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The journey now forgotten
Old 07-11-2008, 07:28 AM   #1
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The journey now forgotten

“Manila Bay was full of sunken ships and they were going to add to the mess by dumping jeeps and other vehicles there. When I asked why they would junk perfectly good vehicles, the Colonel told me it was none of my business…”

Dad and I were on our daily breakfast excursion to Hardees when he suddenly blurted out this factoid. Previously we were casually discussing the lack of rain when the conversation took a sudden change back to old and familiar thoughts. My 80 year old father was 18 again and driving a staff car down Roxas Boulevard, that broad thoroughfare that parallels Manila bay in the Philippines. Dad’s musings of his military experience always surprise me, since when I was a child he rarely spoke of them, with the exception of his annual New Years Eve celebration or in the company of my Uncles.

I have observed that people don’t change- the argumentative child usually matures into the older but equally obstreperous adult. But not my Dad. Alzheimer’s has transformed his busy, technically oriented and knowledge seeking personality into a luddite; spending his days idly watching “The Rifleman” reruns on the Encore channel. The highlight of his day was when I drove him to Hardees for his customary biscuits and gravy breakfast. Waves of contentment radiated from his face as he devoured then washed the biscuits down with cups of scalding hot black coffee. Life is good in the mountains of North Carolina.

I had not been back to the USA in three years and was surprised at the changes I saw, beginning with the armed Immigration officers I saw in Chicago as I cleared customs. I didn’t recall them being armed on my last visit but then nothing stays the same does it? I even noticed that the flight crews were going through the same lines as regular passengers. The line to enter the USA was quite long and one elderly veiled lady collapsed while in line. Several Immigration officers commendably left their booths to offer assistance but no first aid or emergency medical personnel were summoned and she lay on the floor until she recovered enough to basically be dragged through customs by family members. I am sure that foreign tourist arrivals are at an all time high (not) but hardly a warm welcome to the USA by our illustrious and well armed Immigration Officers.

But I digress…

I spent six weeks with the folks, driving them to doctors appointments and shopping at the ubiquitous Wal Marts and, when Pops was pulling out all the stops, Golden Coral, an all you can eat steak buffet chain. (The steak wasn’t bad and definitely superior to the run of the mill beef served in Thailand) Dad loves buffets and does us all proud by scarfing down three if not four heavily laden plates mashed of steak, mashed potatoes, biscuits, cookies and cake. He normally maintains his weight at approximately 165 pounds -not bad for being 5’10”- but last winter he dropped to 155. It’s hard on a guy when you can’t get to town and refuel on biscuits and gravy. Apparently Dad really burns up the calories watching the Rifleman. On the other hand I think he sometimes forgets to eat and my Mom doesn’t push him about it.

After the daily Hardees trips Dad enjoyed “buzzing the town” checking the gas prices and discussing temperatures displayed by several banks. Sometimes on the way home we would return via the Blue Ridge Parkway and stop at a few scenic overlook for Dad to admire the view. It’s all new, despite him having stopped there hundreds of times. One of life’s little joys and Dad really takes pleasure in our daily jaunts. Both Mom and Dad have been told not to drive anymore and for the most part they have obeyed. My sister and her family live next to them and they are very good about driving them where ever they need to go.

I find it strange that Dad wants to talk about his childhood and early manhood experiences in the military, but as I understand, Alzheimer’s patients have better long term memory than short term, so that’s what they like to discuss. He asks me about Thailand, and then five minutes later asks the same question again. He also is confused about the news: I like to listen to Public Radio and they often have a BBC news segment. Dad perked up and said “you know, I think the British Empire is back; they are broadcasting on our radio like they did when I was a boy.” (Reference to BBC WWII broadcasts) “Yes, that’s what I think too Dad” then he immediately changes the subject to how everything is made in China and then how the dentist ripped him off, charging him for extracting a tooth when all that was done was to floss his teeth (he forgot the tooth really was extracted. However, he insists that his remaining nine teeth be pulled because he could be on the road and have sudden dental complications (the eight mile trips to Hardees.) The good thing is that he forgets about his complaints and seems content to be back home watching the Rifleman rerun that he has already seen uncountable times before.

When I was young my Dad worked at the local power company and also had a radio/television repair business on the side. In 1960, Dad was one of the most technically advanced guys around, albeit vacuum tube technology. He usually came home from work at 4:15 pm; dinner was served at 4:30 and then he was in his repair shop from five to nine, sometimes even later. I knew him but didn’t know him well; he was home but not really available. Back to the future, he now shuns all things technical and seems appalled at answering the telephone. Sometimes my Mother will say “Pick up the phone Ralph” and he complies, then she instructs him to push talk and say hello. I cannot describe the look on his face as he holds the phone, something between shock and horror. He quickly informs the caller that he must talk with “Ma maw” a term for my Mother he began using about 10 years ago. Safe from further intrusions, he quickly retreats to familiar territory-The Encore Cowboy channel.

Well I am rambling now, but the good thing about early retirement is that I got to spend six weeks with my elderly parents and get to know my Dad a bit better. I grew up in the era when Dad went to work, Mom stayed home and I entertained myself. Complaining about boredom only resulted in extra chores, so I learned about self amusement- its served me well in ER. I am also going to do what I want to do know because there are no guarantees about ones life or health. Physically Dad is in good shape especially for a guy 80 years old. He walks about three to five miles a day, depending on “the heat.” (Reference to my Mother’s decree that temperatures about 80F are inclement) Mentally, well that’s another story. My Grandmothers dementia turned her into a vegetable at my Fathers age so the medications available now are, by comparison, like miracle drugs. But slowly, inexorably the Alzheimer’s is closing in, making even old journeys forgotten.


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Old 07-11-2008, 08:06 AM   #2
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good story, lance, and nicely told. but, um, obsteperous? any chance of five readers who didn't have to stop to look that up? you've such a good stream of thought & a flowing way to share it. personal preference perhaps, but i wouldn''t go out of my way to place a boulder there.

sorry you are dealing with alzheimer's and welcome to the club. as i understand how memory works, it isn't so much that long term memory is better, per se, but that the area of the brain where short term memory functions is destroyed first. as the brain needs memory to continue making sense of the perceived world, it relies on the longer term memories which are still intact even though short term memory might be damaged. so i guess to say that long term memory is better is to presume that nonexistence is not as good. and since there are some things i'd love to forget, i'm not convinced as to which is better.

i totally appreciate that you are taking early retired time to get to know your father as i am considering similar with my dad who i recently found after many years absence in person and mentally & emotionally absent before even then. you are in a unique situation to build such memories for yourself, even as your dad loses his.

hope you will considering staying with your parents at least until autumn so that you can take your dad for a drive into the blue ridge mountains for leaf peeping this year. while thailand will always be there, from how you describe your dad, you might not have too many such chances in the years to come.

"off with their heads"~~dr. joseph-ignace guillotin

"life should begin with age and its privileges and accumulations, and end with youth and its capacity to splendidly enjoy such advantages."~~mark twain - letter to edward kimmitt 1901
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Old 07-11-2008, 08:20 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by lazygood4nothinbum View Post
good story, lance, and nicely told. but, um, obsteperous? any chance of five readers who didn't have to stop to look that up? you've such a good stream of thought & a flowing way to share it. personal preference perhaps, but i wouldn''t go out of my way to place a boulder there.
Thanks LGFNB. I was showing off my vocabulary (alright MS Word helped a bit) and you caught me on it I'll redouble my efforts to be more modest.

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