HANDED DOWN TO US

My mother's parents, first row, far left.

My mother’s parents, front row, far left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Their five children: (l to r) Wanda, Sam, Ruth, Mary (my mother) and Ira.

Their five children: (l to r) Wanda, Sam, Ruth, Mary (my mother) and Ira.

Of the thirteen grandchildren, these are the five girl cousins: (l to r) Beth, Karen, Marylin, Sandee, Glee.

Of the thirteen grandchildren, these are the five girl cousins:  (l to r) Beth, Karen, Marylin, Sandee, Glee.

 

This week when I visited my mother in Kansas, I learned three things. First, when she leans back in her recliner and closes her eyes, she is often still listening, so I can’t assume she’s taking a nap. Second, she’s still a very pretty lady at 96, even with half of one eyebrow accidentally shaved off. (From now on, when I use an electric razor to trim away whiskers and curling eyebrow hairs, I will not assume Mom will sit still…I will hold the razor with a steady hand, prepared to stop if she turns her head quickly. Lesson learned.)

The third thing I learned is this: with dementia, the dominant remaining sensory details are not just taste and smell. Touch is still a significant sense. Mom did recognize the little metal wagon she left between tree branches as a child. When I put the little wagon-in-the-wood in Mom’s lap, she didn’t open her eyes, but her fingers touched the metal wheels and traced the lines of the wood. When I asked if she knew what this was, she nodded, yes. Still with her eyes closed, when I asked if she remembered the toy…and did she remember putting it in the tree, both times she smiled faintly and again nodded, yes. She held it for a while, nodding, and then she folded her hands and fell asleep.

The quaint little keepsake has become a tangible reminder of my connection to other generations. My grandchildren have traced the wagon with their fingers, just as my daughter did, and as I did. When my mother was younger than her great-grandchildren are now, she put the wagon in the tree branch, where it was later rescued by my grandfather when he cut down the tree.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The ancestor of every action is a thought.”   As a six-year-old, my mother had her reasons for hiding the wagon in the tree; my grandfather had his reasons for preserving it when he cut down the tree; and as the heir of these thoughts and actions, I will pass the keepsake on to the next generations…along with the stories.

Wilbur Wright (of the Wright Brothers) wrote, “The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who…looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space…”   Possibly my desire to create came from the same ancestors who passed on to my aunts and uncles and cousins the desire to sing, to teach, to play musical instruments, to heal, to cherish and care for children, and numerous other talents and desires.

Native American writer Linda Hogan wrote this: “Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”

During this month’s visit with my mother, I’m not sure that for even a moment she actually recognized me as her daughter. But still, she reminded me of who I am, and how we’re both connected to those who made it possible for us to be here.

The little metal wagon left in the tree branch.  (full story in the July 26 post, "A Mistake?")

The little metal wagon left in the tree branch. (full story in the July 26 post, “A Mistake?”)

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Filed under art, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Ralph Waldo Emerson, special quotations

PERSONAL STYLE

Mom's fashion "style" was to create her own fashions, even an occasional hat. (picture is property of Marylin Warner; all others in this post taken by Marylin Warner)

Mom’s “style” was to create her own fashions, even an occasional hat. (picture is property of Marylin Warner; all other pictures in this post taken by Marylin Warner)

    

 

 

 

Mary's great-grand-daughter has her own writing style...sidewalk chalk.

Mary’s great-grand-daughter has her own writing style…with.sidewalk chalk.

STYLE: a manner of doing something; a way of painting, speaking, writing, dressing, composing, or creating. Note: Do not confuse this kind of style with stile, as in turnstile, unless your style is to go back and forth, passing through gates.

Some of my mother’s friends’ clothing and jewelry styles were strongly influenced by French designer Coco Chanel’s casual chic designs. Many of them also wore her signature perfume, Chanel No. 5.   Mom wasn’t a big fan of Chanel No. 5, and since she made most of her clothes, she didn’t imitate many of the outfit trends. But during an interview, Coco said one thing that Mom applauded: “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

I took Mom to a writing workshop at Avila College years ago, and the question of writers’ styles came up. Here are some of the “famous” quotes that made sense to her: “I don’t think writers compete. I think they’re all doing separate things in their own style.” ~ Elmore Leonard. And this one by Raymond Chandler: “The most durable thing in writing is style. It is a projection of personality and you have to have personality before you can project it. It is the product of emotion and perception.”

The one that made Mom laugh was by William Battie, the English physician who in 1758 wrote the first lengthy book about treating mental illness: “Style is when they’re running you out of town and you make it look like you’re leading the parade.” It seemed logical to Mom that showing confidence even when you didn’t actually feel it was good advice for writers, since there was so much rejection.

The one specific bit of advice she followed was about improving writing style: “Cut out all of those exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald     Mom read through her writing samples, and each time she found an exclamation point she studied it carefully…and then often removed it.

I miss many of my mother’s qualities and abilities that have been dulled or destroyed by dementia.

Going through her big box marked MARY’S WRITING, I love reading her notes and quotes about writing and all kinds of creativity. If I read them aloud to her, she might smile and nod, but there’s no longer any true recognition.

So I’ll share them with you. That was my mother’s style, to share ideas and information and activities with her friends, and if it weren’t for the dementia, she would be very happy to count you all among her friends. She really would.

 

An old house gets a new "style lift" ~ a bold and beautiful new paint job.

An old house gets a “style lift” with a bold and beautiful new paint job.

Practical Art style ~ turn a public trash can into an art display (Abliene, KS)

Practical Art style ~ turn a public trash can into an art display (Abliene, KS)

Maybe your style is to combine your favorite car and your favorite sport: get a BMW golf cart  (and it's for sale!)

Maybe your style is to combine your favorite car and your favorite sport: get a BMW golf cart (and look, it’s for sale!)

"Recycling Style"-- an old tire gets new life as a child's tree swing.

“Recycling Style”– an old tire gets new life as a child’s tree swing.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, Kansas, special quotations, writing

A MISTAKE?

Akey and Letta ~ my maternal grandparents.

Akey and Letta ~ my maternal grandparents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Metal toy wagon, left in tree branches, approx. 1924. (Picture by Marylin Warner)

Metal toy wagon, left in tree branches, circa 1924. (Picture by Marylin Warner)

This happened many decades before I was born, but since I have the tangible proof now, it’s my story to tell. My grandfather called it “a child’s mistake,” but I have trouble thinking of it as any kind of mistake. After all, a mistake is an error, a blunder or oversight, a slip-up or inaccuracy, and I see it as an astounding legacy…a true memory maker.

Supposedly, six-year-old Mary Elizabeth (my mother, who is 96 now) and her siblings were playing by the barn when their mother, my grandmother, came out to pick corn from the family garden. She called for the children to come and help. They had been playing with toys—little metal wagons, carved wooden animals, bent forks and spoons—and Mary E. was scooting one of the metal wagons in the grass. When her mother called them to help, Mary E. looked around for a place to put her wagon, maybe so she could play with it again later. She chose one of the trees nearby.

Standing on tiptoe, she tucked the wagon in a “v” of two branches, pushing it in tight so it wouldn’t fall. Then she ran to help with shucking ears of corn. One thing led to another, and maybe she forgot about her hidden wagon. No one knows for sure.

Years later, my grandfather was cutting down overgrown trees. To his surprise, he found branches grown around the little metal wagon, locking it in place and making it a permanent part of the tree. He carefully cut above and below the wagon, sanded the edges of the wood, and painted the entire piece with leftover paint in the barn.

This wagon-in-the-tree-branch is one of my favorite keepsakes. To me it is not a mistake but a gift, a child’s creative attempt to store a toy, and nature’s way of making it a piece of art. My mother doesn’t recognize it, and telling her the story might make her smile, but she wouldn’t realize it is her story. But as I hold the little wagon, I can close my eyes and imagine my mother as a little girl standing on tiptoe and reaching for the branch.

Rudyard Kipling wrote, “I never made a mistake in my life; at least, never one that I couldn’t explain away afterwards.”   If Mom could remember this story, I think she would definitely cherish it as something other than a mistake. Look at the treasure we have now, ninety years after siblings played in the Missouri sunshine.

Maybe her brothers Sam and Ira saw what she did that day. If so, they maybe nudged each other and did what Napoleon once advised, “Never interrupt your enemy (or your sister) when he (or she) is making a mistake.”   Or maybe, without realizing it, they proved author Brandon Mull’s statement: “Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.” As far as we can tell, neither of the boys imitated their sister and tried doing the same thing with other toys.

I choose to agree more with author Rita Mae Brown: “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” I hold the little wagon-in-the-wood and say it was Mary Elizabeth using good judgment—without realizing it at the time—and leaving a charming keepsake for her daughter, granddaughter, and great-grandchildren. This was not a mistake, but a gift she didn’t realize she was creating.

It’s a good lesson to consider: what we do today may outlive us and affect others in ways we cannot even imagine.  Thanks, Mom.

 

With llamas--as with kisses--spit happens, but that doesn't make it a mistake.  Not a gift, necessarily, but not a mistake.  (Sorry, but I couldn't resist.)

With llamas–as with kisses–spit happens, but that doesn’t make it a mistake. Not a gift, necessarily, but also not a mistake. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I love this picture.)

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Filed under art, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, special quotations

With A CAPITAL “A”

 

cap A for Alzheimers

  

Tinseltown Theaters poster, Colorado Springs

Tinseltown Theaters poster, Colorado Springs

 

The movie begins with action. Apes on a hunt. Hundreds of apes lying in wait, hunting for food. Surviving after most of the world’s humans have been killed by the deadly Simian Flu. But the simians didn’t cause this futuristic plague. The humans did, when they injected apes with a test antidote to stop Alzheimer’s, the disease they feared would eventually destroy civilization.

No movie spoiler alert necessary. This information is revealed in the first few minutes of the movie DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. The desperate attempt to control Alzheimer’s was quickly overshadowed by science-run-amuck, creating a deadly flu that left two separate societies struggling to survive—humans and apes—and the apes are worthy opponents.  The movie is an interesting take on good vs. evil, and the lines that blur in every war.

Alzheimer’s has always been capitalized because it’s named for the German neurologist who first identified it, Alois Alzheimer.  Now it’s become a BIG capital A, and not just because it’s the seed for destruction in a sci-fi action/thriller film. The reality is this: in the United States, every 67 seconds someone develops Alzheimer’s; five million live with it now, and it’s the 6th leading cause of death. The statistics in countries throughout the world are similar. Alzheimer’s is an equal opportunity disease.

My dad died of Alzheimer’s, and my mother suffers with advanced dementia, so when I misplace my keys in the refrigerator* or confuse the passwords of my bank account with my PayPal account, I experience a moment of panic. I also read articles and refer often to www.alz.org for current research and information.

I know the basics about a heart-healthy diet also being brain-healthy:  eat more veggies and fresh fruits, especially berries;  foods with omega-3 fatty acids are important (salmon, mackerel and tuna, etc.);  a daily glass of red wine or purple grape juice will help protect brain cells;  controlled blood pressure lowers risks of heart disease, vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s;  activities and interactions with friends and family make for a happier heart and a healthier mind.

Walk for Alzheimer's T-shirt logo.

And, of course, every day we should walk, exercise, sing, breathe deeply, and keep moving. Coffee is good; cigarettes are bad. Crossword puzzles, hobbies, and word or number games are excellent.

My parents scored high in all of the above, except for two. Living in land-locked Missouri and Kansas, they didn’t eat as much salmon and other omega-3 fatty acids as they should have. They also didn’t drink coffee; they loved the smell and served it often to guests, but their stomachs did much better with hot tea. They were active, intelligent, well-read and socially involved until Dad was 81 and Mom was 90, so it’s probably not a big deal about the fish or coffee, but who knows?

It’s not often that I do a blog on Alzheimer’s and dementia numbers and specifics.  I’d rather share stories so my grandchildren will know that Alzheimer’s and dementia could not erase their great-grandparents’ wonderful lives. Through shared and treasured memories, we keep alive those we love.

This once-in-a-blue-moon information post about Alzheimer’s and dementia is a reminder that the disease is much more than a plot point for a movie. We’re all at risk, and we’re all in this together. Please share any additional information or suggestions you have.

* FYI ~ my doctor told me that misplacing your keys in the refrigerator is not a sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia, but probably more an indicator that you’re hurrying or have a lot to do. It is a concern, however, if you find your keys in the refrigerator…and aren’t sure what they are or what they’re for.

 

1949 family photo of Mary and Ray Shepherd, baby daughter Marylin and son David .  Even then I was trying to talk.

1949 family photo of Mary and Ray Shepherd, baby daughter Marylin and son David . Even then I was trying to talk.

 

1999 ~ Mom, Dad, my brother David and I pose for a Thanksgiving picture at  my daughter Molly's home before Dad's Alzheimer's. (picture by Jim Warner)

1999 ~ Mom, Dad, my brother David and I pose for a Thanksgiving picture at my daughter Molly’s home before Dad’s Alzheimer’s was identified. (picture by Jim Warner)

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren

JUST WORDS

Books of words.  Without meaning, they're just "words."  (pictures by Marylin Warner)

Books of words. Without meaning or context, they’re just “words.” (pictures by Marylin Warner)

"Perseverance"

Is perseverance at the top of your list of goals, or nearer the bottom of your list?

 

What does Irish mean to you if you're Italian?

What does Irish mean to you if you’re Italian?

Think about all the words we read, write, see and hear that have general definitions but also a variety of personal meanings and interpretations. Marriage means different things to different people. So does Love, Hate, Innocence, Guilt, etc. Without personal context, words are often just words.

One of my favorite examples is the four-word comment on age by the actor George Burns: “Young. Old. Just words.”  In 1977 Burns starred in the movie OH, GOD! He was 81. For years, he and his wife Gracie Allen did comedy routines and a sit-com together. Gracie died in 1964, 32 years before George died at the age of 100.

My parents had enjoyed the “George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.” When George died in 1996, a tribute to both of them was on television. I remember my parents watching solemnly. Mom said George and Gracie had been apart a long time, and now they’d be together again. My dad said an emotional “Goodnight, Gracie.” Dad’s mother had died of spinal meningitis when he was a very young boy, and her name was Grace. Unfortunately, by the time his great-granddaughter was born in 2003 and Molly named her Grace in honor of Dad’s mother, Alzheimer’s had begun fading his attachment to the word Grace.

Two weeks ago I was with my mother in Kansas, and when we celebrated her early 96th birthday together, I knew the truth of Burns’ quote about young and old being just words.

Because of her dementia, Mom’s concept of now doesn’t mean as much to her as then, especially when the “then” is life as a child growing up on the family farm in Missouri with her brothers and sisters. To her, I am not so much her daughter as I’m “just the nicest girl” who comes to visit. And my brother isn’t her son but usually Sam, who was her brother. And that’s okay. Mom is calm and content with those memories, despite the confusing words that are often used to try to explain things to her.

Satchel Paige was a major league baseball legend in his own lifetime. He asked an important question that we each should answer for ourselves. “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”

Young. Old. Are they just words for you?

Satchel Paige (1906-1982)  (google sportcard via Rich Klein article)

Satchel Paige (1906-1982) (google sportcard via Rich Klein article)

George Burns in the 1977 movie OH, GOD! (wickipedia)

George Burns in the 1977 movie OH, GOD! (wickipedia)

 

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Filed under Different kinds of homes, lessons for great-grandchildren, life questions, special quotations

CHAIRS: True Memory Makers

Colorful "Picasso" chairs by our daughter Molly.  (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

Colorful “Picasso” chairs by our daughter Molly. (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

Retro-Kitchen step-chair, a perfect reminder of my mother's kitchen.

Retro-Kitchen step-chair, a perfect reminder of my mother’s kitchen.

A print of VanGogh's "Chair" in hallway of my mother's assisted living.

A print of VanGogh’s “Chair” in hallway of my mother’s assisted living.

The first chairs were probably flat rocks large enough for cave men to sit on, and high enough to lean against. As civilization evolved, so did chairs: royalty sat on thrones; polio victims traveled in wheel chairs; babies were lulled to sleep in rocking chairs and rode more safely in car seats: convicted killers were sometimes executed in electric chairs.

My mother’s interior design choices were a combination of practical, functional, comfortable and attractive. The upholstered furniture in our home was purchased from stores. Many of the casual tables, wooden chairs, bookcases and blanket chests were inherited or bought at unfinished wood or consignment furniture shops, and then Mom sanded, stained or painted them. I’d find her in the garage, humming in time to her brush strokes that created a colorful desk chair for her writing desk. When I was thirteen, Mom and I bought an old foot stool that I stained, and then together we wove a new cover across the frame.

Our family tradition of chair creations continued this year. For our anniversary gift, our daughter Molly painted metal lawn chairs bright yellow. Her children, big Picasso fans, drew our “portraits,” and Molly painted them on the chairs. On the seats she painted Picasso quotes: “Everything you can imagine is real” and “It takes a long time to grow young.” Even our porch chairs show how much fun restoring and painting can be.

Years after Mom gave a young mother the high chair my brother and I used, her metal kitchen step-chair doubled as a high chair for her grandchildren and any young visitors who stayed for meals. Mom moved the step-chair close to the table, set the child on the padded seat, and safely tied the little one in place with dish towels. My favorite birthday present last year was a red retro-model of Mom’s black step-chair that Jim found in a quaint hardware store in Abilene, KS. Visiting friends see this chair, laugh, and share stories they remember from their parents’ or grandparents’ kitchens. As author Stephen King wrote: “You can’t deny laughter; when it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants.”

Mom’s favorite chairs now are her lounger where she spends most of her waking hours, and dad’s old wheelchair that transports her to the flower garden on nice days. She no longer uses the rocking chair where she used to sing to babies, or the chair that was large enough she could sit with both her great-grandchildren and read to them. Because of her dementia she does not remember these times, but the children do. For them, these chairs are memory makers.

Mom in the wheelchair that was Dad's, out to enjoy the flowers.

2012 ~ Mom in the wheelchair that was Dad’s, out to enjoy the flowers.

Mom reading to her great-grandchildren in 2007.

Mom reading to her great-grandchildren in 2007.

 

Mom in her lounge chair, wrapped in a quilt made by her mother.

Mom in her lounge chair, 2013, wrapped in a quilt made by her mother.

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Filed under Abilene Kansas, art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

TEMPUS FUGIT

1919 ~ Mary "Ibbith" holding her baby doll.

1920 ~ Mary “Ibbith” holding her baby doll, getting ready to take it for a ride in the baby buggy.

2012 ~ Mary Elizabeth and her daughter (me) holding the Flat Stanley project of her great-granddaughter, Grace.

2012 ~ Mary Elizabeth and her daughter (me) holding the Flat Stanley project of her great-granddaughter, Grace.

2013 ~ Mom rides in her own "buggy" with Marylin pushing so they can go feed the ducks.

2013 ~ Mom rides in her own “buggy” with me pushing so we can go feed the ducks.

2014 ~ Mom and me celebrating her 96th birthday cake.

2014 ~ Mom with me, celebrating her 96th birthday with candles and Boston Cream Pie.

Several years into her dementia, my mother went through a stage when her most frequent question was, “What day is this?” I would answer, saying the day of the week, the date and even the time. She would nod. Then, over and over, she would repeat the question. I would tell her again, and then again, and sometimes I’d finally conclude by reminding her of one of my favorite questions and responses from A.A. Milne’s book, WINNIE-THE-POOH:

“What day is it?” asked Pooh. ~ “It’s today,” squeaked Piglet. ~ “Oh, my favorite day!” said Pooh. I would try to imitate Pooh and Piglet, and we would laugh.  Usually it would break the cycle, and we’d go on to other things.

At 96, Mom’s sense of “today” now often goes back to growing up on the farm, or days working with Dad to build the business, or maybe memories of mothering two growing children. For Mom, Tempus Fugit means Time Flies…but in reverse, going back in time.

Last week I drove to Ft. Scott to celebrate an early 96th birthday with Mom. During my days and nights in the apartment with her, I was reminded again that she is blessed with excellent caregivers who are trained, caring, patient and kind.  When Mom blew out the candles on her Boston Cream birthday “cake” (soft and easy to chew), I was very glad Tammy was on duty to join me in oohing and aahing as we opened presents and read cards that Mom never quite realized were hers.

Dr. Seuss wrote, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”   To celebrate the valuable moments during the previous years that have flown by, this post includes pictures of my mom as a toddler clutching her baby doll, followed by 3 pictures from my many months of visits as we celebrate each day as our favorite day.

Tempus fugit, so Carpe diem.   Time flies, so seize the day.  That’s the lesson.

 

Thank you, Tammy, for all the special care you give to my mom.  You're a good friend to both of us.

Thank you, Tammy, for all the special care you give to my mom. You’re a good friend to both of us.

 

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Filed under birthday celebrations, celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for