On Saturday night I left work very late – during Finals at Rice University the library stays open extra hours on the weekend. Crossing the parking lot, I noted winter stars shining, the temperature dropping like a rock, a slightly eerie yellow quarter moon low in the west, and a north wind whipping across the pavement of the Stadium parking lot. I happened to be on the cusp of a dry cold front.
So many cars were gone for the holidays that the wind had few obstructions in the expanse of asphalt. The wind picked up sand in bursts that peppered the sole pedestrian (me) in a kind of sand storm. Heavier particles visibly slithered just over the asphalt. With the deserted emptiness of the lot, the lowering moon, the cold wind, and most of all several tendrils of sand slithering directly toward me, I felt a twinge of superstitious alarm. I made a beeline for my car and never felt more grateful for the trusty machine providing shelter, a responsive engine starting up and familiar dashboard lights coming on. Whew. …
Interesting special effect, that night-blowing sand, how it looked almost alive if not enchanted. I can use it in a novel!
Seen on the signboard outside an Ace Hardware store on the north end of Houston:
GLASS and KEYS CUT
FERTILIZER * MULCH
TACO STAND FOR SALE
Here is a quote I comprehend intensely. It’s from an article in yesterday’s New York Times on line about South Korea’s rapidly growing elderly population and explosion of Alzheimer’s cases. South Korea has the Confucian tradition of respect and lifelong care for one’s elders called filial piety, but experience is showing that dementia in the elderly erodes filial piety. Here’s the quote, from a social welfare director named Kwak Young-soon: “There’s a saying that even the most filial son or daughter will not be filial if they look after a parent for more than three years.” It’s true. A parent with Alzheimers becomes contrary, illogical, difficult, frustrating, paranoid, heart-breaking and/or crazy-making enough to exhaust the filial piety of almost any adult child.
In the United States, sons tend to go into denial – insisting it’s not really so bad. When that fails, sons tend to go AWOL. Daughters tend to become the designated care-givers and then willingly or not they undergo terrible stress and strain. I saw very early on how crazy, mad, and bad my mother’s Azheimers made me feel when she was still living in her own home and I went to visit her and try to take care of her and the house. This is not a good idea doesn’t begin to cover it. Assisted Living was the only way to go. It turned out extremely well for me and for her as well. If you can afford it and find a good place (those can be big ifs) Assisted Living is a blessed port in the storm of Alzheimers.
This was underscored in a talk given a couple of weeks ago at my mom’s Assisted Living facility, the Gardens at Cavalry in Columbus, Georgia. The speaker was a geriatric psychiatrist from Atlanta, Dr. Larry Tune. He told the intent audience of adult children and caregivers that one of the only ways to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s is a structured and highly social environment. Assisted Living and day care work really well. An adult child quitting her job to take care of Mom or Dad at home may not work so well. It turned out that one woman in the audience was in exactly that position. Dr. Tune radiated concern for her situation. A lady stood up to announce that she was with the county agency on aging and wanted everyone in general, and the caregiver daughter in particular, to know about the agency resources for Alzheimers people and their families. We want you to know that you’re not alone, the lady emphasized.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to see an elder with Alzheimers to a good end of life. This Thanksgiving of 2010, I’m thankful that my mother has that.
I’m in Georgia looking after my Mom, who is 88, with Alzheimers and in a wheelchair in Assisted living. But she can still laugh. Meanwhile, I’m having rather a good time. I ate a moon pie. (This Southern delicacy has its own Web site.) I borrowed my cousins’ Cadillac to drive over to Troy, Alabama to visit family and pay my respects at my grandmother’s grave. I’ve enjoyed walking around the lake near my cousins’ home. The other day it was a cool, bright late afternoon, and on the sun-struck water across the lake I saw three small white triangles which had to be either the sails of toy sailboats, or (which they actually were) the white fluffy sterns of three gray geese!
This trip I’ve pondered my family history on my mother’s side. There is bad (the locus of which was my grandfather) and there is good (centered on my grandmother.) If I had to pronounce a verdict, it wouldn’t be “good” or “bad” but both – in spades. I don’t think the lives in this family are unique in that regard. Wars and politics, ill will and personal problems can make any times the worst of times. But one way or another it doesn’t last forever. Social progress and personal fulfillment can make any times the best of times – although good things don’t always last either. We need to be vigilant to protect and increase the good. There’s a great quote from the Rev. Peter Gomes – I think it was in his superb book about the Bible, The Good Book: “Virtue cannot be a hobby when evil is working overtime.”
Because many brave people worked overtime in virtue, the South changed in my lifetime. The best and most important change is civil rights. Social injustice still plagues black people, but it’s not the poisonous abscess on society that it once was. Meanwhile women gained rights, options, and freedom to leave bad marriages. And abusive, wayward husbands have a lot less cover than was the case in my grandmother’s day. These are all good changes, not that they’re inscribed in some eternal stone of progress – if history teaches one thing it’s that all all good developments need guarding. But great good can happen in the personal, social, and even political spheres. In the end, I think my own times, my grandmother’s times, and most times in history are both blessed and cursed, both best and worst.
I just had an unusually well-timed emergency. My mother, in Assisted Living in Georgia, took a fall and injured her leg, after which they put her in a wheelchair since she was unable to safely walk. As it happened I already had airline reservations to fly to Georgia this week. So I was with Mom at the doctor, who thought it may be a hairline fracture. The doctor took X-rays and prescribed Ibuprofen and physical therapy. The doctor also took her off sleeping pills. Since sleeping pills can make a person groggy and prone to falls, I’m all for that. Mom got mixed up when the nurse’s aide explained why there was one less pill last night. Mom took it to be no more Namenda – the Alzheimer’s drug. I checked up on it for her. Lunesta is the pill that has correctly been dropped out of the pill cup. In the meantime, the physical therapist is teaching Mom how to use a walker, which will be safer than walking unaided, and far better than her being stuck in a wheelchair.
Mom is feeling better and more like herself – her Alzheimer’s self, which is chronically forgetful and vague and sometimes paranoid but, fortunately, still appreciative of the natural world. The dining hall at the Gardens at Calvary has big windows with views of a creek watershed out back, pines and deciduous trees in fall colors, and yesterday at lunch Mom looked out and recited an old scrap of poetry or song: “The world is so full of beautiful things that we all should be happy as kings.”* Today she told me that she is very fond of the potted flowers on her porch and waters them all along. They are artificial flowers but it’s the thought that counts.
It’s not like all is well again or can be. She’s almost 89 years old with Alzheimer’s and an injured hip. But she’s in a good, caring facility – thank God she can afford that on her teacher’s pension and Social Security – and she’s not in pain. Maybe what she feels about her situation is similar to what I feel and think: that all is good enough for now. Tomorrow will bring what it brings. And so will the day after.
*Wikiquotes says that a version of this is by Robert Louis Stevenson’s in A Child’s Garden of Verses.
Overdue at the Rice University library: three books borrowed by the same individual, with fines totalling $87 as of today, the titles of the books being Judgments, Decisions and Public Policy; Problem Solving, Decision Making and Professional Judgment; and last but not least ironic, Judgment Misguided.
So it’s the morn of All Saints’ Day, and the weekend’s revelers are laying low – goblins and scarecrows and evil spirits (if any) banished by the holy day’s dawn; and hung-over Halloween party-goers are creeping away into the Monday workaday world.
I’m not big on wild parties. For something special to do yesterday I went with a church group on the Port of Houston tour. The tour is a two-hour ride on a comfortable boat down the Ship channel, past anchored freighters, container ships, tankers and huge Navy ro-ro (roll-on-roll-off) cargo ships, all the way to where the Washburn auto tunnel invisibly runs under the Channel. The boat then proceeds back again. On both sides to the Channel you can see all kinds of facilities – docks, granaries, a Coast Guard station, recycling-handling sites, refineries, a restaurant on its own little island, and warehouses. There are big storage tanks for liquids not specified in the port tour, possibly because if ignited they’d blow sky high. The Port is security-conscious. Cameras were not permitted on the tour. We had to get listed as being tour participants, our names were checked against the list, and drivers’ licenses were matched with faces. The Port Authority doesn’t want any nasty tricks perpetrated on its premises. But the Port tour is a real treat.
Not being a party animal, I don’t haunt Halloween parties, but I hear from a friend that the Rice-Medical Center-Museum District part of Houston has a rather distinctive Halloween party culture. People in costume can and do drop in where there’s a party going full tilt even if they have no idea who the party hosts are – and vice versa. Sounds like you could get a horror story or (may God forbid) a true-crime tale out of such a situation, but the incident my friend told me about was charmingly harmless. My friend related how her landlords, Dan and Jan, threw a big party and offered a prize for best costume. The prize went to a young man who had a fabulous werewolf get-up. Dan thought he was one of Jan’s co-workers and Jan assumed Dan was somehow acquainted with him. It turned out nobody knew him!
It’s wedding season – the most predictably pleasant and dry time of the year in Houston. This was a really fun one at the 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby airport. The historic terminal building stands near the current tower (which can be seen through the window in the first photo.) The happy couple are both members of the Soaring Club of Houston as well as being a power pilot (him) and a helicopter pilot (her.) Their guest register was a piece of aircraft wing adorned with a singerly appropriate bit of custom art, which was ingenious and, for pilots in attendance, singularly charming.
So I did some cat-sitting, and the feline, Abby, has this ritual: water the Lucky Bamboo and she jumps up to lap the water on the stones in the pot, purring. This works for the Lucky Bamboo (technically it’s a member of the lily family – Dracaena sanderiana) since it likes its feet wet.
It’s usually not good to have the local news helicopter circling one’s neighborhood, near enough to photograph from the balcony of one’s own home. It might mean a fire, a bank robbery in progress, or a car that ran into the bayou.
I never did find out what this one was so interested in, but I was glad when it flew away in search of a sky-eye view of mayhem elsewhere.