Sun, Sun, Sun, Here It Comes

Little darling
It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter
Little darling
It feels like years that it’s been here

2015-03-29 16.58.42

I’m celebrating and commemorating my little darling’s epoch-making 95th winter almost ending and 95th spring almost beginning with two exclamation points!!

I thought about doing it with ninety-five exclamation points, but that would be a little over the top. So, I’ll just silently count ninety-five of them, point by point, as they prance and dance around in my head.

This has been one mighty long, cold winter and mom, as usual, has been a mighty warrior standing up to Old Man W.

Mom may have had the sniffles a time or two, but she never missed a day at Circle Center Adult Day Care. She has traveled by wheel chair from her home to her waiting chariot, to Circle Center and back in rain, sleet, snow, wind, and cold, cold, cold!

Did I mention cold?

She never complained, never hid under the covers, never did anything but get bundled up and go like a windup toy. How many of you can hold a hand up and count yourself as one with mom?

Mom is tough stuff. Even with a father who started his career in medicine as a horse and buggy doctor, she never took advantage of it. She never got sick.

Do I hear an exclamation?

Exclamation!

Amen!

Little darling
The smiles returning to the faces
Little darling
It seems like years since it’s been here

I smile every time I’m with my ninety-five year old little darling, because she always smiles at me first. And, when she smiles, I smile. It’s as simple as that. It can be cold as ice or hotter than hell … I know I’ll get a smile out of her, guaranteed!

For the rest of the us, spring will be heating our lips up enough to have smiles returning to our faces, but for mom, that patented smile of hers never left.

That’s ninety-five, unstoppable, smile filled years … yep, you guessed it … !

For mom being a smiling mom through thick and thin, I brought her a handpicked daffodil.

2015-03-29 15.24.38

Little darling
I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling
It seems like years since it’s been clear

No matter how promising it sounds when the Beatles sing their song, Here Comes the Sun, ice slowly melting is not nearly fast enough for me.

Today, I had to bundle up and replace a dripping outdoor water spigot (funny word) at mom’s. It was making unwanted icicles, and and adding unwanted expenses to the water bill. How cold was it? So cold that I was one of only a handful of people who braved the cold to be in a Walmart … that’s how cold (time for another exclamation)!

Two days ago, Melissa and I were hiking in the Blue Ridge mountains, experiencing spring springing up on one side of the mountain, the same time it was snowing on the other. Even the wildlife looked confused.

Tom Spring Springing Melissa Spring Springing Spring Springing Tom Melissa Snow Mountains

Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun
And, I say, it’s all right

Mom is still aware of the seasons. In the winter she points to trees and calls them naked. It the spring and summer, she knows they turned over a new leaf. She likes to have the window cracked just a bit when she is in the car. She loves the feel of the warm breeze.

Having spent the majority of my life in the Sunshine State of Florida, I love the sun. In fact, it was one winter, after a long career in Richmond, that was the straw that broke one frozen camel’s back and sent me packing back to Florida for seventeen years before coming full circle back to Richmond to care for my mom and sister.

Call me crazy, but I’ll take light over dark any day. And, I’ll take warm over cold the same way. The only places I really love ice are in my tea, my cocktails and when it’s cooling off a cooler full of beer.

So, again I look up to the lady who has been shorter than me for most of my life, that little stick of dynamite, my mom. My little darling, mom, is a mom for all seasons, but as for me, I’m a sunshiner!

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes

And, I say, it’s all right, it’s all right, it’s all right!!!

 

 

Mom, Old Man Winter & Me

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Mom, Old Man Winter & Me

As you can see from this picture taken a couple of days ago, after another Arctic blast dropped temps to the mid-teens, my mom is a champ!

Even with all the ice, sleet, hail, wind and cold Old Man Winter has thrown our way, mom has never missed a day at Circle Center Adult Day Services (except the days they’ve had to wave the white flag)!

And, like she taught my sister and me, she has never complained … not one little bit.

In full disclosure, I have missed a few snow days this season myself. It’s been pretty brutal.

Since I don’t believe Old Man Winter knows who he’s up against, I am sharing my open letter to him as a bit of a Winter Warning.

Old Man Winter,

Counting this one, my mom has faced off with you for 95 seasons that have shared your signature.

As you can see by her smile, you haven’t frozen her out of competing head to head with you yet … and you never will.

In fact, both of us laugh in your face!

You hear what I say, Old Man?

We laugh in your face!

Between Spring, mom and me, we will kick your ice!

Enough is enough,

Tom & Mom

First in Flight

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Who knew rag dolls could fly?

Mom’s most perfect of pitches (that had me in stitches) is picture proof that she launched Madeline, the very first rag doll ever, into space!

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Mom’s Short Glory Story

Me:

Mom, who is Jesus?

Mom:

Jesus was a little boy.

His dad was God.

God told Jesus, “Always do the right thing. And, after you do the right thing, do it over and over again, but even better.”

That’s it.

Me:

That’s it!

 

Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You

mom bites blog picMY MOM BITES.

And, she throws a mean left hook. Oh, and while I’m at it, I might as well share the bark part. She barks out words I never, ever heard her say in my entire life (my worst fear is that she may have picked them up from me).

There, I’ve said it … my mom is my little stick of dynamite and should come equipped with a warning sign.

I’ve been told it’s the disease. I have been told it is a primal place she goes when she feels threatened, agitated or confused. I have even been told she has a mean streak. Dementia, old age, constipation, the next stage, whatever … warning, warning, warning.

Now, before you go back and reread all of my blogs and say they were a cover up, or made up, or not on the up and up, please know they are all true. But, so are the things I am describing in this blog.

Mom in a Blanket

Shhh! Let sleeping moms lie.

Most of the time mom is indeed a joyful person. Most of the time she is cooperative and appreciative of those of us who are lending her a hand. Most of the time she lulls you into believing it’s going to be all of the time, but it’s not … and the change, more often than not, occurs without warning.

People who care for my mom love her.

People who care for my mom are wary of her (remember that mean left hook).

And, I am by no means the only one experiencing all of the above. I have friends who I met in the Circle Center Adult Day Care support group who are also primary caregivers for a loved one, At times, my friends look more challenged than who they’re caring for.

No one I have ever known looks forward to waking up in the morning (or middle of the night) to be bitten, hit, or barked at … especially by someone you love.

And yet, when caregivers share their stories with each other, they/we always express that we feel guilty for the way we feel. Or, feeling it must be something we’re doing (or not doing) to provoke the behaviors we’re on the receiving end of.

So, we just take it.

TOM’S WARNING: Caregiving is not for the weak of heart. You must be damn tall to ride this ride.

WHAT IT TAKES.

It takes courage.

It takes willpower.

It takes conviction.

It takes love.

And, if you are not careful, it takes you out.

Word to the wise: TAKE CARE!

Never forget, caregiving is a give and take proposition.

The problem is, we give so much, we forget the mission critical importance of the take part.

Caring for yourself and letting others care for you are the keys to your sustainability.

This is not a sprint … it is not even a marathon … it is a run for your life!

TAKE CARE!

Take time outs.

Take time for yourself.

Take memories.

Take a cry.

Take a laugh.

Take hugs.

Take a hot bubble bath … make a that a double.

Take help from yourself.

Take help from others.

Take care whenever and wherever you can get it and never feel guilty or unworthy.

Take guilt and the feeling of unworthiness and throw them away.

Take pride in what you are accomplishing and applaud the courage it often takes to meet the ever changing, always rearranging needs of your loved one.

Take whatever it takes to protect your individuality and your right to make a life for yourself.

Never forget … caregiving is a give and take proposition. If you do forget, it will come back to bite you.

For every give you give, make sure you take a take.

We’ve all heard the familiar mantra of the airline flight attendants during their pre-flight instructions, “…make sure to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before attempting to help someone else put on theirs.”

The question is, are you are listening?

Make this your mantra!

TAKE CARE!

Serenity Prayer

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and (the) wisdom to know the difference.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mom’s & Mad Dog’s Light Years Apart Holiday Tours of RIchmond

Christmas Memories by Candlelight

“You’re supposed to keep Christmas in your heart all year… for me, the worst part about Christmas being over is taking down the pretty lights. – My daughter, Tovi Laughon Heffron’s response after I asked if blogging about Christmas after Christmas was a good idea.

Part One: Mom’s Holiday Tour of Richmond

Funny, when I think back on my “growing up days” and the family tradition of coming to Richmond, Virginia for Christmas, whether it was from Front Royal, Virginia; Norfolk, Virginia; Orangeburg, South Carolina or Gainesville, Florida, it was the high point of the year for me. It was magical. It was mystical. It was Richmond, Virginia.

It was a candlelight holiday that could warm the coldest of hearts, bringing comfort and joy to everyone who immersed themselves in it.

Our Christmas trips to Richmond were always by car and always with the four of us, Mom, Dad, my sister Nel and me, and always sharing limited space with our suitcases stuffed full, garment bags, presents for all, and delicious goodies … lots of delicious goodies. Where was a rack on top when we needed one?

When we arrived, we always repeated the same rituals and routine. There was a rhythm and rhyme … Nel and I would have it no other way. In fact, no matter how far we had to drive, we talked the entire time about what we wanted to do after we passed the “Welcome to Richmond” sign.  And, with little variation, it was the same things, mapped out the same way, year after year, after year. And, we loved it!

We would always enter the city, just southeast of downtown, take a slight detour to drive a well traveled loop on Church Hill and park in front of St. Johns Church where Patrick Henry delivered his “give me liberty or give me death” speech and where Edgar Allen Poe’s mother was buried.

Church Hill was mom’s cue to take on her “official Richmond tour guide” role and tell us (one more time) all about the importance of Richmond and Virginia and help us focus on the important things we needed to know (translation had to know) in order to be strong American citizens.

After mom’s passionate and inspirational tour kickoff, we drove down the Hill to Tobacco Row where we were reminded about how important tobacco was to Virginia and tobacco manufacturing was to Richmond and what they produced was to the WORLD! It seemed like all the brands in the land were made right here! I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to light up a cigarette made in Virginia and tell all of my friends! Then, I would acknowledge their positive reaction with a  perfectly symmetrical shaped smoke ring!

The next stop was the historic state capitol where we were quizzed on who designed it (hint … our third President who my oldest grandson and I share our name with).

We were reminded that the first, largest and most prosperous of the British colonies in America was (no surprise … starts with a V).

Furthermore, Virginia was home to four of the first five presidents of the United States — eight in all, more than any other state. Who could deny that this was indeed the true center of the universe and that anything and everything  of any importance came from here … the birthplace of the United States of America. What else could you do at this moment other than salute and sing a quick round of God Bless America? We sang it in four part harmony.

How could you not put two and two together and realize, that because we were a family from Virginia (that had roots dating back to the original colonists), we were important, too?

Mom stated it was for certain. Dad would smile and give a positive nod.

To Nel and me, all of this, though important and our ticket to becoming strong American citizens, was merely a grand refresher slowing down our progress  to get to where we really wanted to go … Miller and Rhodes and Thalhimers … the two amazing downtown department stores with even more amazing holiday window displays. Those displays totally captured our attention and imagination. We pressed our noses against every window no matter how cold …  even when it was snowing). Themes would change each year, but one I remember was Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Life-sized mannequins dressed to the nines would electronically come to life and perform just for us, accompanied by music, narration, and twinkling lights. Each window would portray a different scene and we could stay as long as we wanted and we wanted to stay forever!

Vintage Holiday Window Display

Every year, Mom would tell us that everything we were witnessing behind those grand display windows came from New York City! That declaration made the experience even more spectacular, more magical, and, yes … more important. This being said, we knew that if you were from New York, you were still a Yankee! But, even so, we had to give those Yankees credit for making incredible department store Christmas window displays.

We would ultimately be gently nudged back to the car (even though Nel and I never wanted to leave) to wind our way from downtown toward the West End. We knew we were heading for Monument Avenue, where Nel and I would be tested on who the statues memorializing Virginian Confederate participants of the Civil War were. We were ready! We passed with flying colors every time. How could we not … we were whispered the answers when we were in the womb.

The Christmas lights in Richmond were different from anywhere else in the world we were told, and we took that as FACT. To our knowledge, there were no multicolor lights in the entire city (except Miller & Rhodes and Thalhimers, and they came from New York City). All the other towns and cities we lived in had lots of multicolor lights, but we never had them in any of our homes, no way! We were always true to our birthplace, Richmond … and folks from Richmond were somehow above that … the city and its homes were all adorned with candles that illuminated every window. These candles were a tradition that dated back to colonial times. Yes, we knew that our new improved candles were plugged in, but this improvement was accepted. Less upkeep and fewer house fires!

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. Nothing in this sacred carol suggested multicolor lights… nothing! Case rest.

Whether you were decorating inside or outside your home in Richmond, only real, fresh cut evergreens, holly, magnolia, cedar and pine adorned with cones, fruit, and berries were acceptable. Fake replicas, plastic or other materials were taboo … forbidden in the old Capital City of the South (which would have been the Capital City of the United States of America had we pulled off winning the War Between the States as planned … damn Yankees).

We knew our Holiday Tour of Richmond was coming to an end when we began to drive west down Grove Avenue parallel to the trolley tracks (first trolleys in the United States of America I’ll have you know).  And, where they dead-ended, we would only pause for a minute or two for Nel and I to shout, that’s Pa Pa’s office! The small plaque next the entrance door on the front porch simply read, Dr. B. H. Martin, MD.

I would always shout out, “Are we going to go and get Pa Pa give us a physical?”.

“Not me … Pa Pa is too rough,” Nel said tearing up. “Mom, please, no, please!”

“Scaredy cat, scaredy cat, scaredy cat! Meow!” I shot back not more than a few blocks from Pa Pa’s (a name that was more special and important than a mere grandfather)!

No one said anything else, we all knew we would be stopping by Pa Pa’s office … physical exam was part of every trip to Richmond. A few blocks later, we were turning right on Three Chopt Road … and there it was … the end point of our destination.

To Nel and me, Pa Pa’s home looked like Downton Abby.  And, he was indeed the king of his castle … the Wizard of Oz … and the only real Pa Pa in the universe (if there were others, they had to be pretenders). His peers, subjects and patients called him Dr. Martin (including my dad).

Only the grandkids could call mom’s dad Pa Pa. Nel and I were the oldest, and therefore the most important of the chosen few. He was our Pa Pa first. We may have named him … on second thought, I take that back … since I was the first born of the chosen few … I named him. That’s right … I named the King, Pa Pa. Yep, all by myself. Had to be me … he was already Pa Pa when Nel came along … case closed!

As we walked toward the door of Pa Pa’s castle lugging luggage, presents and goodies, we saw the white candle lights in all the windows  and on the big front door hung a giant reef of real, fresh cut evergreens, holly and magnolia. And garlands of cedar and pine adorned with cones, fruit, and berries hung above every window facing the street. It was beautiful. It was Richmond. It was Pa Pa’s. This was his kingdom and Nel and I were the chosen ones, so it was our kingdom and castle, too.

The door would open to our excited knocks and there he was, standing at attention, and tall enough to touch the sky. His white hair could easily have been mistaken for a cloud … our very own Pa Pa.

I repeat: It was a candlelight holiday that could warm the coldest of hearts, bringing comfort and joy to everyone who immersed themselves in it.

It was Mom’s Holiday Tour, and we never went off the beaten path. There was a wonder filled rhythm and rhyme to it and it and

Part Two: Mad Dog’s Holiday Tour of Richmond

All of this sets the stage for an event that occurred decades later and was conjured up by a handlebar mustache enhanced guy I have crossed paths a couple of times named Barry Gottlieb …  Barry “Mad Dog” Gottlieb.

Mad Dog and Frank Hudak

“Mad Dog” concocted a scheme that was light years away from traditional candles, fresh cut evergreens, holly and magnolia. Garlands of cedar and pine adorned with cones, fruit, and berries weren’t the only way to celebrate the season. Barry was out to stir things up, more than just a little bit. He wanted to broaden and brighten Richmonders’ horizons.

Bottom line … Barry wanted to shake it up and party down!

He said, “There’s a big part of Richmond that’s always been conservative. And they liked their pretty little white lights and their plaid bows. I think these people were a little offended by it. But of course they all got in their cars and went to check out these houses.”

Barry named his choice collection of homes, whose inhabitants  took his challenge as an opportunity to plug in and strut their stuff, the Tacky Xmas Decoration Contest and Grand Highly Illuminated House Tour. With the flick of a switch, fake was in. Real was passé. Tacky was the new normal.

2300 Wistar - Frank Hudak

Started in 1986, this blur of multicolored lights and illuminated Santas quickly grew into a monster.  Dr. Frankenstein has nothing on us. And, although the name has been shortened to the Tacky Lights Tour, the lines cars and tour buses filled with fun loving humans waiting there turn to marvel just get longer and longer every year.

It’s freewheeling, free, open to the public and open to the wildest imaginations of those who accept the challenge of doing whatever it takes to be noticed and admired.

Looking back on it, Barry could have been just saying we needed to just lighten up a bit,  be more inclusive and accepting of other ways to celebrate the holidays … all lights, decorations and traditions could and should live together!

Then again, he was Barry “Mad Dog” Gottlieb … maybe he just want to stir the pot and party!

Tacky Lights Tour

To me, it’s Miller & Rhodes and Thalhimers Christmas display windows on steroids!

One of this year’s featured homes had 90,000 lights! Virginia Power loves them! Another had 792 homemade decorations … count them and you’ll know it’s true. Still another used an 80 foot forklift to hang their lights in giant trees …. all the way to the top.

I can’t wait until drones, pimped up in tacky lights, start darting around high above the homes on tour and then swoop down to our cars to serve up complimentary hot chocolate in twinkling cups. Now, that’s tacky deliciousness at its best (that is if the hot chocolate in twinkling cups is topped with a gooey glob of glow in-the-dark marshmallows).

Tacky House Tour Monument Avenue

The mansions of historic Monument Avenue are not tacky. Not in the least. Here is picture proof of the Tacky Lights Tour’s acceptance and success. It’s a small display, but a stand out never-the-less! It is what I call, “The New Improved Highly Illuminated Monument on Monument Avenue!” General Lee and Traveler would have to surrender again to this new, improved, outrageously tacky way to travel. Sorry, but it makes the other monuments pale in comparison.

“The New Improved Highly Illuminated Monument on Monument Avenue!”, chosen by the public as one of this year’s Tacky Lights Tour Top Five would have been considered heresy … a sacrilege … a crime punishable by public hanging when Nel and I were kids in the candlelit Kingdom of Richmond … real, fresh cut decorations and white candles everywhere.

Part Three: Daddy Daddy (Kind of like Pa Pa, but me) & Melissa’s Put It All In A Blender Holiday RVA Tour

At Christmas, my two daughters, son-in-laws, and six grand kids follow the old family tradition of visiting us for our version of the Richmond Tour. Parts of it are still the same … the history,  sharing of cherished traditions, importance of family and good times! They pile into cars just like we did. They drive from Wilmington, NC, a right good drive, just like we did. They come bearing gifts, luggage and goodies just like we did.

They love mom, just like we did . We all celebrated her birthday … she’s a Christmas baby! This year was her 95th. Her home was built in 1796. She is not the tour guide she once was, but she still brightens up at the mention of Richmond, and can still sing a proud rendition of God Bless America. And, yes, she had candles in every window.

Our home is right next door to mom’s. We have white candles in every window, too. But we also have plenty of twinkling multicolored lights in just about every room inside! We’ve put the past, present and hopefully the future in a blender!

You can blow out those candles of bygone times all you want (and I am right there with you), but you can’t take away the glow generated in me by those Christmas memories accented by pure candlepower.

Check out http://www.richmond.com/holiday/tacky-lights/

After thought: I wonder if Barry, “Mad Dog” Gottlieb was a Yankee?

What Are The Odds?

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. Thomas Aquinas

Mom, Me and Cake

I must admit, I was down to the wire when it came to writing and posting my last blog for 2014. I knew I wanted to commemorate mom’s 95th birthday which was on Christmas day, and yet I really didn’t have a concept in mind. The only thing I had going on in my head was the image of Father Time trying to hand off his duties to a mere child. I had to work fast!

TICK TICK TICK was reverberating throughout my entire body. How could anyone write a blog with this much pressure and racket going on?

TICK TICK TICK.

TICK TICK TICK.

My goal … beat Father Time before he beats me and the kid takes over. Stop that damn TICK TICK TICK any way I could became my battle cry. So, I came up with what was a bit of a cop out. It would be down and dirty and hopefully somewhat engaging.

I took mom’s age … added it to mine … subtracted the total from 2014 … and came up with the year 1848. Then, I googled “what happened in the USA in 1848″.

The TICK TICK TICK provided the back-beat as I quickly read Wikipedia’s answers.

Before I share, don’t tune out until you read the last one.

TICK: Discovery of gold prompted the California Gold Rush

TICK: Construction began on the Washington Monument

TICK: Gas lights were installed in the US Capital

TICK: Wisconsin was admitted as the 30th U.S. state

TICK: Zachary Taylor was elected President of the United States

TICK: John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States from 1825 till 1829 (born 1767), passed away

TICK: The Shaker song Simple Gifts was written by Joseph Brackett in Alfred, Maine

STOP THE CLOCK!

This last entry wouldn’t even connect with most people, but to me, it meant everything.

What are the odds? The very first blog I wrote on May 22nd, 2011 was titled “A Gift to Be Simple” and featured the lyrics from Simple Gifts.

What are the odds? My mom’s and sister’s favorite song was Simple Gifts. They learned it while cutting silhouettes of Shakers (past and present) in Shaker Village, Pleasant Hill Kentucky. They sang the song all the time … it was not only their favorite song, it was their mantra.

What are the odds? On July 30th, 2011, I wrote another blog titled “By Turning, Turning We Come Round Right” … part of the lyrics to, you guessed it, Simple Gifts.

It featured a video of my mom, sister and me singing Simple Gifts. It is one of my greatest treasures, because my sister passed away of Alzheimer’s at only 64 years old in April of 2011.

What are the odds? This was the last video ever taken of my sister.

What started out as a desperate and arbitrary attempt to beat Father Time at his own game had me weeping.

Without warning, time went into rewind mode.

It was Christmas day. Mom was on the receiving end of her cake. It featured two candles … the numbers 9 and 5.  Mom’s 93rd birthday was the last for individual candles … after that year’s experience, we felt any more candles would be a fire hazard, especially in her house that was built in 1796.

What are the odds? Mom has lived to be 95! But, if you ask her, she’ll say she is six, ten or twenty-two.

What are the odds that mom’s two granddaughters (my daughters), her two son-in-laws, six great grandchildren and my wife and I would all be here … on her actual birthday to celebrate with her?

2014-12-26 13.34.52

Happy birthday, Mom!

Fast forward … Happy New Year, everybody!

 

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