Last night: Went outside and took a walk around the house and let the twilight wrap itself around me. Listened to the frogsong, and birds chirping to each other. Breathed in the cool evening air, filled with the scents of apple blossom and just-mowed grass and damp earth. And a flood of memories rushed into my thoughts: sitting outside with Dad when I was a little girl, looking at the stars and watching for satellites; Camping out at Mount Rainier – the family sitting around the campfire while Dad played his accordion. Family trips into the Canadian Rockies. And I felt Dad with me, right now, looking at the evening sky with me. Always with me.
(Photo of a Skagit County, Washington, sunset by Karen Molenaar Terrell.)
A kind of odd and sweet thing happened last night:
I’d been sitting in the recliner by the fire – getting toasty and comfortable and kind of nostalgic – and I’d impulsively grabbed Dad’s old alpine hat from the mantel and put it on my head. And his hat is so full of HIM, you know? It’s like an extension of him, really – a part of him. And my thoughts were suddenly flooded with memories of Dad. It was weird – because I was feeling Dad with me, but not as an aged father – I was feeling him with me as a man in his prime – and as a dear friend and hiking partner – as my contemporary, rather than as my dad.
I sat there quietly crying to myself, remembering our hikes and climbs together – and our times of laughter. Mom was with us then, too – standing with Dad, and smiling. The tears gathered and spilled and I made no effort to stop them. but I didn’t make any sounds – I thought I was being unobtrusive – my son, Xander, was sitting near me in another chair by the fire, working away on his laptop on some project, and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I’d thought I’d made my own private quiet space for myself there.
But I hadn’t taken into account Sam the Wonder Dog. Suddenly Sam lifted her head from where she was curled up in another chair and brought her eyes to mine and she just stared at me – intently and unblinking – for maybe two or three minutes – it was… I’ve never seen her doing anything like that before. And then she uncurled herself from the chair and walked over to me and stared at me again – watching and alert and just BEING there, you know? I wondered if maybe the hat was confusing her, making her think Dad was in the room or something – so I reached out and petted the nobby top of her head, and her ears, and her snout and asked her if she remembered Grampa Dee – and after a bit she went back to her chair and curled up again.
Xander left the room for a while then and came back ten or 15 minutes later. And he made an observation that surprised me, but made perfect sense, too. Apparently he HAD been aware of what was going on with me. And he said, “I think Sam came up to you – not because she thought you were Grampa, but because she’d suddenly realized you were crying and she wanted to comfort you.” Sam is very sensitive to our feelings, he said.
Whoah. I looked at Sam – curled up in the chair now – and I looked at her with new eyes. I went up to her and petted the top of her head again. And thanked her.
It appears I have my own emotional support animal. -Karen Molenaar Terrell
Dad is in bed. His eyes are closed. He’s very still, but I see his chest moving. He’s still with us. I lean over and kiss his forehead and say into his ear, “Hi Daddy. It’s Karen.” (There’s no response at first. Then his eyes open and he looks at me.) Dad: (Weakly.) Karen. Karen: I love you, Daddy. Dad: (I can feel the effort he’s making to mumble the words.) Ah uv you. Karen: (Smiling at Dad – my heart filled with tenderness.) You old mountain goat. (That’s what Mom had always called Dad – and it comes to me – out of the blue – to call him that. Dad smiles at me. And now I find myself singing to him – that old Jeannette McDonald-Nelson Eddy song that he and Mom used to sing to each other…) When I’m calling you-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh… (I see Dad perk up a little. I get this sense that Mom is calling to him.)
We don’t say much after this. I stay for a while, stroking Dad’s forehead, and watching “Maverick” on Dad’s television. Every now and then Dad opens his eyes and checks to see if I’m still there. Eventually he falls back to sleep. I leave to go home and fetch my husband and son for a return visit. When I arrive home and describe Dad’s condition, the husband and son immediately let me know they’re with me and we go back to Dad’s house.
We enter Dad’s room and approach the bed. He’s sleeping. We pull up three chairs and watch him for a while. His foot is moving back and forth. I approach Dad’s bed. Karen: Hi, Daddy. It’s Karen. And Andrew is here. And Scotty. (Dad opens his eyes and looks at me.) Karen: I love you, Daddy. (Dad’s eyes are locked on mine and he nods his head at me once, twice. An affirmation. I nod back at him. He reaches up and holds my arm and squeezes it gently. I hold his hand and squeeze. He squeezes my hand back.) Karen: Here’s Andrew, Daddy. (Andrew sits close to his grampa. This is his time with Grampa. Love is exchanged. This time belongs to them and it’s not mine to share in words.) Karen: And here’s Scotty. (Scott grips Dad’s hand and receives a strong grip in return. They both grin at each other. Male bonding.) We all feel when it’s time to leave and let Dad get back to the business of sleeping. I get up and kiss Dad’s forehead and tell him I love him. Scott says his good byes. Andrew is the last to leave – he gets a strong good bye handshake from his grandfather before he leaves him to sleep.
Back on New Year’s Eve 2015 I bought my little Ford Fiesta, Rosalita Ipswich O’Molenovich. Today she reached 100,000 miles on the odometer. I found myself tearing up – thinking back to all the adventures Rosalita and I have shared in the last five years, and all the memories that are packed inside my little car. Rosalita still has the red scrapes from the times we shoved Mom’s red walker into her hatch. I can still picture my centenarian father (Dee Molenaar) sitting in the passenger seat, his head turning as he took in the scenes on our drives together. I remember taking Dad up to Mount Rainier in Rosalita, and the adventure Dad and I had going to the Big Four Inn (see the story below).
Thank you, Rosalita, for helping me care for my parents. Thank you for helping me get Mom and Dad to doctor’s appointments, and epic celebrations. You’ve done well, little one. -Karen Molenaar Terrell
I stop by to see Dad while I’m in town on an errand. My plan is to take him for a quick drive to get him a root beer float, if he’s up for it. He says that sounds like a good idea. Meagan puts his alpine hat on his head, gets him in his sweater, and puts shoes on his feet. He is still wearing his pajama bottoms. That puts a smile on my face. I tell him he is a fashion plate. Meagan points out that Dad can actually pull this look off, and I have to agree.
When we get in the car Dad asks, again, where we are going.
Karen: I thought we’d take a quick drive and I’d get you a root beer float.
Dad: That sounds good. But what I’d really like to do is go to the Big Four Inn.
The Big Four Inn would be a major trip. I hadn’t planned on this today. But… Dad has been mentioning the Big Four Inn for a year now. Maybe two. I’ve always managed to brush this idea off, and suggest we do it another time. But… this might be our last drive before I start another school year. And I don’t really have anything else planned for today – and there’s nothing else I really want to do with my day. So. Maybe. Maybe today we’ll drive to the Big Four Inn – or to where the Big Four Inn used to be before it burned down. I’m going to think about this on my way to Big Sisters Espresso for Dad’s root beer float.
As we’re driving through town…
Dad: We used to dance in that building on the left. On the second floor. We’d come down from the Big Four Inn and dance there.
Karen: Do you like to dance?
Dad: I’m not very good at it. I started too late. All my friends used to go dancing every Saturday in Los Angeles. I didn’t. (Thinking.) Do you like to dance?
Karen: Yes! You used to dance with me when I was a little girl.
Dad: (Smiling.) Did I?
Karen: (Remembering.) Yes. You’d pick me up and dance with me. I loved dancing with you.
Dad: I love doing everything with you.
As we head out of town…
Dad: This isn’t heading towards the mountains.
Karen: I’m going to get you a root beer float first and figure out how to get there.
When we get to the Sisters Espresso, I order Dad his root beer float. As I’m waiting for the float, my neighbor and friend, Denice, shows up. Denice is a mountain woman, too. It occurs to me that she might know how to get to The Mountain Loop Highway.
Karen: Hey Denice, the sons and I used to go hiking along The Mountain Loop Highway all the time when they were growing up – but I can’t remember how to get there anymore. Do you know how to get on The Mountain Loop Highway?
(And sure enough, Denice knows exactly how to get there! She quickly gets out her phone, taps in some words, and reads me the directions.)
Root beer float in Dad’s hand, Dad and I head out for The Mountain Loop Highway.
Dad: Are we going to the Big Four Inn now?
I head east up the South Skagit Highway. I am feeling a happy, blissful freedom as we travel along the Skagit River, through maple trees and cedars. I am on another adventure with Dad.
Dad is observing our route…
Dad: The old route was on the other side of the river. (He’s right.)
A little later…
Dad: Now we’re going to cross over the river and get on the other side of it. (He’s still right.)
At one point I stop to take a picture of the river and I snap a quick photo of the sedimentary layers in the cliff next to the road. Dad has noticed the layers, too…
Dad: You see that white layer there? I think that’s ash from a volcanic eruption…
When we get to the Darrington Ranger Station I stop to take a little break. I ask Dad if he wants to get out of the car and he says yes – he wants to go into the Ranger Station and look at maps.
Dad: (As he struggles to get out of the car, laughing…) I wonder if the rangers can see me trying to get out of the car. This doesn’t look very good.
Karen: (Laughing.) Don’t worry about it!
We manage to get into the ranger station and I help Dad over to the big 3D map in the corner. I position a chair for him if he needs to sit down while I use the restroom. When I come out he’s sitting in the chair next to the map, talking with the ranger ladies. He’s already asked them about the Big Four Inn, and Erika is looking at Big Four Inn postcards with him. I buy the cards for Dad (25 cents apiece) and ask the rangers how to get to the Big four Inn. I’ll need to go straight through Darrington, they tell me, and follow The Mountain Loop Highway – at some point it’ll turn into a gravel road – and somewhere on the other side of the gravel road we’ll pass the field where the Big Four Inn used to be.
Erika has been enjoying Dad and his stories. She confides in me that her great-aunt lived to be 106 – she passed on just last spring. I let Dad know that Erika’s great-aunt was 106. Dad nods and says he’s just a kid. Erika says that her great-aunt just started using a walker in the last year or two before she died. I tell her Dad doesn’t like to use his walker. He can be pretty stubborn about not using it. Erika smiles and says her aunt could be stubborn, too. I observe that’s probably why she lived so long, and why my Dad is still alive at 100. Erika laughs and agrees.
I turn to help Dad out to the car, and he wants none of it. The ranger ladies are watching.
Dad: No. Don’t help me! I’m not a cripple. I can walk on my own!
Karen: Okay, Daddy. (I keep my arms ready to catch him if he falls, but he manages to get himself to the car on his own. He is a stubborn Dutchman. He is also my hero.)
We drive into Darrington and I stop for gas.
Dad: Where are we?
Dad: (Looking around him in wonder.) Darrington. I’ll be damned. Darrington.
Karen: (Pointing to the Mountain Loop Road sign.) The Mountain Loop Road.
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah. The Mountain Loop Road.
The road becomes narrow at spots – but every time there’s a car coming from the opposite direction there always happens to be a place for me to pull over.
Dad: You’re a good mountain driver. (Thinking.) It’s nice to come up here when there are roads to travel on. This used to just be a trail. (A little further…) It’s nice to finally be back here. I never dreamed that one day I’d be back here as an old man with my daughter driving me in her own car. (Thinking.) All the rangers at that ranger station were women. Women are fighting for their rights. I don’t blame them. (More thinking.) It’s hard to drive with all the shadows on the road – hard to see the ruts.
The road becomes more primitive now – in places there are ruts and pot holes in gravel – in some places the gravel disappears and the road becomes a little slippery and muddy.
Dad: I never dreamed that someday I’d be up here – an old man gripping the door handle.
We pass the trailhead for Mount Pugh and I stop to let Dad see the sign. I’m wondering if he’ll recognize it. I am not disappointed.
Dad: Mount Pugh. I climbed that one.
Eventually we roll onto asphalt again. We pass the trail to the Ice Caves, and I remind Dad that we hiked up there once with Pete Schoening. Dad nods his head, remembering. Not far beyond that is a sign that says “Big Four Picnic Area.” On a hunch I turn to follow the road to the picnic area and sure enough…
Dad: This is where it was!
(I park in front of the site of the old inn. I’m blocking the road, but there haven’t been many cars today, and I want Dad to be able to get out here and not have to walk too far.)
Dad: (Getting out of the car.) Ohhh… this is where it was… (There are tears in his eyes. His voice is choked up.)
Dad makes his way to the display that shows pictures from the Big Four Inn. He spends time there, looking at each picture, remembering his days in the Coast Guard in World War II, when he was stationed here for a time. This was a good time in his life.
Dad: What’s that…? Oh… the old fireplace. And the chimney. Yeah. I wish I’d brought my camera…
Karen: I brought my camera. I’ve been taking pictures.
(A car pulls up behind my car and I scurry back to drive my car out of the way so the other car can get past. I want to explain to them that my dad is 100 years old and I just parked there so he could walk to the site of the old inn. But I know they don’t care about any of that – the straight-lipped looks on their faces tells me that. So I pull out of their way and then loop back to where I was so I can load Dad back up in the car.)
Dad: What’s your hurry?
Karen: We’ve been gone a long time, Daddy. I need to get you back. (I’d told Dad’s caregivers we were going for a short drive, and I haven’t been able to call them because we’ve been out of cellular phone range.)
Dad: (Looking at his watch…) Oh yeah. 3:30. Okay.
As we’re driving away from the Big Four Inn…
Dad: Thanks for finding The Big Four Inn for me.
A little further…
Dad: Mom won’t be worried about us this time.
As we’re getting near his home…
Dad: We saw some pretty country today.
Karen: Did you enjoy our drive?
Dad: (Nodding.) Yes.
We pull into his driveway and I come around to help Dad out of the car. Dad shifts his body around, trying to get in position to get out of the car. This is not easy for him. He looks up at me and I look down at him, and we both start laughing. Then Dad manages to get his feet on the concrete and I heave and he’s up.
Dad: Thank you for the drive today.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
Dad: I love you, too. We blow each other kisses and I leave him on the lounge chair in front of the television.
Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad has 14 ratings now and 5 stars! Heidi writes: This is a delightful book and Karen is a gifted writer. She lets us listen in to the conversations she and her 100 year old Dad have on their car trips, which had me laughing and crying. Interspersed are memories of earlier times. Having a relationship with an older person whose body and brain don’t work as well as it used to requires patience, humor and love. As someone else here said, “Karen shows us how to do it right.” I enjoyed reading this very much. I highly recommend this book and will be giving it out for gifts.
Tenaciously trying to tug tattered traditions into my December – there WILL be jangling jarring carols on my CD player! there WILL be cheesy Christmas movies! And then it suddenly hits me – my real life is so much better than these ridiculous stories of make-believe!
I’m missing out on the Christmassy magic going on right now, in this moment, when I’m spending my energies and focusing what I see on what came before instead of what’s right in front of me. -Karen Molenaar Terrell
I came upon two earthworms on the sidewalk today – their noses suspended in the air, frozen by the heat of the sun – dried out and stiff and I reached down and plucked up the first and carried him to the dirt. I dug a little hole for him and covered him with earth – a grave to bring him back to life. Gently I used my fingers as tweezers and pulled the second worm from the sidewalk and lifted him to the moist soil, laid him down, and covered him with a wet leaf. Fare thee well, my new friends – May you revive and spend the rest of your days happily leaving a trail of rich earth in your wake
I am also the author of The Madcap Christian Scientist series. The first book in the series, Blessings: Adventures of a Madcap Christian Scientist, has 33 reviews and 4.7 stars! Here’s the beginning: : Years ago an old boyfriend said to me, “I can’t see that Christian Science has made you any better than anyone else.”
“I know!” I said, nodding my head in complete and happy agreement, “But can you imagine what I’d be like without it?!”
He raised his eyebrows and laughed. What could he say? He was looking at a self-centered, moralistic, stubborn idealist who saw everything in terms of black and white. But I could have been worse. I believe without Christian Science I would have been worse.
Let’s get one thing clear from the start: I am not the best example of a Christian Scientist. I’m not as disciplined as I could be. I have fears and worries and doubts. I’m a little neurotic. I am the Lucy Ricardo of Christian Scientists…
At the age of 51 I went insane. I did not like it so much. But I learned a lot from it…
If somebody had tried to talk to me about mental illness before I’d had this experience, I wouldn’t have had a clue what they were going on about. Mental illness was something that happened to “other” people. Mental illness was not something a madcap Christian Scientist would ever know anything about, right?
Two years ago I would never have been able to guess where I’d be today, what I’d be doing, and what new people I would be calling my friends and colleagues. Two years ago my youngest son was close to graduating from high school, my 20-year career as a public school teacher was winding down, and I was looking for a new job and a new purpose to fill my days. Two years ago I was starting over.
It was scary. It was exhilarating. It was absolutely awesome! *** To find any of these books you can go to my Amazon Author Page.
I published this one in 2016 – shortly after Moz and Dad (Dee Molenaar) moved to La Conner to be closer to me. They were very brave during this time – leaving their home of 48 years, moving to a retirement community in Tacoma, and then to an assisted living place in La Conner – leaving their community and friends to be near me. I am in awe of them.
Here’s an excerpt from the book: I learned a lot of lessons from the folks on my visit this weekend, but there’s one moment I’d especially like to share. To be honest, I debated whether I should share this one or not. It seems almost silly for me to share it, in a way – because it SHOULD be just a matter-of-fact thing – a “no big deal” thing, really – but… after some other news I’ve heard tonight, I feel impelled to share this moment.
So I’d helped my dad out of the car, and was helping my mom out, when I heard Dad say, “Thank you!” to someone. I looked to see what was going on back there and saw that these two young Black men with Seahawks hoodies were holding the door for Dad so he could maneuver his walker into the building. Dad nodded to the young men, and smiled, and thanked them again as I watched him go through the doors, and the young men smiled back and said, “You’re welcome!” and then went on their way.
A small, insignificant moment, really. But… and I can’t even explain why… I find myself getting teary-eyed as I sit here recalling that simple, unremarkable, sweet exchange between a 97 year-old White man, and those two young men in the hoodies.
There are a lot of really good people in this world who want to do right by each other.
“Can’t You Do Something About This?” March 1, 2019
Dad is stretched out on his bed when I stop by, Skittles curled up next to him. Dad: Karen! (He reaches out to hug me.) Are you stopping by on your way to see Mom?Karen: (I don’t know how to answer this. I decide to change tacks.) How are you? Dad: What? What did you say? Karen: How are you? Dad: I’m bored. It’s boring waiting around for someone to take me home. Can’t you do something about this? You’re my daughter. Can’t you ask for my senior rights? Karen: (My heart breaks. I rest my head on his chest and hug him.) Do you want to go for a drive? Dad: YES! Where will we go? Karen: How about I get you a root beer float? Dad: Yeah. Let’s go to the little stand where we always go.
As we drive to the espresso stand… Dad: I love seeing your face come into my room. I love when you take me on drives. Karen: I love going on drives with you. (We pull into the parking lot for the Sisters Espresso.) Dad: Here’s where we get the root beer floats. (I order a root beer float and a lavender iced tea from Courtney. While she’s making them I turn around and wave to Dad and he smiles and waves back. I bring him his float, and we continue on our drive.)
I drive to the post office and pick up the mail, and then back down Chuckanut, onto Thomas, onto Benson, and left on Josh Wilson. Dad’s head is turned to the window, watching as the scenery passes by. Neither one of us is talking. When we get back into Burlington, Dad asks me if I like living in Burlington. I’ve never lived in Burlington. Burlington is where HE lives. But… Karen: Yeah! (I drive the route back to his home and park in front of the door.) Dad: Are we going to eat dinner here? Karen: Yup.(I help him up the stairs and he makes his way to the recliner in the living room.)
Karen: I enjoyed our drive today. Thank you! Dad: Thank YOU for taking me on the drive. Karen: Peter is coming in a couple days and Dave is coming in a week. Dad: (Nodding.) Good! Karen: I love you, Daddy. Dad: I love you!
Here’s an excerpt from the first book, Are You Taking Me Home Now?:
“I Wouldn’t Mind” May 22, 2017
Karen: Daddy, do you want to go for a drive? Dad: I wouldn’t mind. (In the car.) Dad: Thank you for taking me for a drive. You’re a good daughter. Karen: It’s my pleasure. Dad: Do you prefer to call me “Dad” or “Father”? Karen: I call you “Daddy.” (We turn into the Sisters Espresso. Dad recognizes this as the place where I buy him root beer floats.) Dad: Oh good! This is exactly what we need right now! (Back on the road – Dad’s got his root beer float and I have my lavender iced tea.) Dad: This is the longest time I haven’t seen Mom. I think she’s in Kansas City… or somewhere in the Midwest… helping the government. Karen: I know she’s doing a good job. (We reach the Chuckanut Hills.) Dad: I used to do water rights surveys out here when I worked for the USGS. Karen: That was a fun part of your job, wasn’t it? Dad: Yes. I always took little detours when I went on these survey trips. (He looks around and studies the landscape.) This is a beautiful part of the world. (We’ve gotten to Fairhaven now.) Dad: I wonder how many places are called Fairhaven. It’s a good name. It has a happy sound to it. (We get all the way to Boulevard Park. For some reason, every single parking space is taken today.) Dad: Are we going to park here and walk around? Karen: There’s no parking today. We’ll try to do that another day. (Dad nods his head in understanding.)
As we drive up from the park I spot my old friend, Darryl – Darryl and I made acquaintance on the boardwalk several years ago when we saw each other taking photos and struck up conversation. In the course of our conversation we’d realized that Darryl’s Aunt Gladdie was one of Mom and Dad’s good friends in a town four hours to the south.I stop now and roll down the window and introduce Dad to Darryl – and try to explain that Darryl’s aunt is Gladdie. I’m not sure Dad can hear what I’m saying and I’m not sure he understands what is going on, but he smiles and shakes Darryl’s hand and we move on. A minute later he asks, “Was he related to Gladdie in some way?” I tell him he’s Gladdie’s nephew. Dad asks me how I discovered this – “Did he have a sign on him that said he was Gladdie’s nephew?” he joked. I explain how Darryl and I had met by chance and discovered we had his Aunt Gladdie in common. Dad nods. In his world, this kind of coincidence is probably perfectly normal. He knows a lot of people. (We head back down Chuckanut.) Dad: Do you take a lot of drives with Mom? Karen: Yes. (I take my late mother on all my drives with me.) But I like taking drives with you, too. Dad: We don’t talk much. (I can tell he’s thinking about his hearing problem.) Karen: No, but it doesn’t matter. Dad: It doesn’t matter because we’re with each other. Karen: Right! (Smiling.)
We get back to his home. He has a hard time getting in and out of the car these days. He tries to shift his feet out of the car and onto the pavement. This is hard work. He sighs and laughs and looks up at me. Dad: These days it’s just hard getting up the energy to get out of the car. (I can tell he’s gathering his energy to lift himself out of the seat and I reach under his armpits to help him. “One-two-three!” And he’s up!) Dad: Thank you for the drive today. Karen: It was fun, wasn’t it? Dad: Yes, I enjoyed it very much. Karen: I love you. Dad: I love you, too.
(Are You Taking Me Home Now? has 14 ratings on Amazon – all five stars!) 🙂