“Nisqually Icefall… I love you…”

Dad was in his bed, sleeping, when I entered his room. I leaned over and touched his forehead and he woke up.
Dad: (Smiling at me) … Nisqually Icefall…
Karen: Nisqually Icefall?
Dad: (Mumbling) Nisqually Icefall… I love you…
Karen: I love you.
Dad: Did you take time off work to be here?
Karen: I’m retired.
Dad: Oh! So you can be here to send us off on our climb!
Karen: Yes. You can go back to sleep now and rest for your climb.
Dad: (Nodding.) Okay. (Closing his eyes and going back to sleep.)
 
***

I think this must have been what Dad was talking about – his first ascent of the Nisqually Icefall with Bob Craig in 1948:
http://publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/12194913800/print

(Photo of Rainier by Karen Molenaar Terrell.)
Rainier up close this one

“I haven’t been in this place for a long time.”

Dad was in the shower when I arrived. I sat on his bed and waited for him, and he made his way through the door with his walker a few minutes later…
Karen: Hi, Daddy! How are you?
Dad: (Smiling) Wet. (Looking around his room.) I haven’t been in this place for a long time.
Karen: It’s so good to see you again! Scotty and I have been gone for a few weeks. We drove to Michigan. We just got back a couple hours ago. We saw the Devil’s Tower and The Badlands of South Dakota – have you ever seen The Badlands?
Dad: (Shaking his head.) No. I’ve never been there.
Karen: Do you want to go for a drive?
Dad: I’ve got a meeting tonight. I have a date to meet… (thinking) an elderly woman…
Karen: Oh. Okay. You want to go for a drive now, though?
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah.

Amanda helps me load Dad into the car and we set out on another adventure. Before we’ve made it very far…
Dad: I’m going to need a milkshake.
Karen: I know just where to take you!

I drive Dad to Sisters Espresso where Dave Waka (by all accounts, a saint of a human being) left enough money for Dad to get shakes and floats for a very long time. I park in front of the espresso stand and Dad immediately recognizes it…
Dad: Vanilla.
Karen: You want a vanilla shake?
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah.
(I go up and get Dad his shake and myself a lavender green iced tea and bring them back to the car.)
Dad: (Sincerely.) Thank you.

I pull back onto the road.
Dad: Are your boys doing well?
Karen: They’re doing great!
Dad: How are Scott’s parents? Do they get out here much?
Karen: Scott’s mom is doing really well. Scotty’s dad died a few years ago.
Dad: Oh. (Thinking.) Scott’s father ?
Karen: Yeah.
Dad: I’m sorry. (Tearing up.) Scotty’s a good guy.
Karen: Yes, he is.
Dad: Are we going to your house now?
Karen: Sure! (I head for my home.)
Dad: Should we get a dog?
Karen: Do you want a dog?
(Dad doesn’t answer – he probably hasn’t heard me. We pull up in front of my house and I run in to fetch Scott. Scott comes out and chats with Dad for a while and then Dad and I get back on the road.)

We meander through the Bow area and at some point we stop so I can rescue one of my campaign signs from the blackberry vines – the vines have twined themselves all around the sign and look like they’re trying to consume it – I’m reminded of that plant in Little Shop of Horrors – “Feed me!” I tug the sign out of the bushes. Dad sees my sign then, and asks me if I won the election. I explain that I made it through the primary and am going to be in the general election in November.
Dad: Are you traveling nationally?
Karen: Oh! (I realize Dad is envisioning something far grander than what’s actually going on here.) No, this is just a local election.
Dad: (Nodding.) Oh. (Thinking.) Do you ever have meetings with the other farmers?
Karen: (Sometimes you’ve just got to go with it…) Yes!
Dad: Can you see Mount Rainier from here on a clear day?
Karen: Sometimes…
Dad: (Just then Dad notices the top of Mount Baker above the hills and points to it…) Baker!
Karen: Yeah!
Dad: Are you enjoying your new job?
Karen: (I am newly-retired.) Yes, I am!

It’s time to get Dad home. I head towards Burlington and work my way through the round-about and stoplight towards his house. I pull up in front of his front door – but this time I come up the other side.
Dad: (Recognizing his home.) Oh! We usually come up to that other door.
Karen: Yeah, we do!
Dad: What are the names of these people?
Karen: Gwen and Amanda…
Dad: (Nodding and smiling with recognition.) That’s right!

I help Dad into the house and up the stairs and Amanda leads him to the dining room table. Dinner’s almost ready.
Karen: Thank you for the drive today, Daddy! I love you!
Dad: (Smiling.) Thank YOU!

Are You Taking Me Home Now?

*Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad* can be ordered through your favorite book store or ordered online through Amazon.

“This is my sister.”

Dad is sitting in the kitchen, ready to go, when we get there.
Karen: Hi, Daddy. You ready to go to the doctor?
Dad: The doctor? Is it bad?
Karen: No. It’s just your eye doctor appointment.
Dad: Are we going to Jo’s tonight?
(Amanda comes up to see if she can help.)
Dad to Amanda: (Pointing to me.) This is my sister.
Amanda to me: (Grinning.) Pleased to meet you!
Karen to Amanda: (Also grinning.) Pleased to meet YOU!

Scotty appears and Dad greets him, “Hi Scott!” Scott helps load Dad into the car. We buckle him in, and begin our adventure.
Dad: Is the doctor’s office here in Tacoma?
Scott: It’s in Burlington.
Dad: That’s a long way to go for a doctor’s appointment.
Scott: We’re in Burlington right now.
Dad: (Looks around.) Oh.

Dad reaches his hand back from the front seat. I clasp it and we hold hands companionably for a while.
Dad to Scott: Are you enjoying your job?
Scott: I’m loving my job. I’m retired!

Soon we arrive at the doctor’s office. We help Dad out of the car and into the building, and Dad and I go into the waiting room. It’s packed today. Dad and I find seats in the back.
Karen: Dad, your doctor is a mountain climber, too. He’s climbed Mount Rainier.
(Dad nods and takes this in. Another patient comes in and finds a seat in the back.)
New patient: This is where the rowdy crowd sits – in the back of the bus.
(I start chuckling.)
Karen: Dad is a rowdy 101 years old.
New patient: He’s 101?! You must be his granddaughter then? Or his great-granddaughter?)
Karen: No. I’m his daughter. Dad started a little late…
New patient: How old are you…?
Karen: I’m 62.
(I am happily surprised when the new patient’s mouth opens in astonishment.)
New patient: You don’t look 62! I would never have guessed…
Karen: Really?! Wow, thank you! (This kind of makes up for Dad calling me his sister.)
(There’s another pair there – an older woman and I’m guessing her daughter – the daughter perks up when she hears Dad’s age.)
Daughter: My mom is 101, too! She’ll be 102 in December. (She turns to her mom and explains that Dad is six months younger than her. The mother looks at Dad and calls him “a kid.”)
Karen: (Laughing.) Dad, she is six months older than you. She thinks you’re a youngster. (Dad grins.)
(We talk for a while with the mother and daughter and share histories – they learn Dad was born in Los Angeles and I find out they lived in Los Angeles, too. The mother spent the early part of her life in NYC, though, and reminisces for a while about New York.)

We get called back into the office where Dad will have his blood pressure taken and read the eye chart. Dad is watching the technician…)
Dad: Is she the mountain climber?
(The technician looks at Dad…)
Karen to the technician: Are you a mountain climber?
The technician: (Smiling.) I like to hike.
Karen to Dad: She likes to hike. Your doctor is the mountain climber – she’s not your doctor. She’s going to check your eyes and take your blood pressure.
The technician: (Surprised.) Dr. Saperstein is a mountain climber?!
Karen: (Smiling.) Yeah. He’s climbed Mount Rainier.
The technician: I didn’t know that!
(Dad does really well with the eye charts today. He knows exactly what to do. When we’re done there we go down to the room where he’ll have his eyes photographed. Again, he knows the routine and he’s remembering what to do.When we’re done there we go back into the waiting room to wait to be called back to Dr. Saperstein’s office. The daughter and mother pass us on their way out and we say how nice it was to meet each other. The daughter says that Dr. Saperstein was telling them all about Dad being in Wikipedia and dangling on the end of a rope on K2 – she’s impressed with all of this.)
The mother: Give my regards to Broadway…
The daughter: (Smiling.) Mom is thinking about New York now.

Final stop: Dr. Saperstein’s room. I let Dad know that THIS is the man who’s the mountain climber, and when Dr. Saperstein comes in they do the Dee Molenaar handshake – clasp hands and then turn the hands so it looks like they might start arm wrestling. Dr. Saperstein is grinning. Things happen quickly now – it’s determined that Dad will need an injection in his eye today and I explain to him what that will look like.)
Karen to Dad: They’re going to put some drops in your eye to numb it and then you’re going to have some medicine injected in your eye. It’s very quick. You’re almost done!
Karen to Dr. Saperstein: How’d I do?
Dr. Saperstein: (Smiling.) You did great!

The medicine is injected quickly into Dad’s eyeball and then we make our way back to the car, where Scott is waiting for us.
Dad: Thank you for taking me on all these drives to doctors.
Scott: No problem! You’re welcome!

Now it’s time to get Dad a root beer float from Sisters Espresso. He has earned it, for sure. We get Dad his float and then take him on a short drive. He perks up when he sees Mount Baker peeking out of the clouds. When we pull in front of Dad’s door…
Dad: I’ve been here before.
Karen: Yeah! You have!

We help him out of the car, into the house, and up the stairs. He settles into a comfy chair in front of the television.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.

“How old are YOU going to be?”

Took Dad to an eye doctor appointment today. The eye doctor place lets us wait in the car until they’re ready for us. This gives Dad and I a chance to talk in a quiet space.
Karen: Dad, you’re going to be 101 in a couple months.
Dad: (Nodding.) How old are YOU going to be?
Karen: I’m going to be 63 in September.
Dad: 53?
Karen: 63.
Dad: God!
Karen: (Laughing.) I know, right? Isn’t that crazy?!
Dad: How can that be?! (Thinking.) Time goes faster the older we get.

Pretty soon the eye technician comes out to fetch us. I’ve forgotten Dad’s walker, but I walk backwards in front of him and let him use my arms as a walker. We head into the exam room and Dad takes a seat in the examination chair. As the technician gives directions I speak them into Dad’s ear. “This is Shay. She’s going to take your blood pressure now. Put your arm across your chest. Good! How’s your vision been? Okay. Do you see the dot? Good! Do you see the lines? Are the lines straight?”
Dad: (Thinking this might be a trick question, I guess.) The lines appear to be straight.
Karen: (Laughing.) Good.
(Shay sees that Dad’s nose is dripping and grabs a tissue and wipes his nose. Like all the people at this clinic, she is kind to Dad.)

After the exam is done, we head to the room where they’ll take a photo of his eyes. Dad knows the routine now and sits in the chair and puts his chin in the chin cup. After photos are taken we go to the room where he’ll meet with Dr. Saperstein. Before the doctor comes in I remind Dad that the doctor is a mountain climber. When Dr. Saperstein enters, he greets Dad and Dad reaches out his hand for his special mountaineering handshake – it starts as a regular handshake – strong and firm – and then their hands move into position like they’re about to arm wrestle. They both grin at each other. Dr. Saperstein has passed Dad’s test.  )

Karen to Dr. Saperstein: That was Dad’s special mountain-climbing handshake. He knows you’re a mountain-climber.
Dr. Saperstein: My climbing is nothing compared to what your Dad has done. (He looks at me and grins.) In fact, my climbing is nothing compared to what YOU have done. You’ve climbed a lot more mountains than me.
Karen: (Laughing, and kind of embarrassed. I guess I HAVE climbed a lot of mountains – Rainier, Baker, Adams, Hood – but…I don’t know that I’ve ever really thought of myself as a climber.) I just followed Dad up the mountains and then followed him back down.
Dr. Saperstein: (Laughing.) Well, you’ve done a lot more climbing than me. (He looks at the photos of Dad’s eyes.) His eyes look good. We won’t have to give him a treatment today. Let’s plan on seeing him again in three months.

I help Dad out to the waiting room and help him sit in a chair. I tell him I’m going to make another appointment for him and then we’ll go and get him a root beer float. He nods. He thinks a root beer float is a good idea. After I make our next appointment I help Dad up and we begin our slow journey to the door. I let everyone in the waiting room know that Dad will be 101 in a couple months. They are impressed – and I feel them sending Dad their support as he works his way towards the door. “Dad’s a mountain climber,” I say. “He’s in Wikipedia. K2.” I can see that at least one of the men in the waiting room knows what “K2” is – his eyes get big and he smiles a big smile. He says he’s honored to be in the same room with Dad.

I’m incredibly relieved when Dad has finally reached the car. At the end it looked like he might collapse – but he made it! Step by step – never giving up.
Dad: Let’s go find a place with a root beer float.

I drive Dad to the Sisters Espresso…
Dad: (Looking out the window.) The Skagit Delta. Beautiful country.

I pull into the Sisters Espresso parking lot.
Karen: Do you remember this place?
Dad: (Nodding.) I’ve been here many times.

I order him his float. When I bring it to him he smiles and says thank you. I head west – stop for some eagle pictures, and then drive by daffodil fields.
Karen: Daffodils! Aren’t they beautiful?!
Dad: Yes!

Eventually we end up back at Dad’s home. I park in front of the door.
Karen: Do you know how much I love you?
Dad: How much?
Karen: Infinitely much.
Dad: (Nodding.) Infinitely.

I help Dad out of the car and reunite him with his walker.
Dad: (Looking at the house.) Do we know these people?
Karen: Yes.
(Just then Amanda comes out of the house…)
Dad: (Smiling.) Hi!
Amanda: (Smiling back.) Hello!

We help Dad up the stairs. Today he chooses to go right to his bedroom. He’s ready for a rest.
Karen: Thank you for the drive today, Daddy.
Dad: Thank YOU for the drive.
Karen; I Love you!
Dad: I love YOU!

“What are we doing for New Year’s?”

Dad was in his room when I peeked in – sitting on his bed, not fully-dressed. He looked up and saw me start to turn away (I was going to get help for him) and he said, “No. Come on in. Don’t go away!” I told him I’d wait out at the kitchen table for him, but I’m not sure he heard me.

Gwen went in to help him and I sat at the table. When he came out he headed with Gwen towards the bathroom – and he told me, again, to wait for him. I assured him I would.

Five minutes later he joined me at the kitchen table.
Karen: I love you.
Dad: I never get tired of hearing that.(Thinking.) Today is December 31st. What are we going to do today? What are your plans for tonight?
Karen: Today is November 7th.
Dad: Oh. (Processing.) I was two months off.
Karen: Do you want to go for a drive?
Dad: I wouldn’t mind.

In the car, heading towards Sisters Espresso…
Dad: What a beautiful day!
Karen: It really is!
Dad: What are we doing for New Year’s?
Karen: It’s November.
Dad: Oh. Yeah. That’s right. It’s a month away.

I stop at Sisters Espresso and buy Dad his root beer float. He takes his float from me and thanks me for it.

As we’re driving down Chuckanut Dad twists his head to the right and I know he’s looking for Mount Baker. I glance to the right just as Baker comes into view. I nod that direction and say, “There it is!” Dad looks and nods his head and keeps his eyes on the mountain.

I stop at the post office and run into my neighbor, Bond, there. He was at the book-signing last weekend and bought one of my books and one of Dad’s, too. I tell him Dad is in the car and he asks if he can come out to see him. Bond follows me out to the car and I open Dad’s door so he can meet Bond. I introduce Bond to Dad and tell Dad that he signed Bond’s book last weekend. Dad smiles at Bond and reaches out his hand to shake hands with him.

As we’re heading back to Dad’s home…
Dad: (Looking at Mount Baker.) I bet it’s cold up there right now.
Karen: Yeah. It looks like there’s fresh snow up there.
Dad: Do you enjoy these drives with me?
Karen: I do!
Dad: Mutual. (Thinking.) I like seeing your face.

I bring Dad back to his home. He doesn’t ask where he is this time. He unfastens his seat belt and I offer my arm as support as he goes up the stairs and makes his way to a chair at the kitchen table.
Dad: What are we doing for New Year’s tonight?
Karen: It’s November 7th. The elections were yesterday.
Dad: How’d it turn out?
Karen: The Democrats got the House. The Republicans got the Senate.
Dad: (Nods.) Oh. (Dad flips open the newspaper on the table and starts reading about what’s going on in the world.)
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
Dad: I love you.

(Similar stories can be found in Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad. )

“I was surprised by how painless it was…”

When I got to Dad’s place I learned a friend had just sent him the obituary for author Ruth Kirk. Ruth had been a dear friend of Dad’s and Dad had tears in his eyes when I arrived to visit with him. He was having a hard time of it. He’d told the care-giver that he’d illustrated some of Ruth’s books, and the care-giver had tried to find one of Ruth’s books on Dad’s bookshelves – but hadn’t been able to find one – so, instead, she’d pulled out Dad’s book, The Challenge of Rainier and they were looking through Dad’s illustrations in his book when I got there.

His care-giver made room for me to sit next to Dad so we could talk. Dad shared how sad he was about losing his friend, Ruth. I told him that this had been a rough year, and we talked about other friends he’d lost. He said at this point whenever he gets a card in the mail he expects to find an obituary for one of his friends inside it.

Some people he remembered were gone – climber Fred Beckey, and his brother, K (although he thought K had just passed away a couple years ago, when actually he’s been gone since 1994). He was surprised to learn that other friends were gone – “I wondered why I hadn’t heard from them,” he said. I think he was wondering why no one had told him about his friends’ passing – so I let him know that we’d shared these passages with him, but that he’d forgotten. I suggested that maybe he forgot because it was too traumatic for him to process – and I told him that would be understandable. He seemed to accept this.

I always follow my intuition in these conversations – sometimes I don’t bring up Mom’s passing, and sometimes – like today – it seems the right time to talk about it. I know talking about Mom’s passing is very hard for him – but… there are times when I think it’s helpful to him, too. So I held his hand and shared with him, again, Mom’s last week with us – I told him that he’d been able to say good bye to her in the hospital before they brought her to my home; told him she’d died peacefully in her sleep while I slept on the couch next to her; told him I felt her presence brush passed me as she left – I felt her love and joy. I told him that she’d loved him very much – that she still loves him – and that we’d promised her we’d take care of him. Dad nodded and wept quietly.

I observed that when you live to be 100 you lose a lot of people along the way. “But fortunately,” I said, “you have a lot of friends who are younger than you.” He smiled and nodded.

I asked him if he’d ever expected to live to be 100. He said he’d never thought about it.

Then – “Is it time for a drive?” he asked, hopefully. So his care-givers helped me get him ready – got him in his sweater, put shoes on his feet – and I put his alpine hat on his head – and we loaded him up in my car. I asked him if he’d like me to take him for a root beer float, and he nodded his head.

On the drive to the Sisters Espresso…
Dad: I’ve been thinking this week that I needed to get out of here and get back home to Mom. But now I realize she’s gone.
Karen: Yeah. That place where you’re living is your home now.

As we turn onto old Hwy 99…
Dad: Now we’re heading north. Parallel to the Pacific coast.
Karen: Yup.
Dad: How are the boys?
Karen: They’re both graduated from university now.
Dad: (taking this in) Time goes fast. I was in school a lot longer than them. Or… that’s how it feels, anyway.

As we turn onto Chuckanut Drive…
Dad: Last month when I thought I was dying I was surprised by how painless it was. It’s just getting sleepy…
Karen: You thought you were dying last month?
Dad: What?
Karen: (louder) You thought you were dying last month?
Dad: What? I can’t hear you. Let’s talk when we get to where we’re going.

I pull into the Sisters Espresso…
Dad: (smiling) I remember this place!
Karen: (turning off the car and speaking into Dad’s ear) Did you think you were dying last month?
Dad: I dreamed I was. I was surprised by how painless it was. It was just like going to sleep.
Karen: Do you feel like you’re dying now?
Dad: No. I’m good.
Karen: Good!

I get him his root beer float and hand it to him. He thanks me and begins drinking it. I head the car back to his home. As we pass a field bursting with little yellow flowers (maybe mustard seed flowers?)…
Karen: I love you, Daddy. (I’m not sure he can hear me, but I feel the need to say it.)
Dad: (turning to me) And I love you!

We pull into the driveway and next to the front door, and I help Dad get out of the car and up the stairs. The care-giver helps him get situated in the living room in Mom’s old chair.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
Dad: I love you! Thank you!
Karen: Thank YOU!