“You’ll have to take me out of here in a box,” said my mother many years ago.  She and my dad had retired to a lovely piece of land just a few miles west of Sebastopol, California in beautiful Sonoma County when they were in their early 60s.  My dad, who had worked at Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard received an early retirement because of his worn-out knees which made it next to impossible for him to continue climbing up and down the ladders of America’s former war ships.  He was also one of the “older” employees so it was easier for the Navy to just retire him rather than to be concerned with Dad’s aches, pains and restricted duty.  Besides, the war had been over for many years and keeping up the fleet was becoming a thing of the past.  In their search, my parents found a small piece of God’s amazing planet, built their dream home and settled in to enjoy the rest of their lives.  We, three daughters and our husbands, could only have hoped that their fabulous retirement years extended into nearly a quarter century.  Little by little, however, Father Time collected his toll from both of them.  Dad developed several conditions including congestive heart failure and Mama had recovered from a broken hip and kidney stones, but was becoming a bit forgetful.

As a family, we would often organize and spend a weekend at their acre and a half, trimming, weeding and trying to keep up with the demands of their little farm — an impossible task — but a fun getaway for us and helpful to them.   All the while, they stubbornly stuck to the earlier declaration of living where they chose until they died.  Even though there was concern from friends, neighbors and their church leaders, we three sisters allowed our parents their own decision.  My two sisters lived in Washington state and so the responsibility of Mom and Dad was, basically, mine.

Mama still picked from her garden, canned fruit from their trees, froze a few vegetables, and the two took care of each other.  My father could still drive during the day so they met their doctor’s appointments, shopped in town for their needs and actually got along quite well.  My one sister and her husband came from Washington for a visit and decided while they were there, she would do some “scudding out.”  With my father’s permission, and while my mother was engaged elsewhere, my well-meaning sister took it upon herself to clear out what she believed to be “older” jars of fruit and canned goods.  Loading half of my mother’s summer efforts into the back of her car, she took it all to the dumps.  Among the loss was Mama’s favorite Raw Tomato Relish.

It wasn’t until my sister and her husband were gone that Mama went to her storage looking for a jar of her favorite relish and found the cupboards half bare.   Puzzled, she asked my father if he knew anything about the missing supply.  Reluctantly, Dad had to confess his part in the vanished jars, explaining my sister meant well and had promised to toss only out-dated storage.  Mama was not only furious, she was crushed at not being consulted; at being treated as less than a thinking, reasonable and responsible adult.   A person without value; a person who, in Mama’s eyes, was no longer respected.  “What are we,” she said, “if we have no value and no respect?”   Feeling betrayed by not only her daughter, but by her husband as well, she fell into a long period of depression.

Eventually, she came out of her sadness, buoyed up by forgiveness, and life resumed for the two of them.  I certainly wouldn’t imply that her forgetfulness escalated because of the incident, but she began to slip further and further away.  To compound her declining health and memory loss, she developed leg ulcers (not successfully treated at the time).   One October day, Ken and I drove up for a visit.  I found her sitting on the patio, enjoying the last bit of an Indian Summer and reading.  Her legs were outstretched on a lawn couch and I noticed she had been self-treating an ulcer on her ankle, but the entire leg was an angry red and swollen.  “Has Greg seen your leg?” I asked.  Greg was a local doctor who lived next door with his wife and two daughters.  The family was devoted to my parents.  While he was not their physician, he watched over them, suggesting at times they see their own PC.  I knocked on his door and asked if he would take a quick look at Mama’s leg.  “She has a bad case of cellulitis,” he said, “and she needs to be in the hospital, now.”

My father declined our invitation to come home with us while Mama was in the hospital claiming he could care for himself and if he needed something he had neighbors.  We made certain she was comfortable and cared for at their HMO in San Rafael before we headed home.  I called my father during the week and visited Mama as often as I could.  At week’s end she was well enough to go home.  As we entered their house my father sobbed like a child proclaiming his loneliness, admitting they needed to give up their wonderful home and move closer to us — not live with us — just be close.  He realized that he could no longer care for his wife without help, especially after acknowledging the fact that her dementia was Alzheimer’s.

We found a nice little house less than a mile from where Ken and I lived, only a telephone call away, a 15 minute walk or a quick ride.  After a time, and with my mother’s advancing AD they required live-in help in addition to what I could provide.  But I still managed their affairs, and understanding the importance of “being master of one’s own ship,” I allowed my father to believe he was the one in charge.  He reviewed the mail and studied the bank statement, a job which had been my mother’s all of their married life.  I doubt he understood what he was perusing, but doing so returned to him his sense of independence.  Dad was still in command — the head of his household.  I never made a decision without consulting him, never took away his authority which allowed him to be a person who stepped up to the plate, taking on the responsibility in providing for the care of his beloved wife until her death, at home in her 90th year.   He died six months later at home — also in his 90th year — a man of honor, a man of value and respect.

Originally posted 2009-08-25 08:26:49.


The Kindess of All Makes up For Christmas Grinch in Oakley, CA

The Kindess of Many Makes up For Christmas Grinch in Oakley, CA

Unfortunately, there are among us a lot of Grinches and Scrooges, and while we would like to believe they all reform at the end of a story, that just isn’t true.  Take, for instance, the good folks who live in Oakley, California, located in Contra Costa County which is part of the nine counties making up the greater San Francisco Bay Area.  For months the “Friends of Oakley,” a non-profit organization, who serve their fair city, had been collecting toys and food donations for those of the community who were down on their luck during these tough economic times; everything to be delivered just before Christmas.

The day after Thanksgiving, all was going very well until the committee arrived at the school where the growing supply of good wishes had been stored only to find that a Grinch had stolen everything.  The empty store room, without nary a can of food left to roll across the floor, told an obvious tale:  this Grinch, more than likely these Grinches, had no intention of returning their cache of goodies.

Of course, the crime was promptly reported to the police department, the City Council and the mayor.  Word of the robbery spread via TV, newspapers, social media, emails, texting and even phone calls.  Many local residents and many throughout the Bay Area wanted to help.  In addition, the “Friends” received word from a retired school teacher living in North Carolina that she too wanted to contribute.  Such outpouring of concern and generosity quickly erased the hanging cloud of gloom and despair.  However, the big question remained:  in less than a month could all the good intentions in the world replace the missing toys, blankets and non-perishable food items that were meant to help and bring a bit of joy to 800 children, 300 families and 100 seniors this Christmas season?

“The response was incredible,” said newly sworn Mayor Kevin Romick. “Wells Fargo Bank joined the effort with a $4,000. gift, Oakley Disposal added an another $2,000. and many other local businesses made like donations.  The weekend before Christmas additional food was contributed by The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties.  While volunteers wrapped and packed, Santa’s helpers in the form of volunteer drivers with trucks checked their lists twice for delivery of two gift cartons for everyone in need.  “There are some wonderful people living among us,” concluded the mayor.  “Probably some are your neighbors”

Thinking about my adult children, including Mayor Romick, it warms my heart to know the apples didn’t fall far from the tree.  Over the years I have been aware of the many charities to which these adults who shared our life and home have contributed both with money and time, their constant support of worthy causes, and their individual efforts to bring comfort and peace to those  in need – you might say to be the answer to someone’s prayer.  And I remember many of Ken’s and my efforts to do the same. I am pleased with my family, all of whom continue to serve their fellow man and if he were able Ken would tell you so himself.  With Alzheimer’s his mind no longer registers the happenings in life, but I know that somewhere deep in his heart he feels the joy.

It is sad to acknowledge that there will always be unreformed Grinches and Scrooges living among us, but the good news is we have wonderful people as well — some of whom are my children – and some just might be your children, or your neighbors and no doubt you.   So, recalling the most famous and most reformed Mr. Scrooge of all time I’ll echo his Merry Christmas, and in the words of Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us, Every One!”

Originally posted 2011-12-24 05:48:57.

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