“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 Karen.”

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?
Dad: Sure!

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.

“Where am I?”

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?

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

“I Think That’s the Most Tired I’ve Ever Been.”

When I stop by to see Dad I find him eating his “breakfast” at the table. I ask him if he’d like to go for a drive and he says yes, he’d like that. Megan helps him get his shoes on and brings me a jacket in case Dad gets cold. We help Dad out to the car and help him get into his seat.

Before I start on the drive I turn to Dad. He has come to associate me telling him I love him with me saying good-bye. So I decide that today I will tell him I love him at the very start of our adventure.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
Dad: I love you! (He crinkles up his nose and we give each other Eskimo kisses.)

Dad: I like the drive we took last time – to the west side.
Karen: Yeah, that was nice, wasn’t it? (But I have other plans for us today. )
(I go around the round-about and exit onto I-5, heading north. I know this isn’t what Dad is expecting – we usually head straight onto Chuckanut – and I hope that he will enjoy the idea of doing something different today. As we head out onto I-5 we pass the huge American flag that waves from the pole next to the freeway…)
Dad: That is the biggest flag I think I have ever seen.

I exit onto Lake Samish Road – I’m going to take the back way to Bellingham…

Dad: Les Laird died last week. I wasn’t in the office when it happened. I’m not sure why he died. (Les Laird was Dad’s old boss. Dad has been retired for 35 years.)

My plan is to take Dad to Boulevard Park and maybe buy him a vanilla milkshake. I’ve found that parking at the park is usually limited, but I’m hoping that maybe today something will just miraculously open up for us. It could happen, right? And sure enough – there’s one spot! – right there in front of the children’s pirate ship playground. I help Dad out of the car and we make our way to a picnic table near the playground. We’re about half-way there when a man and a young woman start to sit at the table – but the man looks up and notices us and graciously tells us we can have the table. I tell him we can share it, and he and the woman smile and agree to that plan.

A couple youngsters of about six-years-old come up and join us then – the man introduces them as his grandsons. I give a quick intro – tell them all that Dad is 100-years-old and a “famous mountain-climber” – and settle Dad in with our new friends. I go to buy him a shake. After I order the shake I come back to check on him. The man tells me his grandsons were really excited by the idea that they were with a famous mountain-climber.

When I go back to the shop the shake is ready – perfect timing!

The man and woman introduce themselves to me – they are Gary and his daughter, Shelby. Gary tells us that he lives in Arizona and brought one of his grandsons with him to come up here and visit Shelby and his other grandson.

We talk about the beauty of Arizona and the beauty of Washington State. I ask Gary if he’s ever been into the Grand Canyon, and he said he walked along the bottom of it once. I tell him I once got half-way down to the canyon bottom – to a place called Indian Gardens – and he knows exactly what I’m talking about. I turn to Dad then…
Karen: Dad, did you ever go to Arizona?
Dad: Yeah.
Karen: Did you ever go to the Grand Canyon?
Dad: Yeah. I hiked down to the bottom and back.Ten miles. In one day. I think that’s the most tired I’ve ever been.
Karen: (This is hard for me to imagine – Dad has, after all, climbed on K2, but I’m thinking maybe it was really hot when he was there.) Was it hot when you went down there?
Dad: No, it was winter.
Gary: (Smiling.) Well, sometimes it can get pretty hot in the winter, too. (Thinking.) We’ve had a lot of rain lately – Arizona is covered in flowers right now.
Karen to Gary: I bet it’s beautiful! (Thinking about Dad’s southwest roots.) Dad grew up in Los Angeles. He was born there in 1918. He hiked around in the Sierras when he was young.
Karen to Dad: Was Mount Whitney the first mountain you climbed?
Dad: I don’t know. (Thinking.) It was one of the first.
(I notice Dad is buttoning up his sweater and ask him if he’d like me to get his jacket out of the car. He says yes. I get the jacket out of the car and bring it back to him. I help him put his arms into the sleeves.)
Dad: (Zipping up the jacket.) That’s much better.

After a while it seems like it’s the right time to head back to Skagit County.
Karen to Dad: Are you ready to go?
Dad: Not really.
Karen: (Having a flashback of those times when the sons were toddlers and didn’t want to leave the local park. I realize I’m going to have to finesse this. I rephrase it… ) Are you ready to continue on our drive?
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah.
(We say good bye to our new friends and make our way back to the car.)

Back on the road. I decide to get Dad back to his home by way of Chuckanut Drive. This is a beautiful drive along cliffs over-looking the bay.
Dad: (Looking out the window.) This is a nice drive. There are the San Juan Islands.

When we get back into the Skagit flats I stop at the post office to pick up my mail.
Dad: We usually stop here, don’t we?
Karen: Yup!
(I get the mail and find a letter to Dad from my cousin, Deborah. I hand him the letter and he opens it.)
Dad: (Pointing to a picture of Debby with her partner.) Is that you?
Karen: (Smiling – Debby and I have often mistaken ourselves for each other in photos.) Nope, that’s Debby Davidson.
Dad: Oh. I’ve always really liked Debby. She’s a nice person.
Karen: Yes, she is!

Mount Baker has been in clouds most of the day, but now – as if to greet Dad – it comes out of the clouds and Dad notices it right away. He keeps his eyes on Baker as we drive down backroads on the Skagit flats.

We cross over the freeway and enter into Burlington.
Dad: There’s that big flag again.
Karen: Yup!

I help Dad into the house and he heads for the recliner in front of the television. I decide that I will tell Dad good-bye BEFORE I tell him I love him again…
Karen: Good bye, Daddy.
Dad: Good bye, Karen.
Karen: I really enjoyed our drive today!
Dad: *I* really enjoyed our drive! Thank you!
Karen: I love you!
Dad: I love you!

(A collection of previous “Dad Stories” can be found in Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad.)

shelby, gary, dad

“Love – to Karen – Daddy Dee”

Dad is sitting at the kitchen table, finishing breakfast when I get there. I rub his back and ask him if he’d like to go for a drive.
Dad: Yes, I would. (Pause.) I love it when you rub my back.

We’re in the car now. Just before I pull out on our adventure…
Karen: Hi, Daddy!
Dad: Hi, Sweetheart!
Karen: (Smiling.) Let’s go on our drive!

We drive a different route this time – up old Hwy 99, over I-5, and down the hill. We make a quick stop at my house. It has occurred to me that, for all the books I’ve asked Dad to sign for other people, I’ve never asked him to sign my own book about our adventures together for me. I fetch a copy of the book from inside the house and bring it out to him. I feel a weird shyness about asking him to sign the book for me, but I hand it to him – point out the title, point out the picture of him on the cover, point out my name on the bottom of the cover. He takes off his hat and compares it with the hat he’s wearing on the cover.
Karen: (Smiling.) Yes! That’s you on the cover and that’s the very same hat!
Dad: (Smiling and reading my name on the cover…) Karen Molenaar…
Karen: Yes. I wrote this. It’s about our adventures together. (Pause.) Will you sign this for me, Daddy?
Dad: (Opens the book to the title page and writes: “Love – to Karen – Daddy Dee” – and I find myself tearing up a little – touched by his sweet inscription.)

I drive to the Sisters Espresso and park in front of it. Dad and I turn to each other at the exact same time and utter the exact same words: “Root beer float.” We start laughing. I go up to order the root beer float for Dad and a lavender green iced tea for me.

I drive down Thomas Road – knowing there will be a view of Mount Baker from there – and right away Dad spots it…
Dad: There’s Mount Baker!
Karen: Yes. There’s a lot of smoke in the air today, but there it is!

I drive Dad back to his home and park in front of the door.
Karen: Thank you for this drive today!
Dad: Thank you!
Karen: I love you, Daddy!
Dad: I love you, Karen!

“It’s Good to be Up Here Again”

Dad was still in bed when I got there. I brought out the book that Allesandro had sent him and showed it to him – he said it was “beautiful” – and then I waited while Gwen got him ready to go on our drive.

Dad seemed happy to be back in the car with me. As we’re driving through the valley towards Sisters Espresso…
Dad: It’s good to be up here again. This is beautiful country. Do you like living here?
Karen: Yes, I do!

We stop at Sisters Espresso for a breakfast sandwich and a root beer float for Dad – compliments of Cindy Johnson, who left a gift card for us at the espresso stand (thanks, Cindy!).
Dad: Are we going to your house now?
Karen: We could do that!

As we’re driving to my house, Dad is looking across a field… and he spots what he’s looking for…
Dad: There’s Mount Baker.
(I assume he’s mistaking a cloud for Baker, but when I glance that direction – sure enough! There’s Baker, making a quick appearance for Dad! I pull over and snap a quick photo.)

I pull into our driveway. I spot Scott on the porch and give him a shout out. He comes down to shake Dad’s hand and give him a hug through the car window. Scott sees Dad holding his root beer float…
Scott: (Grinning.) I see you decided to go for something different this time.
Dad: (Smiling and nodding.) Yeah.

I decide to take us through Edison and then head towards the water. We pass a field of trumpeter swans and an eagle, and I pull over to take some photos. We turn down Bayview-Edison Road, go up the hill, and alongside the bay.
Dad: (Pointing to Bayview Park.) We’ve parked and walked down there before, haven’t we?
Karen: Yes, we have!

And now we’re heading back to Dad’s home…
Dad: You’ve taken me on this same drive before.
Karen: Yup!

We pull in front of Dad’s home.
Karen: Thank you for taking this drive with me.
Dad: Thank you!
Karen: I love you!
Dad: I love you!
I help Dad out of the car. Dietrick comes out to help him up the stairs. Dad has to use the bathroom now, and I give him a hug good bye.

(For more stories like this, go to Are You Taking Me Home Now? Adventures with Dad.)

“I’m 100!”

November 17, 2018
I call ahead to see if Dad is up for a drive today. Megan tells me he’s just gotten up and had breakfast, and says she’ll get him ready to go.

We get Dad loaded up in the car and head out on our adventure.
Dad: (Looking around at the scenery.) It’s a beautiful day!
Karen: It’s gorgeous!

We stop at the Sisters Espresso…
Karen: Root beer float?
Dad: Yes, please!
(I bring Dad his float…)
Dad: Thank you for this!

As we’re driving down Chuckanut, Dad turns his head and keeps his eyes on the hills – I know he’s waiting for that moment when Mount Baker appears above the foothills. When Baker comes in sight Dad stays focused on its snowy slopes.

Scotty suggested earlier that, if Dad was up for it, I could bring him by our house so he could say hi. So that’s what I do…
Karen: Do you want to get out of the car and go inside to say hi to Scotty?
(Dad unbuckles himself and I come around to help out of the car and into the house…)

We situate Dad in the comfy chair in front of the television so he can watch some football, and I put his headset on his head so we can carry on a conversation without me yelling in his ear.
Dad: Who’s playing?
Scott: Ohio and Maryland are playing in this one.
Karen: (To Dad…) Who are you rooting for?
Dad: Ohio.

I bring Dad a piece of carrot cake left over from Scotty’s birthday.
Karen: This cake is from Scotty’s birthday. He turned 65 last week.
Dad: (Looking at Scott.) That’s old!
(Scott starts laughing.)
Karen: I’m 62! Isn’t that crazy?!
Dad: (Laughing with Scott and me…) I’m 100!
(Clearly, Dad has won this “competition.”)

The game is over now (Ohio won). And Dad is starting to look like he’s ready for a nap.
Karen: Are you ready to go home, Daddy?
Dad: (Shakes his head.) No.
(I lean in and smile love to Dad, and he smiles love back to me.)
Dad: You have really white teeth. You have a pretty smile.
Karen: Thank you, Daddy.
Dad: You have a pretty face. You have a beautiful face. You are a beautiful woman.
Karen: (I’m really touched by Dad’s words – I know what he’s seeing in my face is my love for him.) Thank you. I love you.
Dad: I love you.
Karen: Are you ready to go now?
Dad: Is Mom coming with us?
Karen: She can’t, Daddy.
Dad: (Studying my face.) Is Mom not alive?
Karen: (I shake my head no.) No.
Dad:  (Tearing up.) I thought she was back east in Michigan or… she wasn’t even sick…
Karen: She had congestive heart failure, Daddy. She died here in this room. She was sleeping on a bed and I was sleeping on the couch next to her and… I felt her pass… I felt her brush by me with joy and love…
Dad: I didn’t even get to say good bye to her.
Karen: You said good bye to her in the hospital. You told each other you loved each other. She loved you very much. We promised her we’d take care of you.
Dad: (Tearing up.) I don’t remember any of that.
Karen: I know. I’m so sorry, Daddy.

We help Dad out to the car. Just before he gets in it he turns to me…
Dad: This whole time I thought Mom was with me on this trip.
Karen: Maybe she was.
(Dad looks at my face, thinking…) 

As I head for his home, Dad mentions something about the road parallel, that travels along the coast – and I’m thinking maybe he wants me to drive along Bayview-Edison Road, so I take the car that direction. We head along Bayview-Edison Road for awhile. Dad’s head drops now and then in sleep, and then comes up to look at the bay. After a while…
Dad: You can take me to my new home now. The one near the Canadian border.
Karen: You want me to take you home now?
Dad: Yeah.

Dad is nodding off as we crest the hill and start down the other side into the valley. His head pops up then – and he starts scanning the hills. He points to one and asks if it’s Glacier Peak. I tell him I don’t think so – too small – and he nods.

We pull up in front of his house and Dad asks if this is where he’s going to be picked up to be brought to his home. I tell him this IS his home. He asks if he knows the people who live there. Just then Amanda pulls in behind us in her car. I ask her to come over and let Dad see her because he’s not sure he knows the people who live there. Amanda – bless her heart! – laughs and comes over and gives Dad a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She asks him if he knows her – and he says “Yes, barely.” She laughs and hugs him again, and tells him that’s alright.

I help Dad in the house. He wants to know where he should go now. I tell him he could go in the living room and watch television or he could go to his room and take a nap.
Karen: Do you want to take a nap?
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah.

We go into his room, and I help him out of his sweater and put his alpine hat back on top of the lamp.
Karen: In five days you’re coming back to my home for Thanksgiving – and David and Claire and Casey and Andrew and Xander will all be there!
Dad: Oh! Good!
Karen: And in two days I’m taking you to a doctor’s appointment.
Dad: Thank you for taking care of all this for me.
Karen: Thank you for going on a drive with me today, Daddy. I enjoyed it.
Dad: Thank you for taking me on these drives.
Karen: I love you.
Dad: I love you.

More adventures with Dad can be found here: Are You Taking Me Home Now?

adventures with dad book cover

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