A Real Life Hero

It has been a year and a half since Mom died. Dad had been in the hospital, suffering from delirium caused by an infection, when Mom passed. When he was released from the hospital after her death, he never returned to the apartment they’d shared together before he went into the hospital. He, basically, woke up from his delirium to find himself in a new home and without his companion of 62 years. I know he’s been working hard in the last 18 months to make some sense of it all. His courage since Mom’s death has been awe-inspiring for me to witness. I always knew he was brave – his mountaineering adventures are proof of that – but I never realized the amazing depth of his steely inner resolve until the last year and a half. I think I finally understand now how he survived those weeks on K2. I finally understand why so many people look on him as a hero. He is one. A genuine real life hero. And he’s my father.

 

 

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“I don’t think she’s really gone.”

Dad was brilliant today!

Amanda sent word that Dad was up and feeling chipper. So I stopped by to see if he’d like to go for a drive. He was finishing breakfast when I got there, but he soon had his alpine hat on his head and his shoes on his feet, and was moving (at a rapid pace) towards the door…

My original thought was that I’d swing by the Sisters Espresso for his shake and then take him up to Bayview State Park for a quiet sit on a bench. But on the way to Sisters Espresso Dad said he thought he remembered a painting he had to finish at my home. So I got him his vanilla shake and then brought him to my house to see if he wanted to work on the watercolor of Rainier he’s been painting since last winter.

He settled into a seat at the table. I pulled out his paints, sponge, watercolors, brushes, and his latest watercolor project, and he set to work.

He had his hearing headset on today, so we could have a conversation. His hearing headset makes all the difference. I had my camera with me and recorded some of our conversation. This was both a good thing and a bad thing. There were times when he would say the most profound things – but I hadn’t been recording – so then he’d have to repeat himself for the recording. Sometimes there were things he said and did that were so precious to me I decided I didn’t want to remember them as a recording…

Karen: You’re not a prejudiced person. You must have had good parents. Where you grew up – in Los Angeles – did you live in a part of town with people from a lot of different cultures and backgrounds? Was there racism where you lived?

Dad: There was racism in Los Angeles – but (smiling) we lived in the opposite part of Los Angeles. I grew up with mostly Japanese farmers. Most of my friends growing up were Japanese.
(recording)
Karen: Daddy, tell me about the part of Los Angeles that you were raised in.
Dad: Are you recording this?
Karen: Yeah. Is that okay?
Dad: (nodding his head) Yeah. I lived in southwestern Los Angeles – which was mostly related to the Japanese truck farmers. We were kind of on the edge of the developed part of Los Angeles city, so we just walked a couple blocks and we were out in the fields.
Karen: Most of your friends were Japanese?
Dad: Yeah.
(end recording)
Karen: So you grew up in a place that didn’t have a lot of prejudice?
Dad: Yeah. There are places that I’ve never had an interest in visiting because…
(recording)
…they are still very prejudiced and the Civil War is still in their blood.
(I watch Dad paint for a while.)
(recording)
Karen: You’re 100! That’s crazy!
Dad: You tell anybody you’ve got a father 100 years old and they’re going to think you’re just…
Karen: Exaggerating?
Dad: Yeah.
(end recording)
Karen: When you paint do you know ahead of time what you’re going to paint in the foreground?
Dad: (shaking his head) No.
Karen: So it just evolves?
Dad: Yeah.
Karen: What are you going to do with this one? What do you see?
Dad: Over here I’m going to paint some trees. And over here an island of trees. And up here a sub-ridge of the mountain. (Thinking) You kind of want three points of interest, but not one dominating.
(Of course I hadn’t recorded any of Dad’s thoughts on painting – so now I make him go through the whole conversation again. He is very patient with me.)
Karen: Daddy, I really love spending time with you.
Dad: (brings his head up and smiles and gives me the focused, penetrating look of someone who is really listening) I was going to say the same thing to you earlier. I love the drives we take together.
(recording)
Karen: Were you the only artist in your family?
Dad: In my immediate family, you mean?
Karen: Were your grandparents artists? Were your parents artists?
Dad: No.
Karen: (laughing) How did that happen?
Dad: (thinking) I’ve always enjoyed drawing. And I enjoy drawing foregrounds for mountains.
Karen: What is your favorite place you’ve ever traveled?
Dad: Paradise Valley.
Karen: Wow! Mount Rainier. Was that better than the Alps?
Dad: Well, the Alps have more history…
Karen: But Paradise Valley is the best.
(stop recording)
(I watch Dad for a while, debating with myself if I should ask what I want to ask…)
Karen: Daddy, I want to ask you a hard question…
Dad: Okay. I may give you a hard answer.
Karen: Do you think we’ll see Mom again?
Dad: (thinking) I don’t think Mom is really gone.
Karen: Do you feel her here?
Dad: (thinking) I wasn’t surprised that she was gone. For the last year or two she talked about friends who had died, and I think she knew… I think she was trying to prepare me.
Karen: Yeah. I think she knew. When you were both in the hospital she didn’t want to leave because she loved you and wanted to take care of you. You didn’t want to leave because you wanted to take care of her.
Dad: (smiling sadly) I was shocked when you told me she was gone… but I wasn’t surprised.
Karen: (feeling sad for him, and guilty, and unsure what I should do) Would you rather I not tell you Mom is gone when you forget? …Was it bad of me to tell you?
Dad: (emphatically) No! You need to tell me. And I need to deal with it.
Karen: We carry Mom around in our memories of her, don’t we? She’s always with us.
Dad: (nodding) Yeah.
(recording)
Karen: I’m glad we’re neighbors, Daddy.
Dad: Yeah.
Karen: I love you.
Dad: I love you.
(end recording)

Dad is tired now. He’ll come back and work on this painting another time. Right now it is time for his afternoon nap.
As I’m helping Dad get into the car, he turns and looks at me and reaches out to give me a hug. “I love you, Karen,” he says.
I kiss him on the cheek. “I love you, too, Daddy.”

Youtube clip of the conversation with Dad.

dad painting (2) this one

Fixing the Fixing Nut

After I visited with Dad I just lost all my oomph. I lay down on the couch and just sort of… drifted in and out, I guess. And then I realized how ridiculous that was. Why waste my day like that?

My bicycle has had some problems this summer – two or three times now the pedal has fallen off as I was riding it. Scott has hammered the pedal back in – but we both knew that was just a temporary fix. I’ve kept my bike trips to mostly short little outings – 5 or 6 or 7 miles – because I never knew when the pedal might fall off again and I might have to walk my bike home. I rode my bike to the post office this morning – but I was afraid to go any further because I thought the pedal might fall off. That, my friends, is no way to live a life. 

So when I roused myself off the couch I decided it was time to load my bike into Rosalita Ipswich O’Molenovich and take her to the local bike shop.

Skagit Cycle Center in Burlington totally rocks! Every time I’ve been there I’ve been greeted by friendly, helpful people. Today was no exception. It took just five minutes for Isaiah to fix the fixing nut on my bike.

And during those five minutes I met a nice man and his high school son who were waiting in line behind me to get the son’s bike fixed (even the customers are fun there!). I think the father had overheard me talking to Isaiah about teaching – somehow we got on the topic – and I told him I was a high school teacher. The father asked me what was being fixed on my bike. I told him the fixing nut was being fixed. “The nut being fixed is a fixing nut…?” he asked, looking a little confused. “He’s fixing the fixing nut…?” I nodded my head in the affirmative. He grinned and said he was a little confused.

And then – because I recognized a fellow Humoristian – I said, “Yes. I’m a teacher. That’s what we do.”

He started laughing, and said, “It’s a conspiracy. Send our children home from school more confused than they were when they went in.”

I nodded my head. “Yes. Every day my fellow teachers and I get together and plot how we can confuse the young people…”

The son was cracking up now, too. 

I thanked the bicycle people and paid my bill and loaded my bike back up into Rosalita Ipswich O’Molenovich and headed to Fred Meyer’s. I was in one of those “browsing-in an-air-conditioned supermarket moods” – sort of meandering down aisles, trying to remember what I’d forgotten to buy the last time I was in there. And everyone I made eye contact with gave me a smile today. I bought the new Dan Brown book, some cat food, photo printing paper, grapefruit juice, an avocado (life’s necessities, right?) and headed out to the car. As I was walking to Rosalita Ipswich O’Molenovich I passed a young woman and gave her a smile – and she gave me a dazzling smile back, and even added a sort of shoulder hug – she brought her shoulders up like she was giving me a friendly hug. It was very sweet.

I love people. 

“I finally know your name!”

I got a call that Dad was having a difficult time of it and wanted to see me. He’d remembered that Mom was gone and was grieving.

He was in the recliner in front of the television when I got there. His eyes lit up at the sight of me. The first words out of his mouth were “I love you.” I told him I loved him, too, and suggested to him that we move to a table where we could talk.

We got him hooked up to his hearing headset so he could better hear while we talked. This was the first time that I ever felt able to explain to him the sequence of events that had brought him to his current home.

Dad: Mom is gone?
Karen: Yes.
Dad: Did she suffer?
Karen: No, she was being medicated for the pain.
Dad: How did it happen?
Karen: You and Mom were both in the hospital at the same time. She was on the floor above you. She had congestive heart failure. You were on the floor below her with a urinary tract infection.
Dad: We were both in the hospital? I don’t remember any of that. Why was I in the hospital?
Karen: For a urinary tract infection.
Dad: Oh. I don’t remember.
Karen: You were delirious because of the infection.
Dad: (nodding) Oh.
Karen: I’m told that someone brought you up to her room in a wheelchair so you could say good bye. But I didn’t get to see that.
Dad: I don’t remember saying good bye to her.
Karen: No, your memory of that time is gone. (pause) When Mom was released we decided to bring her to my home to care for her. We thought we had months – but when they brought her to our home we realized that she was near the end. We spent the whole day telling each other we loved each other. She told me how much she loved you…
Dad: (tearing up) Was she in pain?
Karen: No, she was under medication. I was sleeping on the couch next to her bed when she passed. In my dreams I felt this joy and peace brush past me. When I woke up she looked to be sleeping quietly, and I started to go back to sleep… then I realized she was too still. I checked on her and she was gone. I went upstairs to Scotty and told him I thought Moz was gone and he came downstairs and checked her pulse, touched her – she was cold. He affirmed that she’d passed. But… I felt when she passed… I felt like she’d touched me with love and joy as she left…
Dad: (tearing up) Where was I?
Karen: You were still in the hospital. A doctor let us use her stethoscope to tell you Mom was gone – and you grieved, but the next day you didn’t remember she’d passed. So then we sort of lied to you. You’d ask how Mom was doing and we’d say she was fine. But then I asked how YOU were doing and you said you’d be doing a lot better if we told you how Mom was doing.  (Dad laughs at himself – but there are tears in his eyes.) I decided I needed to respect you by telling you the truth… but… it hurts you. When you forget that Mom is gone would you rather we tell you the truth or say she’s fine…?
Dad: Tell me the truth.
Karen: You’re very brave, Daddy. (I give him a hug.) And now we needed to figure out where to bring you when you were released. Before Mom died, your assisted living place told us they couldn’t take you and Mom back. We only had a couple days to find a new home for Mom and you. That’s why we’d brought Moz to our home. And when you were released – we didn’t want to put you in some institution full of strangers…
Dad: (shaking his head vehemently) No.
Karen: But I didn’t have the know-how to take care of you in my home. You have memory problems (I see the distressed look on his face and quickly reassure him) – you’re still brilliant and smart and wise and funny – and you have no problem remembering what happened forty or thirty years ago – but you have a hard time remembering yesterday or last week… I think when Mom passed that got worse for you. So we needed some place with people who knew how to take care of you and could love you like we do.  The social workers at the hospital suggested we look into adult family homes and so I started calling around. The second place I called was this place…
Dad: This place where I am now?
Karen: Yes. Dave (my brother) and I decided we’d check this place out. We decided if we didn’t like the look of it we’d just drive right by. But there were bird feeders in the front yard, and cats and dogs, and… it felt like Moz had led us here for you.
Dad: (nodding and smiling) To this place?
Karen: Yes. I saw a rainbow that morning – and it seemed like a sign to me that everything was going to work out. And then we found this place and we met Gwen…
Dad: Who’s Gwen?
Karen: Gwen’s the woman who owns this place. She takes care of you. When we met her we found out she was related to your favorite author, John Muir, and that she likes the mountains, too. She and I took you up to Mount Baker last summer. And she came with us when we took you up to Rainier for your 100th birthday. Do you remember going up to Rainier for your 100th birthday? You had a ranger escort, and they blocked off some parking spaces for you, and there was a camera crew making a documentary of you – it was epic!
Dad: (shaking his head) No. I don’t remember any of that.
Karen: I’ll go get the pictures! (I go into his bedroom and find the photo album of pictures from his 100th birthday weekend.) See? Here you are arm wrestling with your grandson, Andrew (Dad smiles). And do you know who that is?
Dad: That’s Bob Ader.
Karen: Yeah. He came all the way from Colorado to celebrate with you. And here you are at Longmire. There’s Pete Schoening’s grandson and great-granddaughter… and there’s Kristianne Schoening – remember her? (Dad nods.) And see – there’s Gwen!
Dad: (By this time Gwen has joined us at the table. Dad looks up at her and recognizes her. He points to her and smiles.) I finally know your name! (Gwen starts grinning.)
Karen: (pointing to a picture of Dad with his face in the photo hole of a sign) Michael, your granddaughter Claire’s new husband, found this sign that had 100th birthday on it inside the Visitor’s Center – it was to celebrate the National Park’s centennial, but we thought it would be perfect for you, too. So we had you stick your head in there. (Dad starts grinning.)
Karen: Do you know who this is?
Dad: (nodding) That’s your son. That’s Alexander.
Karen: Yeah, he was up there with us. And there’s Casey and his girlfriend… Oh! This was a special moment – do you recognize this person?
Dad: Kenny Foreman, my old Coast Guard buddy.
Karen: Yeah. You and Kenny held hands and sat next to each other in your wheelchairs. It was epic!
(I start pointing out all the people who came to join Dad for his 100th birthday. Most of his old friends he recognizes – some he doesn’t at first, but quickly remembers after a prompt.)
Dad: (concerned) How was I? Did I carry on conversations…?
Karen: You were brilliant! You were smart and funny and wonderful!
Dad: (smiling with relief) Good.
Karen: Gwen’s grandson was with us, too – here he is pushing you around in the wheelchair at Paradise. You didn’t want to get in that wheelchair – you said you had friends up there and you didn’t want them to see you in it… (Dad starts laughing at himself) but you finally sat in it and let us roll you around.

(After we go through the album I put it back in Dad’s bedroom and ask him if he would like to go for a ride. He says yes. So we get his shoes on his feet and his hat on his head and load him up in my car.)
Dad: Let’s head for the beach.
Karen: Okay.

(We drive through Burlington for a few minutes.)
Dad: (thinking) I haven’t seen Mom for about a year.
Karen: Daddy, she’s gone.
Dad: (thinking) Was there a service for her?
Karen: Yes.
Dad: Was I there?
Karen: Yes.
Dad: Did I speak at her service? Was I… alright?
Karen: No, you didn’t speak. But you took care of us. You were wonderful.
Dad: Good.

We drive by Padilla Bay and then turn back to his home. Gwen comes to help us and I ask Dad if he remembers her. He nods and smiles and says, “Gwen.” We bring him back to the recliner.

Dad: I love you!
Karen: I love you, too, Daddy!

Dad and 100th birthday rainier this one

Annual Skyline Divide Hike

I was really surprised by how many people were up on the Skyline Divide today. And (although it kind of made it difficult to take photos) it gave me hope to see all these people – willing to push their bodies up to alpine meadows to enjoy what the mountains could give them.

As I was looking at Mount Baker today from the Skyline Divide – and realizing how HUGE it is – I thought to myself: “What in the heck were you thinking?! Whatever made you think you could climb that mountain?!” And then I reminded myself that I did, indeed, climb that mountain. And then it dawned on me that if I hadn’t been born with the parents I was born with – and I’m not just talking about Dad here – Moz was a pretty formidable adventurer in her day, too – I probably WOULDN’T have climbed Baker (or Rainier, Adams, or Hood). How lucky am I that I had a father who took me up all these peaks? I’m so very grateful for the opportunities my parents gave me in my life. They gave me the mountains. 

 

 

 

 

Garage Treasures

A bag of Camp Fire Girl beads from fifty years ago
and a little girl’s autograph book filled
with signatures from family and friends –
some now gone. Prusik slings and an ice axe
she used on Rainier, and a backpack that traveled
with her through Europe.  A tiger squirt gun
thrown to her in the midst of the best squirt
gun fight ever by a young man named Phil or Bill
who in a western twang drawled, “Here, little lady,
I think you’re going to need this.” And a book
that her father took with him as he climbed K2,
inscribed by the American consul in India.
A Mary Poppins bag with a Mary Poppins doll –
no longer prim or practically perfect in every way –
barefoot and hair tousled – she has lost her button-
up Edwardian footwear and her flower-bedecked hat –
but she still has the power to bring a smile
to her human’s face. And she looks on these artifacts
of a life before now, remembering who she was,
and seeing the things she’s always been.
She was an odd little girl.  She is an odd woman.
But, dang! What a wonderful life she has lived.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

 

There’s Good Going on Here

In spite of what you
seem to see there’s good going
on here, now, always.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

“Undisturbed amid the jarring testimony of the material senses, Science, still enthroned, is unfolding to mortals the immutable, harmonious, divine Principle, – is unfolding Life and the universe, ever present and eternal.”
– Mary Baker Eddy

sunset-laconner-4

photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell