Category Archives: Things to be thankful for



Choose your size, S-XL, and use only once.  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Choose your size, S-XL, and use only once. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

On February 1st, I wrote a post—“What We Learn While We Wait”—about the things I learn when I visit my mother each month and spend much of my time just sitting with her while she naps. This is Part 2 of that lesson. Now I sit with Mom in her hospital room. This is our new journey together; there are new lessons…and decisions to make. This emergency will pass, but there will be others, and I need to be prepared.

At Mom’s apartment, I’m surrounded by pictures, books and keepsakes, all of them familiar because I chose them to bring from their house to make the move here for my parents easier and more comfortable. Here in Mom’s hospital room there are no pictures on the wall, and though I’m not unfamiliar with computers and IV lines and bags and procedures, they are unfamiliar in the context of connecting them to my mother.

I look around and choose one thing to observe, to focus on and learn about, and I choose the wall opposite me, with the small, medium, large and extra large nitrile exam gloves.

All sizes, to fit all the hands of those who help my mother, the confused 95-year-old lady who has already pulled one IV line out of her arm, and whose “rolling” veins made a new line very difficult. To take blood for the most recent test, the experienced phlebotomist finally had to take it from her foot, and I had to hold Mom’s leg still and have her count aloud with me to calm her cries while the vials filled.

This is a difficult time, so as I study the blue latex-free, single-use medical gloves, I begin to think of other gloves. White cotton gloves, some with little pearl side buttons, the kind of go-to-church-or-weddings-or funerals-white gloves ladies used to wear, back in the time when they also wore hats and high heels and hose with seams.

When the styles relaxed, my mother didn’t throw her gloves away—actually, she rarely threw anything away—but found a new use for them.  When she went out to her garden to pick fresh tomatoes, beans, zucchini, carrots and lettuce for dinner, she put on a pair of her gloves to keep grass stains off her hands. On Saturday nights, when she polished her nails for church the next day, she washed and dried her hands carefully and then applied Vaseline or—get this—Crisco, coating her fingers and hands, and then she slept wearing a clean pair of cotton gloves to protect the skin-softening concoction. She’d come out in her robe, wearing rollers in her hair and gloves on her hands, and my dad would just grin and shake his head.  Remembering that makes me miss those good old days with both of them, my dad whistling and my mom blinking her eyes at us and laughing.

Now I sit with my mother in her hospital room, and she naps as I study the wall of medical DOP/DEHP-free, powder-free, ambidextrous gloves.  I watch people with their own styles of putting on and removing and disposing the gloves, and memories of my mother’s glove-wearing styles help me connect the dots and make these days in the hospital feel more normal.  Or at least the next step in what will become the next “normal” for us.

At night Mom is safe in her caregiver’s additional care, and I go back to my mother’s assisted living and sleep alone in her apartment. Downstairs in the main room, “Art Is Ageless” voting continues for the many amazing quilts, paintings, sculptures, whittled wood knife sheathes and crocheted dresses, all created by seniors in their 70s, 80s, 90s…and one 103-year old lady.

I’m so inspired that I use the only materials I have available, a pair of blue nitrile exam gloves. I blow them up like balloons, tie the tops and arrange them on the living room floor of my mother’s apartment. I title my creation “Helping Hands,” but it’s not for any contest.  It’s just for me, a way to create something and distract myself after another day at the hospital.

"Art Is Ageless" BEST OF SHOW 2014 quilt by Berniece Buell

“Art Is Ageless” BEST OF SHOW 2014 quilt by Berniece Buell


My disposable creation: "Hands That Help"

My disposable creation:
“Helping Hands”



Filed under art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, gardening, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, Quilting projects, Things to be thankful for


My daughter Molly's ankle tattoo.  (pictures by Marylin Warner)

My daughter Molly’s ankle tattoo. (picture by Marylin Warner)

Their house and former yard of trees after the tornado of 2008.

Their house and former yard filled with trees ~ after the tornado of 2008. Click on picture to see details.

Dear Mom,

You always understood that there’s something inside us that needs to write our words and create our art. After you wrote your children’s stories, even if they were just going to be filed away in a drawer, you also drew or painted illustrations. And sometimes you added music as well, singing songs and humming melodies as you typed the stories and created watercolor pictures.

Author Sylvia Plath wrote, “Wear your heart on your skin in this life,” but one thing you were never tempted to do was get a tattoo.  The only question I ever heard you ask of someone wearing a tattoo was when you smiled at a young man with a multi-colored dragon tattoo and said, “Did it hurt?” He returned the smile and said, “Yeah, kinda, but it was worth it.”

As a writer, I have many favorite words and quotes, but there’s never been a phrase or a symbol I wanted to wear permanently.  I am, however, fascinated by those who do.  In the spirit of last week’s post—asking WHY?—I admit I want to know both the What and the Why of tattoo choices.

One of my favorites is actress Susan Sarandon’s AND AND tattoo.  It means A New Dawn A New Day, and the way I heard her explain it in an interview, it’s a reminder that whatever happens, tomorrow is a new day and a fresh beginning.

Many athletes wear art and numerous messages and symbols. People of all careers and ages whose professions discourage tattoos, wear them on places they cover with professional attire.  Before the dementia, you would smile pleasantly when you saw a heavily tattooed person, but later you’d shake your head and ask  me, “Do you understand why they do that?”

Actually, Mom, in some cases I do.  And if you were free of the dementia and could see your granddaughter’s most recent tattoo, I think you would understand, too.  The WHAT: four hearts—one green, one orange, one pink, one blue—surviving a whirling tornado.  The WHY: the four hearts represent the favorite colors of the four members of their family, symbolizing their love for each other, and gratitude for surviving the devastating tornado that destroyed much of their little town in 2008.

Yes, Mom, I think you would understand the permanent art your granddaughter wears on her ankle. You’d probably want to know if it hurt to get tattooed, but you’d be grateful that her family survived the tornado, and you’d celebrate with them.

Author Jack London wrote, “Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.”

I would add to that: “The same is true of a woman.”

I have some very interesting things in my past, Mom, but I don’t think I’ll get any tattoos. And that’s okay.  I’ll write about them instead, so I can edit, correct and delete…without pain.

Faith tattoo upside down for hope

On People's Court, this 'Faith' tattoo was under attack...

On People’s Court, this ‘Faith’ tattoo was under attack… If you turned it upside down, as in the first picture above, it should read ‘Hope’–but the i and t had a problem. Correcting or erasing a tattoo can be long, hard & expensive.


Filed under Chapman KS, Dementia/Alzheimer's, making a difference, special quotations, Things to be thankful for, writing


Mom in her rose-bud flannel pajamas. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Mom in her rose-bud flannel pajamas. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Hummel figurine Mom got in Germany in 1970.

Hummel figurine Mom got in Germany in 1970.

One of the hand-stitched wall hangings Mom made for each of us.

One of the hand-stitched wall hangings Mom made for each of us.

Dear Mom,

A Christmas tradition in our family is to watch the movie IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  There are many memorable lines, but one of my favorites is the blessing Mary Bailey gives to a family as they move into their little house .

The couple stands at the threshold of their new home, and she presents them with three things: “Bread, that this house may never know hunger. Salt, that life may always have flavor. Wine, that joy and prosperity may reign forever.”

Three genuine, inexpensive and heartfelt gifts ~ perfect blessings to be incorporated in a Christmas movie.

Bread, salt and wine…and in our family, after a big  Christmas dinner with special dishes we all love, we also have a specific dessert: Birthday cake with white icing and candles. We sing “Happy Birthday” to the Baby Jesus, and the kids make the wishes and blow out the candles.

We don’t have an abundance of commercial decorations or give extravagant gifts. In addition to lights, a tree is decorated with homemade and collectible ornaments, a poinsettia plant or two adorn tables, and maybe a fresh wreath with a red velvet ribbon hangs at the front door. The Hummel figurine of the Christ Child and little animals sits on the mantel. Each family still has a handmade wall hanging you stitched for us almost thirty years ago: “Oh Come Let Us Adore Him.”

The gifts are often practical, personal, and memorable. This year, Mom, your ten-year-old great-granddaughter, Grace, gave you flannel pajamas that match hers, so you can be slumber party buddies even though you live two hundred miles apart. I let you open this one present early. The night was cold and dreary, and you snuggled under the blankets wearing your rose-bud jammies while Grace wore hers and snuggled under the blankets on her own bed.

And–spoiler alert, so we won’t let Grace see this post until after Christmas–she’ll be receiving a pink pillow made from one of her favorite T-shirts. Zoey was the kids’ little pug dog who died several years ago, and Grace’s T-shirt was her favorite because it looked just like Zoey. Now the memories will sweeten Grace’s dreams as this pillow joins the others she’s received as presents. Brother Gannon’s favorite sports sweatshirts will be his new pillows.

Maybe Christmas, the Grench thought, doesn’t come from a store.  ~ Dr. Seuss

In our family, Mom, we would say that the Grench is absolutely right.

Grace's pillow gift of her dog Zoey.

Grace’s pillow gift of her dog Zoey.

Poinsettias are the December flowers of choice.

Poinsettias are the December flowers of choice.


Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, memories for great-grandchildren, sewing, special quotations, spending time with kids, Things to be thankful for


"Sunshine and Shadow" quilt that reminds me of my parents' lives (photographs by Marylin Warner)

“Sunshine and Shadow” quilt that reminds me of my parents’ lives (photographs by Marylin Warner)

Ray and Mary Shepherd's engagement picture

Ray and Mary Shepherd’s engagement picture

Their 60th Anniversary picture; Estes Park, CO

Their 60th Anniversary picture; Estes Park, CO

My parents were married for nearly sixty-eight years.  They were best-friends-forever; their marriage was built on love, respect, hard work, faith and family.

The first quilt I ever made was a wall quilt diagonal version of the Amish pattern, “Sunshine and Shadow.” When I look at it now, I see the fabric of my parents’ life together. Bright, vivid or subtle shades of sunshine…until the shadows of Alzheimer’s and dementia wove their way into the pattern.

In this pre-Thanksgiving post, I thank all of you who have encouraged and participated in this blog. Those of you who submitted your poetry, Christmas memories and Mother’s Day greeting cards to the blog’s writing contests in my mother’s honor; those of you who write personal comments to us, open comments on the blog, or share your own experiences and stories; those of you who drop by for a visit, try a recipe, comment on your writing projects and ours ~ I’m thankful for you all.  My mother would be, too, if she could understand how wonderful you all are.

If you would like to get a closer look at Fort Scott, Kansas, where I grew up and now visit Mom each month, for some excellent pictures from blogger Claudia’s recent autumn trip, go to             Fort Scott was a pre-Civil War fort in southeastern Kansas, and it still has miles of brick streets and fascinating Victorian homes; it is also the boyhood home of writer/photographer Gordon Parks (visit Ft. Scott Community College and the Fine Arts Center and Gordon Parks Center).

Last week I shared two of my mother’s Haiku poems with you. Diana Bletter of  wrote this in reply:   Mother’s lamp gone out ~ Her words do not come easy ~ Love is what remains… “That’s the haiku I wrote for you and your mother after reading your post. The poems and art and love remain behind! Marylin, thanks for sharing this! It is a great reminder for me after the loss of my own mother. Thank you. ~ Diana”

My thanks to you, Diana, for the poem and the reminder that yes, in many ways, we are all in this together. You’re in Israel; I’m in Colorado, traveling every month to Kansas, the state where you also once lived, and yet we met through our blogs.

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.  According to the 2013 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, 1 in 9 Americans age 65-85, and 32% over 85 have Alzheimer’s or dementia.  Last year I posted a piece on Pat Summitt, who coached the U.S. women’s basketball team to an Olympic Gold medal in 1984; she also coached TN’s Lady Vols basketball team to 8 national titles. In April, 2011, she faced her toughest opponent when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. A year later she retired from coaching, but her determination to win continued.

“I hope I can encourage others living with Alzheimer’s disease to continue living their lives,” she says. “Keep fighting, keep living, keep making the most of every day.”

Pat Summitt, whose hardest opponent now is Alzheimer's

Pat Summitt, whose toughest opponent now is Alzheimer’s


Filed under art, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, friends, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for



Colorado Blue Moon, 2013. (All photos by Marylin Warner.)

Colorado Blue Moon, 2013. (All photos by Marylin Warner.)

Picture of "Starry Night" by van Gogh, 1889.

Picture of “Starry Night” by van Gogh, 1889.

Dear Mom,

It was during the night, very late, and the only sound was rain tapping on my bedroom window. I woke up, not because of the rain, but because my leg hurt. When I reached under the sheet, I touched something warm and sticky, and it burned.

I was nine years old, and when I turned on the bedside lamp, I saw the blood.

This would be a cute place to say, Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!  But there was nothing cute about my leg…or my panic. I called out to you.

You took me into the bathroom and carefully cleaned the front of my calf. As you put medicine and band-aids on the wound, you told me a story.

It was about a mother who heard the front door of the house slowly open in the middle of the night. She jumped out of bed and ran down the hall to make sure her daughter was all right, but it was her daughter who had opened the door. The girl walked outside, went down the porch steps, out onto the lawn in her nightgown. She began wandering around, doing a little dance around the trees and plants. She was sleepwalking.

The mother watched to be sure the girl didn’t wander away or go out into the street, but she didn’t want to wake her because she had heard that to wake a sleepwalker could cause more problems than it solved.  Also, though, the mother and her daughter were both sleep talkers, and they were both good people, so the mother didn’t worry too much about the girl sleepwalking.

She silently watched her daughter until lightning crackled in the distance and it began to rain. She softly called out that it was time to come in now. For a minute or so the girl continued to sway in the rain, lifting her face to the splatters. Then she made her way back to the porch. She fell going up the concrete steps, but she didn’t awaken. She got up, walked into the house, into her bedroom and got into her bed. The mother took a Christmas bell from the hall closet and hung it on the door knob of the front door, just in case.

I think of that night now, Mom. You were there for me, calm and unflappable. Reassuring. There were other times I walked in my sleep after that, but it was inside the house, and several times the sound of a Christmas bell ringing on the front door knob woke me. We both continued to talk in our sleep.

Mom, you’re ninety-five years old now, and it’s my turn to be your calm, reassuring presence when I’m visiting you. During the night when you whisper to Grandma or Dad or one of your siblings who’ve all gone on ahead, I listen from the hall and wait. When you finish you will often get out of bed and walk to the bathroom or wander around your apartment, and usually you have no idea where you are or what you’re doing.  Just to be safe, I hang bells from the knob of your apartment’s front door in case you try to wander too far.

As you once told me, we’re both sleep talkers and we’re good people.  Plus, we’re family, and that says it all.

“Love begins by taking care of the closest ones – the ones at home.”  ~Mother Teresa

My mom and her siblings.  (l to r) Sam (father of my cousin Sandee); Ira (father of Beth and Glee); Mary Elizabeth, my mother; Wanda (mother of Karen); and Ruth LaVonne (for current pictures of the girl cousins, go to the post, "Keepers of Memories"

My mom and her siblings. (l to r) Sam (father of my cousin Sandee); Ira (father of Beth and Glee); Mary Elizabeth, my mother; Wanda (mother of Karen); and Ruth LaVonne; (for current pictures of the girl cousins, go to the post, “Keepers of the Memories”)

Abilene, Kansas' Old Town in the evening.

Abilene, Kansas’ Old Town in the evening.


Filed under art, autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Spiritual connections, Things to be thankful for



My dad, Ray Shepherd, with his dog Fritz, having a "talk" at the back yard picnic table. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

My dad, Ray Shepherd, with his dog Fritz, having a “talk” at the back yard picnic table. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Dear Mom,

Author Joe Weinstein wrote: “My dog is worried about the economy because Alpo is up to $.99 a can. That’s almost $3.00 in dog money.”  It’s a dog joke, of course, but if it weren’t for your dementia, I think you’d say, “Share some people food with your dog.”

We had several dogs while I was growing up, and on cold mornings I watched you make extra oatmeal for their breakfasts. And if there were boneless leftovers when we went out to eat, we seriously asked for a doggie bag. You also stirred in dry dog food to mix with the oatmeal and leftovers, and our dogs were happy and healthy.

October is ADOPT A SHELTER DOG MONTH.  I think the only dog we actually got from the shelter was Fritz. It was almost twenty-five years ago that Dad let his grandson, Nic, choose the puppy from the litter at the shelter, and he chose the furry little guy that wasn’t supposed to get very big. Boy, did Fritz surprise everyone! Fritz was your last dog, but you and Dad loved all our dogs and treated them well. Dad meant it when he said he didn’t trust anyone who wasn’t good to kids and dogs.

Our wonderful Maggie was abandoned in the back yard of a rental house, and our policeman son-in-law rescued her and gave us a call. She’d never traveled in a car when Jim and I brought her from Kansas to Colorado.  It was one of the longest trips we’ve ever made. But now she happily rides along with us everywhere, and for more than 10 years she’s been a much-loved and always-included member of our family.

The tradition continues with your great-grandchildren, Mom.  They live near Ft. Riley, and five years ago an unmarried soldier was being deployed and needed a loving home for his black German shepherd.  Grace and Gannon–and their parents–answered the call, and Duchess became a delightful addition to their family.

Gandhi wrote: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”  For anyone who wants to help but can’t take on a dog, October 27 is Make A Difference Day. Humane Societies, rescue groups and animal shelters always need donations of pet supplies, food and funds.  November is Adopt A Senior Pet Month; this applies to older pets needing adoption, but also to pets of seniors who are ill or unable to care for their pets and need assurance that their beloved buddies will find good homes.

John Grogan, author of Marley and Me, said “A dog is the greatest gift a parent can give a child. OK, a good education…then a dog.”

Mom, my thanks to you and Dad for giving us the greatest gifts.

Maggie, from abandoned to head of our household!

Maggie, from abandoned to head of our household!

Duchess, from Army life to life with children!

Duchess, from Army life to life with children!


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for


Hand-carved chair backs. (All pictures by Marylin Warner.)

Hand-carved chair backs. (All pictures by Marylin Warner.)

Hand-stitched dish towel.

Hand-stitched dish towel.

The sampler Mom began, and I finished.

The sampler Mom began, and I finished.

Dear Mom,

Let’s build on my assignment from elementary school. I was given the word “Home” to look up in the dictionary, and then I was to ask at least three people what the word meant to them. (For those of you who are wondering what’s going on, “Home is…” was the title of last week’s post.)

Let’s pretend that our assignment word this week is “CREATE.”  The dictionary definition is “…to generate, to bring into being, to shape or forge.”

Instead of interviewing people directly, let’s look at some examples of things created during your life, Mom.  First, in the picture above, is the hand carved chair top from your mother’s dining room set. Grandma’s dining room table and chairs now grace cousin Beth’s house in Georgia, where the “girl cousins” enjoyed our meals when we got together ten days ago.  We’re not sure who did the carving of the ornate faces, but Grandma’s chairs were a source of fascination for all her grandchildren and guests. Why have plain chairs, when you can create conversation pieces and works of art? (I always thought they looked like Old Man Wind blowing up a storm.)

While the cousins were sorting through and dividing the collectibles and keepsakes, we found examples of crocheted and tatted edges on pillow cases and sheets, plus stacks of hand-sewn dish towels. Some of the towels were hand-stitched in ornate details, but I chose the simple-stitch one of a nursery rhyme because of the creative change:  “…and the cup ran away with the…knife?”  Looks like a stitcher’s sense of humor to me!

And remember the cross-stitch sampler of your motto: My Days is Complete… I Heard a Child Laugh. When I moved you and Dad from the house to assisted living, I found the unfinished sampler tucked away for safekeeping. I got matching thread and finished it and had it framed. Now it hangs on the wall for your great-grandchildren to read and know how both of us love to hear children laugh and be happy.

This week when I came to visit you, Mom, I brought a quilt we found among the boxes of quilt pieces and handmade keepsakes. Your mother made this quilt many years ago, and the “girl cousins” send it to you with love, to cuddle beneath as you heal from your hip surgery. When I tucked the quilt around your shoulders, I thought of your “First” quilt that now hangs on a wall in our house. You were in your teens when you hand-stitched twenty different birds on twenty squares of cotton salvaged from your father’s and siblings’ white shirts and blouses. You, Grandma, and some of the aunts hand-pieced the squares with green and pink cloth, and then hand-quilted the entire quilt top to an under-side. You once told me it took you almost a year from start to finish, sewn in the evenings during the fall, winter and spring months. It was too hot to sew in summer.

Based on these and many other examples, I would add this to the definition of “CREATE”: “…to add artistic expression to the making of practical, useful necessities; to leave a uniquely personal signature on even common things.”

Maybe our blog friends will share their definitions and examples of the word “Create.”

While Mom recuperates from hip surgery, she stays warm under a quilt made by her mother.

While Mom recuperates from hip surgery, she stays warm under a quilt made by her mother.

The Bird Quilt, the first quilt Mom made.

The Bird Quilt, the first quilt Mom made.


Filed under art, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Quilting projects, sewing, Things to be thankful for


Cliff Dwellings, Canyonlands, Utah (all pictures by Jim and Marylin Warner)

Cliff Dwellings, Canyonlands, Utah (this picture by Jim Warner; all others by Marylin Warner)

Two-family birdhouse built on pergola.  Colorado Springs, CO

Two-family birdhouse built on pergola. Colorado Springs, CO

Dear Mom,

I was in either fifth or sixth grade when the teacher gave each of us a topic, a word that could have more than one meaning or interpretation. We were to look up the dictionary definition, and then we were to ask at least three people what the word meant to them. I was given the word HOME.

We were supposed to get a variety of answers. I remember asking a younger kid what HOME was to him, and he gave this very basic answer: It’s where they let you have a puppy even when your sister has a cat.  I remember wondering how I could make that work at our house.  I really wanted a kitten, but my brother David was allergic to cats, so I couldn’t have one…Hmm. How did that fit with a definition of HOME?

Dad had a definite philosophy about the importance of homes and hometowns: No matter where people live or how rich or poor they are, there’s something about their home or their town that they’re proud of. The secret to connecting with people is to find out what that something is, encourage them to talk about it…and really listen to what they say.

I remember trying to write that as one of my answers for the assignment, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I understood how important and on-target it really was.

I don’t remember what other answers I got for my assignment, Mom.  I do remember, though, one of the children’s poems you wrote. Of all your poetry, “HOMES” was—and still is—one of my favorites.


“HOMES” ~ by Mary Elizabeth Shepherd

The milk cow sleeps in the barn;

A house is a home for folks.

The little birds sleep in a nest in a tree,

In the pond the bull-frog croaks.

The milk cow wouldn’t like my bed;

And I couldn’t sleep in a nest.

The bull-frog doesn’t like the barn.

Each one thinks his home is the best.


You and Dad were actually giving me very similar answers about the importance of HOME.  I thank you both for the answers you provided in my life, and for the home you made for our family.

(P.S. Mom, you were right about the cat thing. You said that when I grew up and had my own home, I could have as many cats as I wanted. Our daughter Molly’s first cat was Abbra. And after Abbra it was Solomon and Calla Lilly. Now, in her own home, Molly’s children have Munchkin.  No cat allergies for us!)

Resting place for "Baby" in Abilene KS cemetery

Resting place, home for “Baby” in Abilene KS cemetery

Old Town log house, Abilene, KS

Old Town log house, Abilene, KS


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Different kinds of homes, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for


Am I the only woman who asked for--and received--a DeWalt for her 50th birthday?  (photos by Marylin Warner)

Am I the only woman who asked for–and received–a DeWalt for her 50th birthday? (photos by Marylin Warner)

clippers and saw

Repair basics (plus assorted nails, screws and wires)

Repair basics (plus assorted nails, screws and wire)

Dear Mom,

You always loved to fix things, and since I grew up “helping” with your projects, I learned to love fixing things, too. At a young age I knew the difference between a Philips and a flat screwdriver, and when to use wood cement instead of glue.  When I was twelve, I bought a tiny jeweler’s pliers at a yard sale, and you and I figured out how to tighten the clasps on all our necklaces and bracelets. And there was no rip in a shirt or skirt or coat that we couldn’t mend with your sewing machine.

You had two ways of fixing things around the house and in the yard: step-by-step logical repairs that could take hours or days; and “a lick and a promise” fix.  When one of Grandma’s hand-painted saucers was knocked off the dining room table, you fixed it using the step-by-step technique. When we were late for church and you saw the hem was coming out of my Sunday dress, you did a quick fix, a “lick and a promise” with masking tape and safety pins.

But when I used the wood-burning instruments to sear my initials and drawings into the wooden fence, along the window casings in the garage, and on my closet shelf, you reined in my enthusiasm for non-essential handiwork. Later, in college I learned Kaplan’s explanation of “Law of the Instrument.” “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

A few days ago, you fell in your apartment, Mom.  You were rushed to the hospital, and doctors determined that you had not broken your hip, but you had dislocated your hip from the socket. In spite of your love for “fixing” things, this is probably one of those times when we won’t complain if your advanced dementia prevents you from remembering what happened next. On that very afternoon, the orthopedic surgeon operated, and with three medical screws he secured your hip bone back in the socket.

There will still be physical therapy and restrictions and adjustments. But you have strong bones, or they would’t have even attempted this surgery.  And you also had excellent, capable doctors, and this was not a “lick and  promise” fix.

My bet is on you, Mom, and your innate appreciation for fixing things.  Nails, hammers, screwdrivers, Super Glue; whatever it takes, you’re a big supporter of doing your best to put things back together.

Mom, 3 1/2, with her older brother on the family farm.

Mom, 3 1/2, with her older brother on the family farm.

Mom at 2 1/2 with her doll baby. See those strong bones on them both?

Mom at 2 1/2 with her doll baby. See those strong bones on them both?


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for


A British theme, 1939, now a popular American motto.

A British theme, 1939, now a popular American motto.

“Accidents will occur in the best-regulated families.” ~Charles Dickens

These come in the mail, to offer writing courses. Mine would have to read, 'Growing up Marylin Shepherd in  Fort Scott, KS'

These come in the mail, to offer writing courses. Mine would have to read, ‘Growing up Marylin Shepherd in Fort Scott, KS’

Dear Mom,

You like to stay in your own apartment, cuddled under an afghan as you rest in your recliner. But years ago, taking off for a drive with your family was one of your favorite things to do.  It’s back-to-school time for your great-grandchildren now, which reminds me of one of our adventures. It was August, 1960…

Daddy had a meeting in Kansas City, and he offered to drop us off downtown so we could shop and then go out for lunch. Immediately you said yes, dressed us up a bit so we’d look nice, and we piled into the car. It was three weeks before my 11th birthday and David was months from being 13.  He needed new shirts and jeans for school the next week. I needed shoes, and for my upcoming birthday I desperately wanted only one thing, umm…a bra.

All my girl friends had bras. They were called beginner bras, training bras—as if young girls’ obsessions needed training—and you weren’t thrilled with the idea. But we found a huge assortment of them in the department store clothing section. They came in one cup size—flat—and the only measurement was “around” so it wouldn’t fit too tight.

All the little dressing rooms were full—my brother was taking his sweet time in one of them, trying on lots of different jeans—and soon the serving hours for lunch would end at our favorite eating place, the big Forum Cafeteria.  So you partially hid me between displays of pajamas and robes, pulled a beginner bra out of its box, and right there in front of God and everybody, you tested the fit…OVER my blouse.  There I stood, wearing a white bra over a red blouse.  David chose that moment, of course, to finally open the curtain of the dressing cubicle. He took one look, screwed up his face in a laugh, and closed the curtain. The sales lady giggled the entire time she asked if we needed assistance.

I marched ahead of you and David, clutching my package of two birthday bras, refusing to talk to either of you as we hurried the few blocks to the Forum Cafeteria. It was a bright and shiny wonderful place with a long glass-covered display of so many food choices that we could hardly decide. I let you tuck my package inside your big purse. We loaded our trays with silverware and napkins and pushed our way along the chrome tray bars.

David was in the lead. His tray was filled with plates and bowls of food when he reached the drink section. As the server handed his iced tea over the counter, he grabbed too late or she let go too soon. The tea tipped and drenched not only his food, but it also splattered on him. (Note here: At that point I hadn’t heard of Karma, but whenever I think of Karma now, I remember the miserable look on my brother’s face.)

He was given a fresh tray, all new bowls and plates, and we made our way to our table. It was at the bottom of the wide stairs leading to the upstairs dining area, our favorite place where we could look out the window at the hustle and bustle of Kansas City. It was also where we made a buffer for a businessman who was hurrying down the stairs to get back to work. He slipped or tripped or maybe missed a step, floundered, threw up his arms…and landed on our table. Seriously. Smack dab in the middle, tipping over all the glasses, flinging the food. I remember the mashed potatoes on his face.

In typical gracious form, Mom, you jumped up to help him, grabbing napkins, asking if he was all right. He was so embarrassed, stammering apologies, and I remember you giving him a tissue from your purse, smiling and telling him it was quite all right, that everyone had accidents, and some day this would be his favorite story to share. As the staff hurried over to clean up and escort the man to the rest room, I noticed your open purse, the inside drenched in ice tea…and the goo of cobbler bits clinging to my birthday bra package.

Daddy picked us up in front of a book store an hour later.  As he pulled into the downtown traffic, he smiled and said, “I had an excellent meeting. How was your day?”

You, Mom, were the first to giggle, and soon the three of us were laughing and trying to talk all at once, telling about our excellent day.

The cover of a blank photo album, Kansas Originals.

The cover of a blank photo album, Kansas Originals.

“Gravity is a contributing factor in nearly 73% of all accidents involving falling objects.” ~ Dave Barry

“Everyone has accidents. Later, they become favorite stories to share.”  ~ Mary Shepherd


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for