“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!

“She’s fine!”

Dad is lying in bed watching “Gunsmoke” on television. He looks up and sees me and smiles.
Dad: Hi, sweetheart!
Karen: Hi, Daddy!
(He reaches up to pull me into a hug…)
Dad: I love you!
Karen: I love you, too!
(I pull a chair next to Dad’s bed and sit down to watch Matt Dillon outfox the bad guys. Dad reaches out and clasps my hand and we hold hands companionably for a while.)
Dad: Did you stop by to see Mom on the way over?
Karen: (Keeping my eyes on the television.) Nope.
(We watch the show together for a time – Newly has escaped being held hostage by the bad guys, been shot and left for dead, and then managed to make it to the stagecoach in time to warn Matt Dillon that the bad guys are waiting for him.)
Dad: Are you going to see Mom and Pop when you leave here?
(This is the first time Dad has ever asked me if I’m going to see “Pop” – I’m thinking he must be referring to his mother and father – but I’m not sure who he thinks I am now. I contemplate how to answer his question, but come up nada. Scott enters the room…)
Dad: Hi, Scotty!
Scott: Hi, Dee!
Dad: How’s your wife?
Scott: (Without missing a beat.) She’s fine!

“Gunsmoke” ends. It’s time to go.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
Dad: I love you, Karen.

“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

“When did I buy this one?”

Dad: Hi, Karen!
Karen: Hi, Daddy. How are you feeling?
Dad: I’m bored stiff. I can’t move around here…
Karen: Do you want to go for a drive?
Dad: Yeah!

Alpine hat on his head, I help Dad out of the house and into my car. First stop: Sisters Espresso for Dad’s root beer float.
Dad: Thank you! Have you ever been to the Big Four Inn? I lived there for a while when I was in the Coast Guard.
Karen: Yeah. You and I went there last summer, remember?
Dad: Yeah.

I drive to the post office to collect my mail and then head through Edison…
Dad: (Looking at Edison Elementary School.) I gave a talk there, didn’t I?
Karen: Yup. You gave your K2 talk there.
Dad: (Nodding.) I remember.

We cross over the slough and soon come upon four or five eagles in a field, fighting over dinner. I pull over and get out of my car to snap some quick photos. As I’m taking pictures of the eagles a flock of snow geese flies overhead – soaring and swooping and honking – it’s glorious. I take some photos of them, too, and then get back in the car. Dad has been waiting patiently for me, slurping on his root beer float.
Dad: Have we been to Bayview State Park before?
Karen: Yes! We’ve been there many times.
Dad: Yeah. (Thinking.) I always think of the Annens when we get close to Bayview Park. They used to leave near here.

I drive Dad past Bayview Park and then up the hill, and down it, and through the flats. Dad is quiet, looking out the window, watching the scenery go past his window. We’re on the route back to his home now.
Dad: We’ve gone on this road many times recently.
Karen: Yes.
Dad: We visited Scotty at a place on one of these side roads.
Karen: (Not sure how to respond to this.) Yea…ah.

I pull into Dad’s driveway and in front of his door.
Dad: What are we doing here?
Karen: This is where you live, Daddy.
Dad: I don’t believe that.

I come around to help Dad out of the car and help him into the house and up the stairs. He heads for a recliner in front of the television, and Amanda helps him sit down in it. I lift his hat from his head and put it back in his room. As I’m coming out I hear him asking Amanda about the house and what he’s doing there. Amanda tells him that this is home.
Dad: When did I buy this one?
(Amanda and I both smile.)
Karen: (Kissing Dad’s forehead…) I love you, Daddy.
Dad: Does this mean you’re going to leave now?
Karen: I need to get home and walk the dog and feed the cats.
Dad: (Nodding.) Good bye. I love you.

More stories like this can be found in Karen’s book, Are You Taking Me Home Now? Adventures with Dad.

“There is no way I’m going to be able to explain the Chicken Parade…”

Dad is eating breakfast at the kitchen table when I arrive. He looks up and smiles…
Dad: Hi, sweetheart!
Karen: Hi, Daddy! Do you want to go for a drive?
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah.
(I wait while Dad finishes his breakfast and then Gwen helps load him into my car, and off we go on today’s adventure…)

Dad: (Pointing to a snow-covered hilltop to the right.) There’s Mount Baker.
Karen: No, we might be able to see Mount Baker up ahead, though.
Dad: (Still looking at the snowy hilltop…) There’s Baker just poking out behind those hills.
(We stop at the Sisters Espresso.)
Karen: Do you want a root beer float?
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah.
I go up to order Dad’s root beer float and a breve for myself.

There’s a group of men standing in a circle as they wait for their drinks – young man, a man that might be his father, an older gentleman. The older gentleman is regaling everyone with a story of being honored for long years of service somewhere. I instantly like him – he’s exuberant and happy about life – and I become part of his circle.

Now he’s telling us his secrets to living as long as him (“I’ve never smoked,” he says). And I can’t help myself – I’ve got to bring Dad into this conversation, right? I point to Dad, waiting in the car, and tell them all that Dad is 100 years old – a mountain climber – and that’s probably why he’s so long-lived. There are some oohs and ahs then, and everyone sort of pauses for a moment – maybe contemplating the wonder of living to be 100. I turn to look back at Dad and see him wave at me through the front window. I smile and wave back. God, I love him.

Then someone mentions snow – and I say that I’m probably kind of weird, but I like the snow. The young man nods his head and agrees – he likes it, too – but especially when he can drive TO it.  The man who might be his father hands him a coffee, and then turns to the older gentleman and myself and smiles and wishes us a good day – like we’re all old friends – and the young man and he head to his car. Now it’s just the older gentleman and myself at the espresso stand. He tells me a little more about his life, and then mentions his wife and points to his car. His wife smiles and waves to me and I wave back. Then the older gentleman leaves, too, and I’m the only one left.

Courtney knows exactly what I’m going to order for Dad – she’s been making him his root beer float for a couple years now. I bring Dad his float. He opens his door so I can pass it to him. He smiles and says, “Thank you.”

I was going to try to avoid Edison today – but as I approach the turn-off to Edison I see a line of cars leaving the town and figure maybe everyone’s pretty much cleared out of there now, so I turn and head towards the town center.

I am wrong. The place is packed with pedestrians and cars trying to get out of there. I stop to let a car turn in front of me – the driver waves and I wave back – then I wait for a line of pedestrians to cross in front of me.
Dad: (Observing all the traffic in this little town.) Is there some event here?
Karen: The Chicken Parade.
Dad: What? A church service?
Karen: The Chicken Parade.
Dad: A church service?
Karen: (Pointing to a little kid dressed up as a chicken.) The Chicken Parade.
Dad: (Turning to see where I’m pointing.) A church service. Small towns can be really active places.
Karen: (I silently admit defeat. I realize there is no way I’m going to be able to explain the Chicken Parade to him.) Yup.

I drive through Edison and turn on Bayview-Edison Road. Dad is looking out the window, watching the landscape roll past…
Dad: I love going on these drives with you.
Karen: I love going on drives with YOU.
(I pat Dad’s leg and he holds my hand and gives it a gentle squeeze.)

I meander around the Skagit Flats for a while and pull over when Mount Baker finally emerges from the clouds. I point to the mountain…
Dad: (Nodding.) Mount Baker.
(I take a few photos of the mountain and then continue until I come to a field puddled by rain and filled with trumpeter swans. I pull over to snap some pictures. Dad waits patiently for me, slurping his root beer float.)

I drive a little more and then begin heading back to Dad’s home.
Dad and I don’t talk for a while, then…
Dad: I love you.
(And the way he says it – not casually, but with thought behind it – really touches me.)
Karen: I love YOU!

As we pull in front of the front door to his house…
Dad: Who are these people?
Karen: This is your home.
Dad: What?
Karen: This is your home.
Dad: Oh!

I help him out of the car and up the stairs and, once inside, he makes his way to one of the recliners in front of the television. I hand him his root beer float…
Karen: Thank you for going on the drive with me.
Dad: Thank YOU for taking me on the drive.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
Dad: And I love you.

“I remember we’ve visited here before.”

February 16th
Xander and I go to Dad’s for a quick visit. Dad is sitting in the living room when we arrive. His face lights up when he sees us. Xander gives his grandpa a hug and I kiss Dad on the top of his head and ask him how he’s doing.
Dad: Oh, I’ve been watching television all day. Sports. Football. Basketball.
Karen: Are you enjoying that?
Dad: Yeah, it’s good.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
Dad: I love you guys, too! Thanks for stopping by.

February 17th
Dad: (Looking around at the scenery passing by him.) It’s a beautiful day for a drive!
Karen: Yes, it is! (I pat his knee.)
Dad: (Clasping my hand.) I never knew I’d have such a loving family. Beautiful daughter. Handsome sons. Wonderful wife.
Karen: We love you!
We stop at the Sister’s Espresso.
Karen: Are you hungry?
Dad: (Nodding.) Yes.
Karen: Do you want a root beer float?
Dad: Yeah.
(I go up and order Dad a root beer float and a breakfast muffin and bring it all back to the car for him.)
Dad: Thank you!

I drive us west, then north and stop at a field with trumpeter swans.
Dad: Canada geese.
Karen: Trumpeter swans.
Dad: (Nodding.) Oh, swans.
(We watch them for a while and then I meander my way to my home and pull into the driveway.)
Dad: (Smiling.) I remember when Scotty first saw this property. He said he was going to own this land and build a home on it. And he did.
Karen: Yes! (I go in to fetch Scott and bring him out for a quick visit with Dad.)
Scott: Hi, Dee!
(Dad and Scott share a manly handshake.)
Dad: Hi, Scott!
(Dad and Scott have a quick conversation about guy stuff and then I pull back out of the driveway and we continue on our drive.)
Karen: (Pointing to the piles of snow on the side of my street.) We got a lot of snow!
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah!

I drive us through Edison, over the slough, and down country roads framed in red blueberry bushes and snow and crowned by Mount Baker in the background.
Dad: The clouds are starting to lift off Baker now.
Karen: Yes, they are!
Dad: We climbed Mount Baker together, didn’t we? With Scott?
Karen: Yes, we did!
(At some point we pass the Sister’s Espresso again…)
Dad: Oh! That’s the store where we go…
Karen: Yup!

I pull my car next to the front door of Dad’s place.
Dad: I remember we’ve visited here before.
Karen: Yes.
(I help Dad out of the car and into the house. He goes to his recliner in the living room.)
Karen: Thank you for the drive today, Daddy. I love you.
Dad: Thank you for the drive! I love you.

 

“I have to finish my avocado first.”

Karen: You’re going to your doctor’s appointment now.
Dad: I have to finish my avocado first.
Karen: (Laughing.) No, we have to leave now to get you to your appointment.
Dad: Oh. Okay.
(Scott and I help Dad down the stairs and into the car.)
Karen: (Wanting to make sure Dad understands where we’re going.) We’re going to your eye doctor now.
Dad: Oh. I didn’t know anything about this. (Re-thinking that.) I guess I forgot about it.

As we drive to the doctor’s office Scott points out the snow to Dad and Dad turns his head to look out the window at it. We get to the clinic and help Dad out of the car and into the reception area. A lot of patients have, apparently, cancelled because of the snow – the waiting room is empty. Dad is immediately ushered into the exam room.
Karen: Do you recognize this place?
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah.
(I relay the technician’s requests into Dad’s ear…)
Karen: You need to uncross your legs. She’s going to take your blood pressure. Good. Your blood pressure is 110 over 87. That’s really good!
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah.
Karen: (The technician points a beam of light into Dad’s bad eye.) Do you see the light?
Dad: (Shaking his head.) No.
(Dad reads the eye chart now with his good eye and does really well – he adds two whole lines to what he did last time! The technician asks Dad to look straight ahead so she can touch his eye with a pen-thingy that measures the pressure in his eyes. The big letter “B” is still showing on the eye chart and Dad thinks the technician is trying to get him to read that…)
Dad: B. B. B. (Starting to crack up. Grinning and shaking his head at me.) B. B.
Technician: Good!

We help Dad into the room where he’s going to have his eyes photographed. He remembers this room and immediately puts his chin in the chin cup so the eyeball-photographer can take pictures. Then it’s up and into the final room where we’ll meet with Dr. Saperstein. Dr. Saperstein comes in…
Dr. Saperstein: (Smiling.) Knowing you guys, I figured you’d make it in today.
Karen to Dad: (Laughing.) Dad, Dr. Saperstein is a mountain climber, too.
Dad: He is? (Smiling. He looks at Dr. Saperstein like he’s just met a new friend. He and Dr. Saperstein shake hands.)
Dr. Saperstein to me: Thank you for your book! I enjoyed it!
Karen: Did you read the parts about you?
Dr. Saperstein: (Laughing.) I did!
(Dr. Saperstein looks at the photographs of Dad’s eyes, and the chart. He tells me that Dad’s good eye looks really good – Dad is doing really well. He says we shouldn’t have to come in for another eight weeks – that Dad should be fine for that length of time. We shake hands and I thank him for helping Dad with his eyesight.)

We help Dad back in the car and head back to his home. Amanda meets us at the top of the stairs and helps Dad into the kitchen – from here he can go into the living room to watch some television, or back to his own room for a nap, or… Dad heads for the dining room table.)
Karen: (Guessing what’s on Dad’s mind.) Do you want to finish your avocado now?
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah.
(Dad’s avocado is placed in front of him. He’s going to pick up where he left off before we interrupted him.)
Karen: (Laughing.) I love you, Daddy.
Dad: I love you, Karen.