Monday, June 17, 2019

The Lost Country

In Star Trek, the future is the Undiscovered Country. The future is the Lost Country for people with memory or cognitive difficulties.


My father moved to the lost country. The arduous journey was slow and filled with anguish, especially for my mother. For the first five years, I wasn't sure he was going anywhere. He and Mom sniped at each other about what they had heard on the evening news. We assumed he didn't understand the commentary because he refused to wear his hearing aids. He made mistakes playing his favorite card game. We thought it was because he wouldn't wear his glasses. He stopped calling us by name, and my brother and I compared notes. He told the same story over and over like a pre-recorded loop, and his friends began to avoid him. He stopped using the telephone. He drove to the coffee shop every day like he had a job and had to get to it. He stopped recognizing people and could no longer differentiate between past and present. He would become obsessed with a memory from his youth or childhood and talk about it exclusively, endlessly. He failed the mental cognizance tests at the doctor's office.

He sold his beloved Watusi cattle and got ripped on the price because he couldn't remember which animals were Foundation Pure, 15/16ths or some other lesser cross. What a sad change for a man who loved his cattle as much as his family. When my brother was born, he had told Mom the baby was "as pretty as a newborn calf." A rich compliment from him.

He adopted methods to cope with failing memory. If someone came to visit, he didn't have much to say, but what he did say made perfect sense. "Good to see you." "Glad you dropped by." "Come back again sometime." If he contributed to the conversation at all, it was in the context of an old memory.

When it became obvious he wasn't the same man he used to be, Mom gave me a clipping to read:

   'Don't try to make me understand. Let me rest and know you're with me. Kiss my cheek and hold my hand. I'm confused beyond your concept. I am sad and sick and lost. All I know is that I need you to be with me at all cost. Do not lose your patience with me. Do not scold or curse or cry. I can't help the way I'm acting, can't be different though I try. Just remember that I need you, that the best of me is gone. Please don't fail to stand beside me, love me til my life is done.' Author Unknown

He became belligerent and couldn't be reasoned with. He ridiculed us for saying he shouldn't drive in a blizzard. He didn't notice that his clothes were dirty or foul smelling and refused to bathe. He became incontinent. He declared he was perfectly content with the situation. We were the ones with the problem.

He didn't take that journey alone. My mother was right beside him. She treated him kindly and gently. She kept him presentable. At the proper time, she took the car keys away from him. If he wanted to go drink coffee, she took him. She did everything in her power to maintain a semblance of normalcy and routine. She gave him little chores to do, like setting the table or taking out the trash, and stopped expecting him to be able to mow the grass or change the oil.

With her own strength rapidly fading, my mother made the heart-wrenching decision to move him to long-term care. He adapted well to the new country where they allowed him to wear his cowboy boots and listen to Johnny Cash on Alexa. He thought he was in a hotel with a great restaurant. He was never able to find his room by himself. He watched Lawrence Welk on TV but didn't know how to change the channel. Someone had to remind him to use the toilet. He was easy to get along with.

In the dining room, he hesitated to eat the food placed before him, because he knew he didn't have cash on him. If someone sat with him and said the restaurant was running a tab, he ate with gusto. He always offered his food to someone else if he noticed they weren't eating. He observed that the restaurant catered to the elderly. In fact, he became more talkative and occasionally knew my name.  

Mom spent every day with him. Since she didn't drive after dark, they had a daily argument when she left. He wanted to go with her. When she pointed out that she wasn't able to care for him any longer, he reasonably suggested that she stay there and he would go home. The nursing staff finally asked her to stop telling him when she was leaving.  

I expected the end of the journey to last longer. Two and a half months after entering long-term care, he died of a massive stroke. The personality, mannerisms, and wit of the man I called Dad died years earlier.

NOTE:  If someone in your family can't remember what year it is, the name of the President, what they ate for breakfast, stops liking their favorite activities, or exhibits any of the behavior above, I urge you to seek medical help for them.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Man Who Was Born Twice

My father was born in 1933 in Opelousas, Louisiana. His birth certificate says so. His parents, the ones who raised him, lived in Iuka, Kansas. They didn't meet him until he was five years old. In that five year span there is little known of his life. Somehow a woman named Williams brought him to Kansas. There are two likely scenarios. Either his birth mother up and gave him to this woman, or an agency something like today's social services removed him from the home and placed him in the custody of the Williams lady.

Once he was in Kansas, he ended up at the orphanage at Newton with a different name from the one on his birth certificate. This is a mystery.  

My grandparents already had a five-year-old daughter. She was as cute as a bug and had won a pretty baby contest. But they yearned for another baby and they weren't having any luck. Eventually, they made an appointment with the orphanage and met with the administrator.  Grandma told me she could hear babies crying while the woman lied and claimed there weren't any babies available. However, there was a little boy she'd like for them to meet.

Back in the day, the orphanage was situated on a working farm which provided meat, milk, eggs, and garden produce for their sustenance as well as an income from livestock and crops. She and granddad walked around the area with the shy child. Eventually, they came to a pen of cattle, and the little guy climbed up on the fence.

"I like those cows."

That's all it took to convince Grandpa he had found his son.  One look had melted Grandma's heart and kicked her nurturing instincts into overdrive.

Even after reading the adoption decree it is unclear how or why the orphanage had custody of my dad. However, they swore out an affidavit in court that they had the legal right to release my father to my grandparents. I wonder, now that there is no one to ask, if anyone thought to ask that child if he would like to go home with these strangers.

His new parents immediately changed his name to one of their choosing. For several years the family was subject to visits to make sure the adoptee was being treated correctly. Dad was a rough and tumble child and sometimes he was a little banged up. My grandmother lived in a constant state of anxiety that she could lose him.

When dad was nineteen, she had a new birth certificate filed with the State of Louisiana. Nearly all the vital statistics were the same except for the names of the parents. Finally, she had written proof he was her son and no one could take him away from her.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Singing in the car.

 ♩        ♫     ♩               ♫        ♩        ♩      𝅗𝅥
I know a place where the birds sing bass,
      ♫    ♩     ♫           ♩           ♫     ♩     ♩        𝅗𝅥
And a jackrabbit laughed in a bulldog's face.
      ♫         ♩          ♫        ♩      ♪    ♩      ♩        𝅗𝅥
And the train doesn't stop at my hometown,
          ♫        ♩         ♫            ♩          ♪    ♩    ♩      𝅗𝅥
'Cause the woodpeckers pecked the depot down!

 My grandfather taught this little ditty to my father when he was young. I am under the impression granddad, who was born in 1910, also learned it as a youngster. Very recently, thanks to the internet, I believe I've found the origin of the song.

A soundtrack is included in this website. It is not the same tune that I learned from my dad.
Way Out West in Kansas  I liked the poem better when my imagination supplied a fantasy town in some far off place instead of Kansas.

When riding in the car, my granddaughters listen to songs like The Wheels on the Bus on their i-pads. When I was a kid riding in the car, my dad sang. He knew all the words to dozens of songs and the choruses of many more. For a guy who didn't go to church, he knew a lot of hymns by heart.

These are some of the songs I remember singing.

On Top of Old Smokey
By the time I was through second grade that folk song had morphed into the parody verses of On Top of Spaghetti.

Little Church in the Wildwood

In the Garden

John Brown's Body to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic which he also sang with gusto.

Love songs like Burl Ives' Lavender Blue. Dad would ask, what was the first love song? or what did Adam say to Eve? The answer, naturally, was Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me.

Counting songs like This Old Man, and The Ant's Go Marching One by One to the tune of When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.  Hurrah! He knew the words to that one as well. And of course 99 Bottles of Beer. After listening to that countdown a few times, Mom proclaimed a new rule that said the song had to start with only ten bottles of beer.  Who could forget singing Roll Over?

He liked Gathering Flowers for the Master's Bouquet so much he requested it for his funeral service.

Cowboy gospel by Marty Robbins. He didn't sing it but was crazy for The Master's Call.

Old Rivers sung/spoken by Walter Brennan. If you know the name of the mule in this song you are a music trivia expert.

Cattle Call and Red River Valley. Don't forget the Streets of Laredo.

Yodeling. My dad could yodel. I don't know if he did it very well or not. When I tried, my mother made me stop. Perhaps the car isn't the best place to practice yodeling.

Kawliga, the cigar store Indian.

Ghost Rider's in the Sky by Sons of the Pioneers.

Mom liked to hear How Much is that Doggie in the Window.  That song was always followed by How Much is that Hound Dog in the Winder.

A naughty little ditty called Sweet Violets. I specifically recall a grade school classmate teaching me the words to a moderately risque song called "Two Irishman", not to be confused with "The Scotsman."

Sometimes we'd learn a new song in music class at school and teach it to him. By the way, my mom didn't sing.

We kids sat in back the seat. Until he got too big to fit, my brother rode on the shelf under the back window. Another rule was that we couldn't lean on the back of Mom's chair and touch or breath on her hair. The eyes in the back of her head told her when we were too close.

Maybe my kids will tell theirs about riding in the car and singing Achy, Breaky Heart, John Deere Green, My Grandfather's Clock or especially There Once was a Woman Who Swallowed a Fly.

I would be glad to hear what songs you sang in the car.