Tomorrow would have been my dad’s 94th birthday. He was a special man, kind and strong the product of a hard yet loved filled life. He started life as the second child of four in a farming family in Port Washington, Wisconsin. He knew even … Continue reading Thoughts on My Father
Stories of a Lifetime
My father was a storyteller. His head held memories of a lifetime. So much joy and some sorrow too, it seemed he never forgot anything. He loved to laugh and share the tales of his mischievous youth and didn’t mind sometimes letting out some of the deeper stories too, those painful memories that made him.
I used to love hearing how he and some of the other boys rigged up the firecrackers in Uncle Jake’s old farm truck, thinking that their cousin was going to be the one using the truck that day. His eyes would just sparkle as he laughed talking about how fast they ran and hid when Uncle Jake jumped out of that truck swearing mad and ready to get whoever had played that trick.
Sometimes there were other stories too. I remember once Dad told me about working on the neighbor’s farm as a young man. He’d skipped one day. I don’t remember why, if he was sick or just in a teenage moment of not wanting to work, but he skipped that day and it changed his world. His co-worker was driving the farm truck. If Dad had been there he would have been in the truck too. The young man backed up the truck not seeing the farmer’s young child behind him. The little one, maybe three or four years old, was killed. Dad never forgave himself for missing work that day. He always wondered if he had been there, would he have seen the child?
Stories, stories, so many stories, they tell us who we are. Dad is still with us, but the stories are gone or at least they are jumbled and confused. Having a parent with dementia is hard. Having a parent with dementia during the times of COVID-19 is even harder.
My father lives in a memory care unit and, like most facilities now, is not allowed visitors. His recognition of people over the phone is non-existent and video calling doesn’t make sense to him, so it is as if he is both here and not here at the same time. It is almost a preparation for his passing to have him in this world and yet not be able to reach him in any way.
I called him for Easter. I knew the phone might be a challenge, but I had to try. I couldn’t leave him alone for the holiday. The staff person told me he was sleepy, but she’d take the phone to him in the dining area. I could hear her explaining to him that he had a phone call, then explaining to him that the thing she was sharing with him was a phone. She told him to hold it to his ear and to say hello. I said “Hi Dad, it’s Amy. I just wanted to call you to say Happy Easter and to tell you that I love you.” I hoped that hearing my voice would help him understand and that he would say something. He said nothing.
The staff person came back on the phone and apologized to me saying that it seemed he just didn’t understand what the phone was. I told her it was okay and asked that she just let him know that I called and just to tell him Happy Easter and the family loves him.
I wish I could be there just to hold his hand. I got to hold his hand at Christmas time when he cried because he wanted to go see his mother. It broke my heart to hold the hand of my 91 year old father and tell him that grandma wasn’t with us anymore, but now all I have is the hope that he can join her soon and leave his confusion and sorrow behind, that hope and the stories of a lifetime.
It was probably over twenty years ago that I had the idea of collecting stories from my father of his youth. My plan was to write a book.
Now, two decades later the story is changing. I never recorded those stories and the time has gone by. My Dad turned 90 this past March. His memories are leaving him. I got to see him this weekend. I made the trip home, almost 500 miles, for our family reunion and just to spend a little father-daughter time.
It’s a new time. I remember when I was a little girl watching Dad tossing the seed corn bags over his shoulder, throwing hay bales, working on farm machines, doing all the work that needed to be done. I remember him sitting in the recliner reading his Sunday paper, sitting in the hospital room watching Mom die, taking up his place in the kitchen after she was gone.
My Dad never graduated from high school. He wasn’t meant for the classroom. He’s always thought that because he struggled in school that he failed, that he was somehow dumb. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Dad’s journey started on a farm in Port Washington, Wisconsin the second of four children. His father died when Dad was seven. Within a few years the family had to move to town and Dad was working for neighboring farmers to make a little money and follow his passion as it became clear that school would never be the place for him.
When he grew up he joined the Navy where he served for several years before marrying my mom and starting a family. He eventually started farming with his father-in-law and went on to continue farming for over forty years while he also worked full time at a power plant and, for many years, sold seed corn.
He knew the fields like the back of his hand. He knew every road in the county. This weekend he and I went out for a ride. We went to visiting and stopped at a couple cemeteries. We talked about the fields. He confused the soybeans and the corn. We drove the roads he’s ridden for nearly a century. He told me that he didn’t recognize where we were.
But still, we traveled and we talked. When it was time for me to leave to return to my current home, he held my hand and looked my eyes and smiled. It was a smile I remembered. I saw it before. I saw it on his aunt’s face. Sr. Christine was in her 90’s when she held my hands for the last time and smiled with such sweetness and love, that combination of wisdom and childlike beauty that age creates.
My being is divided. I would both love to see my Dad again, to hold his hands, to hug him, to take another drive, to talk some more and I am mostly ready to say goodbye. He’s been and continues to be my hero. That never changes. The question remains what to do about that book?