The window’s open and a cool breeze and old memories
waft through the screen. The smells of dry grass and flowers
take me back to my youth. The window’s open there, too,
as I lay in bed in my childhood bedroom. That day I planted
a pansy my mother gave me – folded its roots into the rich
earth next to the birch tree. There’s the little building Dad put
together in the back yard so he could work on his maps and art
away from the hustle and noise of the rec room with its TV
shouting out Bewitched and Mighty Mouse and Get Smart.
The fence between our neighbors behind us and our backyard
blew down in the hurricane a while ago – Dad had been out
there, trying to hold the fence in place, when Mom called him
in because the hurricane lamp flared up. As soon as he left
the fence it tore apart into pieces that whipped away in the storm
and now we have neighbors behind us who weren’t neighbors
until the fence blew away and revealed us to each other.
For a while we play in the dirt with the neighbor children
who live behind us. But we soon lose interest in each other.
Maybe our loyalties to the neighbors to the right and left
have built another kind of fence between the backyard neighbors
We played TV tag in the front yard – yelling out the names of our
favorite TV shows before the tagger could tag us. And we rode our
bikes to the school so we could see the class list posted on the front
door and find out who our teacher would be next year. Then we
played hide and seek in the mounds and the scotch-broom
in the empty lot across the street.
The patio has a picnic table on it and I sit at it with a Pixie Stick
or my home-made juice Popsicle frozen in a Tupperware mold.
I step on a clover blossom and get my first bee sting which Mom
soothes with baking soda and water and love. I feel bad for the bee
after she tells me it died when it stung me. We pray for the bee
and for me and life goes on. We have these pipes that Dad put
up in the backyard for us to play on – two vertical pipes about six
feet tall and about five feet apart – with a horizontal pipe
connecting them at the top – and I get it in my noggin to wrap
a scarf around it and try to work my way along the top pipe
by holding onto either end of the scarf. But I let go of one end
of the scarf and land on my belly and experience getting the wind
knocked out of me for the first time. Dad’s got the bamboo high
jump set up for me and I jump and jump again until the sun
goes down – testing myself, wanting to go just a little bit higher
before it’s time to go inside and get ready for bed.
And I lay in bed at night, with a cool breeze wafting through
my bedroom window and wonder what tomorrow will bring.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell
July 27, 2019
I got word that Daddy had a difficult night. Went over to his home to give him a quick hug and tell him I love him. He smiled at me when he realized I was there and mumbled something about the “holiday weekend.” I kissed his forehead and told him I loved him, and he told me he loved me. And then I got up to leave. Made it all the way to the stairs before I stopped. Turned. Went back. Pulled up a chair next to his bed and sat in it. It had occurred to me that there may come a time soon when I will wish I could be with Daddy for even one more minute.
I took Dad’s hand and squeezed it. He squeezed back. I squeezed his hand twice. He squeezed my hand twice. We just sat there holding hands for about ten minutes – watching the old black and white movie on his TV together. I sang some hymns “to” him – but… I knew he couldn’t hear what I was singing – I was really singing the hymns to myself as I held his hand –
“In heav’nly love abiding,
No change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding,
For nothing changes here.
The storm may roar without me,
My heart may low be laid,
But Love is round about me,
And can I be dismayed?”
(words by Anna Waring)
Tears started running out of my eyes and down my face. I sniffled and wiped them away.
When I finally felt it was time to go and let Dad rest I leaned over to tell him good-bye. Daddy said, “Happy Fourth of July!” And I thanked him.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
Dad: I love you, Karen.
*Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad* can be ordered through your favorite book store or ordered online through Amazon.
And now a poem…
Time to Step Up
All my life I have been politely
moving aside for other people.
When I was young I moved aside
for older people with more experience.
As I got older I moved aside for younger
people to GIVE them experience.
And now I’m 62 and I don’t have time
to move aside for other people anymore.
There are things I need to do.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell
Dad seemed to be losing ground the last couple weeks – sleeping most of the day, eating very little. So when Amanda messages me to let me know that Dad is up and bright-eyed I feel a grin immediately come to my face. I ask her if he is up for a drive and a moment later she messages that he answered, “Yes!” Today he has to be rolled out to my car in a wheelchair, but he is alert and happy to see me. As Amanda is buckling him in Dad turns to me and says, “Hi, Karen!” Then he turns back to Amanda…
Dad to Amanda: This is Karen. She’s my sist… (thinking)… she’s my daughter.
We drive through Burlington and then head out to Sisters Espresso for his root beer float (courtesy of Dave Waka). I hand Dad his float and then pull out of the parking lot to begin our adventures.
Dad: Didn’t you work at a school near here?
Karen: Yeah. Do you want to go by my old school?
I drive down country roads and make my way to Edison. I park in the parking lot there – with the car pointing towards the patch of sunflowers waving in the sunshine. I roll down the windows so Dad has a breeze, and then take my camera to the flowers to get some quick pictures. Back in the car…
Karen: (Pointing to the school.) There’s my old school. There’s Edison. Do you remember you gave your K2 talk there?
Dad: (Frowning as he tries to remember.) No. I don’t remember that.
I drive around and out of the parking lot and head towards Bay View so Dad can get a quick view of the bay. I wait for him to mention his old friends the Annens – he usually brings them up when we go by the bay – but today he doesn’t say anything. When we get a view of Mount Baker I point to it…
Dad: Yeah. That’s Baker.
(Dad always remembers his mountains.)
I make my way back to Dad’s home. Amanda and Gwen come out to help him out of the car seat and into the wheelchair, and they roll him around to the ramp and into the house. They get Dad comfortable in a recliner in front of the TV.
Karen: (Looking directly into his face.) I love you, Daddy.
Dad: (Mouths the words, “I love you.”)
Karen: Good bye, Daddy.
Dad: (Waving.) Good bye.
Dad is sitting at the dining room table eating breakfast when I come in. He sees me come in and smiles. I pull up a chair next to him and sit down.
Dad: (Said in the voice of someone who’s just awakened from a nap.) Where am I?
Karen: You’re at your home in Burlington. I live 15 minutes away.
Dad: Good. (Thinking.) How’s Mom?
Karen: (Thinking. Trying to decide what direction to go with this…)
Dad: (Watching my face.) Is Mom not alright?
Karen: Daddy, Mom passed on two years ago. (Knowing from experience the questions he’s going to ask…) She passed on peacefully in her sleep. She was in my house and I was sleeping on the couch next to her bed. You told her you loved her and she told you she loved you before she left the hospital.
Dad: (Tears are running down his face.) Was she in any pain? What did she die of?
Karen: No, she wasn’t in any pain. She had congestive heart failure. Her heart got tired. She passed peacefully while she was sleeping. (I wipe Dad’s eyes and the tip of his nose.) We had a memorial service for her…
(Amanda quietly slips the photo album of Mom’s memorial service to me and I open it and show Dad the photos. Dad recognizes the faces – his family and friends.)
Karen: A lot has happened in the last two years, Daddy. You’ve been very brave and very strong. Last year we took you up to Mount Rainier to celebrate your 100th birthday.
Dad: No, I’m 92. I was born in 1918…
Karen: And this is 2019.
Dad: (Thinking – doing mental computations.) Oh.
(Amanda has now brought the photo album from Dad’s 100th birthday celebration at Rainier. Dad and I go through the pictures together and talk about the people who came to his celebration.When we’re done looking at the album…)
Karen: Would you like to go for a drive? Or would you like to stay home and rest today?
Dad: (Thinking.) A drive would be nice.
Amanda helps me load Dad up in the car and buckle him in. Dad thanks her and she kisses him on the forehead. He thanks her for that, too.
We drive to the Sisters Espresso. I park and point to the stand…
Dad: (Nods.) Vanilla.
(I interpret this to mean “vanilla shake” and go up to order one for him, using the gift that was left for him there by David Waka.)
We continue on our adventure – heading down Allen West Road, up Farm to Market, down Josh Wilson, up Edison Bayview Road, left and back to Farm to Market. Dad’s head is turning from left to right, taking it all in. He periodically sucks through the straw on his vanilla shake. I park in front of his home.
Dad: Do I get out here?
Karen: Yup. This is your home.
(Dad thinks about this and then opens his door. I come around to help him out. Amanda comes to the top of the stairs and helps me get Dad up them. She leads Dad to a recliner in front of the TV.)
Karen: I really enjoyed our drive today, Daddy. I love you.
Dad: I love you, too.
*Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad* can be ordered through your favorite book store or ordered online through Amazon.
Some interesting and thought-provoking conversations in the last couple of days have caused me to feel the need to say this:
Women – your value goes beyond any ability you have to get pregnant and give birth. You are whole human beings with your own unique talents and gifts to share with the world. Please use every gift you have to make the world a better place. The world needs you – ALL of the good in you – not just your uterus.
Men – never think that you are “disposable” and that you aren’t valued. Don’t be afraid that you’re not needed or necessary. Your value goes beyond big muscles or the size of your paycheck. You are worth so much more than that.
Listen, intelligence and wisdom, kindness and honesty and courage, compassion, empathy, and strength – these are all valuable to our world. You don’t need money to share these things with others. And these things aren’t limited to one gender – you don’t need a uterus or a penis to be kind or courageous or strong. All of us – of whatever gender or sexual orientation – can express intelligence and kindness, courage and honesty and strength in our lives.
Okay. I guess that’s all I have to say about that at this time. Please know you are loved and valued.
“Both sexes should be loving, pure, tender, and strong.”
– Mary Baker Eddy
Pop made the front page of the Skagit Valley Herald today for winning the Mountaineers Lifetime Achievement Award.
And I want to take a moment here to share some of the many reasons I feel blessed to have this man for my father. I was born before Title IX: “Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that states: ‘No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.'” (www.ncaa.org) It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that my school finally got a girls’ track team and I was able to high jump on my school’s team. But my dad introduced me to high jumping long before that. He built a little high jump for me when I was a youngster, and rooted for me as we had our own track meet in the backyard. He also taught me how to ski; led me up Mount Rainier, Baker, Adams, and Hood; took me on my first little rock scramble (Pinnacle Peak) when I was four years old; supported me in my university education and wrote me encouraging notes throughout my teaching career – he was always proud of me as a teacher, and he’s proud of me now for running for school board. He’s never in any way limited me because I was a female.
And this was a man who was born in 1918 – two years before women even had the right to vote!
We need to talk about this. I’ve been reluctant. I wasn’t sure everyone would understand. And I wanted to be careful not to share anything that might put anyone in jeopardy. But it’s been ten years and I think it’s okay for me to share now. And yeah. We need to talk about this.
About 10 years ago I transferred from Edison to West View, our district’s dual language school. I was immediately embraced by the staff and community there, and felt right at home. I loved walking down the halls, surrounded in Spanish and children’s laughter. I loved the positive energy I felt there. And the staff! They were completely dedicated and committed to their students – they never worried about who was getting which lunch or planning period – it was always about what was best for the students.
Not long after I’d been at West View I began to realize that my students were dealing with things that I’d never had to deal with in my life – problems that I hadn’t even known existed. I feel embarrassed as I write this. I’d been so insulated!
After I’d been at West View a month or so, I asked my sixth graders to sit in a circle on the floor with me, and share with me some of what they’d been experiencing. And the stories started pouring out – I remember some of them said they no longer went shopping at a certain store because there were always agents there, waiting to look at their “papers.” I remember feeling shocked by this – I’d never needed to carry “papers” with me to prove I was a citizen – I didn’t even know that was a thing! One student who couldn’t find the words drew a picture that broke my heart – a Border Patrol van at night – children silhouetted in its search light, running into the woods.
There was the day one of my students looked up at me, with tears in his eyes, and told me he’d come home from school to find his entire family had been deported. There was another student whose father voluntarily returned to Mexico, hoping he’d be able to return to the States as a citizen some day – my student loved his father deeply and didn’t know if he’d ever see him again – his father had told him to stay in the U.S. and get his education – even if it meant they’d never see each other again.
These stories were eye-openers for me. I hadn’t realized!
Later, when I taught at a high school in another district, I had several students who shared their stories about escaping the violence and poverty in Mexico by crossing the desert barefoot – and risking their lives – in the hopes that they and their families could find freedom and better lives in the U.S.
If you are interested in learning more about the lives of these young people – my friend, Janice Blackmore, who worked with these students when they were in middle school, asked the students to share their stories and published them in a book called DreamFields: A Peek into the World of Migrant Youth.
(The girl on the cover is one of my former students.)
Some wise guy turned around my campaign sign at the espresso stand so’s all you could see was the blank back of it. And I found myself cracking up. I could just picture it: I pictured a man with a baseball cap on his head, a cup of drip coffee in one hand and a rascally grin on his face – slyly reaching out and pulling my sign out of the dirt, giving it a stealthy 180 turn, and re-planting it. And – maybe it’s my background as a middle school teacher – but the idea of that just cracked me up.
It reminds me of my first day teaching eighth graders at Allen School: My partner, Teresa, and I both started in the B-E school district at Allen Elementary School the same year. Teresa taught science and math to the youngsters and I taught social studies and English. We were both dazzled by our students right from the start – I remember half-way through the day we both popped out of our classrooms at the same time, looked down the hall at each other, big grins on our faces, and said simultaneously, “I love these kids!”
At the end of the day we were outside the building, waving good bye to our new students as they loaded onto the buses, and we suddenly – again, both at the same time – looked at each other and said, “Where’s ____?!” We realized we were missing one of our students.
Without needing to say anything more to each other (and this is probably when I recognized my new partner and I had some special cosmic connection) we both hauled off in the same direction – towards the side of the school – rounded the corner and found our missing 8th grader in the process of lighting up a cigarette. Simultaneously, we yelled, “Busted!” He grinned at us and we grinned back. And that was the end of that. We established right from the get-go who he was dealing with that year, and we also established that we genuinely cared about him and he wasn’t invisible to us.
Finding the sign turned around this morning made me flashback to that scene at the side of the school all those years ago.
Ahem. And no – I did not leave the sign turned with its backside to the road. Good try, though.
I had one of those perfect moments in life today – the kind of moment where I felt at total peace with the world. I was sitting in the shade of a maple tree on a bench in Boulevard Park – there was a cool breeze that brought the briny smell of the bay and I could hear laughter and seagulls and people chatting cheerily with each other. It wasn’t too cold or too hot. I wasn’t hungry. I had everything I needed. I felt completely content.
And I had a flashback to a day 11 years ago – when I was in the middle of a severe depression and walking through the same park, watching people smiling and laughing, and wondering if I would ever feel happy again – wondering if I would ever feel at peace and content, and be able to laugh again with my friends like the people around me were doing. I remember feeling sort of in awe and wonder at the happy faces around me. I remember sort of letting myself ride on top of the joy of other people for a while. And I thought if I could ever find the joy again I would be sure to share it – like the people around me were doing for me.
I am really conscious of my joy now – and so very grateful for it.
(Seen in Bellingham this morning: Bee on Big Blue Sea Holly flowers. Photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell.)