memory

THE GREAT ADVENTURE

My father in law, Nicholas Romick, immigrated to America when he was a fresh-faced boy of 15 arriving at Ellis Island in 1906. Coming into the harbor Nick stood at ship’s rail with other newcomers as the Statue of Liberty came into view, his young body filled with emotion: excitement — trepidation — he wasn’t sure.

 The awesome thing about his trip was that he came alone with only a pack on his back.  Fortified with a burning desire to “come to America,” he left Austria with blessings from his widower father and a loan of $50. to pay for the voyage which he promised to return. From the time he waved his last goodbye to family and friends on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and stepped onto the gangplank of an American-bound ship Nick was on his own.

Through the long process of immigration with thousands of other Europeans who poured through the Island’s gates, Nick was pushed along with the crowd exiting from just one of the many ferry boats onto the docks of New York City.  His last name had already been Americanized from Romic’ to Romich, the first of two changes. Furthermore, his only knowledge of English was, “Mr. Man, Give me job.” Fortunately, a kind farmer from upstate New York answered his plea and offered the boy work. For the next few years the industrious youth repaid his benefactor with an honest day’s labor for an honest dollar. He studied, taught himself English, saved the dollars, and then struck out to explore the new immense land.

Nick rode the rails in boxcars, worked in Detroit as a sand-hog and in the mines of Montana and Bingham Canyon. Always moving on, he continually looked beyond the next horizon. It wasn’t by chance that he found himself in Pueblo, Colorado where there was work at the steel mill. Still loving his new country he also missed the old world; the people, the customs and his first language. During his wanderings Nick had heard of a large Slovenian community in Pueblo and at 22 he thought it time to settle down.

New man on the job at the mill, Nick was befriended by the Perse brothers who invited the lonely man to their home for dinner. Other than the two older brothers, the offspring of Pete and Mary Perse numbered 14 in all, seven boys and seven girls. Comfortable in their midst, Nick couldn’t help but notice pretty little Rosie, still a child at 10.

Yet, adventure called once again, and Nick left his new-found friends joining the U. S. Marines, where Romich became Romick. Knowingly, the choice took him away from Colorado, but through his enlistment Nick earned his citizenship, something he knew he must have.  The Marines also opened up a whole new world of discipline to him, not only in obedience and following the rules of the Corps to the exact letter, but he was introduced to a new level of personal hygiene, something unfamiliar to him as a boy and traveling the country as a rugged and ragged hobo.

Six years later he returned again to visit the Perse family after serving in Guam and China where the Corps guarded the American Legation. Rose, 16, was no longer pretty little Rosie, but beautiful Rose.  She and Nick developed “an understanding” while he was on leave.  Returning to China for an additional two years the couple corresponded until his discharge.  Nick returned to Pueblo where Rose, at 18, was waiting.

They married in spite of the 12-year-age difference with the family’s blessings — everyone believing that Nick would pick up where he had left off — working at the steel mill. “You’re not going back to the mill,” Rose told her new husband, “We’re going to California.” 

Two years later in a small East Bay apartment the couple welcomed their first child, a girl, whom they named Loretta.  Nick worked at several odd jobs eventually finding permanent employment with Block Tannery in Berkeley.   With steady income the couple purchased a small frame house on 10th street also in Berkeley so Nick could walk to his job.  Kenneth was born two years later.  Nick remained with Block until his retirement, never losing one day’s work throughout the depression.

When I met Ken I also met his family. I found Nick’s stories fascinating and agreed with Bob, their neighbor, who advised Ken and Loretta to write down, or  record them in some way.   “Your father is a remarkable man, having lived a truly adventurous life,” Bob reminded the two.  “His experiences could fill a book.”  Young and foolish, they dismissed the advice complaining they had listened to their father’s tales all of their lives and if they didn’t hear them ever again, it would be too soon.

Years later, the editor of the magazine section of our local newspaper assigned me to write about an immigrant who came to America with a pack on his back. Search though we did, we found none — other than my father in law. In spite of the nepotism, Jerry said, “Do it.” I knew that Nick was forgetting the present, but hoped he would recall enough of his early life to make a good article. Through the years I heard most of Nick’s stories myself. Sitting together, I began my interview.  He was pleased that someone wanted to listen and spoke freely about China and his father and of his ocean voyage.  However, when I asked detailed questions about his homeland, upstate New York, Detroit, Montana, Bingham Canyon, his answer was always the same. With furrowed brow, he would say, “I don’t remember.”   The brief article of Nick’s life which spanned the better part of a century was the perfect size for the Sunday magazine. For the readers it was a good read, but for family it was only a portion.  The rest of the story, like my mother’s recipe for dinner rolls was gone — held captive within the Alzheimer’s prison of Nick’s padlocked brain.

Somehow, we believe that memory will last, sharp and clear, as long as life itself, and by some kind of self-imposed denial we also believe that life too will continue day after day just as it is now; that there will always be time to sit and listen to the legends of those who came before; that Alzheimer’s and other devastating brain diseases are something that happens to other people, but none of  that is true.  Loved ones pass on, time for doing runs out and for so many, memory is stolen away like a thief in the night leaving all to wish and wonder about the past, our own roots and remembering the hundreds of curious questions which now can never be asked remaining forever without answers.

Originally posted 2009-06-28 20:38:38.

TEACHERS AND STUDENT

Several years ago my friend Diana listened as Ken talked for a few minutes then crinkled her brow just a bit and whispered to me,  “Is he having memory problems.”  I replied that he was and had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  We talked about people we knew in common who suffered from some form of dementia, the medical field’s lack of knowledge and the sadness of it all.  Reassuringly, she commented about the brain being such a wonderful organ that we should be able to educate another one of its parts: transfer the data he was losing to a healthy section so to speak.  I wanted to say, “You mean like a back-up chip for the computer,” but I didn’t.   Instead I just  smiled and thought wouldn’t that be wonderful.   She spoke with such certainty that I didn’t want to pop her bubble by saying that a diseased brain doesn’t have a good section.  With Alzheimer’s the brain wasn’t injured and there was no part that had any immunity from the tangles and plaque. Also, research has found that whatever it is that causes the brain to “die” is contagious. It spreads from one section to another.

Diana isn’t alone in her thinking.  When my friend Jayne stays with Ken during those times when I have to be away longer than I like, she tells me that she “taught” Ken during the afternoon, using repetition.  Over and over she would tell him that he is married.  (Something Ken often denies.)  Then she would continue to repeat my name to him as if teaching a toddler how to say please and thank you.  At the end of her stay and my return home Jayne was convinced that Ken had learned something.  And I’m not one to say he hadn’t.  It’s like asking someone with no memory, “What did you forget?”  If you can’t remember, how do you know what has been forgotten?  It would be the same thing with knowledge.   When he does recognize that he is, indeed, married then something has happened  to allow that bit of memory to return, if only momentarily.  Is that restored memory or taught memory?

When his disease began and I noticed his forgetting, I too found myself teaching him.  Perhaps it wasn’t teaching, but more of preserving what he still had.  At least making an effort to keep some of the fundamentals.   I would spread playing cards out on the table and challenge him to a game of concentration: turn over a card and remember where the match is.  He did all right.  Was he learning or was that part of his still-functioning brain?  Our granddaughter, Jessica, often brought her game of “Go Fish” when she came to visit and we three would play.  Again, he did okay, but then that was a few years back.  All of his responses were better before.

I’m one who likes to read in bed and I asked Ken one night if he would like me to read to him.    He was agreeable, listening for a while before dropping off to sleep.  Did he absorb anything? Did he even listen?  Did I plant information or thoughts in his subconscious?  Did he subliminally learn while sleeping?  I don’t know.   It’s interesting, even though I smiled a bit at Diana and Jayne for believing he could be “taught,” I’ve seen too many demonstrations and videos showing the steps of destruction occurring to his brain.  Nevertheless, deep in my heart I too have felt if I tried hard enough and talked long enough I could change not only what was taking place, but I could restore bits and pieces of his memory.  Did any of our efforts do any good?  Did I extend his memory for any length of time?  I don’t really know.

So what does he remember? Career skills must be deeply planted in memory because he likes to add numbers.  I doubt if he could design much of a building nor could he make any sense from a set of plans, but he can still read the printed word, add  a simple column of figures and can think about how much he should set aside to pay his bills (which are requests for money presented in “bill form” from our deluge of junk mail).  But on the other hand I see him forgetting that he lives in our house asking me, “When are you going to drive me home?”   In the real world I know that he won’t get better and with each day he will get worse, but it’s nice to hear encouraging words from people who care like Diana and Jayne — and so many others.  Thank you friends.

Originally posted 2009-05-02 05:42:54.

THE SWEETNESS OF MEMORY

This gallery contains 1 photo.

 

baby tangerine tree

The memory of my husband who planted this tree from a tiny seed comes every time I see it. (phot courtesy, Creative Commons)

A FOND MEMORY OF ANOTHER TIME

August 5, 2016 – Memory is a tricky thing. “They” tell us that the past is gone, the future isn’t here, and today is where it is: reality – live in the moment. That’s why it’s called the “present.” I couldn’t agree more, but there is something about remembering the past that brings comfort when comfort is needed and welcomed. The anonymous one also says that the past may be pleasant, but you wouldn’t want to live there. I also agree with that but the gift of memory, a now-and-then visit soothes a saddened and lonely heart with a balm of happiness if just for a moment. Furthermore, memories are sometimes triggered by something so simple as a piece of fruit.

Continue reading

Originally posted 2016-08-05 22:21:45.

ALZHEIMER’S AND BURIED TREASURES

pelargonium

Seeing a fushia pelargonium reminds me of precious memories lost in the tangles of Alzheimer's disease.

April 14, 2012 — The rain had been good, penetrating the earth making it pliable without too much sogginess and sticky mud. Perfect, I thought, for pulling weeds.  Working out-of-doors had not been my intent when I strolled around the garden seeing spring unfold in all of its green glory.  I hadn’t even brought gloves, nor had I thought of therapy for the inner me — which gardening is — and yet I found myself compelled to kneel and pull at one weed just begging to be plucked.  Out it came with little effort on my part.  Shaking the bits of dirt from its roots I laid it on the ground to go after another and then another.  Soon both hands were busy picking and pulling the intruding plants in joyous abandonment never minding the damp earth gathering under my fingernails and etching brown particles into the creases of my hands.  I thought of our friend John who so enjoyed working in his garden, “It’s good for my soul,” he would smile brushing his hands clean after hours spent digging the soil. Continue reading

Originally posted 2012-04-14 01:27:32.

I SEE THE MOON. DOES KEN?

Full winter moon peeks through bare branches

Do people with Alzheimer's remember nature?

I watch the moon on these crisp and clear winter nights as it wanes and waxes just as I have watched it during all of the seasons.  For me, though, it is most beautiful during the fall when it appears to be closer to the earth than at any other time.  In reality it isn’t, it just looks that way.

The Harvest Moon as they refer to its splendor is almost frightening when it’s full, appearing bigger than life, as it peeks up over the hills east from where we live.  For years, at first sighting whether by me or Ken one would nudge the other excitedly saying, “Oh, look at the moon.  It’s so magnificent!”  It was as though if we didn’t stop what we were doing and look right then and there the other would miss it all together – as if neither of us had ever seen the moon before.

It’s understandable why the ancients of long ago were frightened of what they saw in the skies; why they had moon gods and superstitions, worshipping and fearing what they could not comprehend.  The moon itself with its many changes would be awesome enough, but imagine what terror was evoked when something unknown changed the appearance of their moon.

Ken and I have property in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains where we were able to spend some wonderful times several years ago before Alzheimer’s spread its destruction across his brain.  A lunar eclipse had been announced, but because of fog we wouldn’t be able to see it in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Not to matter, we had already planned to spend those days on the property and looked forward to the heavenly show.

Taking our folding chairs and flashlights from the trailer we walked up to the top of the hill as darkness fell and the telling hour approached.  Facing eastward we waited longer than we had expected to see some sign of the moon.  Nothing was happening.  Had the fog followed us to the foothills?  Looking straight up, directly overhead, we found the heavens filled with bright, sparkling stars and yet there was no moon.  Had the universe canceled the show?  Finally common sense prevailed and we stood up and moved to the right of where we had been sitting.  There it was in all of its celestial glory: the lunar eclipse.  Much to our chagrin we had been sitting behind a tree – a distant tree – but a tree nonetheless that reached skyward into the blackness just enough to block our vision.

“Wow!” was the word, spectacular beyond description.  We had lived so many years under hazy skies and city lights such sights had long eluded us.  We spoke of the Indians who had lived here so many years before and wondered what they thought of such a phenomenal happening.   It would have been beyond frightening without knowledge, and having only mystical beliefs they could know little of their moon-god, much less that Mother Earth could produce a shadow.

I wonder if it would frighten Ken if he saw an eclipse tonight, or is his thinking so far gone that even the moon itself is unknown to him. I wonder if he remembers the sun or the stars, the heavens or the universe.  Does he grasp feeling heat or cold, light or darkness – even day or night? Would he know of things once held dear to his heart: the ocean’s roar, the cry of a gull, the wind coming in from the sea, the feel of damp sand beneath his bare feet or the wetness of a lacy edged wave spilling over his toes?  I wonder if he remembers our four seasons with the moon.

It was under a spring moon that we met, falling in love among the stars and moon on balmy summer nights, a solitaire diamond offered in the brilliance of fall’s golden moon, and we married as winter’s pale moon slipped away behind storm-leaden clouds.

We looked out from our window into a gray day watching the rain and wind banter with the last few leaves hanging on skeletal trees in a nearby grove, and I thought of my new husband while promising me, “I’ll remember you in winter.”  And now I look up at the soft moon remembering him – us — January. Perhaps, somewhere deep in Ken’s lost mind and crippled neurons a memory flickers – and then again — perhaps not — but more importantly I want him to know deep in his soul that he knew love and is loved — still.  Happy Anniversary Ken.  January 21.

Originally posted 2012-01-21 03:43:06.

THE TWO FACES OF JANUS AND GROUNDHOG DAY — THE MOVIE

Janus

Even without the two faces of Janus, AD caregivers often see their tomorrows filled with the repetition of their yesterdays.

It’s January again and at times I want to ask, “Didn’t we just do January?” The answer coming back would be, “No.  That was last year and 11 months have transpired in between.”  I really know that, but there was something about that first day of 2012 which brings about thoughts of Janus the Roman God of New Beginnings after whom the month was named.  Being who he was it is said that he had two faces: one looking forward and the other looking back.  While Janus probably didn’t have my caregiving assignment, or if he did he never mentioned it, I see a disheartening sameness in my life while looking in either direction.

Being able to look back is a good thing, and in that respect we are much like the mystical god, but better because we who are mentally healthy can look back without needing a second face.  We have memory and can learn from history – especially our own.  We learn from making mistakes, taking wrong turns in the road, and what works and what doesn’t.  Furthermore, we can look ahead making daily plans, and plan for the future. My problem is constantly seeing more of the same thing coming in my tomorrows as filled my yesterdays.

Suppose that by looking back and ahead we see only repetition.  I guess that’s where I was as this New Year began; living in “Groundhog Day” – the movie – without the romance.  Bill Murray’s character Phil, an angry, arrogant, conceited jerk, had to keep repeating February 2, until his attitude changed, or until he got it right.  Andie Macdowell’s Rita, the love interest, eventually helped him through his maze of repetition producing a new, reformed and lovable Phil; a delightfully funny movie which Ken and I enjoyed together long before his Alzheimer’s was even suspected.

Remembering the movie, though, I found I was identifying with Phil’s frustration of constant repetition – without the laughs.  It’s true that I’m not tied to a stockade then released to perform certain duties, but it is the repetition of those twice-daily duties from which there is no escape: getting Ken up, cleaned and ready for breakfast each morning, and getting him cleaned and ready for bed in the evening.  (It is much more complicated and emotionally wrenching than it appears in my simple sentence, but long ago I promised myself to always be discreet in my writings about my husband.)

My caregivers, wonderful though they are, cannot do these chores alone.  I am their assistant, and I know I am blessed beyond measure to have them.  I also know that having Ken home is so much better for him, and me, than placing him in a care facility. Yet, the schedule inhibits my planning a totally free day.  No matter what I’m doing I must stop at designated times and with my cell phone in a pocket I’m always on call for undesignated times, which can put a damper on my project regardless if it’s at a crucial point or not, and help the caregivers.  That’s when I feel as if I’m living in “Groundhog Day” – the movie.

Admitting to me that I dread the routine I also recognize that the dread causes a buildup of resistance in planning my day.  Recognition is a first step.  While I understand that the day will be interrupted, it’s the accepting of the interruption that is difficult – and I ask myself – why?  After all, once involved in any project we can be interrupted in anything we do; altering our focus by a phone call, a visitor, a question, or a problem with the project itself.  Then I realized those interruptions are, not only easily accepted, but often welcomed as a mini-break because they were never built into the day’s plan as a constant, as is my husband’s clean-up time.

When Ken retired we became very spontaneous, often ditching less-important, flexible plans for some fun times spent together.  I suppose that loss of spontaneity is rather debilitating adding to the lack-luster feeling of sameness.  Actually, it can be rather hellish when time offers us no opportunity for change in our life; little variety,  few surprises, no rewards, no excitement and not much in the way of looking forward.

With that in mind, and as a caregiver who has been putting break time on hold during the past Holidays, I need to move headlong into the tomorrows and make positive plans for this coming year, and I’m the only one who can do it.  Not resolutions, just plans, even sketchy plans including projects and fun, but in the doing I’ll still need to schedule those time periods to accommodate my daily duties as assistant to Ben and Crizaldo which is a must, and learn to conquer my feelings of dread and resistance.  A recent email message offered a really great motivational shove: “Life has no remote.  Get up and change it yourself.”

It is essential for my own well-being to get out more with my movie group, my lunch group, and with Madalyn where we meet at Wendy’s for a baked potato with extra sour cream, butter and no salt because periodically we deserve a two-hour, carefree lunch.  I might even plan on painting the living room.

I know I don’t have all the answers to lighten up the tedious work of caregiving and the reality of losing my husband to this cruel disease.  What I do know is that I don’t want to live my life in the sameness of “Groundhog Day” – the movie – no matter how funny it was — because even never-ending funny without any hope for change can be hellish.

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/forresto/4258770494/

Originally posted 2012-01-14 03:42:41.

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