Tag Archives: mom

You Get the Picture

Who needs a thousand words when it comes to mom?

There is no denying mom’s talking less and less, but when she says something, you listen and long for every word.

I had just dropped her off at Circle Center Adult Day Care. She was in her wheelchair, eyes closed, when I kissed her cheek and whispered, “Bye, mom, I love you … I’ll see you later, OK?”

Surprisingly she answered, “You’re not going to leave me here are you?”

“No mam. I will never, ever leave you. I have to go to work, but I’ll be back later to get you, OK?”


I gave her one last hug, and as I headed for the door, I heard her say loud and clear, “Good luck to you and your lover. (PAUSE) Ain’t that nice?!”

I looked back and her eyes were still closed, her head was slowly nodding up and down, and I swear she was smiling.

It looked to me like she was totally pleased with herself for, well, being so nice.

I don’t know where it came from, but I still can’t get this picture out of my mind, and I don’t even know what it looks like.



Girls and Their Curls

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Mom was never a fan of hair salons. But she did love it when my sister, Nel, would wash, trim and roll her hair in those godawful rollers stuffed with tissue.

I never hung around for this most sacred of rituals … THE HOME PERM.

One … home perms stink to high heaven.

Two … repeat one!

Three … I never thought about escaping to another room in the house.

Four … I was too busy running for the front door … I was headed for the far side of town and praying the wind was blowing the against me.

Five … rinse and repeat one through four.

How can anything that smells that bad, and looks like it is holding your hair hostage, be good for you?

Fast forward to now, when mom’s Band of Caregiver Angels give her a perm. It is amazing! These angelic perms magically transport mom right back to those bygone days when Nel was in total control of her hair and happiness. Using curlers vs. a magic wand (which I call “joy sticks” … aka “stinky joy sticks”) the Band of Angels transform a regular day into a joyful one.

There’s no disputing that ear-to-ear smile. Mom is one happy dudette!


I love it when mom is happy. There is no pretense. There are no filters. There is just an unabashed feeling of joy that comes over her … and it is contagious for all of us who have the privilege of witnessing this magic moment.

Girls and their curls. I don’t get it. But, when all is said and done, I don’t have to get it.

It is, and will always remain one of life’s big mysteries.

All I have to do is immerse myself in the beauty of the moment … one of those moments I will cherish forever.

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?

Never Forget You’re an Angel from Heaven

My Angels!

This memory stuff weighs heavy on my mind.

I think about it all the time.Mom’s dementia and my sister’s long battle with Alzheimer’s (Nel passed away last March 28th) are constant reminders of just how fragile our minds and memories are.

I was helping mom walk from the car to her home and we had a little hill we had to get over to reach the backdoor. I was saying, “Way to go, mom! You are one strong lady taking this hill the way you do. Have you been jogging and lifting weights?”

Mom said, “Sure have. I am one strong little girl.”

“Have you always been as strong as you are now?” I asked.

“You better believe it. My daddy said, Sugar, you are the strongest girl in the United States of America, and that’s it.”

“Did he say that about your two brothers and sister?”

“No! Just me. He would say, Sugar, you are an angel from heaven. You do everything right. Never forget it.”

And, if you knew PaPa (the name we grandkids called mom’s dad) like I did, you knew when he told you to do something, it wasn’t an option.

I asked mom if she was still an angel. Without even blinking an eye, she said, “Oh I am, and I love it!”

Her answer made me think of my daughters, Tovi and Lissi.

Before I publish this blog, I want them to know their dad believes they are heavenly angels, too, just like their grandmother.

If my daughters remember nothing else about me, I want them to remember that I know they are angels from heaven … that they do everything right.

I have been a believer since the day they were born.

My prayer is, like mom, they will always believe it, too. And,no matter what, never forget it.


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.

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