February 11, 2019 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Dementia and my father. 

Not long after my father turned 80, he developed symptoms of dementia. “Vascular dementia,” we were told, “nothing can be done.” After struggling at home alone for a year or so, he was given room in a small residence on Vancouver Island that specializes in care for early-stage Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. He was there for six years until he deteriorated past the stage at which they could care for him. I moved him to Langley in 2017.

Sitting across from him at the Cedar Hill Center where he now resides, Mel Young remains my dad on the outside. A face that sometimes seems younger than his eighty-nine years is topped by a shock of wavy white hair that is usually brushed. He shaves every day. He insists on a buttoned shirt and he dislikes the “hip-saver” padded sweat pants that the facility staff want him to wear, preferring khakis. At first glance, he looks good for his age and retains the urge to maintain his outward appearance. He still smiles and cares. He asks how things are at home or inquires about my ex-wife, even though I’ve lived alone for over 6 years.

Despite his ability to maintain a social veneer when I’m there, I know that he often gets lost in the facility, becomes angry and frustrated with the staff over little things, butts heads with his room-mates, feels abandoned by his family, and is generally confused. He needs a walker to get around but his primary disability is in his brain. His short-term memory is sixty seconds or less and his mid- and long-term memories are fading. He remembers me but some days it takes him a long moment and a hard stare to recall my name, even though I see him every couple of days.

I feel guilty admitting that visits are a chore because we can’t talk about the news or our shared past experiences. Mentioning family either draws blank stares, because he doesn’t remember my kids or grandchildren or sadness and disbelief when he “learns” that my mother died twenty-five years ago and he wonders why no one told him that he is the last of his brothers and sisters left alive. My method of coping with long silences punctuated by repetitive questions is to suggest a game of crib at nearly every visit.

When I was 12 or 13 my father agreed to teach me the game of cribbage. I pestered him to let me join in after watching him for years with his friends. As the eldest of four sons, I often preferred to hang out with Dad and the adults rather than my younger brothers. The game and their chatter fascinated me. I’m not sure when Dad learned the game but I know he spent hours in front of a crib board in his 20’s and 30’s on the hydrographic survey ship, William J. Stewart, in the Forest Service road construction camps, and on the Forest Service landing craft he skippered up and down the south coast in the early 1960s.

It is not a simple or straightforward game containing several layers and nuances, from deciding which two cards to throw into the crib (depending on whether the extra hand is yours or the opponents), how to maximize your pegging points, and then how to count the points in your hand. Dad also played “cut-throat” which meant that if I didn’t correctly count all the points in my hand, and he spotted them, they were his. He was an excellent player and it must have been frustrating to teach me both the basics and the tricks, but I eventually caught on to it.

He always agrees to a game but adds, “I haven’t played for years. I’m not sure I remember how.” There are many things that he forgets, like how many cards to deal, the colour of his pegs, and in which direction to move them. After dealing six cards each, I wait a few moments before reminding him to throw two cards into the crib.

“I don’t want to,” he responds with a petulant inflection and a chuckle. He will repeat the joke with every hand and I will be tired of it by the end of the game.

“I know,” is my standard reply, “you never do,” doing my best to play along.

He finally chooses a couple of discards and, after cutting the deck and turning over the top card, we begin to play. He usually remembers that fifteens and pairs score but struggles to recall that each round only goes to 31. Even simple math is becoming difficult for him but we always manage to get through our game with my help and sometimes, if the cards are coming up his way, Dad even wins.

Although he often asks me the same question every time I shuffle (currently it’s How is life treating you, Ron?), having the game makes it easier to be together. I know I should be more patient because none of this is his fault. The game helps me maintain a connection with the man I adored as a child, resented as a teenager, and came to respect as I grew up to became a father and a grandfather. In many ways he was, and is, a better man than I. It’s very hard to watch him regress, one year of his past at a time. He doesn’t remember his marriage or my birth eight months later. The only memories he can muster these days come from his pre-teen years. Soon he’ll be erased. Scrubbed clean of his past, including me.

He tells me to “drive safe,” as I get up to leave – a typical “dad” thing to do. I tell him to ‘stay out of trouble,’ which never fails to elicit a wry laugh. There are many things I don’t understand about dementia and Alzheimer’s. How does he still have the instinct to be my father even though he can’t remember being my father?

And, as always, I walk away wondering if the “dad” persona disappears as soon as I’m out of sight allowing the confusion and frustration of dementia to fill up space where his memories used to be.

Ian Johnston – Farewell

June 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

The exact date I met Ian, and the particulars, are lost in the fog of time like so many memories, but it must have been 25 years ago or so. I have an image of being approached while I am playing tennis with my wife but that may be a false memory. I might just be projecting myself into a scenario that I witnessed many times in the years that followed. Ian would spot someone he didn’t know on another court and introduce himself. It doesn’t really matter how it happened, the point is that we got together on the Walnut Grove tennis courts and a tennis friendship was born.

Ian and I had similar skill levels at that time unlike some of his original partners. His friend Richard, Barry the schoolteacher, and Peter the Brit often made us look foolish. But over time the group grew. Ian was indiscriminate and assembled an interesting cast of characters. There was Young Ian, the hearing-impaired teenager who drove us crazy chasing down every damn ball. Mark, the first galoot, along with Little Ron, who only earned that name because he was, and is, slimmer than me. Harold, who was better on one good leg than many of us are on two. Ted, who Ian loved to tease about being cheap, and Roy and Bryan with his snowshoe-sized racket. Old Raymond, who was just “Raymond” until New Raymond came along. Many more joined in over the years. Some stayed while others came and went. Some were better than us, some weren’t. Some could make a line-call, some struggle with that part of the game. But Ian didn’t care about skill level, language or accent, gender, or nationality. If you could hit a little green ball with a tennis racket, you were “in”. Ian was “inclusive” before it became a cliché.

For years we played in fog, cold, wind, and scorching sun. When the rains came during a match, we kept going until the risk of slipping was too high and “coffee time” was declared. Ian was the “President” of our group before it became a proper organization and was absolutely instrumental in bringing together enough tennis enthusiasts to support an indoor facility in Langley.

There are many things I will remember about Ian, like his desire to win the warm-up, the victory cackle and celebratory strut after hitting a winner, and his supply of corny jokes, the love for his family, but most of all – the joy he found in the game and the friends he made along the way.

Ian, I was one of your early tennis mates and your last doubles partner. I enjoyed the first game, the final set, and every point in between. Thanks for finding me, however it happened. I will think of you every time I play.








Final days.

February 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

We didn’t plan any outdoor activities on Saturday. With our vacation winding down, an Outlet mall was high on Sigrun’s list of things left to do and I had my heart set on visiting Joe’s Real Barbecue in downtown Gilbert. We managed to do both of these things, plus a bit of a walk, before seeing a special New Year’s Eve presentation of a play called Is He Dead?, advertised as a comedy based on a story by Mark Twain, at the Hale Theater in Gilbert.

The shopping was so-so (Sigrun did buy a pair of shoes); the barbecue was very good; the play wasn’t that special (it was more slap-stick farce than the type comedy that I associate with Mark Tawin’s dry wit). The second act salvaged the performance and all-in-all, it was a very nice evening. We returned to the condo and treated ourselves to some treats and drinks to bring in the New Year.

The next day, the rain returned in ernest and we were happy to have planned a visit to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in north Scottsdale. In a nutshell, we loved it but 3 or 4 hours is not enough time to do it justice. They give you a headset and receiver that is activated every time you stand in front of a display. You see a video and hear dialogue and music. The galleries are large and full of instruments from all over the world.

Rastafarian harp in the lobby.

Steinway’s 1836 “kitchen” piano. Made before moving to the U.S. and changing his name.

Beautiful guitar.

A percussion zither.

After leaving the MIM we finished our trip to Arizona with a steak dinner at Wally and Laura’s place in Mesa. Early the next morning (January 2) we caught a cab to the airport and were greeted in Bellingham with Arctic outflow wind and snow. Welcome home.


Hieroglyphic Trail

January 26, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

It was a convoluted drive to the trail-head. Thank goodness for road signs after leaving Hwy 60. We started up the trail marked Hieroglyphic Trail (Petroglyphs). I remarked that it didn’t make sense that it was called “Hieroglyphic” since they were native petroglyphs. Read more

Siphon Draw/Basin

January 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Arizona 2016 

With only three days left and more rain moving in on the weekend, we got ambitious on Friday, planning two hikes. The first one started back in Lost Dutchman Park and penetrated the lower reaches of the Superstition Mountains not far from the Massacre Grounds trail. It’s mostly uphill from the parking lot on a well-marked route for a change. It turned out to be one of the more challenging hikes we’d done but the pay-off if a narrow valley carved out of solid rock by eons of rushing water into the shape of a bowl. Read more

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