Skip to content

The Trout Mobile and Other Wages Cars

October 27, 2012

One of the most drastic changes in Daddy’s behavior is his attitude toward money. Once painfully frugal and antagonistic when Mother, Timber or I traipsed in wearing a new sweater, he now spends without regard. In the spring he purchased a $100 pair of neon yellow sneakers in downtown Acworth on a whim; he donated to every charitable organization that called the house until Mother took away his credit card; and he offered to throw me a nice wedding without wincing. (A few years ago he notified Timber and me that our nuptials would take place in the pasture.)

I visited home last weekend to discover that Daddy had bought Mother a brand new Nissan Cube, the Ranger tag and other Airborne paraphernalia already secured in place.

“I really like this maroon color,” I said, circling the Cube like a vulture.

“It’s cayenne pepper,” Daddy corrected me.

In the early ’90s Mother drove a couple BMWs, but after Daddy paid such exorbitant maintenance fees, the cool factor of her cars greatly decreased. I particularly hated her ancient white Nissan Maxima, mainly because the antenna flopped around like a wet noodle. Mother accidentally closed the garage on the erect antenna and cracked it in half. Everyone knew when my mother had arrived to pick me up at school because the tentacle spanked the trunk, banging slower and slower until she eased to a halt in front of my peers.

Once I earned my learner’s license, Mother encouraged me to drive the Maxima everywhere, including to an archaeological dig in the backwoods of Red Bud, a subcommunity of Calhoun. While we bumbled over a gravel road, I noticed a group of teenagers hanging out in the distance, including the gay hippie I would remain hopelessly in love with for the next six years. (With one glimpse of his greasy ponytail, mosquito-gnawed legs and green Chrysler van complete with Free Tibet bumper sticker, I was infatuated.)

I stopped the car and made Mother let me walk the rest of the way. When I opened the door, Neal Boortz screamed across the open field, and I looked like a dork.

While Daddy drove ruggedly handsome vehicles for the most part, his kidney bean-colored Jeep Cherokee embarrassed me, not only because I was 12 and humiliated by anything but also because the Jeep smelled like trout. Thus I called it the Trout Mobile. Daddy drove it through creeks and streams on fishing trips and spit tobacco with the window rolled down. Juicy shards littered the sheet metal like bird poop and sometimes flew back inside, splattering the fabric roof. Intensifying my horror, he retrieved us after track practice blasting banjo gospel music.

“Hey girls! Phoo,” he would say, spitting a dip wad.

“Daddieeee…” I would mutter.

our Corolla post-wreck

Shockingly, I actually liked the Toyota Corolla Daddy acquired for Timber and me to share. The only part that sucked was my parents’ seniority rule: since Timber was older, she got to take the car when we had made separate plans. We even jointly drove the Corolla in college until we hydroplaned off the side of a mountain road my freshman year. Our friend K invited us to attend an art show at Young Harris College, but we got lost on the way. The misty weather along with Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream” on repeat probably exacerbated Timber’s frustration.

“Stop pressuring me. Stop pressuring me. Stop pressuring me, makes me wanna…oh, oh SHIT,” Timber croaked as we spun into the left lane, barely missing an oncoming car, then nosing back across our lane and over the side of the cliff. We flipped about four times and landed against a stump. Once I realized we weren’t dead I noticed a hot sheriff bounding down the ravine. After he dropped us off at our dorm at North Georgia College, I wrote him a stupid love letter:

Dear Brave Man in Brown:

I forever will be grateful for your speedy arrival at the site of my car accident on
Sunday afternoon. I am the girl who flipped with her sister off the side of the road. Your sparkly blue eyes have me mesmerized, and I felt safe clutching your muscular forearm while you kindly escorted me back up the slippery ravine. Call me at ***-***-****.

Thank you for your bravery!

Love,
Bobbin Wages

Needless to say he never called.

Timber and I spent the majority of that fall semester carless, until Daddy replaced the Corolla with a Pepto-Bismol pink Geo Prism — his color choice perhaps punishment for the wreck. (While it was obviously generous of Daddy to buy us another car, a Pepto-Bismol pink Geo Prism is the kind of car you didn’t want to get when playing the game MASH in elementary school.)

As a result of Daddy’s transformed spending habits, Mother drives a new car and has made updates to the house she has wanted for more than 30 years. I hope that if a state-of-the-art luxury Alzheimer’s drug is approved and released, Daddy will buy it no matter the cost.

How great Thou art.

October 14, 2012

Last weekend some women at my parents’ church threw me a bridal shower. I grew up at Sonoraville Baptist and began attending Sunday School at what then was called the Nursery. A classy mother-daughter duo planned the majority of the shower; the late Thelma Wood (the hostesses’ mother and grandmother, respectively) taught my Sunday School class in the Nursery. Daddy even named his red heeler puppy Thelma in honor of Miss Wood. Additionally, the shower decorations reminded me of toddlerhood. Crystal vases held wild ferns and Queen Anne’s Lace – two plants that symbolize my childhood spent romping on my parents’ 16 acres of woods and pasture.

Even though I know the hostesses were happy to put together such a nice party, I felt sort of guilty since I haven’t regularly attended church in seven years.

“It doesn’t matter. You’re still one of our babies,” one of the eldest shower attendees told me.

Everyone’s kindness and generosity overwhelmed me, but I experienced a lot of conflicting emotions over the course of the weekend. Daddy came to the shower because I asked him to, so he sat in a chair in the church library munching angel sausage biscuits, asparagus in a blanket and graham crackers topped with cream cheese/chocolate chip spread while surrounded by women. He and Mother gave me separate gifts with personal notes. Since I left home for college, Mother has sent me handwritten letters on a weekly basis; the Martin Luther quote she provided on cherubic stationery touched but didn’t surprise me:

There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage.

I love you! - Daddy

However, Daddy had given me one note prior to the shower in 2001, scribbled on a rainbow trout-themed sheet from a pad. My stomach sank at the simple sincerity of the message he offered last Saturday:

I love you!

– Daddy

I had worried that Daddy never would write to me again before losing that capability. I’ll keep the tiny notecard accented with a white frosted heart forever.

Some other women signed cards with Biblical quotes about love. The following lines from Song of Solomon particularly struck me:

Love…burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame.

Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.

“Oooo, Song of Solomon is steamier than I thought!” I pointed out.

“Ahhh!” — “Eeeee!” — “Ha. Ha. HA!” a lot of the ladies clapped and giggled.

“Apparently you need to read more Song of Solomon,” one hostess informed me.

I accompanied my parents to Sunday School and church the next day, as I figured it would be tacky of me to accept so many presents and then rush back to Atlanta. Sunday School remained calm until a man named B.D. asked Daddy to substitute teach the class later in the month. “Robert! NO!” Mother yelled after overhearing him accept the offer. She scurried to the corner of the room and cried while everyone else filed out of the door for the church service. (I’ve written a couple blog posts about this recurring issue.)

Mother and I eventually entered the sanctuary and found Daddy on a pew talking to B.D.

“Let me go talk to him,” I said.

“No.”

“Why not? Why can’t we just be direct?”

“No, no, Bobbin NO!”

Mother and I yanked on each other in the front of the sanctuary while the choir director incited the congregation to join him in the worship of song. Some people stared at us until we scooted into the pew where Daddy had moved.

“What were you talking to B.D. about?” Mother asked.

“I don’t remember,” Daddy shrugged.

“It was just a second ago! What were you talking about?!”

“I don’t remember! I don’t remember!”

Somehow we got quiet because everyone around us started singing “How Great Thou Art.”

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

Anxieties surrounding Daddy’s condition and my own faith swelled in my brain, and I couldn’t bring myself to join the chorus. I started sobbing instead.

“How can you sing this?” I interrogated Mother. “Is this not b-b-b-bullshit? IS THIS NOT BULLSHIT?”

“Bobbin. PLEASE,” Mother muttered into my ear.

A young couple in front of us uncomfortably shifted.

During the majority of the sermon I clutched Daddy’s arm and nestled into the cubby of his shoulder feeling sentimental, grateful, guilty and angry all at the same time. I excused myself to the restroom, and when I came back Mother had shifted beside Daddy leaving me on the end of the pew. I squinted into the carpet and contemplated a simpler time when I presented my parents with bouquets of wild ferns and Queen Anne’s Lace, and the juxtaposition of joy and sadness I felt when I saw them arranged in vases at the bridal shower buffet table.

Blue Flowers at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s

October 1, 2012
Ryan, Adrian, Toria, Dora, Timber and me at the Walk to End Alzheimer's

Timber, Ryan, my friend Adriana and I attended the Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Saturday at Atlantic Station. I arose twice in the middle of the night to soak and then simmer a pot of fresh pinto beans, and out of grogginess reset my cell phone alarm clock for an hour later than I should have. Luckily, Timber somehow triggered our burglar alarm at 7 a.m. when she opened the guest bedroom door. Otherwise I would have overslept and made us late.

While I know that the Atlanta teams collectively raised more than $400,000 for the event, I have no idea how many walkers attended. However, Central Park (the area in Atlantic Station where everyone congregated) remained packed during the opening ceremony, which included charmingly cheesy choreographed warm-up exercises set to music. At the back of the crowd, Timber, Adriana and I flailed, jogged in place and fanned our arms in cooperation, nearly knocking complimentary granola bars from half-asleep participants’ hands.

The flower pinwheel colors signified the walker's relationship to Alzheimer's disease.

As part of check-in we received flower pinwheels of different colors that describe our relationship to Alzheimer’s disease. Blue signifies that the walker has Alzheimer’s disease; purple, that the walker has lost someone to Alzheimer’s disease; yellow, that the walker cares for or supports someone with Alzheimer’s disease; and orange, that the walker doesn’t know anyone with Alzheimer’s disease but believes in the cause. While we marched down a slope on 20th Street, the image of men, women and children raising spinning multicolored flowers over their heads in the wind could have brought me to tears — but fortunately I’m on medication.

“What are you wearing to the race?” Timber had asked me beforehand.

“Timber, this isn’t a RACE. It’s a WALK,” I corrected her. “I shouldn’t run anyway. I get really competitive.”

“Why is everyone walking so slow???” we audibly asked during the event.

We remained beside a brown marbled dachshund throughout the majority of the route. We even stopped to watch it pee at the base of a crepe myrtle. Sadly, we eventually got separated, bringing my attention to a beautiful Husky.

“I want to lie down naked with it and take a nap,” my voice carried. The Husky’s owner sped up and hustled away.

Informational posters sprinkled the sidewalks. I didn’t realize that someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every 69 seconds, and that African-American and Hispanic populations have a higher risk of developing AD. While my personal universe darkened after Daddy received an AD diagnosis, the disease affects a frightening multitude of people. Yet AD sufferers and their caregivers often feel isolated from society.

Sigma Kappa: Making Alzheimer's a distant memory since 1984.

Timber even noticed the miniscule number of walkers holding blue flowers. I spotted one elderly black man clutching a blue flower and scooting through the crowd while holding his caregiver’s hand. A handful of toddlers waved stems with whirling blue petals, too, perhaps passed along from their older relatives to keep them occupied. Alzheimer’s patients experience social anxiety, and in the late stages of the disease no longer can walk. So it makes sense that purple, yellow and orange pinwheels overpowered the tiny percentage of blue. My parents agreed to accompany us at first, but they ended up scheduling a vacation that bled into the weekend. I wonder how Daddy would have handled the noise and crowd.

Alzheimer’s is a depressing disease, but the Walk to End Alzheimer’s was a surprisingly upbeat event. I’m not the only one who is pissed off and envisions a world without Alzheimer’s.

It starts with an “S,” so I figured it was the shampoo.

September 26, 2012

I typically talk to Mother on Tuesdays during my drive home from the therapist. Per my routine, I called her yesterday while crawling down Monroe Drive in congested Midtown Atlanta.

“Hey. What’s uuuup,” I droned.

“Remember, we’re at Santa Rosa Beach this week.”

“Oh yeah, how could I forget?”

“Your daddy is asleep.”

We rarely vacationed as a family because Daddy always worried about money and missing work. Mother and Daddy found respite from parenting once in the late ’80s, leaving Timber and me with my grandparents while they escaped to Florida. When Mother and Daddy did take trips over the years, the excursion involved visiting one of Daddy’s Army friends, much to Mother’s irritation. I was happy to discover that Daddy instigated a vacation for no reason but to walk on the beach with Mother.

Before hitting the sand, Mother made sure to douse herself in high-strength sunblock. However, she couldn’t find it in her suitcase even though she knew she had packed it. After scouring the hotel room, she located the bottle in the shower, dripping with water.

“Robert. Did you wash your hair with the sunblock?”

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “It started with an ‘S,’ so I figured it was the shampoo.”

Once Mother and Daddy prepared themselves for extended sun exposure, they set up chairs on the sand but quickly became overheated. Mother carried a body-length float into the ocean and lay across it, immediately cooling off.

“It brought back so many memories of being a child,” she sighed. “I tried to convince your daddy to bring his float in the water with me, but he didn’t want to. He finally got in after I encouraged him, and he LOVED it. I worried he would never leave!”

As a manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease, Daddy has become increasingly dependent on Mother. While in the ocean, he firmly held onto Mother’s foot or a corner of her float.

“It’s just… different now,” Mother tenderly croaked.

When I found out about Daddy’s diagnosis, I sent him a card describing my first memory of him. We happened to be on vacation with Mother’s parents at Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Probably a two-year-old, I refused to progress in the water after it reached my knees. Daddy threw me in anyway. I splashed for my life, gulping salt, viewing the sky through a rippling unyielding ceiling of blue-green glass. Daddy scooped me up between my legs and swung me to my feet.

The ocean has served as a powerful backdrop to Daddy’s prime and his slow decline. At two years old I believed he would stay dark and strong forever. Last summer he began retreating away from me like a wave without warning.

“Your daddy’s awake!” Mother shouted, handing him the phone.

“Hey Daddy, I heard y’all are having a good time at the beach.”

“It’s just great, let me tell you,” he answered. “Is there anything you’d like us to bring back for you?”

“What I want you to do is go on as many walks as possible with Mother on the beach.”

“That’s what we’re plannin’ on doin’. And I’ll hold her hand while we walk.”

What about this piece of bacon?

September 23, 2012

My parents are the same age and both enrolled at North Georgia College in 1965. However, Mother claims she never met Daddy while attending the university. (My parents’ mutual friend Carolyn introduced them after graduation.) Last weekend Daddy went to the class reunion alone because Mother remained adamant about helping Timber throw me a bridal shower in Atlanta. Luckily their former classmate Mike Sheuerman offered to share a hotel room with Daddy and look out for him the entire time. Because Daddy becomes easily confused and disoriented, I worried about his spending two nights without Mother. Naturally, I sent Mike an obsessive email making sure he would keep a constant eye on Daddy to prevent his wandering away and getting lost.

Mother stayed with me on Friday night to prepare for the shower, and while we drove to Publix to pick up some ingredients, Mike called and requested that Mother put me on the phone.

“Back off,” he said. “Your father is in good hands.”

Daddy doesn’t remember anything about the reunion and asked Mother after he returned home if it has happened yet. Mike gave us minimal details about the weekend’s agenda: a group dinner and a wine tasting. He noted that Daddy definitely has changed – mainly that he has become quieter, a clear contrast to his former boisterous nature.

I mentioned the reunion when I visited Daddy on Saturday.

“It was great!” he exclaimed: his cookie cutter answer to anything regarding recent events.

Daddy mistook a Beggin' Strip for a piece of bacon.

Daddy mistook a Beggin’ Strip for a piece of bacon.

As usual, Mother filled me in on Daddy’s latest comical behavior. Apparently she made breakfast the other day, and as Daddy brought his plate into the kitchen after the meal, he noticed a stray slab of bacon on the counter.

“What about this piece of bacon?” he asked Mother.

“Robert, that’s not a piece of bacon! That’s a Beggin’ Strip!”

Because both Daddy and Mother spent last weekend away from home, they boarded Obi and Winston at Diva Dog, a pet spa and resort in the boondocks. They hadn’t finished a Beggin’ Strip the dog sitter gave them, so Mother randomly placed it near the fruit bowl. If Mother hadn’t been standing in the kitchen, Daddy probably would have eaten it. After all, Beggin’ Strips look particularly juicy and tender. I feel the same about the Beggin’ Strip as I do about the reunion — Daddy probably would have enjoyed it in the moment, and that’s all I can ask for.

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s

September 14, 2012

I inherited a fondness for snail mail from my mother. She religiously sends me at least one card per week. On the latest, a vintage-drawn ice cream cone floats in the middle of the paper. Below that, a fun font asks “What’s the scoop?” With grammatical perfection, Mother describes the minutiae of her day – where the dogs pooped, which flowerbeds she weeded, why she needed to run an errand in Kennesaw and therefore stop by DSW.

Sometimes Mother’s understated storytelling comes across as more hilarious than she intends.

My dear Bobbin:

Today after supper Daddy asked me where I put the leftover cornbread. And I said, “I wish I had known you wanted more because I wouldn’t have thrown it away.”

When I walked into the kitchen a while later, I found him leaning over the trashcan eating the cornbread.

We are looking forward to seeing you this weekend!

Love,
Mother

Mother often sends Timber and me identical cards with similar messages. We received the same holiday greeting from Mother one year in college. The following excerpt earned a slot in the Making Fun of Mother Hall of Fame:

I went to a Christmas party at the Lances’ house today, and Barbara had the most beautifully decorated tree. It had the BIGGEST BALLS.

Timber and I particularly appreciated Mother’s extreme bolding and underlining of “biggest balls.”

Mother instilled in me a respect for the art of the handwritten letter and mourning of its slow demise. I have been trained to promptly postmark Thank You notes and distribute 75 personal holiday greetings each year on average. While most people know me as one of the United States Post Office’s most loyal customers, I recently realized I should write Mother more often — and nearly went broke stocking up on missives at Richards Variety Store. For a few weeks I sent Mother and Daddy cards containing what I hoped were inspiring quotes; however, I couldn’t bring myself to stamp a few of them since, given the situation, they drip with bullshit.

'Most obstacles melt away when we make up our minds to walk boldly through them.' - Orison Swett Marden

One of them says:

Most obstacles melt away when we make up our minds to walk boldly through them. – Orison Swett Marden

I recognize that the goal of my blog is to approach Daddy’s illness with positivity and humor, but Alzheimer’s disease presents an insurmountable obstacle. I read somewhere that no one survives Alzheimer’s and I quote, “Alzheimer’s will take you down.” The best my family can do is cope with Daddy’s diagnosis with strength, a good attitude and grace, and love each other while we walk down this road.

When

This mantra more accurately encapsulates the past few months of my life:

When bad things happen I feel like calling God and saying dude WTF.

But I probably shouldn’t send that card to Mother and Daddy either.

I guess Alzheimer’s disease isn’t a completely insurmountable obstacle; after all, current medical research continues to propel scientists closer to a cure or, more realistically, a vaccine. I feel angry that a cure probably won’t be approved in time for Daddy but also optimistic about the quality of mental health my peers and our children hopefully will experience in our old age. I’m looking forward to the upcoming Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Atlanta, which will take place at Atlantic Station on Saturday, September 29 at 9 a.m. Walking on behalf of my father will make me feel less powerless beneath the weight of this cruel disease.

Learn more about the walk taking place nearest you »

That’s the Mitt Romney bag.

September 4, 2012

On Saturday Ryan, my parents and I convened at Timber’s apartment in Augusta to celebrate her 30th Birthday. Instead of a hug or chorus of blowing kazoos, Timber and Mother’s back-and-forth fussing greeted us. During Timber’s morning jog she and her friend darted onto an historic street, and just as she started to comment on its cobblestone charm, her foot caught on a brick and she fell. Big red blobs adorned her forehead, left knee and delicate shoulder; her right knee had split open and wouldn’t stop bleeding. So, Mother insisted that Timber either go to the hospital or purchase some steri-strips at the nearest drugstore.

“It’s not that big of a deal, Mother!” Timber hollered, gesticulating her frustration with one hand while pressing a wad of toilet paper against her gushing leg with the other. “GOD!”

Just after Daddy and Ryan had cracked open a couple Terrapin beers (yes, Mother allows Daddy to ingest alcohol now), Mother requested that Ryan and I pick up as many steri-strips as a $20 bill would buy. Ryan and I drove to the Rite Aid eight tenths of a mile away, expecting the errand to consume less than 10 minutes. However, the obviously bored cashier remained adamant about convincing me to sign up for a wellness+ rewards card.

“No thank you,” I smiled, sliding my money toward her.

“Are you sure? You’ll save money today!”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“It only will take a few minutes.”

“No, ” I forced a grin, waving the bill in her face.

“Do you shop here often?”

“No, I’m from out of town.”

“Oh really? Where are you from?”

“Atlanta.”

“Well if you sign up for the card, you’ll save money away from home.”

“No.”

And so on.

When the woman finally took the cash, she licked her thumb to separate every dollar bill from a stack of new ones that comprised my change.

“What took you so long?” Mother asked when we finally returned to the apartment.

“You don’t want to know,” I sighed, tossing the steri-strips onto Timber’s couch.

The conversation transitioned to Mother voicing her concerns about Timber’s prospective scar. “It’s just too bad this happened.”

“You should definitely get stitches if you think you need them. I still have a scar from a moped accident when I was 15,” Ryan mentioned, lifting his left pant leg to display what we thought would be discolored flesh.

“I don’t see anything,” Timber squinted.

“Me either,” Mother bent over.

“It must be the other leg,” Ryan said, revealing his right shin.

“I still don’t see anything,” Timber crossed her arms.

“Nope,” Mother kneeled.

“I guess it wasn’t that bad then,” Ryan admitted, straightening his jeans.

“Well I’ve got a pretty bad one on this shin,” Daddy announced from the corner, exposing a hairy patch of smooth pink skin.

“Well I had to get my knee stapled back together after that boating fiasco,” I challenged Daddy, pulling down my pants.

“Bobbin, what are you doing?!?!” Timber gasped, as if I were acting out of character.

“What? We’re family. Anyway, I’m wearing skinny jeans. I can’t yank these past my ankles. Check out this scar.”

Ryan smirked, shaking his head; Mother agreed that I won The Scar Contest; Daddy, disgusted, silently faced the the wall. He didn’t turn around until well after I had redressed.

The five of us crammed around Timber’s dining room table and ate ourselves into a state of mid-afternoon fatigue before watching Timber open her presents. Mother wrapped all of the gifts in elephant print paper.

“Where’d you get this wrapping paper?” Timber asked. “I like it.”

“At the Republican National Convention. Mitt Romney gave it to her,” Daddy said.

“I got it at World Market,” Mother giggled.

Timber wears the Mitt Romney bag.

Timber wears the Mitt Romney bag.

After Timber had unwrapped a particularly large box, she taped the paper back together to create a sack. Naturally, she put it on her head. Blood that had seeped around the steri-strip stained the paper.

“That’s the Mitt Romney bag,” Daddy pointed. His wit moved more swiftly than my understanding of his joke.

“Haha!” I clapped a couple minutes too late.

Soon Mother and Daddy packed up their car and began the four-hour drive back home. Timber and I jogged down the sidewalk waving at our parents for a few feet. After Timber stopped I picked up my pace and attempted to hold their attention. However, their gaze turned forward while Mother gained speed, as if this were just another Birthday celebrated on the living room floor in Calhoun and life were normal. I stomped to a halt and clasped my hands on the top of my head, reminding myself I’ll see Mother and Daddy again in a couple weeks.

It’s not that I don’t want to. I can’t.

August 27, 2012

A lot of people don’t seem to grasp the seriousness of Daddy’s condition. While Mother, Timber and I are devastated by his personality changes, most everyone who interacts with Daddy doesn’t detect any manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease. For example, Mother and Daddy drove to my best friend Leslie’s parents’ house in Dahlonega the other day to drop off her bridesmaid dress. Daddy and Mr. McAbee enjoyed automatic conversation fodder because they both attended North Georgia College, allowing Daddy to engage his long-term memory. Daddy never had met Mr. and Mrs. McAbee, and Leslie later told me that her parents were pleased to find Daddy as talkative as his reputation prompted them to expect. However, the McAbees still express sympathy and concern for my family. On one recent Sunday afternoon, Mrs. McAbee and I stood in her kitchen crying and nodding in understanding before kicking off the tearless portion of our visit with tea.

Other people are in denial and/or ignorant of what has happened to Daddy’s brain. In several posts I’ve mentioned that Daddy decided to stop teaching Sunday school lessons after the diagnosis. Despite Daddy’s clear expression of discomfort with continuing to teach, the new instructor asked Daddy to substitute his class while he was away for a couple weeks. Both classes went really well, partially because the new teacher prepared lesson plans before going out of town. But the thought of independently developing course outlines and delivering them on a weekly basis causes Daddy a lot of anxiety. After all, Daddy’s neuropsychological exam and MRI concluded that his ability to multitask is gone, and forcing him to draw upon an eroded capability would invoke unnecessary frustration and embarrassment. Still, Daddy charmed his former pupils – so much that for the first time ever, they held a vote to determine who would serve as their teacher for the next liturgical year, overwhelmingly clamoring for Daddy to return.

While the poll results surely touched and flattered Daddy, he stopped teaching for a reason. Upon receiving news of his reelection, Daddy declined to fill the position. As if the word “no” were synonymous with “maybe,” a few church members called Mother in an attempt to change his mind. One caller assumed Daddy just needed extra encouragement, while another had the nerve to call Mother overprotective.

“It’s not that I don’t want to,” Daddy said. “I can’t.”

To quote Lorrie Morgan:

What part of no don’t you understand?

I feel like I’m floating in Limbo, viewing Daddy through alternate lenses of reality. The congregation sees him as the old Robert Wages; his Army buddies, a reminder of their own mortality; his childhood friends, still vibrant but not exploding with his former boisterousness; and me, a leaf spinning in a river current that gradually will slide away.

In a dream the other night I walked through my parents’ backyard pasture, passing classmates and scenes from elementary school. I wore a hideous jean vest from my fourth grade chorus class with a red sequin treble clef glued to its right pocket. I found Daddy standing in front of a mid-century desk surrounded by old family photographs and grabbed him, plastering my cheek to his chest, yelling over and over that I don’t want to grow up yet. At that age I constantly worried about my parents’ eventual death but managed to talk myself out of it, as their demise remained an incomprehensible eternity away. Now that incomprehensible eternity has transpired.

I’m glad I experienced the dream because that’s the Daddy I want to always remember despite the changes that lie ahead: the father with a chest that feels like a pillow but somehow also like indestructible stone.

She was ugly as homemade sin.

August 14, 2012

While Mother, Daddy and I walked the dogs on Saturday, the conversation somehow transitioned to my USAA bank account. I listed many of its perks, particularly that USAA reimburses me for all ATM transaction fees.

“Woo, let me tell you,” Daddy interjected. “My training brigade commander Lieutenant Colonel Thurman* gave us a whole lecture on balancing our checkbooks. None of his men were gonna bounce a check.”

“Where was that?” I asked.

“My Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning. No sir, LTC Thurman saw to it that none of us would bounce a check under his command. That was his pet peeve.”

Apparently Daddy’s impeccable uniform impressed LTC Thurman. Daddy learned to keep his uniform neat, clean and ironed during his time in the Corps of Cadets at North Georgia College. After starching and ironing his pants, Daddy pushed a stretched-out coat hanger into each leg to separate the fabric. Then he sat on a desk and held his legs parallel to the floor, so he could put his pants on without breaking the crease. He looked so immaculate that LTC Thurman made Daddy take his daughter out when she visited from out of town.

“She was ugly,” Daddy shuddered.

“What did she look like?” I laughed.

“Ugly.”

“Where did you take her?”

“To the Lawson Army Airfield Officers Club for dinner. We watched a band and danced.”

“Did you kiss?”

“No, she was ugly! She was ugly as homemade sin.”

“I hope you smelled all right,” Mother sighed.

“What? I smelled fine.”

“I told you I had to get your daddy to start wearing deodorant,” Mother murmured.

Daddy eats an ice cream cone on vacation in May 2005.

Daddy eats an ice cream cone on vacation in May 2005.

About every hour after lunch Daddy mentioned that they had run out of ice cream. I have been scolding Mother lately for giving Daddy access to junk food like Varsity hot dogs, fudge and ice cream – the cause of his rapid weight gain. I read on the Alzheimer’s Association support forum that people diagnosed with AD should adhere to best practices that might help slow the disease’s progression; one of the best practices is to stick to the Mediterranean Diet. I worry that every potato chip, bologna sandwich and chili dog Daddy inhales strips away another quality day with him. However, I also understand that depriving Daddy of one of the few things that still brings him joy is easier said than done.

“Lynn, let’s go get some ice cream,” Daddy said while I gathered my suitcase and prepared to return to Atlanta.

“Tell Bobbin what you wanna do.”

“I wanna go get some ice cream,” he repeated to me.

“Daddy, I’m worried about how much junk food you’re eating. I keep reading that people stay stable longer if they eat healthy.”

“I’ll pass, then,” he shrugged and sulked away.

“Ugh. I feel bad. Mother! I feel bad!” I stomped around her.

“Now do you understand how it feels?”

“I know it’s hard.”

“The only reason he hasn’t gone to bed yet is so he can ask me to take him to get ice cream after you leave,” she whispered.

I drove to the Citgo a couple miles away, filled my tank and circled the block to check if Mother’s car remained in the open garage. Shockingly, Mother and Daddy hadn’t sped off to Bruster’s. I sat at the end of the quarter-mile driveway and stared at the empty space where Daddy once parked his car, the weeds suffocating the creek where Timber and I used to play, and the evergreen tree Mother planted in memory of her own father. Life is a cruel biological cycle, I thought, and I accelerated away.

*Name has been changed.

Samson and Goliath

August 7, 2012

I previously mentioned that someone asked Daddy to substitute teach his Sunday school class for a couple weeks. I later realized the man who requested Daddy to cover for him took over the class that Daddy led for several years. (Daddy didn’t feel comfortable instructing anymore after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis.) I worried that Daddy would have trouble studying the lessons and retaining the information, but apparently both sessions went really well. When Mother inquired what one of the lessons was about, Daddy said, “Samson and Goliath. I mean Samson and Delilah.”

Mother and I are overjoyed that he corrected himself.

“Cool, so what was the lesson about?” I asked Mother on the phone.

“I told you. Samson and Delilah.”

“But what was the overarching theme? What was the point?”

“I don’t know. I drifted off. You’d have to ask your Daddy.”

“Ugh,” I sighed. All Daddy could remember is that Delilah cut Samson’s hair.

Mother’s inattention reminds me of my own difficulty to remain focused, and the imbalance of listening that occurs between Ryan and me. Ryan is such a wonderful listener that many women flock to him for a patient ear, while I am easily distracted by my cat licking himself in the corner, fruit flies and other simultaneously occurring thoughts, to name a few external stimuli.

The other night Ryan’s band Spines performed for the first time in eight months and played several new songs. However, I knew a lot of the show attendees, many of whom greeted and chatted with me during the set.

“What did you think about our new songs?” Ryan later asked, eager for my feedback.

“Well I didn’t really pay attention…”

“What?”

“Sorry, people were talking to me! It’s not my fault!”

“Whatever.”

“That girl from Beach Day was hot, though,” I said, commenting on the lead singer of another band sharing the bill.

“Of course you noticed that.”

After Daddy provided a limited synopsis of his latest Sunday school lesson, he put Mother back on the phone. In an effort to raise our spirits, I suggested we play the “What’s Your Porn Star Name?” game. My colleague J stopped by my office to tell me hers: Fluffy Davis, calculated by joining the name of her first pet with her mother’s maiden name.

“Mother, let’s figure out what your porn star name is.”

“What?”

“Your porn star name. You put together your first pet’s name with your mother’s maiden name. Mine is Squirrel Chambers. Isn’t that gross?”

Silence.

“Let’s see… yours would be Bozo Edwards, right?”

“Well. Bozo is the first dog I remember.”

“HAHAHA! Bozo Edwards.”

Mother finally chuckled before hanging up the phone.