Dad and I and a Flock of Snow Geese

When I arrive at Dad’s house he’s still in bed and looks to be sleeping. I lean over and kiss his forehead and his eyes flutter open. He squints up at me.
Dad: Is it time to eat?
Karen: Yeah. Are you hungry?
Dad: Yeah. I’ll get up.
Karen: Okay.

I let Amanda know that Dad’s ready to get up. I ask her if she thinks he’d be up for a drive today and she tells me she thinks he’d like that. She says he gets bored staying at home all day. It’s harder now because he needs to use a wheelchair – but Amanda tells me she and Dietrick will help me get him in the car.

Before long Dad appears from his room, sitting in the wheelchair – he looks kind of majestic – like a king on his throne. He’s dressed and shod and is wearing his alpine hat. Dietrick and Amanda roll him down the ramp and out to my car, and, together, manage to get him in the seat. I buckle him in and we’re good to go.

As we’re driving out of town and onto Chuckanut…
Dad: I haven’t had breakfast, yet.
Karen: Let’s get you a breakfast sandwich. (I head down Chuckanut Drive for Sisters Espresso. On the way, Dad says something that I can’t quite hear. I lean over and ask him what he said…)
Dad: I love you.
Karen: Oh Daddy! I love you, too!
(We arrive at Sisters Espresso and I order Dad a cocoa and a sandwich. I hand him his breakfast and we get back on the road.)

There are no volcanoes visible today, but I figure Dad will just like cruising through the countryside for a while. As I’m driving along Field Road I spot some waves of snow geese taking off and landing – it looks like they might be off Sunset Road – so I head that direction. Sure enough! Soon we come upon a lively flock of snow geese doing snow geese stuff. I pull over to the side of the road and roll down Dad’s window so he can hear them and watch them performing their flight maneuvers, and I grab my camera and take some photos. Then it’s back on the road again – heading for Dad’s home.

When we get to his home I wheel the wheelchair over to Dad – I’m going to try to get him in the chair without bothering Amanda – I know she’s having a busy morning. I have some trepidation about this, but Dad seems to understand what we need to do together, and I know I have a good partner in him. I hold out my hand to give him something to leverage himself on and he manages to turn himself in the seat a little. I gently grab one foot and help him lift it over the car’s side and onto the ground. I know it’s his other leg that gives him some trouble – so I am especially gentle as I help him lift the other foot over the side of the car. He winces and groans a little. I look up at him anxiously and touch his cheek with my hand. He holds my eyes with his and says, reassuringly, with quiet conviction, “I’m fine.” I know he doesn’t want me to feel bad. I have learned some tricks for lifting him up in the last few years and, together, we manage to get Dad standing and then sitting in the wheelchair. I feel inordinately proud of us.

I wheel him around the house to the ramp, tilt him back, and push him up the ramp and into the house. We settle down in front of the TV – I’m sitting on a chair behind Dad, rubbing his shoulders. He reaches up and grabs my hand and gives it a gentle squeeze. When Amanda comes out to take Dad into the bathroom I know it is time for me to leave.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.

“1918?!”

Dad is sitting in the kitchen, finishing breakfast, when I arrive. I ask him if he’d like to go for a drive or if he’d like to stay home and rest, and he says, “Drive.” Dietrick and Amanda wheel him out to the car and help him get into the passenger seat. We buckle up and begin our adventure.
Dad: I’m so glad to be getting out!
Karen: I’m glad we’re going on another drive, too!
Dad: We’re heading west now, I think.
Karen: Yup!
Dad: And now we’re going under I-5.
Karen: Yup.
Dad: There’s the top of Baker! (He keeps his eyes on Mount Baker until it disappears behind the hills.)
Karen: Let’s go see if we can find Mount Baker again. (I plot a route in my head that will give Dad another view of Baker. On our route I pass a field of trumpeter swans. I, of course, have to pull over and get some photos. Dad is very patient with me while I snap pictures. And then I get back in the car and head for Thomas Rd. I plan to stay on Thomas from one end of it to the other – Dad should have a pretty good view of Baker from most of Thomas Road. I can see Dad scanning the horizon, looking. And then Baker appears and I point to it.)
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah. Mount Baker. (Dad keeps his eye on the mountain – I know he must have been thirsting for the sight of a volcano the last couple weeks while he’s been house-bound and the weather has been cloudy.)

Sisters Espresso is closed temporarily while old gas tanks are removed from under the parking lot, so I head for another espresso stand I know is on our route. Dad has earned a treat, for sure. I pull into Diedrich Espresso and pull up to the window. I ask the barista, Jenna, if they have vanilla shakes there, and she says they do! While she’s making Dad’s shake I tell her my dad is 101 years old. Her mouth, literally, drops open. She says she would have guessed he was maybe 70, at the most. (Which makes me wonder how old she thinks I am – but, to my credit, I let that one slide.  )
Karen to Dad: You’re 101. She thinks you look 70.
Dad: (Smiling.) Seventy-ONE.
Jenna to me: What year was he born?
Karen: 1918.
Jenna: 1918?!
Karen: Yeah. He was born before women had the right to vote.
Jenna: (Grinning.) Wow! He’s seen a lot of presidents! This is the first person I’ve ever met who was over 100! How does he stay so fit?
Karen: He’s a mountain climber. Actually, he’s kind of famous. You can find him in wikipedia. (I always love throwing that out there.  )
Jenna: What’s his name?
Karen: Molenaar (I spell it out for her) and his first name is Dee.
Jenna: I’ll look him up!
(Jenna hands me Dad’s shake and my change – I leave her a tip – and I hand Dad his shake.)
Dad: Thank you! Are you going to get one, too?
Karen: No, I’m fine.

I drive Dad back to his home.
Dad: I recognize this place.
Karen: Yup. (I go in to get help to get Dad out of the car and into the wheelchair. Megan volunteers – bless her heart! – and comes out to the car. When Dad sees her coming, he waves through the window at her. She starts laughing…)
Megan to Dad: Hello!
(Amanda comes out and joins us and she and Megan help Dad out of the car and into the wheelchair.)
Karen: (I hand Dad his milk shake) Thank you for the drive today, Daddy. I love you.
Dad: I love you!

(Here are some photos of trumpeter swans I took today – some while I was with Dad, and some while I was on my own.)

“I hope he’s not alone.”

Dad is in the kitchen when I get there, working on his breakfast. He looks up and sees me.
Dad: Hi, sweetie!
Karen: Hi, Daddy. Do you want to go for a drive?
Dad: I don’t think I can today.
Karen: Oh. (I watch him eat for a while. It’s a long process these days. Eating takes a lot of energy.) What are you doing today?
Dad: I don’t know.
Karen: Do you want to go for a drive or do you want to stay home and rest?
Dad: I’d rather go for a drive, but I don’t think the authorities will let me leave.
Karen: If you want to go for a drive we can go. (I let Gwen know that Dad’s up for a drive and she fetches his shoes and hat and gets him ready.)

We head out on today’s adventure. As we’re driving through Burlington I point to the autumnal trees…
Karen: See? The trees are changing color. It’s October. October is your favorite month, isn’t it?
Dad: (Nodding, as I point to the trees.) October is my favorite month.

First stop: Sisters Espresso. I get Dad his root beer float with the account that Dave Waka left for him there. Then I head for the backroads that will take us up to Bellingham through the autumn colors. I want to share this brilliant October day with Dad. We are surrounded in amber and gold, garnets and rubies, as we travel through tunnels of autumn trees.
Karen: Isn’t it beautiful, Daddy?!
Dad: (Nodding.) The yellow in the trees. Where are we going?
Karen: I thought we’d go to Lake Padden.
(I wind down backroads haloed in autumn gold until I reach Lake Padden. I pull over to take a couple of photos.)
Dad: What is this lake?
Karen: Lake Padden.
Dad: (Nodding.) Padden.
(I sense Dad is getting tired now. It’s time to bring him home. At first I think I’ll use the backroads, again, to bring him home, but then as I near the exit to I-5…)
Dad: It’s time to be getting back.
(I exit onto the freeway.)
Dad: What is this lake?
Karen: Lake Samish.
Dad: Dad is waiting by the side of the road. I hope he’s not alone.
Karen: Oh. No… (and I start to reassure Dad that I’m sure his father isn’t alone…)
Dad: I think they’re all teachers there. (He sounds reassured by this thought.)
Karen: Yes.

I bring Dad back to his home and pull in next to the front door.
Dad: What is this place?
Karen: This is your home.
Dad: No, this isn’t my home.
Karen: Yup, it’s your home.
Dad: (Eyeing the house.) Is there anyone home?
(Just then Amanda appears at the top of the stairs and smiles at Dad. I see his face light up in recognition.)
Amanda: Hello!
Dad: (Smiling.) Hello!
(Amanda helps him into the house and up the stairs. She brings Dad to the door of his bedroom and he asks her if this is his room. She tells him yes and he goes in. Amanda helps lower him to the bed. Amanda leaves for a moment to help another resident.)
Dad: I’m supposed to meet my father.
Karen: (Trying to figure out which direction to go with this.) Dad, you’re 101.
Dad: I know that.
Karen: How old would your father be now?
Dad: (Frowning in thought.)
Karen: He’d be, like, 130 now, right?
Dad: (Thinking.) Yeah.
Karen: Daddy, your father died a month before I was born. He’s been dead more than 60 years. I never got to meet him, but I know he was a wonderful man.
Dad: But I saw him recently… (Tearing up.) My father is dead.
Karen: (Putting my arm around his shoulders.) But I still have my father. And I feel really blessed about that.
Dad: (Reassuring me.) I’ll be around for a while, yet.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
Dad: I love you, Karen.

Photos from our drive –

“Is Mom Gone?”

I got a message from Amanda that Dad was having a “rough time” and headed over there to check up on him.

He was sitting at the kitchen table, finishing breakfast when I got there. I rested my hand on his back and he looked over at me and smiled. I held his hand and he brought my hand to his lips and kissed it. Then I brought his hand to my lips and kissed it. He smiled again.
Dad: How’s Mom?
Karen: She’s fine.
Dad: Where is she now… is she (mumbling)…?
Karen: (Thinking how I should answer this question. Finally…) Daddy, Mom passed on two years ago. (I feel I should say this – I feel like he needs to know…) She’s waiting for you when that time comes.
Dad: (Nods and looks down at his plate. I’m not sure he heard or understood. I wait.) Where are Peter and David?
Karen: Pete’s in Hoodsport – on the peninsula. Dave’s in Olympia. They’re both doing great. Pete came and saw you a couple days ago. You watched football together. Dave’s coming up this weekend.
Dad: (Nods.)
Karen: They both love you very much.
Dad: (Nods.)
Karen: And I love you, too.
(Dad looks up at me and smiles.)
Karen: Looks like you’ve been eating an avocado.
Dad: Yeah. This was a rich one.
Karen: (I lean over so my mouth is next to his ear, and start singing a hymn I know he’s familiar with..) “In heavenly Love abiding, no change my heart shall fear, and safe is such confiding, for nothing changes here…” and “O dreamer, leave thy dreams for joyful waking!…”
(Then we sit quietly for maybe ten minutes, or twenty – I lose track of time. I don’t feel the need to say or do anything. We’re just together. He’s starting to nod off now. His head drooping towards the table…)
Karen: Do you want to go sit in the recliner in front of the television and take a nap?
Dad: (Looks up at me and nods.) Yeah.
(Dad is in a wheelchair today – he’s having a hard time standing or walking – so Dietrich pushes him in the wheelchair over to a recliner and helps lift him into the chair. Amanda and Dietrich cover Dad with a blanket and get him comfortable.)
Karen: Are you comfortable?
Dad: Yeah.
Karen: I love you.
Dad: I love you. (Thinking.) Is Mom gone?
Karen: Yeah. But I feel her presence with me all the time. And I know she’s waiting for you when you’re ready to join her.
Dad: (Nods. And this time I know he understands.)

I wave to him and blow him a kiss. And he waves back and gives me a sleepy smile.

How Beautiful!

Dad had just finished breakfast when we arrived. He was tired – leaning his head on his hand. He started scratching his ear with the hand he was leaning against. I tried to take mental photographs of his face, his skin, his hand, to keep with me forever. Today he is alive. He’s moving and breathing and thinking. The skin on his hand is thin – almost translucent – stretched thinly over the bones. I could see the hand skeleton moving through his skin as he scratched his ear – and I thought, “How beautiful!” It’s the same thought and feeling I had when I took mental pictures of Mom’s face and hands in the time before she passed. So beautiful!

Dad and Karen

“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.