Some Fiction

Some fiction, but not enough.  This was a piece I wrote almost 20 years ago when I was caring for my parents.  Loosely based on our experience.


“Where did he go now?” I asked my niece, Sheila.

“I think he’s out on the porch,” she replied, not looking up from folding laundry.

“Will he be okay, can he get down that step?”

“Yeah, he takes it very carefully.”

“I hope he doesn’t go out in the street.”

“No, he usually plays in the driveway.”

“Huh?” Did she say my father was playing in the driveway?

“Who are you talking about?”

“Jack.” Her 18-month-old son.

“I meant your grandfather.” My 83-year-old father.

A quick glance at each other and we began to laugh, as we headed to the porch to check on our two charges. Jack played with his red dump truck in the driveway while Dad sat on the porch taking in as much as his failing eyes and ears could.

This was Dad’s last trip to Minneapolis. It was August in the Midwest, and just as in his childhood: hot, humid with mosquitoes and thunderstorms. In our four days there we caught up on each other’s lives. Dad held his only great-grandchild. His granddaughter Sheila saw how Dad coped with his infirmities. And I watched Sheila as a mother, a new role for her.

After that first exchange, we tried to be specific so we would know who we were talking about, but often we forgot. “Has he had a nap? You know he’s cranky without one.” Jack or Dad? “He sure makes a mess when he eats.” We would look at each other and often get the giggles. Maybe this was cruel, but Dad couldn’t see or hear us and Jack never thought we were laughing at him. We were laughing at our situations. Mine, the incongruity of the black-sheep, youngest child of the family now in the position of caretaker for my elderly parents. Sheila’s, the shift of a successful 32-year-old CPA now caring for an intelligent toddler. Her rational world of finances had disappeared in the hormonal irrationality of pregnancy and motherhood. Survival here demanded a sense of humor.

A year later Sheila and I still marvel at the similarities in our lives. At one point last week I was sinking in the sadness of sewing name tags onto Dad’s clothing so he could go to a nursing home. I called Sheila for support. She had just put names in Jack’s clothes so he could go to nursery school. Nursing home, nursery school. Closer than I had imagined.

Dad is not going to get better. There is no cure for his macular degeneration, hearing loss, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. The disabilities have taken over his life. Jack, however, gets better all the time. Nearly three now, he has passed Dad in abilities, moving, speaking, thinking and growing. Those days of us mixing up Dad and Jack are gone.

Sign of the Geese

Someone dumped three geese at the slough.  They must have thought it was a good place.  There had been rains and the creek was flowing – a small stream of fresh water in a brackish mudflat.  Would there be enough fresh water and how could they get food?  One disappeared quickly.  The other two stayed within a hundred yards or so of the road.

People left food for them almost every day.  A couple of farm workers left reject vegetables.  A family with two small girls left bread.  Several times folks put grain out for them  For two months they were a familiar sight.  But the rains stopped.  The fresh water was now a trickle.  And one day they were gone.  I missed them and worried about their fate.

A few days later a small, handwritten sign was stapled to a stake.  “The geese are OK.  They have moved to a house with a pond.”

Abandoned animals point out the best and the worst in people.  Worst in the ones who dump and best in those who rescue.  Thank you for rescuing the geese and thanks for the sign.

[Written years ago after an incident at Elkhorn Slough near Watsonville, California.]

I Miss My Xterra

Xterra at Salt River Canyon, Arizona.

I can’t believe how emotional I was about my car.  It was a 2001 Nissan Xterra – the first new car I ever bought.  I’d always had to buy used cars before that.  My brother’s advice:  if you keep a car for 15 years, buy new.  Good idea.

I put over 237,000 miles on it – freeways to off-road trips in the desert.  It never let me down.  After 16 years though, more and more things had to be replaced and we finally hit the tipping point.  Time to get a new car.  Shock: they no longer make Xterras.

The Xterra in Monticello Box – the creek is the road.



After some research I chose a Honda CR-V last November.  It’s nice, but it’s not the Xterra.

I was surprised how difficult it was to let the Xterra go.  Friends have assured me this is not unusual.  Still.  Taking it to my mechanic to sell for me, I could barely speak.  It felt as if I was taking an old, loved dog to the pound after getting a new puppy.

I’m enjoying the CR-V – it’s more fuel efficient and more comfortable, but I still look longingly at Xterras on the road.

The new kid.