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Good girl gone

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One of my favorite pictures of Tess, from three or four years ago. She loved a camera and cameras loved her. Her eyes were still amber then.

If anyone ever tells you that losing pets gets easier with time, they’re lying, especially if you have to make the ultimate decision for them. Over 42 years, I’ve had the great luxury of only having five dogs – they’ve all lived very long lives for their sizes, and many of those years we were a two-dog family. Trigger, who lived to be 12, came home with me when I was 20. Our beloved Tess came home with my sister and me in the last vestiges of my youth – I was a mere 49, which seems young at almost 62.

But never have I had the luxury of a dog dying in her sleep. Even little Trudy, who at 16 years and 3 months had a massive stroke, had to be assisted in her final exit. Tess, a graceful beauty – we called her “Barbie” for her delicate ankles and catwalk poses (but I also called her “Catfish” in her younger years for her silly, swishy walk when we used to go for miles) had dealt with neuropathy for a long time. She had her 12th birthday party in May, and things just seemed to swarm after that. Her dainty ankles puffed up and she fell more and more. But she never lost her sweetness or her smile.

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Our gorgeous girl spent most of her time sleeping or resting the last few weeks. Our beloved vet, Tim Palladino of AllPets, made a house call so she could depart on her own bed. 

She so enjoyed our big family Memorial Day party, but she wasn’t interested in the hot dogs her dad grilled for her. She did really dig the Caesar salad, though, and cleaned the cheese grits pan.

When Tess was tiny and I was recuperating from a life-changing/potentially life-saving surgery, she stayed in the bed with me and patiently chewed on the corner of our expensive newish nightstand. We’ll cherish those little teeth marks forever.

She annoyed the heck our of Toby, who was 9 when Tess joined the family, until Tess was old enough to be her best pal. (Toby made it to almost 14.) She preceded grandchildren but loved, endured, and protected them fiercely as each came along. Zuzu is their buddy, but Tess was their guardian.

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Big little Zuzu will have to learn how to be an only child, at least for a while. She’s wearing Tess’s going-away lei in her honor.

Today we had a little memorial and gardenia-planting for Tess. I’ll close with pictures from that. My heart isn’t in this. It still hurts.

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Pop put the lovely bush in the ground,

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then all the kids helped fill the hole with dirt.

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The kids are happy to have a reminder of Tessie, but Sylvia, who said a few words along with Pop, wanted assurance that we’d never move and leave Tess’s gardenia behind. No matter what, she’ll live in our hearts forever.

Golden girl

 

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Tess Among the Flowers

Today our darling Tessie is 12, quite a geriatric for a German Shepherd. She came to live with us in July 2005, when she was 8 weeks old and I was recuperating from a life-changing (and potentially life-threatening) surgery. Her tiny teeth marks are still on the corner of my very expensive nightstand from where she entertained herself while I snoozed.

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Official 12th birthday portrait – she’s always loved to be photographed.

She’s still an elder beauty, a natural blonde, but in her early years, she was dark and her future appearance was a mystery, as is always the case with shepherds.

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That face! That white-tipped tail (which she still has)!

Tess LOVES presents, so we started early this morning (early for her – she sleeps in most mornings and takes her morning pain medicine before she’s very mobile these days).

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In action

Present

Another squeaky toy!

In November, when Tess came screaming to us with bloat, formally called gastric dilatation volvulus – GDV – the emergency vet clinic wasn’t so sure she’d make it. We knew she would, and even though the vet was nervous, we opted for emergency surgery. Not only did she survive, she got to go home in record time. She was an invalid for a while, and she’s still terribly hobbled by neuropathy, her permanent condition.

A heartbreaker for us, but she’s still happy.

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Excuse the blur – they were a little too excited.

We know her days are numbered – I won’t embarrass her by mentioning some of the indignities of doggy old-age – but for now, she still loves her family and the grandkids and still has her glorious smile, so we persevere. Her neuropathy prevents her from taking the long walks she so loved, and her glorious tail hangs down these days, still with its white tip – not from unhappiness, but from numbness.

But in our minds, she’s still the cutest puppy ever and still has so much to say. Happy birthday, Tess!

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Precious in pink

 

The Master of Space and Time

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No, this post isn’t about my beloved Leon Russell, THE Master of Space and Time. But I do keep hearing his song in my head.

John and I just marked our 12th wedding anniversary yesterday. I say “marked” because we haven’t had time to celebrate it yet – we’ll do that tomorrow night. We’ve had a crazy busy spell.

Our wedding song was “In My Life,” which is his still ringtone on my phone, but these days I tend to associate my husband with Leon Russell’s beautiful lyrics in “A Song for You“:

I’ll love you in a place
Where there’s no space and time.
I’ll love you for my life,
You are a friend of mine

And when my life is over,
Remember when we were together –
We were alone
And I was singing this song to you …

Happy anniversary, John. You are a master of space and time because it seems I’ve known you forever AND that we just met. I love you.

Time in general seems to be warp speed these days.

Mad Dogs.jpgJust the other day, I was hula-hooping to the last 30 minutes or so of Mad Dogs and Englishmen (the DVD, which I recently got and adore – those were the days), and I remembered a woman who sent me a letter and photos years ago when I wrote my “Fit Happens” column for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. She had an autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis and/or fibromyalgia (like my mother and sister) and couldn’t do stress-bearing workouts. She wanted me to know she’d hooped herself into shape and the darling photos showed her physical transformation. I ended up interviewing her for a column. I wonder how she is?

One thing that kept us busy on our anniversary weekend was the opening of a fabulous, scary, thought-provoking exhibit in the gallery at John’s dream-come-true New Deal Studios and Gallery, a wood- and metal-workers cooperative. He’d had the dream for some time; fortunately Lee Weber came along at the right time to become his partner and help make it come true.  They complement each other as business partners and friends.

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Part of the “A Murder of Crows – A Southern Retrospective” exhibit featuring the work of V.L. Cox and Michael Church. Click on the link to see more info.

It’s the perfect space and seems to be the perfect time for things to take off.

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Forgive the blurriness of the photo, please – guess it’s time for a phone upgrade that I keep putting off. John is on the left, Lee on the right.

John and Lee make good partners in business. John and I make good partners in life.

Reach out and touch (somebody’s hand)

When Jude heard the news about his Pop's mom, he sat down to make a sympathy card. We're lucky grandparents.

When Jude heard the news about his Pop’s mom, he sat down to make a sympathy card. We’re lucky grandparents.

As much as it pains me to type these words, the fact is this: My little mother-in-law, the woman who raised the man I love, slipped away Saturday morning, at about 9 her – Yakima, Wash. – time. She was 93.

We fly out tomorrow, as already scheduled (though it won’t be pretty – when John checked us in online, he was immediately notified that at least one flight is overbooked). We couldn’t get anything workable sooner – this time of year flights are scarce.

I’ve put off writing this, but this morning, as I was ironing John’s shirts for the trip and listening to Aretha Franklin Live at the Fillmore West on my new little retro record player he got me for Christmas, I realized that I could and must reach out and write this.

Reaching out and touching each other is how we get through these times.

Doris and I didn’t know each other that long in the big picture, having just met about a dozen years ago, but it was instant love, partly because we shared this wonderful man. She thanked me repeatedly over the years for coming into his life and I thanked her each time I saw her for raising a gentle man to love me and never think I’m too weird for words.

She started slipping mentally a few years into our relationship but she never lost her ability to love, not even in the later years when she hardly knew which end was up at times.

As I’ve written before, she really said her goodbyes to us in July, when she had a few very, very lucid minutes. She told us she’d had a good life and to take care of each other and love each other.

We do and we will. But we’ll miss her being around to occasionally remind us.

Goodbye, little Doris.

Doris didn't like this photo from Thanksgiving 1981, but I rescued it from the trash. She's with her very long-lived mother – the mother she's been searching for as the dementia worsened. I hope they're together now. And I love how Doris is sassy in red.

Doris didn’t like this photo from Thanksgiving 1981, but I rescued it from the trash. She’s sitting with her very long-lived mother – the mother she’s been searching for for a couple of years as the dementia worsened. I hope they’re together now. And I love how Doris is sassy in red.

 

Fly me to the moon

The third supermoon in a row, taken on Monday Sept. 8.

The third supermoon in a row, taken on Monday Sept. 8.

So, just like that, I’m 59, and my family and friends have flown me to the moon with love, attention and gifts. I’ve got so many people who can take me to Jupiter and Mars just by holding my hand that getting older is a treat.

I’ve got a  sweet husband, wonderful children, glorious grandkids and the best friends a semi-old girl could hope for. My mother keeps on ticking and next year, if all goes well, we go to Italy together for decade-changing birthdays.

I just got to see (and document photographically) three supermoons in a row.

The third consecutive supermoon on Sunday, Sept. 7 – the precautionary shot in case it was cloudy the next night.

The third consecutive supermoon on Sunday, Sept. 7 – the precautionary shot in case it was cloudy the next night.

My precious little ones give me a reason to look to the future.

Next weekend my cousin and I get to go to New York for the People’s Climate March, so I can at least tell my five little peppers that I tried, should things not turn around climate-wise.

I may be old, but I feel re-energized. Thank you, my darlings. You all know who you are.

My daughter and my Julia both got me Wonder Woman gifts, which made me feel just wonderful.

My daughter and my Julia both got me Wonder Woman gifts, which made me feel just – wonderful.

And here's more – I'm almost embarrassed by the abundance, and that's not even all. (Excuse John's mess on the table. He prefers it to his desk upstairs.)

And here’s more – I’m almost embarrassed by the abundance, and that’s not even all. (Excuse John’s mess on the table. He prefers it to his desk upstairs.)

Annabelle, like her cousin Jude, has inherited the art gene. That's a darn good flower for a 3-year-old, and the 'L

Annabelle, like her cousin Jude, has inherited the art gene. That’s a darn good flower for a 3-year-old, and the ‘L” is for “Lolly,” of course.

Love her madly

Here's Barbie

After much searching, I finally found “Here’s Barbie” in a misplaced box of books this morning.

From the first time I saw her, which was probably on a commercial during The Mickey Mouse Club, which I watched every day when I was 3, (followed by American Bandstand, which I never missed), I knew I’d love her madly. Had to have her. I was an immediate convert.

Barbie, the teenage model, was my ideal – a sultry (but sweet) beauty who had it all: glamour, limitless possibilities and fabulous clothes. I begged, insisted, had to have her. Mother, who says she thought at the time that a baby doll would have been more appropriate, told me I could have her if I bought her with my own money.

Since Christmas of 1958 was my last as an only grandchild on Mother’s side, I just happened to have the $3 a Barbie cost, and buy her I did. Mother says considering Cathy was born January 27, 1959, and I got my Barbie within weeks of her birth, she’s sure I had my blonde beauty before April.

She’s also almost positive I had a No. 1 Barbie, the Holy Grail of collectors, the Barbie with the holes in her feet that held her up on a tiny stand – the only model made that way before the switch to the wire under-the-armpits stands.

The reason we have to speculate is that my first Barbie was wantonly, deliberately beheaded by a girl who was visiting across the street in late summer of 1961, just before I started first grade. For the early Barbies, heads weren’t readily removable. I don’t know what possessed that girl – or who she was; Mother and I tried and tried to figure that out today, but we can’t remember.

Good thing, or I’d name her here. I think she might have been visiting her grandmother, but whoever she was, she asked to hold my buxom beloved,  then – crack – snapped her head off. I could hear the sound and my heart broke with Barbie’s neck.

I burst into tears and ran crying across the street, my own blonde ponytail flying behind me. “Mooommmmyyyyy!!” We don’t remember if she took any other action, but Mother did take me to the store to buy me a replacement Barbie. Maybe it was too traumatic to go for another blonde, or maybe at almost 6 my preference had just changed, but I got the silky-haired brunette.

Betty Page-raven her hair is. And, though it had gone dull with age, today it’s shiny and sleek again – that’s because last night about 11:30, I shampooed and conditioned her hair.

Let me explain.

We’re launching a super-fab vintage Barbie exhibit at Esse Purse Museum the end of September, so I’ve had Barbie on the brain, between research, talking to Mattel, and sorting through my friend Marsha’s glorious collection of Barbie and friends. That made me decide to face the attic to dig out my Barbie, Midge, Ken, Skipper and my perky mod friend, Francie, Barbie’s younger cousin.

All my dolls had been passed on to Liz, who loved them as much as I did and played with them as much as with her own more modern (but less cool) Barbies.

Excuse Midge's immodesty, but this is their "before" picture. Barbie was actually naked in the box, but her bathing suit was there too.

Excuse Midge’s immodesty, but this is their “before” picture. Barbie was actually naked in the box, but her bathing suit was there too.

I immediately found Barbie, Ken, Midge and – surprise! – Tutti, whom I’d forgotten might still be around. She was an afterthought at the end of my Barbie years, but she was so stinking cute that I got one anyway, even though at about 11 I considered myself much too old for dolls. Lots of Liz’s dolls were there and the fabulous clothes my grandmother made for the girl dolls (and quite a few of Ken’s clothes, which were store-bought and dapper) but no Francie. No vintage Skipper (Liz’s later model is there).

One or more boxes of Barbie paraphernalia is missing. I have torn this house apart – all we can figure out is that years ago, when we had a storage unit broken into, the thief who took Ben’s most valuable baseball cards must have made off with Francie and all her Carnaby Street clothes. Along with Skipper and some of Liz’s Barbie clothes and accessories.

I did find Ken’s case standing alone in the back of the attic. All the others are missing, but at least his survived.

Anyway, back to the late-night shampoo: Years in a dusty attic are not kind to toys in cardboard boxes. A red rubber band had melted into Barbie’s ponytail, and they all were musty and dusty. So what do you do?

You bathe, shampoo and condition. Or, in Midge’s case, bathe, Febreeze and brush like mad. Her curls make washing prohibitive. Barbie lost quite a bit of hair to the red goo, but some menopausal hair loss is normal, and she is 53.

Tutti's little dress had a definite beige tinge before a hand washing. Midge's purple velvet dress, which is lined and in perfect shape, was made by my grandmother over 50 years ago.

Tutti’s little dress had a definite beige tinge before a hand washing. Midge’s purple velvet dress, which is lined and in perfect shape, was made by my grandmother over 50 years ago.

Ken's lost some felt hair over the years, but Ben gave him a head start by adding a racing stripe to Ken's head via my treadmill wheel.

Ken’s lost some felt hair over the years, but Ben gave him a head start by adding a racing stripe via my treadmill wheel.

I had plenty of things I needed to do this weekend, but after spending hours grooming dolls and searching through the house – which was fruitless for missing dolls or accessories but turned up other surprising things – instead I hand washed Barbie clothes (and some Ken shirts), repaired a few things and Febreezed Ken’s suit and tuxedo jacket and vest. (His tuxedo pants, sadly, are missing.)

My hands are dry and pruny, but it was worth it. John was supportive (the shampoo and conditioner was his idea, in fact) and seemed to think seeing his 59-in-one-week-year-old wife playing with dolls was cute.

And I realize once again how masterful Mama, my super young grandmother was. Her sewing puts me – and most others – to shame. We couldn’t afford many store-bought Barbie clothes, but my Barbie and Midge were some of the best dressed in town.

The pink skirt, black skirt, yellow pajama top (missing pants, sigh) and white pants were made by Mattel. The rest were made by Mama, Verna Tackett.

The pink skirt, black skirt, yellow pajama top (missing pants, sigh) and white pants were made by Mattel. The rest were made by Mama, Verna Tackett. The white satin dress is a replica of Mother’s wedding dress, made with scraps from her dress (which my grandmother made, of course). The lace overcoat is with the other missing things, sadly.

 

The pink frayed-collar dress is all that remains of Francie and the little pink dress was the original Skipper's, when she was a little girl. The rest were made by my grandmother. They're way beyond fabulous.

The pink frayed-collar dress is all that remains of Francie and the little pink dress was the original Skipper’s, when she was a little girl. The rest, except the blue-and-white stripe, were made by my grandmother. They’re way beyond fabulous. Now I’m making some clothes for my 3-year-old granddaughters’ Barbies, but they are definitely bush-league in comparison.

One unexpected thing I found today in the mad hunt was this sweet picture of my grandmother and me, taken in 1998 when she came for Liz’s high school graduation. She was 82 and died three years later, perky and living at home until the end.

At one time, my grandmother and I were just about the same height – at 5'4", I was a smidgen taller. We shared green eyes and mutual admiration. She was a doll herself.

At one time, my grandmother and I were just about the same height – at 5’4″ I was a smidgen taller. We shared green eyes and mutual admiration. She was 39 years old when I was born and a doll herself.

 

Moonlight serenade

The July 12 super moon shot with our Nikon D70, normal lens, no tripod, at about 9:30.

The July 12 super moon shot with our Nikon D70, normal lens, no tripod, at about 9:30.

The first of the three-months-in-a-row super moons gave us quite a moonlight serenade the other night, the same night a PBS show we’d recorded gave me a big surprise earlier in the evening.

John and I had recorded “The Disappearance of Glenn Miller” on History Detectives recently and decided to watch it rather than rent a movie. Cathy and I grew up on Glenn Miller – Daddy was a trombonist and piano player and Glenn Miller was his idol.

Miller died over the English Channel on Dec. 15, 1944, a World War II casualty, when Daddy was 11 years old, but Miller’s music was Daddy’s favorite to play on the trombone, which he did in a dance band.

Daddy was also a huge WWII buff, so I was wistfully but calmly watching and thinking how much I wished he could see the episode – a fascinating story, even if you’re not a Glenn Miller Orchestra fan. (Miller was at the height of his fame and popularity – and drawing in some serious bucks for the day – when he enlisted in 1942.)

Calmly until I wasn’t.

The show cut to footage of a 1940s black telephone ringing on a desk, and, bam – “Pennsylvania 6-5000” started playing in my head (click on the link if you don’t know the song). And I was sobbing. Wailing. For an awful few seconds until I gained my composure.

My father died in 1982.

It gets better, but you never know when you’ll be waylaid by loss.

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Oldest granddaughter gave me a surprise at lunch time the other day. She and her brother were sitting side by side at our bar eating lunch and I was between and behind them. Somehow the conversation turned to babies, and  THE question.

“How do babies get inside mommies’ tummies?”

OK, 3 years old, need-to-know basis – and I’ve done this before. I told her mommies have eggs inside them and when it’s time for a baby to come along, the eggs start growing into babies, until they’re ready to be born.

Sorry, guys, I left you out of this abbreviated version. That satisfied her. Except for one more question: “How do the eggs get in there?” I told her the mommies grow them. “Oh.”

Then we talked about how all living things start as eggs then turn into egg babies, then they “get born.” I explained that chickens actually hatch, which they found quite interesting, then the conversation drifted.

Later that afternoon, though, when baby bro woke up from his nap, the elder put it all together.

“Lukey was an eggbaby, then he turned into a baby, then he got born, then he was Lukey!”

Pretty much.

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Speaking of grandkids, they’re one of the main reasons I was hellbent and determined to go to New York in September for the People’s Climate March. My cousin Karen and I bought our airline tickets this morning. We’re almost 10 years apart in age and separated by a couple of hours of driving but close in other ways – and both of us were so influenced by our loving, liberal-minded grandmother that it makes perfect sense for us to do this together.

For the kiddos. And for Mama.

Sitting on the dock of the bay

Mother was having a bit of stressed-out day, so Liz surprised her pre-birthday party by sprucing up her deck table – and, as you can see from the smile, her mood. Ben gave her a certificate to power wash her deck, so it'll soon be even sprucier.

Mother was having a bit of stressed-out day, so Liz surprised her pre-birthday party by sprucing up her deck table – and, as you can see from the smile, her mood. Ben gave her a birthday certificate to power wash her deck, so it’ll soon be even sprucier.

And then there’s my mother, also known as Grandma, Grammy and Willette. She may not quite be sitting on the dock of the bay, but she is spending lots of time on her deck by the lake these days, for which her family is ever so grateful. She turned 79 Monday (we had a party at her house Saturday). We’re grateful for that, too.

The move from the outback to the house on the lake in town (which was all her decision, for the record) was harder on her than we can ever imagine – not only did she downsize and leave the house she built for her and Bill to grow old in, but she did it on her own. Made her own decisions, got utilities in her own name. Of course we helped her a lot, but Mother, who married Daddy at 17 and married Bill 13 months after Daddy died, has been on her own now longer than she ever has.

She looks like a million bucks and a much younger woman, but, truth be told, her health is much less than stellar. She gets flustered and frustrated, but when her blood counts are acceptable, she’s usually pretty chipper. And still very funny.

Resilience is the word that comes to mind. But with age you lose some of your fearlessness and confidence – it’s a pretty natural progression but still hard to watch for the family. Mother has always been a fireball.

Anyway, back to the party.

Annabelle, Sylvia and Grammy, three beautiful girls.

Annabelle, Sylvia and Grammy, three beautiful girls.

Shortly after we got there, Mother called everyone to attention and said she’d made a frozen drink called “Red Rooster” (cranberry juice cocktail, orange juice and Tito’s Handmade Vodka – she’d heard the recipe at one of her doctor’s appointments) and commanded all the adults to get a serving because she had something to say.

We happily obliged, and, Mother being Mother, were ready for anything, but I secretly hoped it wasn’t bad health news.

“I made this,” she told us, “because I want to thank you all for all your help during my move – for all you’ve done. And to apologize for the times I’ve been heinous ….”

I said she had never been heinous, but it was hard for all of us not to laugh at her use of the word. Out of the mouths of great-grandmothers!

I did almost choke later that evening, when John, who of course hadn’t been wearing his hearing aid at the party, told me that at first he’d thought Mother was being awfully hard on herself when she apologized for “the times she’d been an anus.”

Pop and Silas – two guys who crack me up.

Pop and Silas – two guys who crack me up.

Mother blows out her candles, with long-distance assistance from Annabelle. Jude saw the cake that said, "Happy birthday, Mother," and asked Cathy, "Who's Mother?" He thought it was Grammy's birthday.

Mother blows out her candles, with long-distance assistance from Annabelle. Jude saw the cake that said, “Happy birthday, Mother,” and asked Aunt Cathy, “Who’s Mother?” He thought it was Grammy’s birthday.

Monday, on her real birthday, July 7, Mother and I went to buy her an iPad. She also got an “iPad for Seniors” book (with slightly larger text and lots of photos) and a turquoise iPad cover.

We’d tossed Bill’s clunky Dell computer, which Mother hated and feared, when we moved her out of the old house. She already had wifi, though, and an email address set up, so in no time her new toy was up and running. She’s been wanting to text for a long time, but with her rheumatoid arthritis, texting on a phone is out of the question, so the iPad is perfect for that. And she can check her email, look at photos of the kids, use her Google app to look things up and play solitaire on the app we downloaded.

Mother learns to text on her 79th birthday.

Mother learns to text on her 79th birthday.

She sent texts to Cathy, John, Liz and Elizabeth, and my stepsister Lisa. I got her fairly comfortable with very basic things before I went home. Or so we thought. From 9:30 until just after 10 that night we had a phone tutorial that reminded me of a cross between an Abbott and Costello routine and one of Bob Newhart’s phone sketches (they used to make Daddy laugh until he cried).

I was determined to get her situated – and keep her from getting scared of her iPad – even if I had to drive across the river, but we finally got things straight on the phone.

Yesterday morning she left me a message that when she got up, all her icons were there and things were under control. But yesterday evening, things had run amok. I finally determined, via phone, that she’d accidentally opened the Game Center trying to get to solitaire – thank heavens she didn’t stumble into online gaming! – and we had another phone tutorial. Haven’t checked yet today – I’m writing this while watching the World Cup semifinal– but I have faith that she’ll catch on.

And the patience to keep at it until she does. Heck, she may be on Facebook before we know it.

Now I’m thinking of next year. For Mother’s 80th, should we be so lucky, we’re going to Italy – we’re thinking Rome, Pompeii and Florence. We’ll consult with her doctors in August on the feasibility, and if they give us the go-ahead, we’ll shoot for April or May.

In the meantime, she can enjoy life with her little dog Polly, her iPad and her deck on the lake.

All things must pass

John, Sweetie and Doris on a very good day during our visit.

John, Sweetie and Doris on a very good day during our visit.

Life can be so sweet and so bittersweet; all things must pass, which is hard to abide when those things are a parent – or a parent’s memory.

We baby boomers are all in it together; we’ve lost a parent, are losing a parent or know it’s coming. That’s the cycle of life.

Some situations are harder than others, and watching dementia or Alzheimer’s take a loved one someplace else is high on the list of horrible.

But you make the best of it and love the moments you get.

John and I just made a trip to his home town in Washington for what may be our last visit with his mother, sweet little Doris, who has a nonspecific dementia and failure to thrive syndrome. At this point, she’s just fading, no matter how much she eats. She can remember a few things from the 1940s, but you have to go way back to her childhood for her to really remember anything of substance.

Little Doris and her daddy await the boat to Catalina in the late 1920s. Those are the years Doris remembers these days.

Little Doris and her daddy await the boat to Catalina in the late 1920s. Those are the years Doris remembers these days.

Otherwise, she’s on a loop about the weather, the wind, her beloved cat, Sweetie, and the time. But occasionally she’ll throw something in that gets your attention, makes you laugh.

The long-suffering good girl, Sweetie, who was the chosen cat of three who moved from the orchard to the tiny apartment.

The long-suffering good girl, Sweetie, who was the chosen cat of three who moved from the orchard to the tiny apartment.

Doris now. You can still see a bruise from a fall a few weeks ago – but you can also see the woman behind the curtain of confusion.

Doris now. You can still see a bruise from a fall a few weeks ago – but you can also see the woman behind the curtain of confusion.

My first day back in Little Rock, I saw a friend I haven’t seen in years – she popped into Esse Purse Museum & Store, where I hang out – and told me her mother-in-law died last year from nonspecific dementia and failure to thrive syndrome. She just faded away physically and mentally over about two years.

Doris has been fading longer than that – looking back, it’s hard to say when the confusion really set in, but it’s been a good long while.

As of a few weeks ago, she’s in hospice care at home, which is an assisted living facility now. Many days she thinks she’s traveling and is ready to come home; the really bad spells are when she’s frightened, doesn’t know where she is and is frantic to get home.

John’s sister, Kitty, deals with the bad spells on a sometimes several-times-a-day basis. For our trip, though, Doris rallied. She dressed most days – something she rarely does now – and even went to the dining room for a few meals, with or without John, much to everyone’s surprise.

John texted a mother and son selfie to Kitty and me, much to our delight.

John texted a mother and son selfie to Kitty and me, much to our delight.

Kitty and I slipped away to give Kitty some respite time and fun, while John soaked up every moment he could with his mother. We did get to visit with our niece and nephew – which is always a treat – but this was a Mom-centered visit. She doesn’t leave the facility now and most conversations are on an Abbott and Costello-style loop, but we still loved basking in her gentle and sweet presence.

The Yakima Valley is wine country, and we made the most of it this night – in the Inaba's kitchen. That's me, Kitty (in her Eiffel Tower apron that commemorates our trip to Paris together) and Norm.

The Yakima Valley is wine country, and we made the most of it this night – in the Inaba’s kitchen. That’s me, Kitty (in her Eiffel Tower apron that commemorates our trip to Paris together) and Norm.

In some ways Alzheimer’s is easier to deal with – at least that horrid disease has an anticipated trajectory. With garden-variety dementia, anything goes; somedays are horrible with short-term memory that holds for 10 seconds or so, but occasionally you get the person you miss back for a bit. Then she’s gone again. All you can do is cherish those moments.

And remember that everyone, no matter how lost, has something to say. You just have to listen for the message in the mania, the explanation in the inertia. Or meet them where they are, even if that’s in 1928.

John spent hours showing Doris photos on our phones – the same ones entertain her over and over. But here she's explaining to us every detail of photos from her childhood. The mind is a peculiarly fascinating organ.

John spent hours showing Doris photos on our phones – the same ones entertain her over and over. But here she’s explaining to us every detail of photos from her childhood. The mind is a peculiarly fascinating organ.

When it came time to say goodbye, Doris was back with the wisdom of her almost 93 years. She told us what a long and wonderful life she’s had – yet how time flies. She talked about how lucky she’s been to have such wonderful children and how pleased she is to have me as a member of the family – that John found me, as she puts it. I thanked her again for raising such a wonderful man for me to marry.

“Take care of each other,” she told us. She was 100-percent lucid in those moments.

We assured her we would. And we didn’t cry. The goodbyes were sweet and tender and strong.

All things must pass. Acceptance is hard but resistance is harder. If The Beatles are right, and in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make, Doris will be a wealthy woman when she gets home from her travels.

And we’ll be poorer for her absence, even though in many ways she’s already gone.

 

Good old days

Mama, Verna Jewel Tackett, and Papa, William Doyle Tackett, with their first-born grandchild, fall of 1955. She was 39, he 44.

Mama, Verna Jewel Tackett, and Papa, William Doyle Tackett, with their first-born grandchild, fall of 1955. She was 39, he 44, upon my arrival.

With the spate of recent craziness in the world and U.S. – and my concerns for my grandchildren’s futures – I find my thoughts turning frequently to lessons learned from my grandparents in the good old days.

Though time and circumstances are very different a half-century later, I hope someday my grandkids will remember love and lessons from me.

Since we didn’t live in the same town, every summer from the time I was 2, I – and later Cathy and I – spent two weeks in Russellville with Mother’s parents, Mama and Papa. Daddy’s parents, Nana and Daddy Lou, also lived in Russellville until I was 9, so it was a bit of a twofer, but the Tacketts were the custodials, and the Cartwrights the day-visits.

Mother pretty unashamedly did the happy dance upon dropping us off, but she has told me it stung a bit that we were so happy to go. The last year I made the pilgrimage  was the summer after the eighth grade, 1969. By that point, friends, the pool – and mainly the lack of a rock ’n’ roll radio station – plus my many babysitting jobs made it a no-go.

I vividly remember reading Farenheit 451 for the first time that last summer in Russellville. I remember also meeting some young teen neighbors to hang out with, but, oddly, I thought, considering they were a small town crew, they were too wild for me, the sophisticated city girl. Working mom, brothers hanging from the rafters – I’ll just go back across the street and hang out with my creative grandmother and little sister, thank you very much.

I learned many lessons during the years I did go.

One was that I was a little ray of sunshine who would always be the center of someone’s universe, at least as long as my grandparents and great aunt and uncle were alive. John seems to take that position now, which would make Papa very, very happy. After he died, Mama told me Papa would’ve never thought any man worthy of me, but I think he’d approve.

Uncle Johnny Blaiotta, whose family emigrated from Italy to San Francisco when he was 10, and my Aunt Opal, Papa's older (by two years) sister. She called him "Cookie," and they were childless lovebirds. They doted on Mother and Uncle Bill then doted on us. Just have to include them because they were so stinking cute.

Uncle Johnny Blaiotta, whose family immigrated from Italy to San Francisco when he was 10, and my Aunt Opal, Papa’s older (by two years) sister. Aunt Opal called Uncle Johnny “Cookie,” and they were childless lovebirds. They doted on Mother and Uncle Bill then doted on all their children. Just have to include this picture because they were so stinking cute when they came back to visit from California in 1957.

Having such crazy-young grandparents meant that we got to have them for a very long time – and that my children got to know them, love them and even go spend the weekend with them a time or two.

This has got to be their 70th and 75th birthdays, judging by the hats and the ages of Liz, Ben and Robert. Look how tickled Papa is -he loved a good time and a big laugh.

This has got to be their 70th and 75th birthdays, judging by the hats and the ages of Liz, Ben and Robert. Look how tickled Papa is – he loved a good time and a big laugh. April 15, 1916, and April 24, 1911, were their birthrates.

OK, I’m short on time, so let me focus:

From my grandfather I learned how to vegetable garden. I didn’t realize that I was learning at the time – I thought we were just hanging out. But later, after becoming a gardener myself, I realized just how much he’d taught me, and he was a ready reference for any question I might have.

I learned that a good sense of humor can take you a long way. And that a little mischief never hurt anything, especially if you don’t get caught. But if you do, if you’re crafty, you can finagle your way out of too much trouble.

Example from one of his favorite stories about when I was 2:

Papa: “Laura, am I going to have to spank you?”

Laura: “Now, Papa, you wouldn’t spank your sweet little granddaughter, would you?”

Turns out, no, he wouldn’t. He laughed hard instead. 

But he would give Cathy a quick firm swat on the rear when she stood up in the fishing boat on Lake Dardenelle after being repeatedly cautioned against standing in the boat.

Turns out our grandfather who could do anything couldn’t do one critical thing, and that was swim. Cathy nearly gave him the heart attack he had in his front  yard years later – one from which he did recover and live another decade.

I don’t even know if we were wearing lifejackets. It was the early ’60s and times were lax. Oh, yeah, he taught us to fish.

Papa took us to see Von Ryan’s Express at the drive-in movie, something we thought was ubercool. He taught us that even though you hung the moon and stars, you still go play in the yard and get out of the adults’ hair. You do get homemade chocolate chip cookies for breakfast, but you don’t sass or interrupt adults.

He taught me that sitting on a limb of the mulberry tree in my great-grandmother’s backyard next to the train track – that I wasn’t allowed to climb – to wave at him as he passed by driving the train was our little secret and didn’t hurt anybody, as long as I didn’t fall.

Never fell. I did sport lots of blue lips, though. And denied to high heaven having eaten unwashed mulberries.

The berry doesn’t fall very far from the grandfather, from stories I’ve heard about him.

We had him until he was 80. Wasn’t long enough.

From my grandmother I learned to sew. I learned to cook. I learned that I could do anything, make anything, be anything, if I just studied it enough to figure it out.

She had no education beyond high school but was very smart, creative and talented. She exuded love and taught us that, ultimately, it is indeed all you need to have a successful life.

She had an innate wisdom and an old soul. She was zen and Papa was zest. They were a perfect balance.

Mama used to counsel me on being married to a slightly older man and told me that in some time spans the difference wouldn’t be noticeable but at other times, it would and you just had to have patience.

Oh, yeah, my grandmother taught me about patience. And acceptance. And second chances. And hope.

She used to pull Cathy and me aside when we were pulling our hair out over our wild little sons and tell us, “Your mother means well, but she doesn’t understand – she never raised a boy.”

She taught me that politics count and voting is a duty, no matter how small the election. She and Papa worked the polls every election that came around after he retired.  She respected the president, whoever occupied the office, but she she was a proud, self-proclaimed yellow-dog Democrat who believed people needed to take care of each other.

Though we were sick to lose her, we were all glad she was spared living through Sept. 11 and the invasion of Iraq. Her heart full of love would’ve shattered over those events.

She died at 85 in the summer of 2001. Still lived at home. Never drove a car. Never raised her voice.

She never needed to – we could hear her loud and clear. Still can.

This is one of my favorite pictures in the world. Liz and Papa hanging out in the kitchen on South Laredo in Russellville.

This is one of my favorite pictures in the world. Liz and Papa hanging out in the kitchen on South Laredo in Russellville. They’d been playing some kind of wooden game that Liz is holding, I think.