Hoodoos, Goblin Valley

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


I rose before dawn yesterday morning in order to start my long drive south. I made my way in the darkness to the Bay Bridge which would lead me eastward and back to my destination in the Central Valley.

The midspan tower on the new Bay Bridge is so beautiful, doubly so in the shrouded San Francisco fog and darkness and I had to fight the urge to stop and take a picture, which is of course not very safe and near impossible.

Maybe I can reconnoiter and get a good shot at two in the morning one night? Come to think of it I never did break out the camera this trip.

The drive to Fresno was uneventful. I am a morning person and leaving early gave me a nice head start and plenty of energy. Perhaps I would make it home from the bay area at a decent hour for once?

The show turned out okay, cobbled a few deals together, nothing earth shattering. Lot of rain but I don't think it had a momentous effect on anything.

Managed to see BigDave and Kerry my last evening. But my schedule has left me exhausted, three shows and an extra trip to Los Angeles in four weeks.

I knocked on the door to my father's home and in a few moments my step mother answered. She is a fantastic person, a godsend who loves my father very much and has been loyal and stalwart in the worst of circumstances.

My father has been living in the Alzheimer's home for several years now. He has one year left on his long term health coverage and fortunately or unfortunately, might well outlive it. My stepmother is preparing for the worst.

My father is or was a brilliant man. He was a mathematician, an accountant, a very successful real estate developer, an amateur economist who published long essays on the subject, a World War II veteran, a UCLA man who played football with Bob Waterfield and lettered in three sports.

He was an ace black jack player, a card counter, and he loved among other things, studying physics, opera, photography, fine automobiles and purchasing fine paintings and antiques. He was a great doodler and loved figuring out magic squares and relativity problems. Amos Sommers aka Amos Kaitz left an awfully large footprint and a list of accomplishments that would be hard to match or exceed.

He loved gourmet food, especially sole and whitefish and food from Northern Italy and France, not to mention a good steak. Dad traveled all over the world and lived an incredible life, arriving in this country at 14 from his native Palestine on a third class steam ship and carving a rich life out of nothing.

Unfortunately Alzheimer's is a disease that has no respect for one's past accolades or achievements, cutting down its victims in the cruelest possible way and reducing once powerful mortals to hollow shells.

Shela thought I should go to the home by myself yesterday. She made a snack for me to take to my dad. I arrived at the home, located in a clean suburban neighborhood and walked in the front door, signing my name in on the roster. I saw him sleeping in a large recliner by the front door.

He is so skinny now, looked almost like a prisoner from the camps or a Biafran. A shadow of his formerly robust and stout visage. The filipino aide said what he mostly does now is sleep. I put my hand on his knee and shook it, I hope gently. "Dad."

He looked at me with a blank look. Shela had warned me that it was getting worse and worse and that he rarely recognized her or anyone else. The attendant helped him up into his walker and led us to the dining room where I fed him cheese, apples and crackers. I had stopped at the store and bought him a diet coke and he downed the tall bottle in a second, being obviously very thirsty. Maybe he is forgetting to drink enough in his diminished mental state?

I have a routine I run through when I see my father. Even though his mind doesn't click properly anymore, I go through a mnemonic checklist, mentioning all of his children's names and  a few random past events of his life. I speak in both english and hebrew, his first language, to him. My father speaks three languages, his father spoke eight fluently. I am vainly searching, against all odds, for a cognitive trigger, something to open the neural puzzle box that so deftly ensnares this man, my father.

Yesterday nothing clicked. I asked him if he knew who I was and he said no. The aide tried to coax him to remember me, calling him Buddy. "Come on Buddy, who is it? Do you know who this is? That's what I call him, Buddy," he explained to me, a somewhat ignominious moniker for an accomplished man like my dad now near the final chapter of life's journey. But a man who obviously has little cognition or sense of identity at this point.

I sat for an hour quietly feeding him, talking in an idle monologue to him, honestly just happy to be in his presence. My dad did a lot for me, not a perfect man by any means but who is? Truth to tell we share a lot of the same good and bad character traits. His temper might have been a little worse but he had to fight and claw for everything and it hardens a man. It is a cliché to say he is now childlike in his innocence but he is today, completely dependent but very loving in a way.

It was finally time to go. I had a six or seven hour drive in front of me with traffic. But who knows if I will ever see him again, when will the last light finally flicker out on his life? I bent down and kissed him on the top of his scarred head and then lightly on the lips. "Goodbye dad."

He looked at me in the eye in a sudden synaptic flash of light and said the three words that left me not so silently sobbing.

"Thank you, son."


Max Hall said...

In June 2005 my brother Jon and I visited our mother at the long term care facility that she was in, in San Francisco. Carolyn Hall was in the final stages of glioblastoma. She'd been diagnosed with it two and a half years earlier. When we came into her room the nurse explained that she was semi-comatose, mostly appearing to be asleep. We sat in her room quietly conversing without any response from mom for about an hour. Finally we decided to get some dinner and check on her in the morning. Both of us approached her bed, one on each side. As my brother and I simultaneously leaned down to hug her, she put one arm around each of us. Her eyes still closed as the tumor had blinded her by this point, she softly whispered "My babies!". Being able to have that connection with her one more time meant so much. She never regained consciousness after that and passed away two days later with us at her bedside. Almost ten years later and that one moment still means so much to me, that everytime I think about it the emotions come right back. Thanks for sharing about your dad Robert. I wish that I could have met him.

Sanoguy said...

Wow! Powerful ending, very powerful!

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

Brought me to tears. I'm sure he'd love what you wrote about him. Hope you get a chance to rest and recover a bit.

Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to you, Robert. I'm glad you have been able to see your parents recently. From your description it sounds like you and your father share a lot of common interests, I'm glad you could share a moment in time together as well.

- Dave in Japan

Anonymous said...

Thank you , in the same slowly sinking boat with my mom. Hard.
Deli guy

Anonymous said...

Hey bro...REALLY glad for you that you both got to make the connection!

As I am sure many others will tell you..."Your MOST powerful piece of writing ever!"

Small blessings are often the most powerful. I think I am in the midst of one of my own, but will wait a while to confirm a bit better before sharing!