Monday, November 11, 2019

Veterans Day - A View From Home

Dad's home of 60+ years sold earlier this year.  Last fall he made the decision to go into assisted living. He swore he would live out his days in his big old house, but he needed 24 hour looking after and with ice and winter storms his nurse's aids couldn't always make it safely to his home and at one point he just said: "I'm ready." He did NOT want to live with family, he wanted his own space.  I get that.  So my cousin Liz did some checking around and found him a really nice assisted living place.  It's very new and not in the town I grew up in, but it's a short drive away, so his friends can still visit and it's only an hour away from where Liz's partner Keith's family lives so they can visit often after they helped him move in.

Still, it was really hard seeing everything from the home that's been "home" to me for 60 years, leave, to be sold or donated to charity so the funds could pay for the care I'd been providing since my brother died in 2014. When I saw that the last of the house's contents were gone, I could only stand silently, as something like the wind, chill and solitary, blew through me.  So many memories within those walls.  Dad took it better than I did, I think, feeling at first a bit miscast but then accepting his new surroundings as a safe shelter.  He has grown to love his new place with a view of the woods, and someone there all the time if he needs help. He has made friends with other Veterans, and they spend many an hour sitting out in the garden area exchanging stories and bad jokes, their rapport not like that of siblings, but as people who had breathed and endured wartime, the internal scars of which they all still bore with honor.

I visited him just a few weeks ago, and one of the drives we made was down the street of the old house.  It looked to be occupied by a family, there were a couple of kids bikes out front and new flowers had been planted and the trim around the windows had been repainted. Dad was happy to see it went to someone who would care for it as he did with the laughter of children within those walls no longer only an echo.
On Veterans Day today, I thought back to one last flight before the house was sold when an Honor Flight Group was at the airport as I arrived.   How wonderful to see the crowds of people who stood up and clapped as these brave Veterans were wheeled past, and the line of officers that shook their hands and thanked them for their service. I had brought a tiny little point and shoot out on this trip and got one discreet picture, even as a tear ran down my cheek.

Good people honor their Veterans as we are taught to honor our parents. Dad bought his house 10 years after his service in WWII when he left the military for good.  He did everything he could to make sure we lived in a safe world, even before we were born. That is why my "vacations" the last 30 years have been back and forth to Dad's house to care for him and my stepmom when she had Alzheimer's and later just my Dad. My big brother, a retired Navy Submariner who worked for Electric Boat, made sure the house stayed in good condition, with both of us making sure there was enough money in his bank account to handle its upkeep (you can't see it from this angle but my brother and I got him one of those recliners that lifted him up to a standing position). I handled cooking and cleaning, canning and freezing, so meals when I was gone, were easy. Clothes were mended and the gutters were cleaned. After my stepmom died and Dad was recuperating from a minor stroke, my brother moved in with Dad so we didn't have to pay for in-home care, which he was needing more of.

When my brother died I realized just how much he had been doing for my Dad that was now up to me so more frequent trips were made and nursing care was arranged so Dad could stay in his home as long as he wanted to.
When I came home that last time before the house sold, he did something that my brother always did for me, leave a couple of balloons tied to one of my stuffed animals (yes, they were still in my room) on the bed.

My bedroom looked just the same as when I was a teen, with the rainbows painted when I was 14 out of the horrid colored 70's leftover paint (I do NOT want to remember which room the aqua one was, but I remember the awful salmon color as my childhood bedroom paint scheme).  The rest of the house had been repainted prior to sale, my room, being the last to be "updated". I think my Dad knew that seeing those rainbows painted over, as tacky as they were, would break my heart.
Being in that house that last day brought back so many memories. The houses on our block were all were erected in the 50's, sprawling across what used to be farm fields, rich soil that lay at the foothills of the mountains, small squares of cedar and brick, laying in the shadows of tall unaxed trees and the log train that serenaded a little girl to sleep.
The neighborhood back then was different than the dynamics of a neighborhood now.  Families moved in and didn't move out. There weren't foreclosures popping up every few houses, and kids tended to live in the same home from the time they came home from the hospital until they went off to the lumber mills or college. It was a small mill town, most of the kids ended up there, drawn by the lure of a log mill wage at 18 that seemed like a fortune until you saw the brutal tax on your bones and your spirit after 40 years of it. Only a few of us made our way out beyond those snow-capped mountains.

We knew all of our neighbors, the other Mom's home during the day, welcoming in the noise and the occasional dirty footprint onto the linoleum.  We knew which Mom made the best chocolate chip cookie, and which one would be as stern a taskmaster as our own Mom when it came to playing quietly in the house.  (Look it's NOT a hallway, it's a Hot Wheels racetrack and I needed 6 extra kids as a pit crew).

The town's only grocery was across a two-lane 50 mph roadway that leads to the mountains. We were NOT allowed across it on our bikes on our own, even if there was a four-way traffic light at the intersection with the grocery and the gas station. There was no even THINKING of breaking that rule. We knew the consequences of being reckless, and it was not a slap on the wrist or a taxpayer-funded 'stimulus'. Outside of that, there were all kinds of places to roam, and in the summertime, we were pretty much outdoors from breakfast to supper, no helmets, no sunscreen if we could help it, no hand sanitizer, no shin guards.
We'd ride up and down the block, usually playing Man From Uncle (I always got to be Ilya Kuryakin whom I'm sure started out his Secret Agent stuff, as I did, with training wheels).  We'd play soldier and spy or cowboys and Indians in our back yard where Dad and my favorite Uncle, an engineer, built a cool A-frame playhouse for me.  I could usually squirrel away some of the Hostess products from the kitchen, inside its structure for the Indians to run raids on. I was ready, I had my cereal box Colt six-shooter and a BUS (back-up slingshot).

But, like the examples of our parents, and the lessons of TV, which did not yet involve drugs and spandex, we were careful with our weapons, even if they were plastic.   Besides, should those rules be broken, we knew who the Sheriff in town was, and it was Mom, even if she gave up her actual Deputy Sheriff badge and an 18 year career in Law Enforcement, when they adopted both of us.

Those were glorious days.  We'd drink from the hose or come in for KoolAid, and a hug, soda pop being something not in a budget of a single income family, reserved for a treat while on vacation to my Aunt and Uncle's ranch. We'd count marbles, candy money, and coup, and we'd roam as far as we could without crossing that highway.
Many of the houses had fences, many did not, but there was an alleyway of grass that ran behind our house where we could run covert missions into a neighbor's place. The ones without kids were off-limits, we were taught to respect others' property, but we did raid one retired couple's little decorative pond at the back corner of their place for the occasional frog which we'd use to scare some sissy kid, and then return it safely. (Seriously, if I ever give you a shoebox with holes in it with a big bow on top, don't open it).

On Saturdays, the cars came out to be washed and sometimes waxed. I could earn spending money for candy by washing the station wagon for Dad and gladly did so, learning early the correlation between labor and putting food on the table. Our Dads would mow, and our Moms would get groceries and bake cookies for the week.
In the late afternoon, Dad would curl up with some sports on TV for a couple of hours, his only break in a long week of work and family. Mom would go to her needlework or crafts while the neighborhood kids continued to play those glorious summer games that were relegated to single days off during the school year for us. For Sunday was a day of worship, of rest, reading, board games and music, not raids on a local fort or trying to blow something up in the garage.

Now, so much of the area has changed  I see houses down the street where there's no money to repair a roof, moss taking over, plants growing in the gutter, but there's a new fishing boat or a Hummer in the driveway of the very modest home. On others, there are bars on the front doors of the homes we'd run up to ring the doorbell on Halloween, without any adult in trail.
I love my Dad, as I think we all do our parents, even when we don't see eye to eye with them, both sides occasionally causing hurt even to someone they love dearly. Such is human nature.  But I also admire him even as I tease him a little that he has a picture of Ronald Reagan riding a horse on his desk.
So I did all I could to keep some continuity in his life as long as I could. Having buried two wives and two children, a daughter they lost in their late 20's and my brother, Dad needed that sense of stability, even if the martini making duties have been inherited by my husband.
The very last look at the house - it was completely empty, nothing at all left, but walls that held within them so much.

The span of that empty space is as wide as our grief.
As I left the house that last time, I looked up to the Heavens and told my brother told him I loved him, went to the car, climbed in and started the engine and gave my Dad a hug there as he waited for me. You can't NOT take the opportunity for a hug.  For it might well be the last one. Dad and I are not related by blood but we are, by a life lived, commitment honored and memories made. He touched my cheek, with work-weary, dry, thin hands, an old man's fingers, yet still, his hands, my Daddy's hands, touching my rosy cheek where the strength of his blood still flows within me, will flow, even after his long journey back to his reward.
I looked at the house as I left it that last time, my family pictures now adorning the walls of Dad's new place.  All of those memories seemed to condense in it, as if the house alone were the source of them, shining from it from that big picture window, glimpsed just for a second as my rental car pulls away, like that 10 point whitetail you see the split second after he sees you, when he's already gone, even as you yearn for him to return.


  1. Hari OM
    I am so glad you dad has found his feet in the new situation - my sister and I are battling a bit with our father being adamant he doesn't want to leave his home... so we continue to share the care and hope he one day does as your dad did, and accept the inevitable.

    It is true, to honour those who have fallen and those who continue to serve, honours us. YAM xx

    1. Thank you. I'm so glad he made the decision himself. I still remember the "take the car keys away" incident, and didn't want to force him to move before he was ready.

  2. One thing we did do for him was put out birdfeeders outside his window. I had seed and suet sent directly to him from and bought him a book to identify different wild birds and he spends hours a day watching them and noting which birds in the book show up. The maintenance guy refills it if my cousin hasn't been by lately (Dad tips him, but is appreciate of the care).

  3. What a marvelous post! The love and commitment you have for your father is so much stronger than can be found in many families today. As we make our journey through life our values and memories are anchored in the love, and shared experiences of our family.In families like yours, where those ties are strong and enduring, they clearly lead to to a brighter and happier life. And I honor your father for a life well lived.

    1. Thank you Dave - my Dad and Mom adopted me when they were already middle aged, with another toddler in need of a home. We were blessed.

  4. Beautifully sad and sweet. Where is my Kleenex?

  5. I have been through the same. It is hard seeing your parent's house go to another. I am sure our dad is going to be happier there and will have people who will help him. God bless.

    1. I know there was a part of Dad that wanted me to live there, but the money was needed for his care and there was no work for either my husband and I within a 3 hour commute each way. I'm glad it went to a family that will cherish their own memories there.

  6. What a beautiful tribute to your dad, your house, and your childhood. <3

    1. Thank you Andrea. Did was a career military police officer.

  7. No doubt your patience and love provided the necessary nudge fo your dad to make the decision to begin a new chapter. My own parents in their late 80's have resisted selling their own home, wanting to stay in the place they literally built years ago complete with all the memories of a lifetime of 70 years of marriage within the walls. I only home they come to the same practical conclusion. Blessings on you and your family for their military service.

    1. It's tough and I'm glad he made that call. His 24 hour care had pretty much wiped out my retirement account (though I didn't tell him that). I'm glad I don't have to work until I"m 80 and even happier that HE is happy where he is now.

  8. I am happy to hear your dad is doing well in his new place. Thank him for his service from me.


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