“I don’t think she’s really gone.”

Dad was brilliant today!

Amanda sent word that Dad was up and feeling chipper. So I stopped by to see if he’d like to go for a drive. He was finishing breakfast when I got there, but he soon had his alpine hat on his head and his shoes on his feet, and was moving (at a rapid pace) towards the door…

My original thought was that I’d swing by the Sisters Espresso for his shake and then take him up to Bayview State Park for a quiet sit on a bench. But on the way to Sisters Espresso Dad said he thought he remembered a painting he had to finish at my home. So I got him his vanilla shake and then brought him to my house to see if he wanted to work on the watercolor of Rainier he’s been painting since last winter.

He settled into a seat at the table. I pulled out his paints, sponge, watercolors, brushes, and his latest watercolor project, and he set to work.

He had his hearing headset on today, so we could have a conversation. His hearing headset makes all the difference. I had my camera with me and recorded some of our conversation. This was both a good thing and a bad thing. There were times when he would say the most profound things – but I hadn’t been recording – so then he’d have to repeat himself for the recording. Sometimes there were things he said and did that were so precious to me I decided I didn’t want to remember them as a recording…

Karen: You’re not a prejudiced person. You must have had good parents. Where you grew up – in Los Angeles – did you live in a part of town with people from a lot of different cultures and backgrounds? Was there racism where you lived?

Dad: There was racism in Los Angeles – but (smiling) we lived in the opposite part of Los Angeles. I grew up with mostly Japanese farmers. Most of my friends growing up were Japanese.
(recording)
Karen: Daddy, tell me about the part of Los Angeles that you were raised in.
Dad: Are you recording this?
Karen: Yeah. Is that okay?
Dad: (nodding his head) Yeah. I lived in southwestern Los Angeles – which was mostly related to the Japanese truck farmers. We were kind of on the edge of the developed part of Los Angeles city, so we just walked a couple blocks and we were out in the fields.
Karen: Most of your friends were Japanese?
Dad: Yeah.
(end recording)
Karen: So you grew up in a place that didn’t have a lot of prejudice?
Dad: Yeah. There are places that I’ve never had an interest in visiting because…
(recording)
…they are still very prejudiced and the Civil War is still in their blood.
(I watch Dad paint for a while.)
(recording)
Karen: You’re 100! That’s crazy!
Dad: You tell anybody you’ve got a father 100 years old and they’re going to think you’re just…
Karen: Exaggerating?
Dad: Yeah.
(end recording)
Karen: When you paint do you know ahead of time what you’re going to paint in the foreground?
Dad: (shaking his head) No.
Karen: So it just evolves?
Dad: Yeah.
Karen: What are you going to do with this one? What do you see?
Dad: Over here I’m going to paint some trees. And over here an island of trees. And up here a sub-ridge of the mountain. (Thinking) You kind of want three points of interest, but not one dominating.
(Of course I hadn’t recorded any of Dad’s thoughts on painting – so now I make him go through the whole conversation again. He is very patient with me.)
Karen: Daddy, I really love spending time with you.
Dad: (brings his head up and smiles and gives me the focused, penetrating look of someone who is really listening) I was going to say the same thing to you earlier. I love the drives we take together.
(recording)
Karen: Were you the only artist in your family?
Dad: In my immediate family, you mean?
Karen: Were your grandparents artists? Were your parents artists?
Dad: No.
Karen: (laughing) How did that happen?
Dad: (thinking) I’ve always enjoyed drawing. And I enjoy drawing foregrounds for mountains.
Karen: What is your favorite place you’ve ever traveled?
Dad: Paradise Valley.
Karen: Wow! Mount Rainier. Was that better than the Alps?
Dad: Well, the Alps have more history…
Karen: But Paradise Valley is the best.
(stop recording)
(I watch Dad for a while, debating with myself if I should ask what I want to ask…)
Karen: Daddy, I want to ask you a hard question…
Dad: Okay. I may give you a hard answer.
Karen: Do you think we’ll see Mom again?
Dad: (thinking) I don’t think Mom is really gone.
Karen: Do you feel her here?
Dad: (thinking) I wasn’t surprised that she was gone. For the last year or two she talked about friends who had died, and I think she knew… I think she was trying to prepare me.
Karen: Yeah. I think she knew. When you were both in the hospital she didn’t want to leave because she loved you and wanted to take care of you. You didn’t want to leave because you wanted to take care of her.
Dad: (smiling sadly) I was shocked when you told me she was gone… but I wasn’t surprised.
Karen: (feeling sad for him, and guilty, and unsure what I should do) Would you rather I not tell you Mom is gone when you forget? …Was it bad of me to tell you?
Dad: (emphatically) No! You need to tell me. And I need to deal with it.
Karen: We carry Mom around in our memories of her, don’t we? She’s always with us.
Dad: (nodding) Yeah.
(recording)
Karen: I’m glad we’re neighbors, Daddy.
Dad: Yeah.
Karen: I love you.
Dad: I love you.
(end recording)

Dad is tired now. He’ll come back and work on this painting another time. Right now it is time for his afternoon nap.
As I’m helping Dad get into the car, he turns and looks at me and reaches out to give me a hug. “I love you, Karen,” he says.
I kiss him on the cheek. “I love you, too, Daddy.”

Youtube clip of the conversation with Dad.

dad painting (2) this one

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Magic!

Yesterday I stopped by my folks’ former home, an assisted living place, to see if there was any old mail to pick up. When I got there I realized the annual silent art auction for Alzheimer’s was going on. I sauntered around, looking at paintings – and one, in particular caught my eye. It was bright and vibrant – a painting of houses and boats reflected in water – and the artist – the signature read “Kelly Anderson” – used a technique of blocking in sections with different shades that was really cool. This painting called to me.  I didn’t bid on it then – I thought if I was still thinking about it the next day (today) I would come back in and make a bid.

Today I was still thinking about it. So I drove back to the assisted living place to take a look at the painting again, and put in a bid. But once I got there I discovered the auction was already over and the paintings were all gone.  I was disappointed, but figured it just wasn’t meant to be.

As I was getting ready to leave I saw one of Moz and Dad’s old friends walking by and re-introduced myself to her. She seemed happy to see me and we gave each other a hug. I told her that I’d come in to bid on a painting, but it looked like the auction had ended yesterday. Yes, she said, it had – she’d actually won the bids on two paintings which had been delivered to her room that morning. She said she’d also been given one of my Dad’s paintings which had been found in a rummage sale – but it hadn’t been signed by Dad. I told her I could ask Dad to sign it for her. Her eyes lit up at the idea of that, and we headed up to her room to retrieve Dad’s painting.

Dad’s painting was leaning against the wall on top of a soffit.  It was too high up for me to reach so I started looking around for a chair that I could maybe stand on to get the painting. When my eyes scanned past the couch, I did a double-take. Sitting on the couch was the painting that I’d seen yesterday and that I’d been hoping to bid on! “That’s the painting I wanted to bid on!” I told my friend. She told me that was one of the paintings she’d won in the auction. “We have good taste,” I told her, smiling.

She said she’d give me this painting in exchange for Dad’s autograph on his painting. But I asked her how much she’d paid for the auctioned piece, and then gave her a check for $10 more than she’d bid. I was so excited to be re-united with that picture!

We didn’t find a chair for me to stand on, but my friend used the painting I’d just bought from her to nudge Dad’s painting closer to me until it dropped into my arms.

She was so pleased to use the one painting to get the other, and I was so pleased to have the painting I’d set my eyes on yesterday. What were the odds?! “Magic!” I told her, and she nodded her head in happy agreement.

Kelly Anderson Foss painting

 

“I need to paint again.”

Every good painter paints what he is. – Jackson Pollock

Dad turned 97 at the end of June, and he and Mom (87) moved into a new home in a retirement community the next week. I’ve been so proud of the way they’ve forged ahead into this new adventure.

Last weekend I helped them unpack and unbox things in their new apartment – hung up pictures on the wall, cleared off the desk so Mom has a place to get organized, and cleared off the dining room table for Dad – showed him the box I’d packed for him full of watercolor paints, brushes, pencils. He said, “I need to paint again.” And then he filled up a cup with water, picked the brush he wanted, and THIS happened… 🙂

 

Xander and Karen’s Epic Adventure

For years Mom had been telling us about her rh negative blood and her adopted great-great-great-someone who might have been Tatar, or descended from Genghis Khan, or possibly Basque Reptile Aliens. Finally, in an effort to solve the mystery of the great-great-great I bought Mom one of those DNA kits. After I bought the kit for Mom, I noticed that Dad looked pretty interested in being tested, too. So last week I ordered a kit for him.

The kit wasn’t supposed to arrive until Tuesday. This was a bummer because I have Saturday through Monday off every week, and if the kit didn’t arrive until Tuesday I’d have to wait a whole ‘nother week to bring it down to Dad. I started monitoring the kit’s progress across the country via its UPS tracking number and on Saturday found that it had made it to Seattle in the early morning. The odds of it getting to my local post office in time for me to pick it up while the post office crew was still there seemed pretty low – and if I couldn’t pick it up Saturday I’d have to wait until after work on Tuesday to get it because Monday was a holiday. So I did the Karen-thing. I threw out my happy hopes to the “cosmos” – thought of all the wonderful post office workers who were handling the kit and how efficient they all were, and how if they knew my need they’d want to help me – and drove to the post office on Saturday morning with an expectancy of finding Good waiting for me there. And it was! The kit had arrived!

As I was getting ready to leave for my folks’ my son, Xander, told me he’d like to go with me to visit his grandparents.  And so began our epic adventure.

The drive to my parents’ home went well – the express lanes through Seattle were open and we arrived at Dad and Mom’s in a couple hours. The DNA test involved spitting into a tube. Dad took care of that pretty quickly, and we moved onto other things. Xander, who has recently discovered his gifts as an artist and poet, and also recently discovered from a Wikipedia article that his grampa painted the “highest painting in the world” (my dad, Dee Molenaar, painted a watercolor at 25,000 feet on K2), began asking Dad about his painting technique. So Dad got out his watercolors and painted a picture for Xander on the dining room table. Watching Dad paint was oddly soothing – the sound of the brush on the paper, the stillness and quiet as Dad focused on his work – Xander and I both found ourselves getting relaxed and drowsy as we watched the painting unfold in front of us. There was something very precious in the bonding that was happening between the artist born at the beginning of the 20th century (in 1918) and his grandson-artist, born at the end of the 20th century (in 1994).

When it came time to go, Xander signed one of his books for his grandparents, and Dad signed his painting for Xander, we gave Mom and Dad tight hugs, and then got back in the car to begin our adventure home.

It had begun to rain.

By the time we reached I-5 the rain had become a deluge. It was dark, visibility was low, and people were hydro-planing by us at 80 mph. There were flashing red and blue lights coming from the side of the freeway on the right, and more flashing on the left. Xander said, “This is scary.” Something about the way he said it struck me as funny, and we both started laughing.  Then, still laughing, Xander shared his belief that people living in America today have become everyday daredevils.  Driving I-5 has become an “extreme sport” – we all race down the freeway in our narrow lanes – and if we cross over the lines we could be toast. We depend on everyone else to know what they’re doing, but “there are 16 year-olds driving down this freeway,” Xander pointed out – and everyone acts like this is all normal. Xander’s observations about the absurdity of modern freeway-driving cracked me up. The laughter helped ease the tension I’d been feeling.

I felt we were meant to be exactly where we were at that moment, and I felt we really could depend on everyone else to be exactly where they needed to be, too. The day had begun perfectly with the arrival of the DNA kit; the visit with my parents had been precious and dear; and now I was enjoying shared laughter with my son.  There was no place for anything less than perfect in this perfect and epic adventure.

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Dee Molenaar painting a picture of Mount Rainier.