Category Archives: Pop Sam

Midway…day nine

Dad and I have been fighting a battle all afternoon, specifically one on the big screen.  When he noticed the promo for the new movie, Midway, he insisted on going—TODAY.  Being a well-read history buff, he had to make certain “they got it right,” so off we went into the wild blue yonder (I know; wrong branch of the service for this story).  We settled in our seats with his popcornandcoke.  It’s all one word in our house because, well, it just is when he’s watching a movie on the big screen. I gingerly reminded him why he COULD NOT share his vast wealth of information with everyone around us during the pivotal moments of the movie.  Thankfully, we were surrounded by others his age who were doing the same so I decided to let that go (yes, the teacher force remains strong in me).

As the story unfolded on the big screen, it became clear why dad was so vehement about this movie.  Unbeknownst to me prior to today, one of dad’s maternal uncles flew a Douglas “Devastator” torpedo bomber during this pivotal moment of Allied victory in the Pacific theater.  His aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, was out on maneuvers during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, so these guys were itching to reciprocate, managing to fell three Japanese carriers and a battleship during the event.  Naval code-breaking (a truly fascinating part of this victory) along with radar gave the U.S fleet a definite advantage since Japan’s Imperial Navy relied solely on human lookout before attack.  Here’s your history lesson today; you’re welcome.

So why battles?  What does this have to do with my gratefulness journey?  On this Veteran’s Day weekend, I remain humbled and beyond grateful for the countless Americans who stepped forward to defend our freedom and preserve the founding principles of our Nation.  From Valley Forge to Vietnam, from Kuwait to Kandahar, from Berlin to Baghdad, and well beyond across our planet, these patriots stood watch over America’s peace, and when necessary, carried the costs of our Nation’s wars, many giving the ultimate sacrifice in service.  Courageous men and women have cleared the seas, charged the hills, and covered the skies.  We must continue to uphold each Veteran’s legacy by teaching our younger generations about the role in securing the cost of liberty.  And as my daddy always notes, “If we do not study history, we are doomed to repeat it; in teaching others, we teach ourselves.” 

So this isn’t so much a question today but a challenge to find a way to continue the story.  Beyond the emphasis of Veteran’s Day, may we always take the unexpected opportunities to remember, reflect, and revisit the service and sacrifices of our Nation’s Veterans…and here’s hoping you stop every time and take a moment to gratefully acknowledge a Veteran’s service when one crosses your path.

Show up…day two

When you’re traveling the path of Alzheimer’s with a parent 24/7, you can expect daily kinks in the routine.  Some days are relatively smooth and fall easily into the “I got this” category while others…well, I can’t say it very nicely so I won’t say it all (but you get the idea).  For example, most mornings dad verbally grumbles about getting up even though I present him bedside with a hot cup of amazing coffee, a smile, and cheerful greeting.  I remind him to shower, help lay out his clothing (because he will choose a sweater on a hot day or a light t-shirt on a cold one), and leave him to his personal hygiene rituals. Once he presents himself in the main part of our home, he usually smiles and notes, “I’m here; I’m  ready.”  We all clap and get his day going; it’s the same each day.

Dad requires lots of assistance with specific daily tasks, especially those involving medications, inhalers, etc.  He easily confuses things or chooses to just skip them.  Some days while gently reminding or assisting him through a specific task, he looks at me as though I’m 12 once again and “bossing” him into submission.  Sidebar:  Yes, I’m a natural red-headed benevolent overlord; always have been and always will be (those of you who’ve known and loved me most of my life, including St. M, will verify this fact, huh?!).  To dad though, I’m 12 again and by golly, no daughter of his will tell him what to do.  The second St. M opens his mouth to repeat what I just said, dad immediately complies.  WHAT?!?  It’s the power of what I call “show up.”

St. M carries compassion in abundance and uses the super power of show up to his advantage with dad.  In his easy-going way, he coaxes daddy to do what’s in dad’s best interest–drink the entire glass of water with the medication, take the inhaler because of non-stop wheezing, wear the jacket because it’s cold outside, etc.  It may incense me inside at times because I failed to produce results in that moment, but in reality, it’ a grateful outcome because someone other than me took the time to show up.

So, on day two:  What’s a super power you gratefully use to help others?

Some dear friends gently remind me on this journey of these powerful words:  show up…pay attention…let go…speak your truth…don’t be wedded to the outcome…”  This is my morning mantra and sets my mind as I choose to once again show up in gratefulness for the opportunity to start another day with dad.

The longest day…

Summer Solstice…the longest day of the calendar year when there is the most light available to us. Following this Solstice, the days gradually shorten and the nights lengthen.  Did you know the word “Solstice” is derived from Latin meaning “standing still” (Sol + systere)?  Many traditions throughout time have celebrated the Solstices; likewise western civilization celebrates the first day of summer (called Midsummer–see Shakespeare) as one of the most powerful days of the year for spiritual growth and healing.

Our day started about 4:58 am with Pop standing at my bedroom door asking if he missed coffee time.  The steady rains of the last night had ceased and daylight was dawning with the sun just starting to peek into his half-open blinds on his east window (my fault for not closing the blackout curtain there last night).  Startled, I jumped down, checked the clock, and softly padded to my doorway toward him.  I assured him it was early and the coffee would not start for another hour.  I walked him across the house back to his room to settle him back into his comfy bed, sitting in his recliner nearby until I knew he was fast asleep.  Unfortunately, I was wide awake…coffee and quiet time for me…

Ironically, the first thing popping up on my social media feed a little later was an update and positive message from the Alzheimer’s Association.  The organization annually uses the longest day of the year to shed more light on ALZ in hopes of raising awareness about this terminally mind-altering, life-changing, longest goodbye. Today, a favorite Fred Rogers observation surfaced once again:  “Some days, doing the ‘best we can’ may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect–on any front–and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else…” 

As a caregiver wrestling this relentless foe, I frequently find myself unexpectedly trudging deep in the trench with daddy at times.  While it’s the primary goal each day to simple encourage him while gently assisting him, he unknowingly and gracefully spends just as much time helping me cope with this process by using his wit and wisdom, his laugh, and his smile.

So on this longest day of the year, we chose to seek a little spiritual growth, natural sustenance, and healing tonight by taking a short drive to a favorite lake spot down the road from our home. We stood outside wearing our purple Life Is Good shirts with the sun shining through the trees and the breeze lightly touching our faces as we ate ridiculously large bowls of homemade ice cream.  As written before, daddy sticks to his philosophy to “take what you’re given with grace and dignity and move on.”  It’s his profoundly simple way of dealing, growing, and healing from all of life’s challenges every single day…most especially on the longest day of the year.

Note:  If you or someone you love is in need of assistance, please check out their website @ alz.org  for more insight. 

Pop’s grace and gravy…

Momma called it “skatin’ on the grease.”  Granny referred to it as “fine-fried southern cuisine.”  It’s the only thing daddy wanted today.  Chicken Fried Steak (as we call it in Texas) or, for you other folks, country fried steak; nothing but this would do for him today.  And on HIS day, what daddy wants, daddy gets.

Prep started early this morning and no thought was given to calories, cholesterol, colons, or cardiac situations.  Seasoned iron skillets greased with Crisco or butter covered the stove top.  Freshly pounded steak cutlets covered in buttermilk soaked in a dish.  Ingredients and seasonings for the expected side dishes of freshly snapped green beans, mashed potatoes (skins off, please), sliced homegrown tomatoes, homemade buttermilk biscuits, and, of course, cream gravy were at-the-ready .  Oh dear; the gravy.  Will the gravy even be the right consistency this time?  Maybe? Please??  Somehow a chocolate cream pie had to miraculously appear as well, because really, what’s a meal like this without pie?!  Mercy, how in Heaven’s name did my Nanny Folsom, Granny B, and/or Momma create such a feast so flawlessly after teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, or ushering during worship service?

This is the type of Sunday dinner I attempt about once a year, and usually, if I’m being completely honest, on a Sunday I’m NOT sitting in a pew.  It takes no less than three iron skillets (the biscuits must bake in one) and more dishes and utensils than I have in most of my kitchen drawers these days.  The cleanup alone is exhausting, y’all!  But oh my stars…it’s a staple southern culinary delight indeed when all is said and done, invoking powerful memories of meals past and conversations nearly forgotten.

Everything was just about completed when daddy appeared by my side.  He somehow sensed it was time to make the gravy, and doing what daddy still does best, jumped in with dignity and grace to save the gravy.

We sat together at the round table with our cloth napkins in our laps (it’s Sunday, y’all) savoring each morsel.  His talked about his dad, Pop Sam Sr., his uncles from both sides of the family, and trips with his parents and Momma on the road and flying. Daddy can name all the cars and planes he owned but has no idea what medications he takes each day or what day of the week it is.  Daddy can identify dog breeds and AKC standards for each dog, but cannot find his phone, wallet, hat, or inhaler.  Daddy will make his bed every single morning but cannot find his stack of clean towels to use on his labeled bathroom shelf.  Thankfully, Daddy can belly laugh and do Tai Chi and dispense wisdom and tell stories.  And make no mistake, Daddy can still create a mean skillet of homemade gravy; today, that’s a scrumptious condiment to a complicated situation.  Gratefully, today, on HIS day, his yummy cream gravy soaked our meal and our souls, once again allowing grace and clarity to briefly shine in stunning brilliance…

PS:  Happy Father’s Day to all you dads!  It’s been noted before how anyone can be a father, but it takes a special man indeed to be a dad…so grateful and thankful for the example of my dad (Pop Sam) and the extraordinary man (St. M) who our two little women call dad! 

Flying high…

It’s no secret my dad loves flying.  He was a pilot of his own plane for many years, flying various locations to work sites on business or on adventures with family and friends.  He also proudly served in the Texas Civil Air Patrol, piloting multiple search-and-rescue missions through the years before turning in his wings (and boasts even today he can still fit into his required uniform).

Not long after his official Alzheimer’s diagnosis, he asked me one evening to take him once again to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, specifically the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport, a companion facility to the original museum on the National Mall.  These days, what daddy wants (when he remembers), daddy gets, so we headed north to visit and stay with family outside the beltway, spending an entire day at the museum.  While you were not with us to experience this day through his eyes firsthand, some others unexpectedly were…and what a treasured flying-high memory for all.

These two ginormous hangars at the Udvar-Hazy are filled to capacity with thousands of aviation and space artifacts, including a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde, and the Space Shuttle, Discovery (I know you’re impressed; I was paying attention, huh?!).  As we entered through security, Pop insisted on navigating the museum chronologically so he could share his knowledge and insight as an aviation history lesson; he was the teacher and I was his sole pupil…for about 5 minutes.

You see, as we stood in front of a Wright Brothers glider and Pop waxed eloquently on the profound contributions this team made in 1903 and beyond, I noticed a mom and her four children scooching closer to listen and absorb.  This little group continued to follow his path along all the early flight experiments and exhibits while dad talked about “how failure forces us revisit, reflect, and improve on our hunches.” 

As we entered the age of WWI and WWII (and picked up dad with a group of five elementary-age girls), the aircraft were divided among the various service organizations, their important missions, and successes.  We stopped at length in front of the Enola Gay, when the world entered into the atomic age in August of 1945.  This B-29 Superfortress bomber flew some 1,500 miles from the island of Tinian to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, thus forever changing the course of world history.  POP KNOWS ALL ABOUT THIS PLANE and he left no detail to chance!  You see, dad grew up across the street from the sister of Colonel Paul W. Tibbets (later Brigadier General), the pilot of this infamous mission.  Pop spent many childhood hours visiting, questioning, and listening to Tibbets’ stories, later talking with him at airshows around the country…but back to the museum.  It was about this time I noticed an even larger group gathered around us…a museum docent with a senior citizen group of six and then nine middle-school-age guys.  Dad continued sharing vast knowledge, answering questions presented to him on aviation, and talking like the flying expert he is.  About four hours later, Pop stopped, looked at me, and asked if we could sit down for a snack.  The docent gave him a museum hat and said, “you’re hired.”  The mom, dad, and children cheered in thanks.  The middle school guys each shook his hand and thanked him personally with one commenting, “you’re the BEST part of this trip today, and by the way, you look great to obviously be 90-something!” (Pop’s not even 80 yet 🙂 )

After so much complex medical news, decisions, changes, and more in recent weeks, this day was balm for both our souls, a truly JOYfilled experience where daddy’s older more powerful memories allowed him to share his wealth of expertise with others.  The pictures portray his passion and purpose along with his will to positively carry on in spite of deepening memory loss.

Pop miraculously understands how little things in life are to be celebrated, and for just a few hours on this random day, he bravely once again stood out among the stars.  As daddy himself often says, “eras have a way of ending all over the place.” Here’s hoping we find more ways to continue sparking his powerful memories and take what we’re given with grace and dignity “as off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing high, into the sun…”