Mr. R’s Last Will and Testament, for heroes who got free Christmas trees. No mention at all.  Naturally that didn’t stop us. But we also didn’t mention our prior claim to the Audubon Society.

And there was another issue.

If you guessed that my brother, accidentally started the fire, well, I will simply remind you that the Statute of Limitations is 7 years.  We’re way past that.  The Statute of Limitations is still 7 years on Christmas tree theft, isn’t it?

* I think there might have been other rewards; at least I hope so. Because I’ve always thought of Mr. R as a really nice guy. After all, he let me be a princess that one time, and, honestly, it was pretty cool even if I was more Cinderella than Snow White.  So I don’t want to think he was a skinflint who just gave us kids, who wouldn’t be paying for them anyway, free Christmas trees, for saving them.  Then again, it was the 60s.  Everybody didn’t get a trophy.

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Filed under Awards, Bat-shit crazy, Childhood Traumas, Christmas Stories, Conspicuous consumption, Crazy family members, Criminal Activity, Dad, Mom would die of embarrassment, Not stealing, Reluctant thief, Stealing

Your Number

It was the only story Dad told us about the missions he flew when he was stationed on the USS Monterey , an aircraft carrier, during WWII.

Oh boy did we have fun, Dad would say.  We’d go out on a mission, and then head back to the ship.  We flew so low, we could feel the spray of the water from below us.  We’d fly just this high over the waves!  He’d hold his hand out at the exact height of my head.  No matter how tall I got, that’s just how far above the waves Dad, Smokey (their navigator and Dad’s best wartime buddy) and their pilot flew.  Not high above them at all.

The Japs, he’d say (before there was such a thing as PC), they couldn’t do it. They couldn’t maneuver over the waves.  We could, and we lost them that way every time.  They never managed to hit us, and they couldn’t follow us back to the ship.

And we had a blast.  Cheating death, every day.

SBD_Dive_Bomber_over_Wake_Island,_1943

An SBD Dauntles, over Wake Island in the Pacific, 1943. My Dad was the gunner; he rode backwards. Photo credit (via Wikipedia) Lt. Charles Kerlee. USNR – General Photographic File of the Department of Navy [1] or [2]

Every time, I asked the same question:

“Dad, weren’t you scared?”

You see, I’m a total coward, I fear pain and injury.  The idea of anybody enjoying a near-death experience, riding 2-5 feet above the waves of the Pacific Ocean, with enemy planes shooting at them, well, it always seemed unbelievable to me.

When you’re number is up, it’s up, Dad would say, shrugging his shoulders, every time.  Nobody gets out alive!

That was Dad’s philosophy, learned in the ready room of the USS Monterey.

USS_Monterey

The USS Monterey, Dad’s Ship for most of his time in the Pacific.

That was where we hung out when we were off duty — the Ready Room.  That’s also where the duty roster when up — where we’d find out when we were flying out to meet the Japs.  Each squadron had a number.  When you’re number was up on the board, you went out.  And when your number was up, you never knew if you would make it back to the ship. 

We understood that “when your number was up” meant a bit more than a flight for many of Dad’s fellow service men.

I’m not sure if Dad’s philosophy became my own through osmosis or because I thought about it and realized he was right.  Maybe a little bit of both.  But I more or less agree with Dad.  When your number is up, it’s up.  And worrying about it, well, to quote Dad, won’t make a lick of difference.

I think of this as a gift from my Dad.  One that has lasted long past Dad’s own expiration date.

There is no point in worrying about dying. It’s gonna happen to all of us.

What’s important is how we live.

We need to remember who we are, recall the immigrant roots of our country, and how it was immigrants — my ancestors and likely yours — who made America what it is.

We need to remember that to our shame, we closed our borders to Jewish refugees in the 1930s and 1940s.  Remember what happened to them?

We need to thumb our collective noses at the terrorists, and just not give in to the terror.

This cartoon, on the cover of Charlie Hebdo, the recipient of France’s previous horrible terror attack thumbs its nose at the terrorists.

Charlie Hebdo cover

Enter a caption

Charlie Hebdo cover: They have weapons. Fuck them. We have champagne.

Source:  Huffington Post.

Let’s all get our thumbs into position. Oh and get our hearts into the “open” position.  Because that is who we are as people.

Statue of Liberty - Flickr

Flicker Image

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

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World Polio Day

Dad always described it as the most terrifying day of his life.  Mom almost never spoke of it.

June 1949.

“We had a toddler — Beth was just beginning to walk.  Mom was expecting another baby in December.  It should have been time to celebrate.  Instead, suddenly, I was rushing my wife to the hospital.  I didn’t know what would happen.  I feared the worst.”

Dad had every reason to fear the worst.  Polio can cause death or total paralysis in a matter of hours.

In the U.S. in 1949, more than 40,000 cases of polio were reported, and nearly 3,000 deaths occurred from the horribly contagious, devastating disease.

My mother spent the end of her first trimester and much of the second in the hospital, encapsulated in an iron lung.  An iron lung enables the patient to breathe by using vacuums to force air into and out of the lungs.

Wikipedia Image

Wikipedia Image

Poor mom also received constant electric shock therapy, up and down her body to stimulate the muscles and keep them from atrophy.  Thankfully, the treatments worked.  Not only did my Mom survive, but the combination of treatments she received enabled her to live a normal life — without the paralysis that impacted so many of the disease’s victims..  In fact, to look at Mom, you couldn’t tell that she was a polio survivor.

It was only in photographs that anything appeared amiss.  Mom had always been a beautiful woman — but she was unwilling to have photos taken of her right side — because the camera picked up the remnants of polio’s paralysis.

Mom at my wedding.

Mom at my wedding.

You can bet that as soon as the Salk Polio vaccine was available, Mom and Dad lined up the five of us kids, including my brother Bob, who was in that iron lung with Mom, for those shots.  Because the old adage is true:  An ounce of prevention IS worth a pound of cure.

Saturday, October 24 is World Polio Day.  It is a day that celebrates the incredible progress scientists have made against this horrible, debilitating, deadly disease.

In recent years, many folks have forgotten the devastating effects of these diseases.  Forgotten just what the costs of these disease are — to the individuals infected with them, and to society.

Vaccines are developed to prevent — TO PREVENT! — devastating diseases.  Polio.  Rubella.  Mumps.  Measles.  The safety profiles of the vaccines is excellent.  Far better in fact, than the safety profiles of the most common OTC meds we all pop at the drop of a hat, or the hint of a headache.

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Crazy family members, GET VACCINATED, Health, Mom, Mom Stories, Vaccines

Fathers and Daughters

The father-daughter relationship is fraught with all the possibilities a therapist could wish for.  Even in my family.

Well, except for my relationship with my father.

You go ask Dad …” was one of the enduring sounds of my childhood.I only asked “why me” once:

It was a hot summer day when I was about four.  I was happily cooling off in the puddles on the sidewalk.  I didn’t even really want to go to the beach.  My brothers and sister did, though.

“Go ask Dad if he’ll take us to the beach,” Judy commanded.

That summer, Dad, already working two jobs to support his wife and five kids was studying to take his insurance licensing test.

“Why me?” I whined.  “I always have to ask Dad.”

“‘Cause when you ask him, he always says yes” Bob responded.  Judy and Fred agreed.

So I went in and asked him.

Sure enough, he packed up his books, loaded the four of us up into the car, and headed off to Beardsley Park, where there was a delightful stream that formed the most wonderful pools of different depths, where we would each be happy and cool.   I can still see Dad sitting on a rock ledge in the shade, his pants legs rolled up, his feet in the water and a large black binder on his lap.

I never again asked “Why me” when it came to getting Dad to do anything. Because I realized that my brothers and sisters were right.  Dad always said yes to me.

Somehow, the fact that I was the clear favorite in Dad’s eyes was rarely held against me by my brothers and sisters who all had far more complicated relationships with Dad.  It was pretty much accepted by everybody.  That’s just how it was.

Dad and Me in Geneva, June 1998.  You have to guess which is me.

Dad and Me in Geneva, June 1998. You have to guess which is me.

I don’t have any recordings of his voice, which was deep and scary (to everybody but me) when we were kids, and became deep and comforting when we were grown. But this song, while he never heard it, always makes me feel close to Dad, who died in 2000. Today would have been his 98th birthday.

I love you, Dad.

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Filed under Baby You Can Drive My Car, Birthday, Crazy family members, Dad, Family, Father-Daughter Relationships, Geneva Stories, Holidays, Humor, Love, Missing Folks, Taking Care of Each Other, Why the hell do I tell you these stories?, Writing

Heartbreak

Here.  You may need this.  (Google Image)

Here, take this. You may need it. (Google Image)

It was always the same.  Mom and Dad.  The kids.  They were a unit, Mom-and-Dad.

I’ve written before of my parents and the great love I was privileged to come from.  Here.  And Here.  But I haven’t told you that it all ended up in heartbreak.  My Dad’s.  Poor Dad.

Whenever I think back to our home growing up, Mom and Dad were together.  The end of the day would find them doing dishes together, and then they’d sit at the kitchen table and talk, smoke cigarettes, and laugh.  In the summer, they’d relocate to the front porch, where they’d laugh.   The sound of their voices, their laughter is as much the sound of my childhood as the train running by the house.

After they retired and moved to Florida, Mom started having health problems.  She’d always had some; she’d contracted polio in the late 40s and got emphysema from smoking.  But in the mid-1990s, Mom had a series of strokes.

Still, she never let it dampen her sense of humor.

“My dog,” she said to me during our daily 10 a.m. call, “is no help at all.”

“What do you mean, Mom?”

“Yesterday, I needed C.K. to be Lassie. He wasn’t,” she giggled.

Huh?

C.K. was Mom and Dad’s golden retriever. He was sweet as are all goldens, but had no rescue training that I knew of. So I didn’t get the connection to Lassie.

“Well, yesterday when I fell and was lying on my back on the patio unable to get up, I told C.K. to …”  her own laughter had interrupted her.

“When you were WHAT?”

“Well you see …” Mom went on to laughingly explain that it had been raining in her part of Florida for days. Finally, shortly after we’d talked the day before, the sun came out. And Mom decided to go outside with CK and sit in the sun.

Google Image (Thank God there was nopool)

Google Image (Thank God there was no pool)

“I thought I’d warm my bones a bit. But the gods were agin’ me” she said, laughing harder.

I was not catching on.

“Well, I climbed onto a chaise lounge and lifted my face to the sun. But things didn’t work out the way I planned.” She was now having trouble telling the story, she was laughing so hard. “I nestled back, and wouldn’t you know it, the damn chaise lounge collapsed!”

“What?” I said. “Are you OK? Did you break anything? Are you hurt?” I got that helpless feeling you get when you are hundreds of miles away and can do absolutely nothing.

“I lay there on my back until Dad got home at lunch time. I couldn’t get up. And all the while I was laughing and saying to C.K., ‘Why aren’t you Lassie? Why don’t you go get help? What good are you?’ But all C.K. would do was lick my face. It didn’t help – his breath was awful.”

Dad gave up his morning job that day.  And it began several years of loving caretaking, with admirable assists from my sister Judy and my brother Bob.

“I thought for sure I’d lost her,” Dad confessed to me a few days later. “I got home and she was nowhere to be found. I looked all over the [small] house, expecting to find her on the floor. I DIDN’T expect to find her on the ground outside – she never goes there!”

My Dad was a very imperfect man. He had a temper and a sarcastic streak.  But he had an incredible soft spot for Mom. He fell in love with her in the 1940s and never stopped loving her. They were inseparable.

When I think of their later years, I remember one time in particular, during a family vacation in a beach condo in Florida. During hurricane season. The winds were blowing and we were all watching the wind out on the Gulf of Mexico, out of the plate glass storm doors.

Somehow, Mom had an accident. In her pants. She pooped. In front of her whole family.  Poor Mom was mortified.

It was possibly the one time she didn’t laugh at something awful that had happened to her. Instead, tears welled up in her eyes, and she headed back, head down in humiliation, to the bedroom she shared with Dad.

Nobody else knew what had happened. But Dad sensed that something was terribly wrong, and headed back to see what he could do.

Dad turned on the tap in the bathtub, and helped Mom undress. He got her into the tub. He cleaned her tenderly, and then took her soiled clothes out to the washer and started it up. He grabbed two beers out of the fridge and then went back to Mom. He sat on the toilet keeping her company, washing her back, telling her jokes and stories.  Bringing back her laugh.

The two of them spent the rest of the evening together in their room. The rest of us could hear them laughing all evening.

That’s love.

Fast forward to 1995, and Mom really was failing. After the incident with the chaise lounge, Dad stopped working, or he worked from home. He was fortunate that my sister and brother, Judy and Bob, lived nearby and could and did help. A lot. But Dad was Mom’s caretaker. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

All five of us visited in 1995, and then again in 1996 for Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary; we hadn’t expected Mom to make it. But she did. At the celebration, Mom was still somewhat aware of what was going on around her, but not always, and not often. That was October 1996.

Dad, Judy and Bob continued to care for Mom at home. She had more small strokes, but still her sweetness lingered. Still, Dad knew he was, as he said, fighting a loosing battle.  Dad was exhausted, demoralized. He hired some outside help, but even combining resources we couldn’t afford much. But for Dad, it was a labor of love.

My 10 a.m. phone calls continued. Sometimes Mom was receptive, sometimes not. My long-distance job became keeping Dad’s spirits up as much as Mom’s.

One day in early February, though, I heard a shrill voice shouting in the background when Dad answered my call. I had heard a voice like that during my first hospitalization for colitis in 1974 — a woman who was suffering dementia.  The voice that had so terrified me when I was in the hospital at 17. An old woman who’d lost her mind, whose bed was moved into the hall so she didn’t disturb anybody (except she disturbed everybody).  A woman whose voice I still hear in nightmares.

Only this time, that horrible voice was my mother’s.  My sweet mother was possessed by the devil.

You’re trying to kill me so you can have my things. Mother! Help me!

That was my Mom shouting in the background. My sweet Mom. Yelling. Screaming. Terrified.  Lashing out.

You want my stuff. You never loved me.

“Lease, she won’t stop yelling,” Dad said, with a voice filled with hurt. “What have I done?”

I should have listened to my mother. She told me not to marry you. That you only wanted my things.

Dad explained that Mom had started shouting at him in the middle of the night. She hadn’t stopped. She hadn’t rested since about 3 a.m.  Neither had he.

“Lord, I’m tired, Lease,” he said gently, quietly.

“Let me try, Dad,” I said. “I’ll cheer her up.”  I could always make her laugh.  She was an easy audience.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t. She shouted at me, too.

Till Death, they say. That’s what he’s waiting for.   MY Death. Then he’ll have all my stuff.

“But Mom, everything you have is Dad’s too. And what he has is yours. That’s the way it works.”

No. He wants my things. He wants me to die.

 “No, Mom. Dad is right there, helping you. Come on, Mom. Everything is going to be OK.”

But I lied. Of course it wasn’t going to be.

We all tried, Dad most of all, to bring back the real Mom. But she seemed to be gone. Replaced with an abusive Banshee, who was nasty to all of us, but saved her sharpest spears for Dad.

Two days passed. Three. Then a week. Stupidly, we waited for it to pass. The five of us kids did what we could – but Judy and Bob bore the task of really helping Dad. They were there.  Fred and I weren’t.

Ten days passed with no let up. Mom’s doctor told Dad that the only thing for him to do was to put Mom in a nursing home. Dad was determined not to. Adamant. No.

For a dozen days, Dad’s heart was torn out with each word Mom spoke. She was accusing him, always. Of not loving her. Of wanting her things. Of having married her for her stuff.  and worst of all, of wanting her to die.

He knew that it wasn’t Mom speaking. Dementia was shouting at him. Not Mom.  But it didn’t help the hurt.

For two weeks Dad was assaulted, constantly.  The five of us all thought that the time had come. That Dad needed to have Mom go to a nursing home, at least for a short while, or it would kill him.  It was killing him, with each word she stabbed at him.  We suggested it short term, at least to let him catch his breath. He knew we were right, but still.  He couldn’t do it.  In sickness and in health.  Till Death.

Mother! He only wants my things! He wants me to die! Mother!

Mom shouted from her recliner in the Family Room.  From her bed in the night.  From her wheelchair.  From the bathroom.

After two weeks, Dad, exhausted, sat at the dining room table, with his head in his hands, knowing that he had to make a terrible decision. That he had to put Mom, his Doris, the love of his life, into a nursing home.  That she was going to die, and it would kill him, too.

“I held my head in my hands, and looked down at the floor,” Dad said. “I was so tired. So hurt, even though I knew it wasn’t really her yelling at me. Screaming those horrible things. Not stopping – accusing me of wanting her to die.”

You never loved me.

“I couldn’t take it any more, Lease,” he said. “I lifted my head, turned towards her and said ‘Would you please be quiet for a little while and give me some peace?’ Her eyes widened, then her mouth slumped and she stopped. She stopped yelling at me!  The relief was overwhelming,” he said, weeping.

I already knew what had happened. All I wanted was to be with Dad at that point. I was still so far away.

“At first, the peace was just such a relief,” he said, with a mountain of grief in his voice. “But I realized within a minute or two what had happened. Another stroke.”

Mom paralyzed by this, more powerful stroke, was never able to speak again.

Dad was broken-hearted for as long as he lived – because he’d silenced her.  Because he spoke to her harshly, out of patience.  Out of exhaustion.  Out of hurt.  Mom died a month or so after she went to live in a nursing home. Dad stayed by her side, all day, every day. Holding her hand, talking with her, wishing she would speak to him, laugh with him, just one more time.

Judy Holliday’s voice is very similar to my Mom’s.  Listening, I can hear her, clinking dishes and laughing with Dad.

*     *    *

Mom suffered from dementia at the end of her life — that’s what turned her from being a sweet woman into a Banshee.  That is what broke my Dad’s heart.  It is a disease that has broken many hearts and will continue to do so as our population ages.

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month.

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Dad, Family, Good Deed Doers, Health, Health and Medicine, History, Illness, laughter, Love, Mental Health, Mom, Peace

Christmas Tree Bargains

This weekend when we got our Christmas tree, I became a poor imitation of my father.  It happens every year.  I don’t bargain the way Dad did.  I don’t cajole.  I don’t convince.

Nope.  I pay through the nose.

Still, I always feel him standing with me, laughing, telling his favorite Christmas story one more time.

You see, unlike me, Dad never paid too much, or even very much, for our Christmas tree.  Never.

Dad had a wife and five children, not to mention the other relatives who were still around for Christmas.  Dad also worked three jobs when I was really little, while studying to get his insurance license so he could start his own business (he did).

There wasn’t a lot of spare cash to go around.  But a wife and five kids needed a Christmas tree to celebrate properly.  And Dad, well, Dad was actually a total sucker for Christmas.  He tried to hide it, but Christmas was always special to him.

We lived in the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut, when I was very young.  It seemed like each corner sported a guy selling cut Christmas trees that had been brought in from more rural areas.  Mostly, the guy selling them was the same guy who cut them and who owned the land they grew on.  Dad had been seeing these same men every year for a decade.

As kids, we all knew that when they started appearing in the neighborhood, it meant that Christmas really was coming.

But whenever these guys would see Dad, they would purse their lips, remembering last year.  And the year before.  They didn’t remember Dad in a fond way.  Still, Dad would greet each one of them with his incredible smile.  His eyes would dance.

“Hey, Charlie,” Dad would say, “How’ve you been?” He’d say, shaking his hand.

“Fine Fred,” Charlie (or Joe, or Mac) would respond, as Dad would visit each of them.  They’d chat for a minute and then Charlie would go into his sales pitch:   “Got some nice trees here, this year.  Wouldn’t that pretty daughter of yours like this big one?  It would be hard to find an angel to put on top prettier than you are,” Charlie would say.

The pretty daughter Charlie (or Joe, or Mac) was talking about was Beth, my eldest sister. Beth was beautiful.  Black Irish — dark wavy hair and startling gray/blue eyes.

Beth’d cringe inside and give Charlie or Joe or Mac what looked like a shy half-smile but that was, in fact, a grimace.  She would rather have been anywhere else.  She knew the routine though, and she played her part every year.  Beth was the pretty daughter with the big blue eyes who never spoke; all the Christmas tree salesmen remembered her.

“I wanted to die,” Beth would laugh, recalling her childhood trauma.  “Vanish.  Dig that hole to the other side of the planet and crawl down to China.  Every year he’d take me with him.  I always tried to get out of it.”  In fact, it became a series of fond memories for Beth.  One of the times it was Beth and Dad against the world, or at least against Charlie and Joe and Mac.

They’d walk past the tree sellers for a couple of weeks, looking at the trees, with Beth picking out a beauty and looking hopefully towards Dad.

“No, Sweetie,” Dad would say.  “Not yet.”

Beth would accept disappointment gracefully, and they would continue on their way.

On Christmas Eve in the middle of the afternoon, Dad would place his wallet on the table next to the door, take Beth by the hand and say,

“We’re going to get our tree now.”

“It’s about time,” Mom laugh.  “Don’t let your Dad spend too much on it,” she’d say to Beth with a knowing wink.  They all knew what was going to happen.  Dad would just laugh as he and Beth would head to the nearest Christmas tree stand.  Charlie’s.

“Merry Christmas, Charlie,” Dad would say with a smile, reaching out to shake Charlie’s hand.  “Christmas just snuck up on me.  How did it get to be Christmas Eve so fast?”

Charlie would frown and shake his head.  He knew what was coming.

“I think that Beth and I would like to buy a Christmas tree,” Dad would say as if the thought had just occurred to him.  “Which one should we get?”

Beth would look over the trees and pick out the biggest, nicest one.

“Sure thing,” Charlie would say without enthusiasm.  “That’ll be $10.” (It was a long time ago!)

I’ve only got two dollars,” Dad would say.

“That tree costs $10.”

Dad would look at his watch.  “It’s 3:30 on Christmas Eve.  I’ve got $2.”  Then he’d look south down the street towards Joe’s Christmas tree stand.

Beth stood quietly, looking pitiful.  Wanting to disappear.

“I’ll give it to you for $5.”

I’ve got two,” Dad would say, looking north towards Mac’s Christmas tree stand.

Charlie would look at Dad, trying to stare him down.  Dad would look right back, with a mischievous look in his eye.  He’d hold up two single dollar bills.  He’d rub the two together next to his ear.  He’d rub them next to Beth’s ear.

After that, it was a staring contest.  Beth remained silent, in her role as pitiful prop.  Beth was dying of embarrassment and at the same time fascinated by the sport.

Charlie always took the two bucks, knowing that in a few more hours, that tree would be worth nothing.

“Merry Christmas, Charlie!” Dad would say as he and Beth walked away with the best tree.  “See ya next year.”

“Merry Christmas, Fred.” Charlie would say, shaking his head and chuckling.  “Next year, you’d better bring a fiver!”

I've got TWO bucks!

I’ve got TWO bucks!

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Filed under Childhood Traumas, Christmas Stories, Dad, Family, Holidays, Humor