Saturday, April 8, 2017

When Your Dad has Alzheimer's . . .

You watch him deteriorate with a mixture of sadness and frustration. But there is also fear. It's a fear that permeates every bone of your body, and after he's gone, that fear slips to the background, rearing its head now and then. A forgotten name, a missed appointment, lost car keys . . . that's normal, right? But as you age, you count the years between you and that deadline, the one in which you surmise it all began for him   . . . but nobody is really sure when exactly it did begin. After he passes away at the age of 79, mom tells you it was a 20-year disease. He hid it from us all, she says. And I understand this now. Yes, he probably did.

It was very hard for mom to watch him slip into oblivion. She brought him back to Long Island from their home in Florida, hoping to remain, but instead, it turned into a short visit. During that time, dad was hospitalized for a fall he'd taken at my brother's house. By then, he'd already lost most of his ability to communicate. He was often confused and agitated. It was my turn to stay overnight with him at the hospital. When I got there to relieve my sister-in-law, his wrists were tied to the bed to keep him in it. Her face was ashen and she said, "The nurse did it." I took some small scissors from my purse and cut the ties. His hands were free. I quickly reached into my bag and pulled out a salami sandwich. I unwrapped it and put it in his hand. He smiled and began to eat.

But he refused to stay in bed. He got up and walked around and I walked with him, and the nursing staff gently tried to suggest he shouldn't be walking around. I wish I knew the name of that one nurse who came up to us as we shuffled along the corridor. It was way after midnight and she said, "he likes to walk, doesn't he? Okay, then let's walk." And she took his other arm and began to sing, I was walking in the park one day. . .  And dad began to sing along with her. He seemed happy for a few minutes. But the usual agitation soon returned. I think he just wanted to go home . . . wherever that was. He began hitting and yelling and I tried to talk to him. "Please, dad."

But this wasn't really dad. It just looked like him.

With the help of a nurse, I got him into bed. He was angry. I was exhausted. The bedroom light was off. It was semi-dark. I started to sob as quietly as I could. Suddenly, dad's fidgeting stopped and he said with a perfect clarity, "Linda?" I held my breath for a moment and then managed a reply. "Yeah?"

"Are you okay?" he asked me as we both sat in the dark.

"Yes." I reached out and took his hand and then he was gone again. But he was there for a few seconds and he understood the pain I was in and he had tried to help. And that's the part that haunts me. How much of him was there when we thought he was gone? How much did he understand?

At that time, I was working as a speech pathologist. After I finished my teaching day, I'd visit home-bound patients. Without making a conscious decision, I found that the cases I'd take were those in which the patient could not communicate. I couldn't help dad, but maybe I could help someone else's father .  .  .

Among the Zinnias is a book in which I took my experience with my father and some of the situations I have found while working with adults with head injuries and funneled them into a story. With fiction, you have the power to change the world . . .  or at least your little piece of it.

Below is an excerpt from Among the Zinnias:

Cries of hunger rang out as the sea gulls circled the docked fishing boats in the harbor, lamenting the empty nets. Pastore di Capre sat on the chair that Giovanna had dragged from the kitchen to the hallway and placed outside the bathroom. She had originally pushed the chair next to the bathroom washbasin because she knew she needed as little distance as possible from the water in the sink to Pastore di Capre’s stubble on his chin. But then she wasn't able to navigate around the chair so she slid it into the hallway.
          The shaving soap was sitting on the bathroom counter, the sink full of water, the razor poised and ready beside the shaving soap. Giovanna looked at Pastore di Capre’s profile as he sat quietly in the chair, his hands in his lap. She should have done this before she’d helped him dress. If she dripped too much soap or water on the front of his shirt, he might catch cold. But the desire to have him look presentable, to try once more to shave his six-day-old white stubble and have him back as the clean-shaven, well-dressed man she knew—might actually have him looking worse if she dropped water and soap on him and then had to abandon the project before it was finished.
          Giovanna squeezed past the chair and went to the kitchen, grabbed a clean dishtowel and made her way back to Pastore di Capre in the hallway. She lifted his chin and began tucking the towel into the front of his shirt. It was something Pastore di Capre had done hundreds of times with a napkin so he felt the towel at his chin and gently pushed Giovanna’s hands away. Then he continued tucking the edges of the towel into the front of his shirt but he was worried about the table—the dining table—it wasn't in front of him when he took his fingers from his neck and went to lay them on the table. His hands fell to his lap and he smoothed them along his pant legs from the thigh to the knee several times.
           Giovanna stood for a moment and listened to the broken church bells ringing.
           She took a deep breath and said quietly, “Let’s get to it, then.”
          “Let’s,” Pastore di Capre smiled and met her eyes and he was there briefly, just long enough to give her hope.
          Giovanna stood in the doorway of the bathroom and reached for the shaving soap. She poured some in her hand and brought it to Pastore di Capre’s chin. Pastore opened his mouth like a baby bird waiting to be fed.
          Giovanna put her other hand under his chin and pushed his mouth closed.
          “Close your mouth, Pastore.”
          His teeth clinked together and his jaw became rigid. Then as Giovanna began to rub the soap onto his face, Pastore di Capre’s jaw began to move up and down as if he were chewing.
          “We’re shaving, Pastore. Shaving.” She reached into the bathroom and picked up the razor. She held it up for him to see. “Shaving. You see? Shaving.” But her hand would not stay steady. She felt small tremors running from her shoulder to her wrist and the razor felt as though it were made of iron.
          Pastore di Capre stopped chewing and reached for the razor. Giovanna pulled it from his reach and tilted his head back by placing one finger under his chin and her thumb at the side.
          “I’ll do it. Just keep your head up.”
          Her voice prompted him to look at her and she wasn't able to get a wrinkle-free stretch of neck. She was afraid she’d cut him. Maybe he could still do it himself. She took his hand and opened it. When Pastore di Capre felt the razor handle he closed his fingers around it and opened his mouth.
          “No!” Giovanna grabbed his wrist, “Close your mouth. You’re shaving.” She put one of her hands over his mouth and with the other began to navigate his hand with the razor to his cheek. But her hand was too weak. How was it that he was getting stronger and she weaker?
          Pastore di Capre had never in his life shaved while sitting in a chair with a napkin tucked into his shirt. He was more confused than ever. He saw the narrow hallway walls and knew he neither ate nor shaved in such a place. He tasted the soap and knew it belonged in the bathroom and the hand that was at his lips was trying to silence him.
          An enemy.
          Giovanna felt the teeth open before she realized what was happening and then they clamped down on her little finger like a wolf with a goat. And the hand with the razor came up and slashed at her face.

          The pitch and volume of her screams were sufficient to get him to open his mouth, as well as to bring Maria running through the front door within seconds. She was dressed in her Sunday dress, a black scarf tied under her chin but when she saw Giovanna’s eyebrow and the bridge of her nose, Maria quickly pulled the scarf off and held it to the side of Giovanna’s bloody face. . .

Independent authors often have quite a challenge in getting exposure for their work. I hope, dear reader, you will consider writing a review on Amazon or

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What's in a name?

The Greeks and Italians share a common custom of confusion. It's in the naming of their first-born sons. When the parents of a first-born son follow tradition, that child gets his paternal grandfather's name which means when an extended family gets together for an event, it results in several cousins with the same name, and a scene such as that in the clip above from, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

In both cultures, the results are some interesting nicknames to distinguish who is who. For example, Grandpa Anthony might have a fifty-something-year-old grandson, Little Anthony, and a thirty-something-year-old GREAT-grandson, Baby Anthony. The nicknames are created to distinguish one from another but somehow once created, become as permanent as cement. In a situation where cousins and extended family have several Anthonys, the nicknames can become quite creative and are often very telling of one's personality or physical features. And sometimes that nickname just comes up because of a momentary situation that never again presents itself but leaves the recipient with that unusual label, thereby changing his identity for eternity. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mom's Marijuana

Mom had six kids. Yeah, okay, so did dad . . . but it was the 1960s & 70s in suburbia America. The U.S. may have been in the midst of women's marches and cries of equal rights, but mom and dad were still children of the 1930s which meant mom was in charge of the kids and dad was in charge of bringing home the bacon . . . for quite a while, anyway.

Some of those six kids, or maybe all of them, were influenced by the marijuana of that time. And one in particular, or maybe several, thought it would be an interesting experiment to try and grow her own plant. However, if one were to start growing a plant in her bedroom closet, there would be a moment in time when she would need to transplant that creation to a healthier environment. Luckily mom also had a garden.

The garden was on the only sunny side of the house and could be seen from the front sidewalk. Mom noticed the tall healthy plant as it grew taller than her tomatoes and she watered it faithfully and weeded around it, waiting to see what type of fruit its purple flowers would yield. That is, until Mr. A. from down the street walked by one evening and stopped to talk to mom as she stood in the middle of her garden watering her plants. Mr. A. was a New York City detective and very knowledgable about many subjects.

A few of us kids were at the kitchen window as we watched the plant ripped from the ground in one full swoop and sail over the fence into a wooded area.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Age of Wisdom?

When exactly is that age of wisdom, I'd like to know. We 1950s children were supposed to be "seen and not heard." Our elders knew best. And yet now that we've reached that frontier, we are no longer the valued wise.

Who needs elders when there is Google?

We are a generation of in-betweens. Sandwiched between young people who cannot grasp the idea of having an agreed-upon meeting place in case they get separated while shopping in the mall, and older people who annoyingly refuse to learn to text. It seems an odd place to be, and yet I wouldn't trade this newer age of technology for any age of wisdom . . . if that were to be the trade off.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Among the Zinnias

It's here! 

Among the Zinnias is now in ebook and paperback!



Independent authors often have quite a challenge in getting exposure for their work. I hope, dear reader, you will consider writing a review on Amazon or 

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Hoarder

I saw this post in The Facebook group, A Good Greek Read and I thought the book title looked familiar, Inside Hitler's Greece.

Sure enough, I found the book among many others in my basement, where books seem to accumulate.

Copyrighted in 1993, I remember someone in my family reading it, so with the prompt from Facebook and the fact that I had the hardcover in my hand, I decided to read it.

It's not a light easy read by any means, but it is an interesting one, especially when considering my father-in-law, Tomas, was among the resistance fighters who fought against the Germans and was very much privy to the wide spread starvation that occurred as a result of the German occupation.

As I read the book, memories of Tomas emerged. Both the Germans and Italians occupied Greece during the second World War. Tomas told me some stories about the Italians, which at the time, I thought were just his way of being nice to me, his Italian-American daughter-in-law. But I've just read similar accounts in this book.

According to Tomas, the Italian soldiers were mostly kind-hearted and tried to help the Greek civilians. He told of Italian soldiers giving their food rations to the children of the village and then catching turtles to boil and eat, instead. The children would aid the soldiers in catching the turtles, knowing they'd get the soldiers' food in return.

The Italian government also did as much as they could to supply some food to the starving Greeks. This was in contrast to the German government and soldiers who took what they could and shipped much of the Greek food supply back to Germany to feed that hungry population. Thus, especially in the cities, the Greek civilian population dwindled rapidly under these dire conditions.

Another memory of Tomas and his war stories is about two men who had come to the countryside from Athens in search of food.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Blanket of Snow

Photo credit: taken from Facebook Group, Parga Paradise, posted February 8, 2017 by Lloyd Gowland who credited the original post of Rosario Grazioso.

A small sprinkling of snow, like the shake of a snow globe can create a scene of beauty and is a tolerable situation.

An even coating, perhaps a few centimeters, is a bit of a nuisance but barely disrupts the flow of life.

A heavy blanket, however, one that stops traffic, closes businesses and blocks the television satellite programing is respite from the unruly spin of daily routine. I for one, welcome it. (Retirees, this is not meant for you, and stop telling me how great your life is).