Category Archives: dementia

By Turning, Turning, It Comes ‘Round Right

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I wrote my first post for this blog, A Gift to be Simple, May 22 of this year in order to begin capturing in writing a strange, new, mysterious, yet wonder filled journey for both my mom, my family and me.

After the death of my dad, Fred, in 2002 and younger sister, Nel on March 28, 2011, mom and I were the last two of the core Laughon family still standing. In addition, my two daughters and their families live in Wilmington, North Carolina.

A little over a year ago, hand in hand with my wife, Melissa, I moved back to Richmond from Tallahassee, Florida, where I had become the poster boy for “Life is Good” for 15 years. The primary reason for the move back was to be able to provide the kind of ever increasing care and attention my mom and sister were requiring.

Our marriage, our business, and our teaching at Florida State University all happened while living in Tallahassee.

Melissa and I were growing a great little management consulting firm, Catch Your Limit, and had lots of flexibility and freedom to create and live a good life/work balance, were adventurous travelers (business and pleasure), avid outdoor enthusiasts, and had a lifestyle and friendships that were of the highest order.

Oh, did I also mention our big, audacious goal was to become the world’s greatest couple!? And, nothing that we couldn’t manage, was stopping us from achieving it. It was within our reach and that was exhilarating.

Then came the Great Change! Even though Melissa and I prided ourselves on the work we’d done guiding organizations through major transformational change challenges as well as helping develop leadership skill sets on leading change, we had no idea what was about to hit us.

The Great Change short, overwhelming list:

  • Putting our home on the market and discovering we would probably get only two-thirds of what it had been worth.
  • It’s still on the market.
  • Having to put an end to one of the most gratifying, rewarding experiences of our lives, teaching (and learning) at Florida State University for ten years. And for a Florida Gator to say he loved that school, is really saying something.
  • Having a disastrous move compliments of United Van Lines. If you want your belongings converted into puzzle pieces, go United!
  • Saying goodbye to a community where we had developed strong roots and a reputation for being entrepreneurial,  trusted advisers, innovative thinkers and most of all leaders and doers.
  • Telling our staff we were leaving them behind knowing we were the primary reason they were with our firm in the first place.
  • None of them came with us and have sense moved on to places as near as Tampa and far away as Seattle.
  • Having to build brand awareness and gain traction for our firm in Richmond in what continues to be a stuttering, fraught with uncertainty, economy.
  • Melissa moving from the only two states she has ever lived in, Georgia and Florida where all of her family and friends are, to a city that is four to five times larger than any she had ever lived in and a long, long way, even as the crow flies, from home.
  • The uncertainties of care giving and the realization that flexibility and freedom comes with a huge price tag not to mention the emotional cost.

Just reading this short list has me hyperventilating and looking for cover or my blankie!

Don’t panic (I am whispering this to you and me)!

This post is all about celebrating that we are:

  • Loving Richmond and the region (Melissa even loves the snow)
  • Way closer to my daughters and grand kids
  • Establishing awareness and gaining traction for our consulting firm and discovering that there is a lot more opportunities for business in our new backyard then we had
  • Learning how to be stronger, better prepared, caregivers
  • Facing tumultuous change with everything we have in us
  • Learning how to lead and deal with change better than ever
  • Finding that there are plenty of teaching opportunities when the time is right
  • Still committed to being the world’s greatest couple
  • In the midst of it all, sticking with the blog

I am really, really proud of us. This journey is not for the faint of heart by any stretch of the imagination!

You have to have heart, courage, faith and the ability/flexibility to change on a dime. You have to have a powerful sense of self as well as a powerful sense of humor. You have to quickly learn from your missteps, failings and mistakes and move fast forward.

To say we have had our share of rough patches is an understatement. We bought an off road jeep as a symbol for just how rough a journey we are own.

I had no idea the scope of this journey or where it would take us, but it is leading Melissa and me to explore places and things we have never experienced before and to see old places and things in a whole new light. It is giving me a glimpse of what I am made of and that is not always a pretty sight. And, it is also giving me a glimpse of who I am hell bent and determined to be and that is a better me.

That part has me more excited and determined to move forward than anything.

The key is to keep going and growing. Giving up is not an option.

Even with the ups and downs, twist and turns age and dementia bring our way, mom and I continue to learn, love and respect each other. And that goes for Melissa, my daughters, the grandkids as well.

No matter how complicated the challenges, the purpose is simple. Try to give back what was given to you, because what goes ’round comes ’round.

I keep hearing my mom and sister singing in the back of my head. ” To turn, turn will be our delight, till by turning, turning we come ’round right.”

It is a gift, that if given unconditionally, forms a circle … the circle of life.

The lyrics to the song, A Gift to Be Simple, featured in my first post, are worth a mouse click to read and reread.

The more I revisit it, the more I believe this old Shaker hymn represents my family’s credo.

But, before you go there, click on this old video Melissa took on Thanksgiving day, 2008.

It features Mom, my sister, Nel and me  singing A Gift to Be Simple. Guess which two know the lyrics by heart and which one needs a little help! That’s been the story of my life!

Singing is what we did as a family from as far back as I can remember. I find comfort in being able to close my eyes and hear my dad’s tenor, mom’s alto, Nel’s soprano and my baritone voices singing in perfect four part harmony. It is how we lived our lives together.

In Nel’s intro to the song, she mentions (many times) Tovi and Lissi. They are my daughters that I mentioned earlier. They grew up in Richmond and even though our home was a couple of miles from my parents and sister’s, the walls between them were nonexistent and the girls basically grew up in two homes that had no boundaries … particularly when it came to love.

Those were harmonious, joyful times.

My parents gave us all a gift to be simple rooted in core values that were all about the joy of giving, loving, learning, creativity and accountability.

And, what we as a family are learning as we look mortality in the face … as we see it, smell it, taste it, hear it and feel it is that it is life. It is part of the wondrous circle.

Keep singing.

Keep turning.

Keep the circle going ’round and ’round.

Keep us in your prayers.

HELP!

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Mom is, has been and always will be, hell bent and determined to do it her way, to follow the strength of her convictions and I pity the fool who stands in her way.

Her role model and father, Dr. Berkley Hancock Martin, was like that, too.

My grandfather would summons me by issuing his usual three word command, “Come here, boy.”  And, believe you me, I would come running.

He would grab me in arms that could hold the universe, lift me high in the air, then bring me back to earth, plop me on his knee and say, “Boy, always look someone right in the eyes. If that person doesn’t look back into yours, forget them … don’t trust them … they aren’t worth it.”

He sounded like what I think God must sound like. Powerful, all knowing and sure.

“Yes sir, PaPa,” I would say … while making sure my eyes were fixed on his. I didn’t even dare blink.

He frightened my younger sister, Nel.

He gave me comfort.

My mother has always had that same strong, assuring voice as her father’s … and it has always brought me comfort, too. The tone was firm, swift and sure, but there is love and admiration in it if you listen well enough … and don’t blink.

High assertive doesn’t come close to describing this trait. Hell bent and determined or damn the torpedoes … full steam ahead, comes closer!

So, like her father, whatever mom thinks is right is right. And you know what, most of the time it really is. She has always been a bold, fearless leader and has lead with passion, courage, inspiration and conviction. She credits her father as to why she is who she is. She refers to him as daddy or Dr. B. H. Martin. She always adds, “He was something. Powerful. The most powerful man on this earth.”

Mom’s mother, Neville, passed away when mom was only six. She left four children, mom being the youngest, to be raised by a very focused, dedicated,  horse and buggy doctor, my grandfather, Dr. B. H. Martin.  He loved his children and was a steady, steadfast provider for them and left them a legacy that still benefits the generations that followed. Dr. Martin also loved his calling and left a legacy of compassion for the rich and poor alike, healing and faith and dedication to his Lord.

We grand kids called him PaPa. Since I was the first, I may have started that. I will surely lay claim to it until someone (and I don’t know who that would be) begs to differ.

Pa Pa didn’t have what you would call soft bedside manners with his patients, children or grand kids for that matter, and he could care less. He was direct, no, blunt. If he thought you were going to die, he would mince no words, he would just say, you are going to die.

Penicillin was his sword and the enemy was disease. He would fight mightily and that demanded his full attention, with no time for emotion or idle git chat. He fought to beat disease, not to win your approval or accolades. And, if you did what he said, more times than not, you would live to see another day.

Mom still says as if it were gospel, “My daddy was the greatest man in the world because he made everyone well.”

As the luck of the draw would have it, we were mom’s dad’s first grandchildren. And, as a result, he would give my sister, Nel, and me his undivided attention. He loved us with all his heart and soul and would parade us around as if we were trophies representing his finest of a long list of accomplishments. After all, if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be on this earth. To him, that was as much a fact as it was his reward.

He didn’t have to tell us he loved us. You could feel it. You would yearn for it. You knew your visits to Richmond would always be extra special because it was PaPa’s kingdom. And Nel and I would be the princess and prince. The power of his hugs. The pride his steady eyes communicated was all we needed to know how totally he cared about us. He was constantly lifting us off the ground, high above his head, into the heavens where we knew he must live and be in charge of.

PaPa was a mighty man, and we knew he loved all of us … and yet, I always knew I was special. I was the first and I was the only one who could look him straight in the eyes and not blink. I knew I was special and it instilled a confidence early on that is at the core of who I am.

Being a doctor, he delivered my sister and me. He assisted in the operating room in both of my hernia operations as a kid. He sewed two finger back on my left hand with a plain old sewing needle and thread after I stuck it in a washing machine wringer just to see if the wringer really worked. It worked all right. And Pa Pa gave me a piece of his mind for being so dumb while putting me back together again.

He loved me passionately. And I know how my mom felt about him, because I felt that way, too. And in so many ways, PaPa was why we, mom and me, turned out to be who we are.

Whenever I face a major challenge, I hear my grandfather say, “Come here, boy”, as he lifts me high into the heavens. “You have got what it takes, boy. Just look ’em in he eye and do what’s right.”

However … there are sometimes this idea of what’s right is just not always right! And … you knew this was coming … bathing and changing clothes at 91 is not mom’s idea of what is right by a long shot.

When the professionals at mom’s day care threw in the towel when it came to bathing mom, I knew that Mr. Clean (my adopted Super Hero personification) had probably met his/my match. But, PaPa kept whispering, well more like roaring like a freight train, “You get your mom fixed up, boy. That’ is your duty. We Martins always dress to reflect who we are. And, tell her to hold her head high and …”

“I know, PaPa, look her straight in the eyes”” I heard myself saying out loud as I looked toward the heavens, not blinking.

But looking my mom straight in the eyes is easier said than done when she has her mind fixed on something. I call it the Martin Way. And when I say it, it comes out sounding like a disease that PaPa could only cure with penicillin.

I wish I could say Mr. Clean swooped down and saved the day, but I did, without even knowing it, what turned out to be the next best thing … I flew alright, but it was out of town!

Melissa and I had a consulting assignment in Orlando so the big face-off between Super Heroes (My mom is the real deal in so many ways and I am just a pretender compared to her) would have to be put on hold.

Now I don’t like excuses, but I made this one sound noble indeed. When a client calls, you come running or in this case flying. In other words, I got out of town while the getting was good!

Somehow the Beatles’ song, HELP!, couldn’t stop playing in my head.

HELP! I need somebody. HELP! Not just anybody. HELP! You know I need someone. HELP!

And, HELP, in all caps, was on the way and it came from both expected and unexpected sources. The expected one came from Tovi, my oldest daughter. She gave me four of the coolest grand kids the world has ever known. That team, plus my youngest daughter Lissi’s oldest daughter, Kenzie (are you following all of this?) decided to take on the dirty work together! (UNEXPECTED)

So, this team lead by Tovi and my grand kids, ages 6 to 13, headed to Richmond under the auspices of staying with mom while Melissa and I were gone, but they had bigger things in mind. The were going to bathe mom, change her clothes and cut her toenails to boot!

Another song is playing in my head as I write this, The Impossible Dream, from Man from La Mancha!

But, you know what, as it turned out, it wasn’t the epic battle as I imagined it would be. It wasn’t even a challenge match or a fight of wills at all!

That was Tovi and the grandkids’ genius. They made it play!

Tovi would ask who wanted their nails clipped and all the kids would laugh and say, “me, me first … do me!” And, one by one, as they sat on mom’s bed with her, they had their fingernails and toenails clipped and you know who wasn’t going to miss out on the fun … mom!

There was so much laughter going on that she missed Thomas’s (great name for my oldest grandson) comment to Tovi. “Mom, Helen has toenails that could go in the Guinness Book of Records!”

Next came hair and clean clothes and … before you knew it … there was one beautiful group of humans, all spic and span and feeling great about themselves. It was a fashion show, a Disney movie, an extravaganza. It was Sound of Music, The King and I and Mary Poppins  all rolled into one. It was fun and they all had a ball!

It’s a great reminder that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down … even for Super Heroes hell bent and determined to do it their way!

The HELP! Team took the fight out of the match up. It was like Tom Sawyer painting the fence! Who wouldn’t want to join in!

So, when I yelled HELP! I didn’t need just anybody. I didn’t need the Clean Helen Team pros at mom’s day care. I didn’t need my Mr. Clean outfit, all I needed was the Joyful Team. And they did it!

It was just what the Doctor ordered … PaPa that is!

They brought joy and good clean fun to the world and mom couldn’t get enough of that wonderful stuff.

And when they looked mom in the eyes, they didn’t even worry about blinking … they just did a lot of winking. And, my mom winked back!

Lessons from Camp Ooga Booga

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Kenzie and Livi, two of my granddaughters,  have been with  Melissa and me in Richmond for almost a week.

We call this visit Camp Ooga Booga and our “campers” and their “counselors” have all had a ball! From a couple of great days canoeing and swimming on the James River to fireworks on Brown’s Island, we have had non-stop fun together.

Have I said how much we love these girls?

Kenzie and Livi have also learned a lot about about being great caregivers for their great grandmother, my mom, Helen.

Here are the five things they have learned and practiced:

  1. Talk s…l…o…w and one at a time.
  2. Look directly at Helen, get close to her and say your name every time.
  3. Play with Helen a lot.
  4. Give Helen lots of love.
  5. Stick with Helen.

The girls have memorized their lessons and have practiced with mom every chance they can get. It has really been fun to watch them in action and see how mom responds. It has been a positive experience for the “campers” as well as for their great grandmother.

That is with one exception.

Kenzie and Livi called a special secret Ooga Booga meeting with Melissa and me to complain that mom doesn’t follow the rules. “Helen doesn’t like to share her puzzles, baby doll and other things she plays with.”

When the girls try to play with them, mom grabs them back, holds them close to her and says, “That’s mine, you can’t have it!”

“Yeah, and she takes our toys, too,” Kenzie adds.

There was heavy duty tension in the air at Camp Oooga Booga!

I asked them what they thought they should do.

They both answered, “Nothing! Nothing we try works,” they said.

Kenzie added, “Helen is bigger than us!”

Then Livi had an idea.

Karate Kids“I know … we should do … Kung Fu!”

Kung Fu?! I didn’t have the heart to tell the Karate Kids that mom is pretty fast on her feet for a 91 year old, but hey, why not give it a shot.

Mom does need to relearn how to share.

Grand Old Flag … Grand Old Mom

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Ever since I can remember, mom has been a major flag waver for her country.

She loves her stars and stripes, as well as any occasion to her fly her reds, whites and blues.

Little bitty flags on tooth pick poles, flags on napkins, place mats, dinnerware, flags could be found in pretty much every room.

Star studded wooden banners, made by my mom, dad and sister, were hung under every window of their home (built in 1796) on the Fourth of July. Their home is a landmark in Richmond, Virginia and the banners are as much a part of the Fourth for passersby as watermelon and  fireworks.

This is mom’s way of letting the world know in no uncertain terms that she loves her United States of America. When she quotes Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty or give me death” speech, she owns it. When she belts out the National Anthem, or America the Beautiful she’ll have you standing at attention and singing along.

The Fourth of July is one of her all time favorite celebrations! She prepares for it just as joyfully and meticulously as she prepares for Christmas (which is also her birthday). It’s a sacred time to reflect on the past, share dreams of the future and commemorate all those who have created, contributed to and defended our nation.

Mom was born a year after World War One ended and was only ten when the Wall Street crash of 1929 signaled the beginning of the Great Depression. She was part of the generation that rebuilt America into a superpower. And, she has lived through the trials, tribulations, triumphs and failures that continue to define America.

For what’s it’s worth, mom believes in us!

She believes in our freedoms, our values and our ability to come together and do whatever it takes to protect and grow them.

Today, she is out there waving the true colors on which America stands and has unwavering faith that they will lead us in the right direction as we march, arm in arm, into the future.

Mom’s Short Takes

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In the world of blogs, there are long posts, short posts and even shorter than short posts.

How short are they?

They are so short that they are hardly posts at all. I call mine Mom’s Short Takes.

Mom’s Short Takes are an ever changing collection of mom’s take on life, precisely as she sees it on any given day or moment.  You’ll find them on the right side bar of the blog.

They are quick reads and you’ll discover they are often worth sharing!

Here’s a Mom’s Short Take from yesterday when I asked how her day at the day care center had been.

She said it was great except for one “terrible thing”.

I asked what that was and she told me about a lady who visited them. The lady was in a wheelchair and had no legs below the knees. Mom said it was so sad … a terrible thing.

I suggested the lady might have had cancer, diabetes or blood clots and had to have her legs amputated. Or, it could have happened as a result of an accident.

Mom shot back mater of factly, “Her husband may have cut them off to keep her from running away.”

It was one of those strange moments when I didn’t quite know what to say or do. I didn’t know whether mom was going for a laugh or was dead serious.

So I just listened and took note.

Stay tuned! There are always more Mom’s Short Takes where this one came from. 

The South Will Rise Again

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On our drive to adult day care (a.k.a. mom’s workplace, where she lends a helping heart and hand to those in need), mom and I sing songs.

And I mean when we sing songs, we sing with the volume turned up to TEN!

I think, even with the windows rolled up, folks in other cars can see ours rocking and rolling and hear us loud enough to clap and sing along.

This is nothing new. As a family, we sang together like this our entire lives. I sang baritone, dad was the tenor, my sister, Nel, was the soprano and mom the alto.

Together, we made a joyful noise.

It made for good times and shorter trips.

With mom and me the only two in the family choir left standing, we have to make up for the missing harmonies with volume, and with that said, we don’t miss a beat!

One of mom’s favorite songs is Dixie. She sings it like she is standing at full attention and saluting.

However, when she gets to the “live and die in Dixie” part she stops us both from singing, looks at me with a worried look on her face and says, “I just don’t like that part!”

That’s my prompt to say, “Mom, what don’t you like about it?”

She says, “I don’t like the … you know … the die part.”

“Well, how about we sing, “live and live in Dixie?” I suggest.

She smiles with one of her patented light-up-the-world smiles and shouts, “You’ve got it! You are so good, so smart. You are my bestest friend in the whole world. You know everything. I love you so much.”

She repeats, “To live and live in Dixie!”

Then we sing it again with that one BIG change. And, you know what? It gives a whole new meaning to an old, old song.

At the end of the song mom raises both arms skyward and says, “I love that song. I love the south. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I love living in the south … it’s called Dixie! To live and live in Dixie.”

It’s comforting to know the South will rise again tomorrow, same time, same place … driving mom to work.

My Side Note:

Mom was born in 1919 and raised in Richmond, Virginia, lived in Front Royal and Norfolk, Virginia before moving to Orangeburg, South Carolina and then Gainesville, Florida before coming full circle back to Richmond in 1970.

So, mom, and all of our family for that matter, have only lived in our beloved South.

There is something about the South that gets in your blood and does wonders for your heart and soul.

Thanks for being with mom and me on our journey. Please share your comments, insights and thoughts.

Oh, and please share mom’s and my blog with a friend.

The more on board, the merrier. 

Mom’s New Baby

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Sometime in November of last year, my wife, Melissa, bought a baby doll  from Target  to give to my mom as a gift. She thought it would occupy mom’s time and give her something to do besides torment my sister, Nel, who was (after five plus years of a losing battle with Early Onset Alzheimer’s) in the final, horrific stages.

Nel got extremely agitated at mom for hanging on to her and wanting all of her attention. Mom wanted her buddy, sidekick and constant companion, but  the Nel mom knew was long gone.

Nel wanted peace. She didn’t know what was happening to her, but knew it was serious. She would ask in broken, disjointed words and phrases, “What’s wrong with me? I have been a good girl. What’s wrong?” The tears in her eyes asked the questions. She was terrified, desperate for the answers that were lost to us all.

Nel kept asking me to take her away from mom and from the home mom and she had lived together in since 1972. She would whisper, that she couldn’t take any of it anymore. When I would drive her down to the river, she would just say thank you, over and over and over. The fact is, she didn’t know where she was, but she did know she was away from mom … for a brief time, it would mean needed peace.

The fact is, both Nel and mom needed each other and in earlier times would have each been able to stand tall for the other. But, those times had passed. Nel didn’t understand mom and mom didn’t understand Nel. For the first time in their lives, there was tension between them like none of us as family had ever seen, or even knew how to begin to comprehend. It was as inexplicable as it was devastating. Our world, as we knew it, was gone.

From the instant Melissa handed mom the baby, Mom held it in her arms, cuddled it and talked baby talk to it for hours. It gave her something to hang on to besides Nel and that baby doll gave mom something Nel couldn’t .. its undivided attention.

We thought it was a godsend, but one of our caregivers at the time thought the doll was demeaning to a woman of mom’s stature.

So, in deference to the caregiver, the baby went into hiatus until Nel passed away in April and the caregivers were told we couldn’t afford them any longer. When they walked, we resurrected the baby doll.

Tovi, my daughter and the mother of four of the coolest kids/grandkids ever, gave us support and feedback that backed our plan to give the baby a try, again.

As a caregiver, not only for her kids, but for an elderly lady in Wilmington, North Carolina, Tovi had observed the positive impact  baby dolls had on  a variety of women with dementia. I Googled the subject and there was plenty of evidence to back Tovi’s findings.

In spite of our intuition, Tovi’s take and Google’s last word, this particular doll  gives me the willies. Its “skin” is just way too pinkish, too soft and too pliable. It looks like Baby Cadaver to me. My word for it is squishy. And, even though its blue eyes don’t/can’t blink, they seem to stare at you – no, through you – no matter how you look at them, whether from the front or the sides … willies, willies, willies!

Well, since the day that squishy little Cadaver Doll was introduced to mom, she has adopted it unconditionally. She sits with it, sleeps with it and most of all talks to it in pure baby talk babble. The two of them have become mother and child and genuine pals. And, though the baby is creepy to me, it makes mom smile, gives her something to nurture and most of all, it engages her and occupies her time for hours.

If you suspect jealousy in my life, just call it envy. I can’t keep mom’s attention, interest and connection as well as that, well, Cadaver Baby.

When I walk up to mom’s big soft chair, while she’s holding the baby, she’ll look up at me and say, “Look at this little girl! Ain’t she boo-ti-ful?!”

And, my reply is always the same, “Yep, mom … she is the most boo-ti-ful baby I have ever seen (gag me with a spoon).”

Mom’s two word reply is always the same, too. “That’s right.” Then she just rocks that little ungodly creature in her arms and kisses its forever-bald-head over and over and over. She’ll whisper to the doll, “You have been my little baby for a long time.” And the doll fixes its eyes on mom’s as if to say, “right on mom,” and then shifts to mine as to say in no uncertain terms, “me … not you, big man.”

We have asked mom to name the baby, and she always turns it around and asks what we think the name should be. I named it something like “Good Looking”  once, but none of us could remember it.

Mom told me a couple of times she wanted to name the baby after me.  But since I am not the father, since it wears a pink dress, and since it gives me the willies, I put my foot down on that one.

Last night, while mom was eating supper, with the doll propped up on the table next to her plate, I asked her what her doll’s name was for the umpteenth time. She looked at me and said, what do you think it is?

For whatever reason, I looked down at her plate. She had only two things left on it after devouring everything else in record time  … some butter beans and chicken. By the way, mom really does love her food.

Well, the first thought that came to mind was, no matter how I feel about that baby, we can’t name it Chicken.

So, the only other choice left on the plate was Butter Bean. I suggested it to mom, and without hesitation, she picked up the doll, rocked it in her arms and whispered, “Butter Bean, that’s you, precious. You are my little Butter Bean! What cha think about that, little boo-ti-ful?”

It was such a surreal moment,, I was literally anticipating an answer from the little twirp. After a short pause I said, “Mom, let’s name her Queen Butter Bean!”

Without missing a beat, Mom held Butter Bean close to her lips and said, “You are a queen, little girl! You are the queen!”

For the first time since it had come into our lives, I joined mom and we were smiling ear to ear at that baby.

Quickly living up to her new name, Queen Butter Bean bestowed happiness and joy on both of us. She had a name, and it was a boo-ti-ful thing.

Watch Out for the Little Lady on the Big Wheels!

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Today, Melissa and I took mom to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, Virginia. The flowers were in full bloom and putting on a show for all of us. The sky was slightly overcast, which made it perfect for mom. So, once we convinced her that a wheelchair ride would be a fun thing and assured her that we knew she could walk anywhere she chose to, we were off to explore and enjoy each other and the day. We could tell mom was excited, because she was humming and wanting to stop, look and touch anything and everything that had a leaf or a bloom on it.

Mom has never met a stranger in her whole life, and there is no one within her eyesight that doesn’t get a greeting, a question or a comment. Here are a few samples, all from today.

  • “Hi there, sweetheart, isn’t it a beautiful day.” 
  • “You are the prettiest thing! Look at that beautiful dress you have on.” 
  • “I love these flowers, don’t you?”
  • “Hey there, boy! You have the bestest (mom’s word) smile I’ve ever seen!”
  • “Where are you from?”  This was the most frequently asked question of the day. If the answer was, not from Richmond, mom would volunteer to show them around the city after informing them she was born here and that her father was Dr. B.H. Martin “Dr. Berkeley Hancock Martin … the best doctor Richmond has ever had.”

Interspersed with the exchanges above were the following:

  • “That man has the roundest, shortest legs I have seen, do you see those legs, son?”
  • When a well endowed lady in a low cut shirt walked within earshot mom said, that woman has the largest you-know-whats I have ever seen and more than I ever want to see.” Mom then put her hands over her eyes while shaking her head.
  • “I love your hair! I love your teeth, too. They are really something, aren’t they?!”
  • When we asked directions to the tea room and a couple from out of town replied that they didn’t know, mom said, “Dumbest people … they don’t know a damn thing” before we could get away fast enough.
  • She said, “hey girl,” to a long haired teenage boy.
  • She said, “hey boy,” to a short haired lady.
  • While on the subject of hair, mom asked one little lady if she had blue hair.
  • “Hey, I bet you are pretty when you smile!”
  • “Hey there, do you want to sing, This Little Light of Mine, with me?”
  • “Mom said, “hey … hey there” to a Hispanic man, and when he didn’t answer, she looked at Melissa and loudly exclaimed, “I don’t think he speaks English, do you?”

After what was a non-stop-laugh-a-second, don’t-make-eye-contact-with-anyone-mom-might have offended, hide-your-face adventure, I whispered to Melissa, we are going to print a banner that would go wherever we took mom from now own that would read, in BIG BOLD LETTERS:

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed by my 91 year old mom do not necessarily reflect those of anyone in our immediate family or friends of anyone in our immediate family. Engage at your own risk. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

As we rolled mom to the car, she was singing the Star Spangled Banner at the top of her voice. And, by the way, this lady has some pipes. Folks just coming to the gardens didn’t know whether to salute, sing along or run back to the safety of their cars.

We had a blast!

Mom’s New Walker

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Mom does walk some, but it takes her lots of little steps to make one regular step.

And, when she starts swaying like a palm tree in a hurricane she gives anyone watching a major heart stopping moment.

You just know that little palm is about to make a crash landing and when it does,  you’ll be the one that has to put dear old mom back together again.

I think she would break into 91 pieces. One for every year she has been on this planet. And, she doesn’t come with reconstruction instructions. She doesn’t come with a guarantee or warranty. And I am sure there is a no return policy in place. You broke it you bought it.

So, my wife, Melissa and her mom, Barbara, bought my mom a used walker for just $4.99 at the Salvation Army. Great walker, unbelievable price (cheap, cheap, cheap) and it was indeed going to be both our and mom’s salvation.

Only one little problem. Mom wouldn’t walk with the walker and the walker didn’t seem to want to walk alone. “I have never used anything to help me walk in my life, and I am not going to start now,” she uttered. Finally I told her it was the only way we would allow her to go to the john (her word). No walker. No john.

Nature has a way of lending a helping hand, because when nature calls and the only way your son will let you go to the john is with the walker, you learn how to use the walker! Fast!

So now that the walker is a part of the extended family and goes where the rest of the family does not want to go, it has a name.

We call it Johnny Walker, because that what it does!

Now if we can just teach Johnny Walker how to flush.

A Gift to be Simple

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“You are the best thing in the world and I love you very much.” – My Mom

Mom says this or variations of this to me at least ninety-one times a day.

If you ask her, she doesn’t know how old she is. And, when you tell her ninety-one, she says, like every woman on this planet would say,  “Not me, you are talking about somebody else … not me!”

So, my only explanation for how she repeats herself around ninety-one times a day is that it is just meant to be.

In one simple line, mom gives me all I need to keep going and going strong. No, not just strong, but best-in-the-world-strong. Can’t let your mom down, can you? It has become my mantra and when she is not telling me, I repeat it to myself, over and over and over.

Simple!

Speaking of simple, here’s my mom’s (and my sister’s) favorite song. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard them sing it together. And they would always teach anyone in their presence how to sing it with them. They would always stand and do a little dance in perfect unison when they sang … especially on the turning, turning part.

So, here’s a gift from mom and me to you. It’s an old Shaker folk song that was sung at Obama’s inauguration, Simple Gifts.

Don’t forget to turn!

‘Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free,

‘Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.


At 91, my mom is counting on me. And, with just a few words and many unspoken ways, she’s telling me she is counting on me … ninety-one times a day.

“You are the best thing in the world and I love you very much.”

It’s that simple.

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