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?”)


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

61 responses to “HANDED DOWN TO US

  1. I’m so pleased to hear your Mom could still remember the toy and where/why she put it in the branches.In some ways it’s cruel that the long term memory is often so clear when the short term memory is offering difficulties. How she may remember her delightful daughter being born or playing out but be unable to place her now, even though I still believe she knows there is love between the two of you when you visit.
    Perhaps you’re right that we inherit ourselves and our ways from our ancestors. You certainly inherited your Mom’s warmth.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Thank you, David. I hope I also inherited some of her common sense, strong faith, work ethic and generosity…anything but her botched eyebrow trimming. But she also always had a sense of humor, and I’d like to think that she would be laughing at the eyebrow. 😉 Massive hugs back at you…and to grandbaby Reuben, too.

  2. Don

    The picture of your mother touching that wagon and remembering is such a beautiful one, Marilyn. No doubt that wagon has become a kind of family sacrament of memory. It’s so fitting that it will be passed on down the family line. The fact that it is a little wagon is so significant. For me it is so fitting because it speaks of journey, adventure and new horizons. The wagon is such a significant historical symbol. Beautiful post Marilyn, thank you.

    • And thank you, Don.
      Like you, I think the little wagon is very significant. In addition to journey, adventure and new horizons, I also like to think of it as symbolic of “pulling her own weight” and carrying her hopes and dreams…and of course hiding it so no one can take it from her.
      I see this little wagon-in-wood as being a very important memento to pass down to my daughter and then her children, more important than china or silver or jewelry.

  3. A fascinating insight into the mind. Touch is evidently so important but we don’t always appreciate that. I wonder if she dreamed of the wagon afterwards and was back in her childhood again. It’s a lovely anecdote to savour. When my mother was in a coma I remember the nurses encouraging me to talk to her. They told me that when someone comes out of a coma the hearing is the first thing to come back. So they wonder if it is also the last sense to go. Even in a coma, they said, your mother may well hear you. We didn’t find out because she died 48 hours later but it was a lesson to me not to make assumptions about the senses. I hope to this day that she heard me.

    • I believe your mother did hear you, Andrew. Maybe not your actual sounds or words, but the warm aura of your presence and the messages from your heart.
      I’d be surprised if my mother’s hearing hasn’t already been the sense to diminish, but for awhile now that loss has been offset by the strength of taste and smell.
      It was wonderful watching her touch the wheels of the little wagon and outline the edges and angles with her fingertips.

  4. Lovely story. The connection down the generations is fascinating.

    • My grandmother had thirteen grandchildren, Elizabeth, and I imagine the eight males probably also have memories and stories told to them by my mother’s brothers. That’s why it’s so nice when we get together and share our parents’ stories; it helps us fill in the missing details and get a clearer pictures of all our parents growing up on the farm.

  5. Dear Marylin, I remember how important touch is, from my years helping with my mother’s care. We often held hands. After her passing in 2004, I held the Bible I read to her, during the hours I used to spend with her. Thank you and blessings as always to your mother and you and family. Ellen

    • Ellen, so many of your Haiku poems reflect the senses, especially touch. What lovely memories you have of holding your mother’s hands, and then later, feeling her presence as you hold the Bible you read to her. These are the connections of the heart that continue and sustain us.

  6. How lovely that your mother recognised the little metal wagon.

  7. Marilyn, your mother feels the love and kindness you give her and that gives her comfort. Last week in Germany I was watching my mother and niece holding hands and it was so peaceful. Touch is very important for our mothers.

    • Isn’t it wonderful, Gerlinde, watching your mother peacefully hold your niece’s hand? It reminds us of who they were (and still are) despite illness or Alzheimer’s or dementia. Even now, when my mother holds a baby or small child (and we all hover nearby to help) nothing is sweeter than watching Mom snuggle the child, breathe deeply and smile at the soft chick-downy hair.

  8. Beautiful reminders of how much we learn and keep learning about ourselves through our loved ones and ancestors. Be careful with the razor has me laughing. 🙂

    • Oh, it was an electric razor, Lynne. But believe me, I will certainly be more prepared and attentive next time!
      Mom’s dementia hasn’t diminished her ability to keep teaching me, that’s for sure.

  9. juliabarrett

    How beautiful, Marylin. Yes, smell, taste, tactile – all remain. No more shaving off your mother’s eyebrows! Tsk-tsk! 😉

  10. I always love your posts, Marylin, but this one just seems extra special to me. Thank you for taking the time to put a special moment between you and your mother into words. xo

  11. Future generations will look back at you and your mother as the ancestors who unlocked so many of the stories of the past, which is a great gift.

    • I hope so, Andrea. And I also hope that generations from now, if they read these stories, they’ll also smile and shake their heads in disbelief because by then there will be an immunization or reliable treatment for Alzheimer’s and dementia, and they’ll be amazed these mind diseases were ever a big deal.

  12. I love how you remind us that even as our loved ones loose parts of themselves with this disease there are pieces that are still there, that can be touched if we take the time to do so and that even in the decline there is still learning. Thanks for another beautiful post.

    • Thank YOU for the comments and insights. Just when I almost give up, almost decide that my mother’s dementia will block any responses, she surprises me. As I watched her touch the little wagon and trace the outline of the wheels and the tree branches with her fingertips, it was a lesson for me, a reminder not to take it for granted that she wouldn’t respond again. It was a valuable lesson.

      • My dad isn’t to that stage yet but I would like to believe that love always makes an impact one way or another and happy moments are always in there somewhere even when they are “forgotten”

  13. I like that your mother reminds you of who you are. I think back about my mother and all my visits with her before she died. I understood more about myself through those visits.

    My mother didn’t have dementia, so I can’t comment on what your mother must be feeling, if she is even aware of how much she has lost. My mother was cognizant until the end, and living in a personal care home where she could no longer do what she used to. So many like her, incapacitated in their final years; It takes incredible courage. We are fortunate to see the strength of our mothers and remember who they were with all their vitality and humor. You have the added joy of seeing your mother’s toy, and know its journey and how much it’s been treasured by all in your family.

    I can only hope I will have a similar courage. I can’t imagine.

    • You don’t think in advance that you’ll be able to do something difficult like this, Diana. Then, when it happens, you sometimes surprise yourself by just taking it one step, one visit at a time, and little by little you enjoy the little surprises that encourage you to try again.
      I have no doubt that you’ll have the courage to step up when you need to.

  14. Glee Kracl

    I continue to be amazed at your writings and your ability to “touch” my senses and help me to appreciate my blessings. I remember holding my mother’s hand and can still sense the softness of her skin. I continue to learn from you about the blessings in life. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Oh, Glee, thank you for this. Really. Your comment is much appreciated.
      Holding your mother’s hand, sensing the softness of her skin–and I hope also the strength of her fingers that played such wonderful piano music and taught others to play as well–these are the things we hold on to.

      And the amazing side-effect is that I’m reaching a point now that, when I hold Mom’s hands, I recognize what my hands are becoming, too.
      Bit by bit, Glee, we’re becoming our mothers.
      Which is actually a very good thing. 🙂

  15. jakesprinter

    Great story and beautiful pictures from your ancestor and your present family Marylin ..Thanks for sharing this 🙂

    • Thank you, Jake. One little wagon with tree branches grown around it led to thinking about those who left the wagon and cut down the tree many decades before I was even born. And how it will be passed on to those who are not yet born. Just one little wagon–amazing!

  16. Marilyn … I love the story behind that little metal wagon and the tree. I’m glad it brought back fond memories to your Mother as she traced the wheels and the lines in the wood.

    When my Mom died, there was one item I really was delighted to get. She had a ceramic bird sitting on a tree branch. It’s a music box and plays “Mockingbird Hill.” When I wind it up, it comforts me to know that my Mom once did the same and the music reminds me of her, too. 😉

    • What a wonderful gift, Judy! And the gift of sound–the same music your mother listened to is now what you’re hearing–is a beautiful connection between you and your mother. It still continues, even after death…what a gift between mother and daughter.

  17. Thank you for reminding me that although the eyes may be closed, dementia patients are often still listening and not necessarily sleeping. This is a lovely story. The little wagon must be passed on.

    • It was a comforting discovery to make, Darlene. My daughter experienced it, too, when she was visiting my mother. She thought her grandma had nodded off to sleep, so she gave Mom a soft kiss on her forehead and began to leave. Mom asked, “Where are you going?” without ever opening her eyes.

  18. Marylin, such a lovely visit you must have had with your mother. I love the pictures of her family and yours.
    It is true we are such a part of our ancestry. My maternal grandmother Marie owned a small store in her steel mill town, servicing the families that lived there and counted on her to have meat, milk, cigarettes, etc.
    I believe my entrepreneurial spirit comes from her. She was willing to do something, and as an immigrant new to this country, that I believe many did not have the gumption to do.
    My business card for my events business has tea roses on it because one of my strongest memories is that she picked heirloom rose petals and boiled them in sugar water, making rose jelly. Just as her ancestors had likely taught her.
    Thank you for a thoughtful post! xo Joanne

    • Rose jelly? How wonderful.
      So of course your business card would have tea roses on it. You are the granddaughter with Marie’s spirit of service and her gumption for accepting challenges and building on your own dreams.
      If you can learn how she made rose jelly, it would make a wonderful blog, Joanne! (Or you could make the rose jelly and sell it as part of your business–a private family recipe!)

      • I do need to find out how to make rose jelly! My mom said it was a special type of rose. Someday!

      • The only recipe I remember my mom trying–and it wasn’t jelly–was wild rose tea, and I think she added some lavender buds and regular tea leaves, too. And the main thing about it I remember was it had to be carefully strained before serving. So a really good Rose Jelly would be very much in demand, Joanne. I’d be your first customer!

  19. I enjoyed reading your description of being with your mother, touching her, taking care of her the way she might have done with you when you were little. So much love and tenderness in this story.

    • Thank you so much, and please join us again. I appreciated your comment on the first post about the little wagon–“A Mistake?”–and now your follow up comment on the rest of the story.

  20. It’s wonderful that your Mom had some recollection with the little branch and wagon. I wonder how much she could “see” in her head as she felt it in her lap.
    Lovely post, Marylin.

    • I’ve thought that, too, Jenny, imagining what she was “seeing” behind her closed eyes. I’d like to think she saw her brothers and sisters around her, playing as children, laughing and calling to each other. What a magical gift that would be from the little wagon.

  21. How wonderful to return here Marylin after two weeks away from blogging (and how I missed you!) to learn that your mom did indeed remember the little blue wagon! What a powerfully touching moment that must have been for you to have seen her touching it and tracing it and knowing that as she nodded she was transported back so many years to the time when she placed it in the tree, only for her father to cut it out so many years later and paint blue. I struggle sometimes with troubled thoughts arising out of not so good legacies left behind by some of my ancestors and the repercussions of the actions of so many but reading your post here today, I am reminded of all the good that has been passed on, the gifts such as you list here (painting, singing, acting, writing…) but more than that, of all the love and the care and yes, of the prayers of some. It’s that which I remember today thanks to you and your beautifully written post. Thank you so much Marylin for that… 🙂

    • Welcome back, Sherri. From the pictures you posted, I’d say you had a vivid, colorful, relaxing vacation…and I hope that each deep breath brought you more wonderful ideas for your book and all your writing.
      Last night I took out the little wagon-in-wood, closed my eyes and traced the wagon wheels and wood, trying to imagine what Mom saw.
      I again saw her back in her apartment in her recliner, eyes closed as she traced it and nodded. She’ll have her memories, and I’ll have mine…and they’re all good.

      • Thanks so much for your lovely welcome Marylin and it was indeed a very colourful time! I switched off completely but I did think about my book the entire time and also wrote a short story based on an incident over there so you see, you are teaching me well… 🙂
        Ahh…that is so very precious, what memories for you and your mom. I’m truly honoured that you shared them here…and yes, they’re all very good… ❤

      • I missed you, Sherri, and your wonderful life adventures and story ideas. It’s so good to have you back, and I hope you’ll share the short story you wrote on vacation.

      • Ahh…thanks Marylin, it’s nice to know I was missed 😉 I would love to share my story but I’m shy about my fiction, lacking confidence as I do. Maybe I’ll email it to you and you can take a look, see what you think.. !

  22. Marylin, I was moved by the fact that your mom still shows signs of remembering precious times. The photos and the wagon are wonderful. 🙂

  23. Touch is so important. In pastoral visiting in hospitals I am always amazed at the comforting and calming effect of just holding a patients hand. And I still find the laying on of hands in prayer to be a very moving time.

    I also remember a moment during a visit with my Father-in-law who had altzeimers, he was sitting with our daughter who would have been about 8 I think. They were sitting next to one another holding hands and watching the little lake. They weren’t talking but were communing deeply. It was a very special interlude, and a picture in my head I hope I never lose.

    Thanks for another hopeful and inspiring post.

    • Thanks for sharing about your experiences with the gift of touch, Rod, because it really is a gift. As a child, I learned from watching my mom that the gift works both ways, for the touch giver and the receiver. Something happens with touch, and the comforting connection enriches both.

  24. I hope it is okay to be one of the last to comment, Marylin! I am learning so much from your love, patience and relationship with your mother. I will be facing this slowly, surely, I anticipate that she may decline into dementia. We have never had her tested for Alzheimer’s. One thing that means so much to me, is that you continue to talk to her, despite her eyes closed. You watch her reactions, know she is listening because the wisp of a smile and head nodding, too. My Mom sent me a letter this week, lots of wite-out and some disjointed sentences. I am happy she is still trying to do this weekly, she used to write 2-3 times a week. The thing that makes me know her mind is really slipping is she ‘lost’ her groceries, on the mini-bus for the center. She didn’t tell me she talked to anyone, just says, someone must have taken them while she wasn’t looking. This makes me think she sat in a different seat, she set them down somewhere else or ? Then, on her note, she comments, I don’t know why this paper is so jagged, the first page was so nice. I can see she had not found her scissors and had torn the bottom part of the page where she had maybe made a mistake. This is rather long, but in the end, you mean a lot to me, your friendship is helpful to my future me! Smiles, Robin

    • Robin, I am so glad to hear from you. Thank you for sharing this. The “torn off” portion of the note is especially touching.
      When I was still writing cards and notes to my mom–and this was several years ago–in addition to visiting her in Kansas each month I tried to write every week. It didn’t last long as her ability to read even Very Large writing diminished quickly, so as long as your mother can read notes and know they’re from you, I encourage you to send as many as possible. And if they’re note cards, you might vary animal prints with bright flowers, etc. She might use them as a way to recall or remember things.
      Now I can call to talk to the caregivers but I don’t even attempt to talk to Mom because she really can’t hear clearly or respond over the phone. It’s too frustrating for both of us, so I try to make the most of what she has left–taste, smell, and touch–and now that I realize her closed eyes do not necessarily indicate sleep, I chatter away as I paint her fingernails. Or, unfortunately, shave off part of her eyebrow! 😦
      (Okay, do NOT duplicate THAT mistake, Robin…)
      You’ll be surprised at the things you’ll figure out that will help your Mom. You’ll figure them out together, kind of like she did when you were very young. The roles are reversed, but they’re still touching and genuine.

  25. I’m so glad that Mary recognized the little wagon and responded Marylin.
    At a time when the daily news is so depressing — riots, wars, natural disasters — your lovely post about family, love and tenderness is very uplifting. Thank you for sharing a glimmer of hope and a bit of laughter (shaved eyebrow).

    • Thanks, Theresa. When the news adds another crisis or tragedy, it’s good to have the little wagon-in-the-wood doorstop to put things in perspective. I remind myself that my mother’s family struggled with the Great Depression, then the next war, and health scares before polio vaccines and penicillin and other things we take for granted.
      And I try not to think about my mother’s shaved eyebrow… 😦

  26. Karen Keim

    Marylin, thank you for this entry in your blog. I am thrilled to see that you have a picture of the Bahney family. I tried to copy it, but the resolution is not very good. Would it be possible to obtain a high resolution copy? I’m very interested in the ancestors we never met. –Cousin Karen

    • Hi, Karen,
      That is my only copy, and it’s not high resolution at all, but a picture I took of the picture at Beth’s house…and then it took many i-Photo adjustments and still didn’t come out clearly. So there’s no way for me to make a high resolution copy. Your best possibility is to see if either Beth or Sandee has the actual picture.
      I do know that one of the cousins pointed out that our grandparents’ “photo together” in the lower left corner had been cropped into the picture! 😉
      Hope things are going well in Arizona, and you’re painting in your new art room! Marylin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s