Holidays

REMEMBERING HALLOWEEN PAST – AND ALZHEIMER’S

October 26, 2012 –

Carved Halloween Jack O'Lantern

Halloween:  I wonder if it’s the candy or the make-believe that kids like most. 

My parents moved to San Francisco when I was six and we celebrated Halloween, but it was very different from the costumes and candy of today.

WHAT — NO TRICK OR TREAT?

Our family occupied the 3rd floor flat in one of the twin buildings which had sunny bay windows and a very long flight of stairs.  The flats were located on 17th Street just a half block off Mission Street in San Francisco. It was Mission Street, after dark, where my sisters and I, as children, celebrated Halloween at the tail end of a parade.

We didn’t wear our costumes to school.  Nor were there any room-mothers to furnish us with frosted cupcakes covered with orange and black sprinkles and a decorated holiday cup filled with apple cider.  It was just another day without any fanfare, but every kid in the neighborhood could hardly wait for the Mission Street parade. 

With one of our parents (usually moms) we lined the sidewalks as marching bands led by a strutting drum major tossed his baton high into the air, a limited number of police officers and firemen in full uniforms walked behind young dancers and acrobats wearing tutus or leotards; all representing their respective studios.  My sisters and I were downright envious of their glitter, glamor and shine as they danced and cartwheeled up the street.  A few cars advertising local furniture stores drove by while the owners handed out all-day suckers and balloons.  Much to everyone’s delight a group of colorful Gypsies was also a part of the parade.  Their music and dance collected circles of admirers while the parade marked time for the special show.  

The evening was pretty well spent, and we knew the end was in sight when the last school traffic patrol dressed in crisp, white trousers, shirt and kerchief, and topped off with a campaign hat boasting their school colors marched past the lingering observers.  That’s when we who were left fell in behind and became the tail-end of the parade. Continue reading

Originally posted 2012-10-28 04:25:22.

THANKSGIVING AND MOMENTS OF FEELING “NORMAL”

Turkey

Sometimes the familiar will help Alzheimer’s victims glimpse normal

Living with Alzheimer’s there are seldom days, or even periods of time, when life is “normal” – or I should say the way it was – or seeming to be the way it was.  Nevertheless I strive for “normal” as a goal – possibly that we could live our lives in the same manner as we did before AD even if for only a moment.  Certainty the day-to-day care and the fluctuations which occur to the mind and body of anyone with a severe terminal disease are to be expected. Yet a portion of a day can still appear almost like old times.  I suppose it all depends on many factors: influences from within the AD victim and outer influences, noise or silence, visitors or none, cooking aromas, weather, music, sports on TV, the voices of children – any of these may or may not set the stage for mood swings.  Optimistic that Ken would be in a good mood, I set his usual place at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

It’s always a gamble to eat with Ken.  At times he’s been known to reach over to my plate and help himself to something that appeals to him.  Something like those long-ago times when our toddlers were tied with a dish towel into a chair stacked with books when no highchair was available. It was comical to see the adults pulling food and plates out of reach as the small hand stretched at arm’s length to acquire what might satisfy his curiosity as well as his tummy.  So I wondered how Ken would react to a table filled with other people and food in abundance.

I have mentioned before how social Ken had always been, and he responded well yesterday as company arrived.  He seemed more aware, warning the children not to go out a certain door leading to the backyard (which was pretty much ignored) and shaking hands with the adults when a hand was offered.  He even managed a smile or two.  The real test, though, would be dinner, and I did have a back-up plan.  Hopefully I wouldn’t have to use it.

As all of the prepared food and turkey culminated into a feast, Crizaldo and our son Keith guided Ken into the dining room where his chair faced away from the table into the living room where everyone had gathered.  “When dinner is served and his food is in front of him, you two can pick up the chair and turn it around.  That way he won’t be distracted by an empty plate.”

Ken was happy to be part of the group as Keith welcome everyone asking Bob to say a prayer of thanksgiving and a blessing on the food.  As the room became silent I counted my own blessings: years of good living with this man I had married and his prudent financial preparation for our retirement and the possibility of needed care beyond what either of us might be able to do for the other, and for the caring men who provide that additional need.  I am grateful for not only the surrounding family, but for those of our family who had other obligations and those scattered throughout the country; grateful for Liz who, after nearly two years of world travel, had her two feet gripping the ground of New York City and was on her way home.  We are truly blessed.

Following the final “Amen,” Keith and Criz picked up Ken in his chair and planted it directly in front of a plate filled with food.  Without as much as a skip of a heartbeat he picked up his fork and began to eat.  Not the way he often does, barely chewing before another fork full goes into his mouth, but casually, chatting the way he always did before.  I suppose it might be said that old things bring back old ways, and gathered around the dinner table could have triggered a memory from the past. Tuning in every so often it was nice to hear he was engaging as best he could in somewhat of a conversation, and I was pleased.  Nearby the children ate at a smaller table where they were more interested in getting finished and back to playing than they were in Thanksgiving’s bounty.

Another year has passed since we all gathered to celebrate our blessings and offer our thanks to the Almighty.  So as evening approaches I sit quietly and glance around the table at my ever-growing family.  I see Ken at one end of the table and me at the other: matriarch and patriarch of this wonderful group of people, and it all appears incredibly normal — almost like a Norman Rockwell painting.  Today, I am grateful beyond expression and content in these happy, captured moments.

Originally posted 2011-11-26 08:00:45.

THOUGHTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST

Or perhaps I’ll call it The Fourteen Days of Christmas.  Today, as I am writing, it is January 6, 2011, a little off my usual schedule because we’ve been celebrating a long Christmas, but now it’s over.  And you know what?  I really like Christmas spread  o  u  t,  taking as much of  December as it needs.

If you are among the generations of through-and-through Americans whose big days are Christmas Eve and Christmas Day your holiday ended at midnight, December 25th, just as ours did before this year.  Craming so many celebrations into such a small space of time, it would seem the date was more important than the day.  After weeks, and even months of preparation Christmas is over in a flash, and now it’s gone for another year. The jolly old elf, his reindeer, and all of his helpers are taking a well-deserved rest, and that includes moms and dads everywhere.

However, if you don’t live in the USA customs for the celebration of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ can be different, and are actually more in keeping with the authentic event than all the frantic madness we impose upon ourselves. 

Don’t think I’m a Scrooge grumbling “Bah-Humbug” through this wonderful season of merriment and joy. I’m not.  I love Christmas, the carols, the cards, the parties, the well wishes and even the shopping.  And more; before AD, Ken and I so looked forward to driving through the neighborhoods seeing the decorated homes, malls and the beautiful displays on the grounds of churches everywhere, especially the live nativity scenes where we could let our imaginations go and become part of what occurred more than 2,000 years ago: the birth of a tiny baby whose life and teachings have changed the world.   Yes, Christmas is a beautiful and unique celebration – and different – as we all know elsewhere in the world.

My family and friends who have close ties to Mexico tell me that it is January 5, when the children leave their shoes out to be filled with gifts – not their stockings, but their shoes – and gifts not coming from our white-bearded friend – but from the Three Wise Men who arrive on January 6.  Think about it; isn’t the tradition of gift giving at Christmastime based on The Three Wise Men who traveled from afar bringing the Christ Child gold, frankincense and myrrh as they worshipped the New Born King?

Leading up to the 24th and 25th of December there are posadas and celebrations where loved ones reenact the blessed event, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day being a more reverent time.  But no matter what the custom or tradition, it is a joyous celebration for Christians everywhere.

This year I have found wonderful flexibility in December.  Perhaps taking a bit of the customs from south of the border.  Singing The Twelve Days Of Christmas, while being a delightful carol, sounds a little much for me.  Who needs all of those maids amilking and noisy French horns?  But 14 days of Christmas with some light festivities, and then a few days of rest in between parties is perfect.  When Ken was well, it was tradition to spend Christmas Eve at daughter Julie’s house, Christmas morning at our house, and Christmas afternoon at grandson Sean’s house.  It seemed we spent as much time in the car as we did with family.

Ken no longer travels well, so I declined all invitations to leave our home.  “Then we’ll come to your house,” said Sean.  “What evening would be good?”  I gave him a date and beginning the Tuesday before Christmas we dined and relaxed with those who could attend, and then opened gifts with no rush in having to get the kids home and in bed, or dropping someone off at the next stop.  A few days later we did it all over again with other members of our family.

“How joyful it has been to spread out the Holiday,” I emailed our cousin, Penny, whose family has also multiplied over the years, living in various parts of Oregon.    She agreed, saying  they also spread the Holiday over several days, commenting on how well it has worked for their family.   Christmas Day can be any day we choose.

If any of these changes mattered to Ken it’s highly unlikely.   He no longer has any curiousity or interest in brightly wrapped gifts, decorations, or colorful lights, and has no understanding of the holiday.  But always a social person, he still seems to enjoy having people around him, and especially the little ones.  Our last Christmas celebration was Monday evening with daughter Julie, husband Tim; son John and wife Marisol, and their two little ones, Joaquin and Maya.  The eight of us represented four generations, and when Ken looked at four-year-old Maya, seeing her beautiful brown eyes and dark hair, he exclaimed, “What a little doll.”

With no memory of who she is or where she fits into this vast puzzle we call family, Alzheimer’s has not taken away his appreciation of the beauty of children, and for that I am grateful. 

So after all is said and done, the gifts opened, hugs and kisses for everyone, and the last guest drove out of sight what did we get for Christmas?  The best gift of all:  Family and friends – in and out of our home — bringing their presents and presence, giving us their gifts of time and themselves.  Who could ask or want for anything more?

Originally posted 2011-01-07 06:25:07.

CLEAN YOUR PLATE

Ken and I are part of the generation born during The Great Depression, and for years our title was just that:

white plate

A white plate helps distracted patients with Alzheimer's

Depression Kids.  I suppose we still are, just as “Baby Boomers” will always be “Boomers.”

During our early years, a good percentage of the population was out of work, and the economy then was in much worse condition that it is today. If one was lucky enough to have a job it was often sporadic; when there was work you worked, when the work ran out the boss sent you home with pay for the time put in: no sick leave, no paid vacation, no unemployment, and no medical.  Benefits?  There were no benefits.  Well, I guess there was one: having a job was the benefit.

Housewives watched every penny, nickel and dime striving to make ends meet.  Axioms, still of great worth, grew out of the struggle.  “Waste not, want not,” was my grandmother’s favorite, and she often quoted scripture when it was applicable.  “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” was another favorite of probably every housewife in the neighborhood.  Time and time again she put those words to a test transforming the good part of a torn shirt into “new” underwear for one of the younger boys using her sewing skills and an old treadle sewing machine.  Uppermost, however, was food; the mother of the house gave strict orders, “Clean your plate.”  The moms of America didn’t have to add the guilt trip, “People throughout the world are starving,” because people in America were also starving.  Waste was not allowed.

I suppose when you grow up understanding value, especially the value of food when you’re hungry, the words “clean your plate” can almost be redundant.  So it’s understandable that life-long habits are hard to suppress.  I recall my father breaking off a piece of bread, dropping it into the last puddle of gravy on his plate.  Stabbing the bread with his fork he mopped the plate clean before surrendering it to be washed.

Nor did my father stand alone in the practice.  Just about every red-blooded American did the same.  A clean plate was a show of gratitude and appreciation.

Many of us would have to plead guilty of this “offense” especially when taking one more biscuit from Thanksgiving’s basket and sopping up a little more giblet gravy.  While the Emily Posts of the world frown on the practice, especially in public, we do, on occasion sneak by with mopping the plate at home.  However, when I see Ken stretching his own boyhood habits (distorted by AD) it’s a little different.  Bread is cut up as if it were a piece of meat and if it’s gone or not recognized he uses a cut carrot, an apple slice or a couple of green beans to swab his plate, which he does at every meal.

I’ve watched how the rest of his eating habits have changed during the years of battling Alzheimer’s.  When there were only two of us (after the kids had grown and gone) presentation became more important than when we all sat down together eating family style.  With just Ken and me the dinner plates were filled at the stove and served as if we were eating out.  Now days, I still arrange the food in a pictorial manner, but I notice that before long he has stirred everything together making dinner a gooey goulash, although he does appreciate what I cook and often states, “This is good.”  The nice presentation has vanished, but the goulash is still served on a china plate.

Years ago I read a story (true or not I do not know) about a family who had taken in the wife’s mother, who might have been an Alzheimer’s victim.  The story did not tell, only that she was a crazy old thing who would occasionally break her dish after she had eaten.  In frustration, the daughter bought her mother a wooden bowl.  Each meal was served in the bowl: accidents still happened, but there were no more broken plates.

Eventually, the old woman died and the daughter tossed the wooden bowl into the garbage.  The young granddaughter, who for years had observed her grandmother eating from the assigned utensil, retrieved the bowl from the trash. “Why did you bring that old thing back into the house?” the mother asked.  Thoughtfully, the young girl answered, “I need to save it for when you get old.”

No matter how inconvenient it might be I believe AD victims need to have the same respect as the rest of us.  I felt sad about the old woman having to eat from a wooden bowl, and also felt as if the younger mother deserved her own daughter’s conclusion, which might have been, “When you get old you’re not worth much, not even a real plate.”

Don’t get me wrong; at a picnic or any other appropriate place, or if it’s your chosen lifestyle paper or plastic is just fine.  Just don’t use a cheap substitute as “punishment,” or because that particular “someone” isn’t worth the best of what’s available.

Often AD patients clean their plates so thoroughly they want to include in their meal the patterns under the glaze.  I’ve watched Ken do this time and time again.  My mother did it as well during her years with Alzheimer’s.

One evening at a friend’s home, as we completed an pre-Christmas dinner, Ken kept scraping at the Christmas tree design in the center of his plate.  “Don’t do that,” pleaded our hostess, “It will ruin the dish.”  Yet Ken continued “cleaning his plate.”  Other than the irritating sound, reminding me of finger nails on a chalk board, it would have been difficult to inflict permanent damage on the Christmas ware before Ken gave up and relinquished his plate, which, by the way, was clean as a whistle.

“Next time he comes,” my hostess said firmly, “he’ll be eating off plastic.”  Sure enough, on the next visit, where she had prepared a lovely pre-New Year’s dinner, my friend had a very special Holiday plate just for him.  While the rest of us ate off the good china, he ate from a festive plate made of very heavy paper with a plastic coating – a throwaway.  It was nice, but to me it was still paper.

For some time I have noticed that he often tries to include the flowers or scattered leaves adorning our dishes as part of his meal even after the plate is thoroughly clean and all food is gone.  I doubt that scraping the edge of a fork or spoon over the surface does any more damage to the glaze than does a steak knife cutting meat.  However, the finger-nail-chalk-board noise was getting to me.  Problem solved: I bought some plain white china plates for us to use with absolutely no decoration — no flowers, leaves and definitely no Christmas trees.  Even at lunch he gets his sandwich on one of the new plates, and if it gets broken that’s okay.  We have more.  He uses what I use whether it’s china, paper or plastic – whatever is appropriate.  But I do draw the line; absolutely no wooden bowls.

Originally posted 2010-12-26 23:56:30.

BE THE ANSWER TO SOMEONE’S PRAYER

A block print by Irene Weeks, the mother of Ann Romick who also suffered from Alzheimer's

Last year, a week or so before Christmas, I flipped through our church magazine stopping at an article titled, “Be The Answer To Someone’s Prayer.”  Captivated by the thought I read the article through.

As a woman of faith and active in my church I have always striven to do those requests asked of me, but never have I through of my acts as being an answer to someone’s prayer.  I believe in prayer, that prayers are answered, and yes, I believe “angels” help many people.  My favorite Christmas movie is “It’s A Wonderful Life,” but “me” as an answer to a prayer – it’s never even been a consideration.  So my answer would have to be – I’m not sure.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I believe I am, for the most part, a charitable person donating to many worthy causes, dropping money into the Salvation Army’s kettle, helping others, and I loved all of the old TV angel programs often to the point of shedding a few tears at the happy endings.  I have also been known to hand money to a guy carrying a gas can who asks for help in getting his car filled and the family back home.  “It’s a scam, Mom,” I was repeatedly told by any one of my adult sons.  “That’s all right,” I have answered.  “If it is a scam, then he has a problem, but I did the right thing in helping.”  Is that an answer to someone’s prayer – again I’m not sure – or am I a sucker for a scam?

I also received an email about a hospice physician living in Colorado who was forced out of a rainy evening’s traffic into a gas station because his car kept stalling. (I’m not sure if the writer was a man or woman as it was written in first person, and it really doesn’t matter.  However, for the sake of clarity I’ll refer to the person as male.)

Somewhat exasperated he looked around only to find himself stalled near a very troubled woman who appeared to have fallen down next to a gas pump.  Asking if she needed help, the tearful, haggard woman said she didn’t want her children to see her cry.  Our Good Samaritan noticed the older car filled with stuff and three kids in the back – one in a car seat.  Summing up the situation he took his credit card and sliced it through the machine nearest her gas pump saying, “I’m the answer to your prayer.”  She looked at him with surprise, and he followed with, “You were praying, weren’t you?”

As the car filled he went next door to a McDonald’s coming back with two large bags of food for the kids and a cup of coffee for her.  The kids tore into the burgers and fries like young wolves.  The woman shared her story of being abandoned by a worthless boy friend, and was now hoping to make a new start by returning home to her parents with whom she had been estranged for more than five years. They were looking forward to her and the children with open arms, and offered to help until she got back on her feet.

Feeling much better, she thanked her benefactor, and then asked, “What are you – some kind of angel?”  “No,” he chuckled.  “This time of year the angels have a lot to do, so sometimes God has to use regular people.”

He was the answer to her prayers.  And by the way, when he tried to start his car the motor turned over immediately and purred like a kitten.

Christmas: the time of year when we begin to think about being kinder, more charitable, more aware of mankind and their problems, and thoughtfully wonder, “How can I help others?”  And then we get busy writing cards, shopping, wrapping, getting presents ready for mailing so loved ones will receive their packages on time.  In a whirlwind of doing good, we often find excuses for not taking the time to think of doing “more good.”  Such was the case one blustery evening a week before Christmas last year.

It was near dusk, but light enough outside to see the wind blowing the never-ending rain of leaves from our trees when the door bell rang.  Before me stood a man in his 30s holding a rake; he spoke with an accent, but his English was good.  “May I remove the leaves from your lawn for a donation?” he asked.  My thoughts were not kind. Ken was in a bad mood, and I was busy trying to prepare dinner, needing to get back into the kitchen before something burned.  “Oh bother” I thought, “I just raked them yesterday, and I’m busy, and my husband has Alzheimer’s, and I need to see if he’s getting into something, and you’re here to rake leaves?  Why now?”

I all but said, “No thank you,” just to have him gone, and then I remembered the magazine article and the email tale of the physician and the down-trodden woman – whether it was fact or fiction – it didn’t matter — it was a beautiful story.  Before I could speak my uncaring thoughts, sending him away with his rake, a kinder, gentler thought raced into my mind.  “Perhaps you can be an answer to his prayer.”

“Sure,” I said. “Go ahead. There’s a recycle can next to the house.  Put the leaves in that.”  Suddenly, I felt better, less harried – less annoyed – a little more in tune with the season.

From my purse I took two matching bills placing each in a front pocket of my jeans.  If he did a sloppy job I would give him one, I decided.  For a good job he’d get both.  Returning to the kitchen it wasn’t long before the bell rang once again.  It was darker now, but still with enough light to see the lawn was perfectly clear except for the still-fluttering leaves falling to the ground.  With both hands I reached into my pockets and handed him the two bills.  “Good job,” I added.  “Thank you,” he said with a broad smile, “and have a Merry Christmas.”

In the realm of Sister Teresa’s life it certainly wasn’t a big deal, but maybe he didn’t need a big deal.  Perhaps he needed just a few more dollars – for whatever.  Was I an answer to his prayer?  I don’t know, but I felt good.

This year of 2010 has not been my favorite year.  There has been illness and death among our friends and family.  Ken’s Alzheimer’s has continued to plateau downward making his care increasing difficult, and the automobile accident in February which nearly took my life are not experiences I would like to repeat  Yet from the ashes of sadness and disaster I have found blessings.  And yes, I must acknowledge the abundant answers to my prayers through – not only God’s angels – but through the human angels He has sent to answer not only my prayers, but the prayers of those near and dear to me.

What better example is there about being the answer to the prayers of others than words from the Lord Himself as he reminds his disciples in the Bible (King James) —  Matthew 25:35-40 when he says, “For I was hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; Naked and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.'”

Originally posted 2010-12-18 18:43:52.

PAY IT FORWARD

We were on a date, Ken and I, just getting to know one another.  We had been to the zoo in San Francisco.  While walking back to his car we noticed a man in the parking lot with a handful of tiny American Flags – paper – the size of a postage stamp – glued, possibly, to a tooth pick.  Wearing a military cap, and one of the picks stuck into the button hole of his lapel, he didn’t have to say he was a veteran.  We just knew.  It was also Memorial Day and the veteran was soliciting donations for the VFW or some other worthy veterans’ group.  Ken stopped, took out his wallet and handed the man a dollar bill.  In return my date accepted one of the tiny American flags and, with the accompanying straight pin, I placed it on his shirt collar.  Mind you, when we were dating, a dollar bill was worth a dollar – 100 pennies — and could have paid for both of us at the neighborhood movie.  I was impressed.  My boy friend was generous. 

My husband – who happens to be the same guy who took me to the zoo – has always been generous; not only with money, but with his time and energy.  If someone needed help he was the first to step forward.  Saturdays were often lost at home because Ken was helping a friend or a neighbor do some job that needed one more pair of hands.  So the chores I had lined up for “Honey” to do were postponed until another Saturday.  He had an insatiable desire to help others – to be of service – to “Pay It Forward” long before anyone ever heard of the book made into a movie.

 Several years ago, when Ken was better and we enjoyed life together, we saw the movie titled “Pay It Forward.”  If you didn’t see it the story was about a young boy who believed in doing good.  No one taught him, no one told him to be kind, to be caring, and to think of others.  The gift of charity came with his packaging – a spiritual gift.  It was one of those feel-good movies with a sad ending, which possibly sealed his message of paying it forward on the hearts of all who saw it.

          

The boy’s outline for doing good lay in three steps:  Watch for opportunities to help someone, do something nice for someone you don’t know, and spread the word.  When a surprised recipient asked “Why are you doing this?” the answer was to pay it forward, and the recipient could continue the good work by helping three other people — instantly making the world a better place – and then those three people could help three more people until everyone everywhere understood about paying it forward.

 

Surprisingly, I found on line that through the book and the movie a foundation was created to educate others about changing the world through good deeds, and November 17 is “Pay It Forward Day.”  I am also impressed at how contagious it becomes.

 

My friend Jack who is on Facebook wrote on his page, “I stopped by the grocery store and just staked out the people waiting in line.  I noticed an elderly lady, and as she neared the check out I politely asked if I could pay for her groceries?  ‘Yes!’ she answered, shedding a tear, as did I, and I paid.

 

“When she was through the line I explained how ‘Paying It Forward’ works.  Thrilled with the whole concept, she left saying that she was going home and bake cookies for the ladies at the bank.”

 

Jack later told me he went back to the store the morning after he had paid for the older woman’s groceries.  “The same cashier was working and said she could not stop telling people what I did, which inspired them to follow the example.  She, for instance, paid the dinner bill for an elderly couple at a Mexican restaurant.  The response from their waiter, the manager and the couple was unbelievable.”

 

Comments from other friends quickly filled Jack’s page, and with his permission, some posts are printed below:

 

“Wanted to follow up on the ‘Pay It Forward’ idea, but since I missed the actual day I decided to make it a quasi ‘random acts of kindness’ instead.  I was at IHOP w/my Mr. & son, and noticed there was a woman eating by herself.  When my waitress gave me my check, I asked for the gal’s also.  The waitress thought it was great.  I told her it was because of my friend Jack and paying it forward.  Jack, you are an absolute doll! Someone who understands true charity and practices it.  LOVE and admire your huge and expansive heart.  I am grateful to be your friend. You are amazing, Jack!  Now, that’s the Holiday spirit!”

 

 “Awwww Jack.  I love it. I’m going to do the same……”

 

“I try to do this on a regular basis!  It’s amazing how good it makes you feel to do something unexpected for others.”

 

“I’ve done that on the Bay Bridge – paid for the person behind me as I drive through.”

 

“You made me cry, Jack, you are too kind.  God bless you.”

 

“What a beautiful thing you did Jack.  Brought tears to my eyes.  I will certainly begin to pay it forward.”

 

“You topped me, Jack.  Near Halloween some bigger kids saw my ‘Trick or Treat’ candy in my cart and said, ‘I want to come to your house.’  They were buying a bag of cookies, and I grabbed their bag, handed it to the cashier for her to ring up on my bill, and tossed it back saying, ‘Happy Halloween.’  They were shocked and said, ‘Thank you, ma’am!’ Kidding, I said, ‘I’m going to take those back.  How about Miss.’ I love surprising people like that.”

 

“I give candy canes to the toll takers on the bridge.”

 

“Jack, I haven’t seen you or spoken with you in a decade or more.  When I read your post, memories of you came flooding back!  This is SO YOU!  I will put this on top of my TO DO list for tomorrow.  Thanks for reminding us to take the time to pay it forward.”

 

 If Alzheimer’s had not been in his way I know Ken would be doing good deeds for other people the year round not even remembering the movie.  After all, he was known to many as the nicest guy in the world. However, I know he is not the only one with that title, especially as we enter into this wonderful season of hoped-for peace and goodwill to all mankind.

 

It’s good to know that there are so many nice people out there doing thoughtful things for others, and many more who just need to be reminded. The only thing I will challenge about the November date is that it’s too close to Christmas. Christmas: when most everyone is kind-hearted and thinking of others.  Perhaps they should have made “Pay It Forward Day” sometime in mid-January – after the Holidays are over; when it’s cold and full of winter, when the lights are gone and the Christmas trees are waiting at the curb for the recycling truck, and our thoughts are about just getting home where it’s warm and inviting; when we might be inclined to fall back into thinking mostly of our own comfort — ourselves. January: when it can be dark and gloomy, and the storms of nature and life keep pounding at our door.  That’s when we need to do and say, “Pay It Forward and Keep It Going.”  Keep it going into the brightness of spring, the lazy days of summer, and into the colorful charm of autumn as Jack Frost reminds us once again of another winter, and a year filled with generosity. May we all strive to make the entire year glow with the Christ-like goodness we all have deep within our hearts.

 

Meanwhile, as you are finishing that last bit of Christmas shopping, don’t forget to pay a little something forward.

.

Originally posted 2010-12-11 05:41:44.

TRADITION REVISITED

Is it Thanksgiving that kicks off the Holiday Season, or is it Halloween?  While the “they” forces are debating the question I’ll take a quick sentimental journey back to my own childhood remembering Christmas decorations lurking on the high shelves of our local “5 and 10 Cents” stores waiting for the Halloween masks and costumes to disappear.  No different from merchants of today, they couldn’t wait to push an early start for Santa’s helpers to swing into action.  My sister Janet and I used to ask one another, “What happened to Thanksgiving?”  Even at 9 and 12 we were aware that every holiday had its own tradition, and it wasn’t Christmas, but Turkey Day that arrived in November.   In school we had learned of the pilgrims sharing their harvest with the local Indians and giving thanks to the Almighty.  Nice beginning.   America’s first Thanksgiving has long since been tradition, and we continue to celebrate as the first gusts of cold air remind us that winter (and Christmas) is, indeed, on its way, but first let’s have our day of gratitude.

When we were children both Ken and I spent Thanksgiving day with family — not friends — family; unless the friends joined us for dinner.  As youngsters we were yet to meet, but family traditions were pretty much the same.  Dinner was either at home, or everyone gathered at some other relative’s house; that house belonging to anyone on the long list of the aunts and uncles.

After we were married we continued to share with one another the Thanksgiving traditions of our parents, aunts and uncles. It was a little more difficult because we now had his family and my family from which to choose.  It was also noticed that our cousins were growing up, getting married and having children, as were we.   With so many invitations and so many relatives, the older generation soon realized that traditions needed to change — not disappear — just become less rigid,  less cumbersome, evolving — even morphing — into a family solidarity of  love  and genuine affection for one another — which they did —  all the while respecting the new chosen Thanksgiving traditions of the younger generation.

We settled on Grandmother’s house – either one.  When Ken’s parents, Rose and Nick, began to have health problems we brought our brood, their brood and Rose and Nick, health permitting, to the home of my parents; a country setting located in Northern California’s Sonoma County.  For years my personal tradition was to arrive on Monday to help my mother prepare; making pies, cooking ahead and cleaning – getting ready for family on Turkey Day.

It was during dinner that last year when I noticed my mother seemed to be talking endlessly about not much of anything.  Her dinner plate was untouched as she droned on and on until my father said, “Irene will you stop talking and eat your dinner.”   She paused, took a few bites and began her filibuster once again.  I had noticed her being inattentive the previous three days, losing concentration and not listening.   Later, much later, we realized she was slipping away into Alzheimer’s.

Nick and Rose had already journeyed into the disease.  It was more than 35 years ago when doctors weren’t even certain what was wrong: “Just old age,” was the usual diagnosis, “or senility – maybe dementia.”  The medical community groped and we did too.  Uncertain about what to do, we did the best we knew finally placing them in full care facilities when we could no longer cope.

My parents moved back to the Bay Area to be near us so we could supervise and be a part of their care, and life continued.  So did tradition, but once again a new one:  Thanksgiving dinner was at our house just as I had promised Mama.

Years before when I could see my mother was growing tired, not so much because of the work involved with family gatherings, but more of the house being filled with company; the laughter and chatter of adults, the clamor and joyful sounds of children, the cry of a new baby seemed to tire her.  Interesting, no matter how much we might love family and parties there comes a time when a little peace and quiet is better.  My parents were ready for love and devotion to be served in small portions.  I suppose we can compare the often overwhelming joy of family to a lifetime of being stuffed with Thanksgiving dinners – some better than others – but appreciated none the less.  When age finally dictates after such a life-long feast, and we are filled to the brim, all that is wanted is a very thin slice of pumpkin pie.  I understood what she meant; enough was enough.

Nevertheless, she worried about letting go of the reins of her tradition, “If I don’t have the family come to our home, then where would they go?”  Smiling a sad smile I reassured her, “Then they will come to my house, and when I’m not able someone else will have the family Thanksgiving at their home.  There will always be someone to hold it together because family tradition is so precious.  Just let me know when you and dad are ready to let it go.  I’ll be there.”

We took photos after dinner that year: family photos, group photos, candid photos, couples photos and Mom and Dad photos.  With everyone being in a jovial mood, Dad made the announcement, “This is the last Thanksgiving here at the farm.  Mama just isn’t up to it any longer.”  The invisible baton of tradition was handed to me and for all of these years I have held it close.  It has changed, been reshaped, gotten smaller – and larger – depending on the number of guests.  The door of Ken’s and my home swings wide, and there was/is always  room for one more.

Since Ken’s AD Thanksgiving is always the holiday which hangs precariously in limbo until November.  By then I know whether we can do it one more time — or not.  In October we had a small family gathering.  Ken was very good.  Somewhere in his damaged mind there remains a spark of social.  He did so well that evening I decided yes; we would have Thankgiving dinner at our house once again.  Our daughter Julie and her daughter-in-law Marisol did the cooking last year, and what a wonderful gift it was.  This year I will have Ben to help when he isn’t watching Ken, and those coming will all bring a dish of something fabulous for the table, as usual.  What a bounty of blessings abides in my home.  I am forever filled with gratitude.

Last Thanksgiving I wrote about “Fiddler On The Roof,” Tevya and his ever-changing tradition and reluctantly accepting what he could not change when his daughters began their own traditions.  I see my battered baton fragmenting as did Tevya’s; bits and pieces scattering in many directions as members of our family move to various locations throughout our great land, but that’s okay even though we will miss them.   I think of tradition as a lighted candle –  like love.  It’s by sharing, giving it away,  allowing it to spread that it becomes bigger, better and brighter.

Following the “tradition” of Tevya and his humble friends I decided last year to place a metaphoric fiddler on my roof as a reminder that in spite of the adversities we all have, life is good.  As far as I know my fiddler remains.  Listen, once again I do believe I hear the lilting strains of music.

Originally posted 2010-11-20 21:38:29.

SEARCHING FOR THE MAGIC

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. 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 December 31, 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 this New 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 a 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 for it every single day or you might miss it.   And what’s most important; rather than finding it at midnight of December 31, I have found it in 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.

Originally posted 2010-01-01 10:50:52.

SILVER BELLS

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. Going near the dinner hour is a good time to shop.  Either people are at home for the evening meal or inside the Mall at any one of the restaurants.  Furthermore the stores are less crowded, the lines to the registers comparatively short and they moved quickly. 

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.   However, tomorrow, 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.

Originally posted 2009-12-31 00:36:45.

“O CHRISTMAS TREE….”

I thought about it right after Thanksgiving and then asked myself, “Do I want to put up the tree and all of the decorations this year?”  I didn’t bother to answer me, just thinking of getting everything down, all the work, and even wondering what Ken’s reaction would be held little appeal.  He does so much redecorating anyway: magazines in the cookie jar, newspapers tucked neatly in the refrigerator or oven, his hairbrush and comb in the candy dish and rolls of bathroom tissue often line the mantel.  Did I want him pulling off the ornaments and hiding them so our mysterious “someone” wouldn’t steal them, or would he try to fit the small ones in his shirt pocket because they were pretty — or of great value.  Or worse, not remembering its purpose, he might ask me to take the tree down.  Was I going to be Scrooge this year and say, “Bah, Humbug” to so many years of tradition, even though I shop for Christmas all year-long?  If there is no tree, where will I put all of those wrapped gifts?

As I pondered, granddaughter, Katie, asked, “Is there something I can do for you, Grandma?”  I assured her that things were pretty well in order.  Then she suggested, “Can I help you put up the Christmas tree?”  Without hesitation I answered, “That would be lovely.”  Two days later she was up on the ladder handing down boxes of decorations and I was truly happy about her willingness to help.  In my heart of hearts I wasn’t ready to give up on decorating for the Holidays, reminding myself that all of our married life Ken and I always had a Christmas tree.

The first one, of course, was small and simple.  Our budget didn’t stretch far, allowing us only a few lights and a box of ball-shaped ornaments.  Ken’s mom added a few of her’s to our meager beginning.  We debated about a star for the top, and then decided on a glass spire which reminded us of the spires on churches reaching toward Heaven, which we felt, was also a remembrance of what the season is all about.  We could make a few “Stars of Bethlehem” for the branches to fill in around our limited ornaments.

As the number of years began to increase in our marriage, so did children, enriching our lives while keeping our budget in a continued tight rein.  Each year we searched for the best buy on Christmas trees even if it meant buying one a few days before December 25.  We filled the lower branches with unbreakable and paper ornaments which could be touched and held by little ones and then placed back on the branch following close scrutiny plus a few teeth marks as stamps of approval.  Our family dog shared in the joy of Christmas trees by excitedly wagging her tail removing strands of tinsel in a single swoop, and on occasion managed to tangle herself in the lights.  Fortunately, Ken was there to grab the tree while I rescued the dog.  The early years seemed to be set up for a touch of calamity.

One year in search of a tree to fit our Holiday allowance, we spotted a lot advertising, “ALL TREES — $1.50.”  Upon closer examination, they all rivaled Charlie Brown’s pitiful story book tree.  I found one with a beautiful front, but no back.  Ken found its match.  Holding them back to back they made one perfect tree. “We’ll go home and I’ll wire them together,” said Ken.

“Hey, wait a minute, I can’t sell you that for $1.50,” declared the lot manager observing our beautiful, full tree. Where did you find it?  It’s worth at least $10.00.

“You’re right, replied Ken pulling them apart, “it’ll be $3.00 for two trees.”

“Great idea,” exclaimed the main man.  “I’ll match up a bunch and have my lot cleared in no time at all.  Merry Christmas.”

So, for more than a half century we’ve had a Christmas tree; sometimes, depending on how ambitious I felt, we’ve even had two.  This year, the tradition continues; for that I am grateful, and I’m especially grateful for Katie.

To finish decorating I hung wreaths in the windows, laced garlands of fresh evergreens across the mantel, scattered holly, pine cones and then sprinkled it all with tiny white lights.  Legend says Christmas elves hide among the garlands and bring good luck.  With Katie’s help my house is alive with Christmas and the accompanying spirit of happiness and joy.

Ken hasn’t bothered any of it, almost seeming to know it’s symbolic of something.  I remind him often that it’s our Christmas tree even though the word Christmas appears to have little meaning for him.  Yet, the other evening we walked briefly through the neighborhood to look at the lights.  After the rains the air was clear and a bit crisp and as we walked he said, “I haven’t been Christmas shopping.”  “We’ll go next week,” I assured him.

Back home, in front of our own Christmas tree I couldn’t help but think that somewhere, most likely not in his mind, but deep in his heart, perhaps even deeper – in his soul — he knows of Christmas, knows of the babe in a manger bringing hope to mankind of eventually having peace on earth, good will to all men, and the promise of ever-lasting life.

And Tannenbaum, with your overly simplistic English words, “We stand before the Christmas tree, a symbol for the faithful,” welcome once again to our house.

Originally posted 2009-12-18 09:42:07.

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