Driveway camping: an Alzheimer’s memory

Today I’m offering a memory from my unpublished memoir about our years dealing with Fred’s Alzheimer’s disease and other problems. This took place when he was still at home. Although his memory was fading, he had blessed moments of clarity. Tomorrow would have been our 36th wedding anniversary.

Our truck was the same as this, only blue. We gave it away after Fred stopped driving.

On a sunny August afternoon, I crawled into the shell on the back of our old Mazda pickup. In 12 years, I had never gone in there except to get something, the ridged truck bed bruising my knees. But now, sun-cooked and pooped from washing the new car, I opened the hatch, scooted toward the cab and lay back.

I had never noticed that the inside of the canopy was silver. I had also never noticed there were screened windows I could open for air. All this time I’d been thinking that someday, after Fred’s Alzheimer’s took him away, I would buy a nicer truck and camper like my parents used to have. This canopy was just the cover Fred had bought to protect the supplies he carried around for his tax preparation business.

Now I realized I already had a camper. It wasn’t fancy, but I could lie all the way down in it, and I could even sit up. Add an ice chest and a guitar and off I’d go.

Fred came out.

“I’m camping,” I said. Looking out at the coastal forest in which we lived, I announced that I might stay there indefinitely. I could bring my phone and laptop into the camper and put a big sign on the side of the truck: Writer on the Road. I felt like a kid who had found a special hiding place.

Fred sat on the tailgate. We talked about the truck, about how we had never camped together. We talked about how my friend Sherri and I used to sit on the tailgate of her father’s station wagon talking for hours and how I spent most of my free time at her house because we had too many rules at mine. Fred said they had no rules at his house. They could do anything they wanted.

We talked about my upcoming business trips, Fred’s need for care, the frustrations of Medicaid, what we might do in the future, and how I would live without his income. He got teary. “It’s not fair to you,” he said. “Just get rid of me.”

I placed my tanned hand on top of his white one. “No. It sucks, but I made a promise to take care of you, and I’ll stick to it.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t have discussed finances with Fred. But he seemed to want to know in this unusually lucid moment. So I told him everything I knew, including my resolve to stay away from government funding as long as possible. He said he was worried about my future “when I’m not there.” So was I. But we had to take it one step at a time. And right now, I was having fun camping in our driveway. Perhaps I had gone completely insane. If so, it was fun.

My brother and I camped with our parents when we were kids. We all slept in a 13-foot Shasta trailer at first, with one of us kids suspended in the canvas bunk over the double bed and the other in a sleeping bag on the slippery bench seat in the dining area. In later years, Mike and I moved into the camper on my folks’ pickup. It was nicer than this, padded and paneled, with beds, cupboards and a refrigerator. Fred laughed as I explained that my folks had an intercom so we could talk to them, but when I got to whining about my little brother pestering me, they would shut it off. “Mom, Mike’s—” Click.

I’d sit with my head against the window and my transistor radio against my ear, singing along. In those days, I knew every song and artist on the playlist.

I inhaled the pine-scented air. Good times.

But I never kissed a handsome man in that camper. Now I planted a long, passionate smooch on Fred’s soft lips.

Good times.

Maybe I would keep this rig after all.

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Fred Lick, RIP Seven Years Ago Today

We lost Fred A. Lick, seven years ago today. 5:15 a.m. Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. He was my husband, father to Michael, Ted and Gretchen, friend to all he met. Smart, funny, optimistic, and musical, he changed my life in so many wonderful ways. His death is hitting me especially hard this year. But we were all blessed to have him in our lives for as long as we did. Let’s remember him today. We miss you, Fred.





Loving the music, missing my barbershopper

See that picture? There’s something missing: Fred. My husband sang with the Coastal Aires barbershop chorus for seven years. He had a rich bass voice, and he loved to sing. I have mostly avoided the group’s concerts the last few years because they bring back so many memories. I can still feel Fred resting his hands on my shoulders as I fastened his bow tie. I can hear him practicing his “bum bum bum bum’s.” And, as I watched the chorus yesterday, I could still see Fred standing in the back row to the right of his buddy Roy, the white-bearded guy who looks like Santa Claus.
When Fred got too sick to sing with the Coastal Aires, we still attended their concerts. We’d sit in our favorite back row seats at the Newport Performing Arts Center, and Fred would sing along with every song. Alzheimer’s made it hard for him to deal with sheet music, schedules or knowing where to stand, but it never took away the music.
I’ve been missing my guy a lot lately. My life is good. I know he’s been dead for three years and out of the house for five, but I often think about what it would be like if Fred were here. Sometimes I feel a pain that runs from my chest down to my guts. It will never show up on an x-ray, but it’s there.  For those who have not lost a loved one, God has blessed you. Those who have know that it doesn’t matter how many years pass; you’re still going to miss them.
The concert brought back other memories, too. Joining the men was a women’s group called Women of Note. The eight women do mostly a capella (unaccompanied) harmony. I was an original member when we were called Octet Plus. Now the only remaining original member is the director, Mary Lee Scoville. The current group of women sang so beautifully I wanted to join their fan club and buy their CD. I remember what it was like feeling our voices merging so perfectly that the high, medium and low notes formed a perfect braid of sound that resonated through the building. There’s nothing like human voices singing together.
It was a musical day. I sang with the choir at church, attended the barbershop concert, scooted to our South Beach jam session for two hours of folk, country and whatever, ate a quick dinner and settled in for the Tony Awards on TV. A good day, but I wish Fred had been there to share it. I hope he heard the music from wherever he is. The Coastal Aires sounded great, especially the basses.

S is for . . . Shoes Full of Sand

Long before I wrote a book titled Shoes Full of Sand, I wrote a song by that name. It was inspired by my then-new love for Fred Lick. Our first date took place just before Christmas. Dinner and a movie. Then Fred went to Southern California for two weeks to spend the holidays with his family. After only one date, we were already in love. We agreed to meet in Monterey.

I arrived first. I remember looking for him by the carousel, walking down the steps and seeing him coming toward me. Just like in the movies, we flew into other’s arms. We spent a magical weekend at the beach, where every moment confirmed that we were meant to be together. That was 1984. We were married in May 1985 and lived in San Jose, where Fred finished out his career with the City of San Jose’s recreation department and I worked for several newspapers, ending up as editor of the Saratoga News.

In 1996, we moved to Oregon. We both wanted to live by the beach, and here we could actually afford it. We longed for those shoes full of sand.

Tomorrow is the third anniversary of Fred’s death of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. We never suspected back in 1984 that our lives would take such a turn. As I dig my feet into Oregon’s cool gray sand, I hear “Shoes Full of Sand” playing in my head again. I recorded it for you the other day. Dressed up, arranged the perfect background, repeated it till it was perfect. Unfortunately, that computer is in the shop today with a virus, so I tried it a capella on my phone. Note the dog helping in the lower right.

I’m participating in this month’s A to Z blogging challenge. S stands for “Shoes Full of Sand.” My alphabetical posts are distributed among my various blogs. Here is the schedule:

Christmas Trees Bring Memories

Before I met Fred Lick, I had never gone to a Christmas tree farm. When I was a kid, my father brought a tree home from some lot and we didn’t see it until he was dragging it into the living room and installing it in the old stand with a bit of cursing and pine needles dropping all over the carpet. Dad has never been Mr. Christmas, more like the Grinch, so our decorating sessions were a tad tense, to put it mildly. By the time my brother started throwing tinsel at the tree while I added a few strands at a time and Mom straightened out what we put on, Dad had usually gone off to do something else.

But Fred loved this holiday so much he couldn’t wait to get started. Around Thanksgiving, he made me sit down with the calendar and choose a date for going to get our tree. The earlier the better. In the years when his son Michael lived with us, he joined the tree-chopping crew. We put on our sweaters, heavy coats, gloves and boots and went forth in our Mazda pickup to a distant tree farm in the woods where recorded Christmas music played from an unseen stereo while workers in Santa hats selling wreaths, stands and hot chocolate handed us a long-handled saw and briefed us on the significance of the various labels tied to the trees.

Through rain, mud and/or mushy mushrooms, we went from tree to tree. Too tall, too short, too skinny, bare spot on one side, no, maybe, yes, oh that’s it. What do you think? The three of us would stand there staring at this tree for a few minutes, sighing at its beauty. Then Fred would lower his saw and cut down the tree.  I can still hear the rasp of the saw, smell the sawdust, feel the cold air on my face. As Fred sawed, we held onto the top, immersed in the smell of pine needles, getting sticky sap on our gloves. Then, one of us holding each end and one in the middle, we carried it triumphantly back to the office where the Santa-hatted worker swiftly tied it up in twine or netting and eased it into the truck while one of us, usually me, wrote out a check.

At home, the tree rested in a bucket of water until we were ready to install it in the house. A new slice off the bottom, a long period of trying to get it straight in the stand—why did it always look straight from one side and crooked from the other?—and then we got the boxes of ornaments and Christmas decorations down from the rafters. We turned up the Christmas music, heated up the hot buttered rum (hot chocolate for Michael) and decorated for hours, using colored balls, Santas, wreaths, angels and Christmas stockings that had been in our families for decades or that we had acquired together. Each item had a memory attached.  

 Ah, those were the days. Michael is grown and living in Portland now, and Fred passed away last year. In 2011, my first Christmas alone, I could not bear the thought of decorating for Christmas without Fred. Eventually I put up a small artificial tree and a few decorations, but it wasn’t the same. Too many memories.

This year, it was easier. I put up the artificial tree again, and I hung ornaments on it that make me happy, little guitars and pianos, bears and dogs, ornaments made of sea shells and old earrings, pieces purchased at craft fairs or given to us by friends. I topped the tree with the angel that Fred and I always used. I hung colored lights around the windows, and when I was done, I turned off all the other lights and admired my handiwork. Now as I write, there’s a Santa on my windowsill, a wreath on the bathroom door across the hall, and a clock that plays Christmas carols on the hour in the dining room.

It’s not the same as it used to be, but it’s good and getting better. Merry Christmas to everyone. Please feel free to share your Christmas tree experiences in the comments.

Letting Fred Go

My husband Fred died a year ago today. In 2002, after my mother and mother-in-law both died of cancer within months of each other, I started a ritual for the dead which may sound crazy to some people, but it works for me. Fred and I went to a cliff overlooking Nye Beach and we blew bubbles, watching them float out over the sand toward the ocean. Some popped on the fence or the grass nearby, but others soared until they disappeared into the sky. With these bubbles, we said goodbye. We set our mothers’ spirits free.

When Fred passed away, I couldn’t do that. It was just too hard. But now, maybe I could. As the anniversary approached, I thought about places I could go to blow bubbles. Yaquina Bridge? Yaquina Head, where Fred loved to watch the sea birds? The aquarium? The cemetery?

I didn’t choose any of those.

Yesterday afternoon, a gorgeous sunny day with a light breeze, I felt drawn to our own backyard. Our deck feels like a stage looking out over the vast lawn. Fred was my biggest fan, always out there in the audience clapping harder than anyone. I used to end each performance with “Wind Beneath My Wings,” dedicated to Fred. So I got out my guitar and sang and played some of his favorite songs, including “Wind Beneath My Wings.” I followed it with “Shoes Full of Sand,” a song I wrote for him when we first fell in love. And then, I got out the 99 cent bottle of Mr. Bubble. Those bubbles caught on the breeze, flew up over the house and into the sky as I thanked God for giving me Fred and thanked Fred for everything he had given me. I didn’t say goodbye. I wished him well on his journey and told him I hoped to see him again someday.

In that moment, I realized we were only meant to be together for a while. We walked the same path, but eventually we had to separate, to take our own paths. Before he left, Fred gave me everything I would need to continue on my own. He gave me money, our house, my car, and so many other material things that I would never be able to afford without him. He took me on trips to wonderful places that I might never have seen. But he also gave me the kind of love most people never know. He made me feel special, worthy, and strong. Fred loved life and he didn’t wear himself out worrying about the small stuff. He taught me that.
Fred did not give me children of my own. By the time we met, he had finished that stage of life, but he shared the ones he had with me, just as he shared everything, for as long as he could.

In making me Fred’s caregiver through his long illness, God gave me new wisdom, a kinder heart and an understanding that our time here is temporary.

Let’s drink a glass of red wine—it has to be red, preferably dry—to Fred tonight. Next time we see a rainbow-tinted bubble floating in the air, let’s think of Fred and smile.

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