Sunday, January 4, 2015

Before I Forget

(At his favorite eatery.)
It’s what I do. I write. It’s how I process.

So, here are a few of his favorite things; a peek into the last eight years of his life here with us for those who weren’t here to share in it with him, and some of his quirks, as well.

He came to live with us eight years ago. He showed up on our 29th wedding anniversary. What a surprise! It was sudden and totally unexpected.

I’ll jump around as thoughts hit me.

He loved to spend time in the mountains, who wouldn’t, right?

Early on in his stay with us, I would even take him to some of my hiking trails. Obviously we had to take it slow, and generally had a pup with us. He got worn out quickly, but felt accomplished when we got back into the car. I’ll admit, with lungs full of scar tissue, I was impressed; the altitude here didn’t seem to make his breathing any worse than I’d seen it in Florida.

As time went on, it was drives through the mountains, rather than walking on trails. He loved riding through the Garden of the Gods, up to Helen Hunt Falls and drives along Gold Camp Road; going through the tunnels up there. He had a terrific time on the trip up Pikes Peak via the Cog Railway; I’ve included a picture of him in the box car.

(Garden of the Gods; at the Kissing Camels.)
(Helen Hunt Falls.)
(A view from Gold Camp Road.)
(One of the tunnels on Gold Camp Road.)
One spring vacation he shared with us, we took him on a two week road trip. Dave’s brother Steve went with us, too. We went down to Goodyear, Arizona – where the Cleveland Indians have their spring training now, spent a few days there. Then we headed out to California for a few days; saw the glamour and the not so glamorous sides of Hollywood. Dave and Steve checked out Disney, while Gpa and I chilled at the hotel pool. We trekked back through the Grand Canyon, whereupon taking in his first vast, breathtaking views of the Canyon he declared, “Okay, so when do we get to stop for milkshakes?” We stopped in Vegas on the way back, spending the night at our daughter, Sandee’s place, even took in the Hoover Dam. It was a well rounded, nice, long trip.

(Another view from the edge of Gold Camp Road.)
I once took him down to Texas to visit his son Norm and his family. Air travel with an older man can be hilarious, though, I’m sure it was frustrating at times. The night before we flew back to Colorado, we drove up to Dallas to spend the night before catching our flight out early the next morning. We didn’t want to be driving in the dark early morning hours. We stayed at a not-so-pricey-hotel, you know, the kind where you actually have to ask for the remote control for the television. We surely looked the odd couple, the desk clerk didn’t even ask. Fortunately, I’m still laughing about it. It was a strange thing to share a room with my father-in-law.

In the collection of pictures, you’ll see a few shots from the rodeo. He loved going every year he was able. Watching him laugh hysterically at the rodeo clowns was even funnier than the clowns themselves.

(At the rodeo.)

He had binoculars in his room, and with views like ours, I can see why he’d love to stare out the windows with them. One day he came to me and said, “That neighbor lady shouldn’t lay out in the sun like that, she’s too fat.” I shook my head and said, “Well, then just don’t look at her.” He laughed. But, I think he still watched her.

His favorite “restaurant” was the Golden Corral. Generally I think of buffets as a place for folks who like to fill their plates and go back for seconds, you know, big eaters. But, no, he’d fill his plate and eat a mere fraction of it. He loved being there, though, and “flirting” with the waitresses. He could never just leave a tip for them; he had to personally put it in their hands like it was the biggest tip they were going to get for the day. They got to know him and always greeted him when we walked in. They knew how he took his coffee and brought it to him with a smile.

He ate some strange food combinations. He loved his albacore tuna packed in oil, dumped in a bowl with apple cider vinegar and a huge dollop of salad dressing stirred in. You could smell it the minute you pulled in the driveway! (I exaggerate a wee bit, there.) His morning cup of coffee was a tad odd, too. He kept a small coffee cup in his room. Each morning, he’d carry it to the bathroom and put “hot” tap water into it, then add 3 spoons of instant coffee and at least 5 spoons of sugar, a squirt of Hershey chocolate syrup and top it off with some Coke. Mmmmm! Makes your mouth water, doesn’t it?

(Another of the many mountain views.)

He had some strange “addictions” – or maybe a better word would be compulsions.

He was eccentric when it came to taping things to the walls in his room; maps, post cards, newspaper articles, notes with quotes he wrote to himself....posters he made for himself.

Glue was another compulsion. He glued most everything to his desk and dressers and sometimes to his highly coveted bookcases. From the stones he’d bring in every single time he went outside, to his pencil holders, his statues, his trinkets from the Goodwill Stores….all glued down with satisfaction. A week or so later, he’d decide it was time to move it all. He’d chisel everything off with a hammer and screwdriver, rearrange it and then glue it all back down, content that this time it was all where he’d keep it forever….until a week or two later. One day I suggested that was simply addicted to the smell of glue, to which he responded, “What? Glue doesn’t even have a smell!” He laughed at me as if I was a crazy one.

He saved hundreds of Wal-mart bags in his closet, along with empty bottles and jars and cut up Styrofoam and cut up cardboard, ceramic tiles and boards he found in our garage, etc. At any given time, his closet was also filled with moldy donuts and old moldy loaves of bread stashed away and forgotten about. I'd clean it out from time to time when he was in the shower or when Dave took him for a drive....

He left behind quite a mess to clean up when he moved into the nursing home.

Yeah - he could be pretty quirky.

(A view from the nursing room terrace.)
Oh, I think I mentioned he couldn’t hear. To communicate, we had to write everything down for him to read, which got even more frustrating toward the end, as his eye sight began to fail him, too. But, he loved the fancy reading glasses he’d picked out at Wal-mart. He was so proud of them; I didn’t have the heart to tell him they were women’s glasses with butterflies on the stems.

He read a lot, but more than he loved to read, he loved to collect books. I think he did it every where he ever lived. He was a full-blown bibliophile. In one of the pictures you can see some of the books behind him. It must have been a little painful to up and leave those book collections each time he thought the FBI or CIA was on to him and he had to leave town quickly.

Yeah, that was another quirk, he was very convinced the law was after him, not that he’d ever done anything wrong (in his eyes). We live across the street from a trail that leads up the hill to an elementary school. Parents often drop off and pick up their children in front of our house. If a car waiting for a child had tinted windows, he was quite convinced it was the FBI keeping an eye on him. He had some hateful ideas about the vengeance he wanted to pour out on law enforcement officers he’d encountered over the years.  He slowed down on insisting he had an FBI record that had to contain volumes of files when I showed him on line that we could order a copy of their file on him for just fifteen dollars. “Well, they surely wouldn’t send the good stuff, anyways,” he pouted. I even printed out the form for him to fill out at one point, but he just tucked it into one of his many files.

He had files that would make a librarian shake her head. He filed newspaper articles and headlines and sometimes just words he cut out of the paper. His fingertips were always black with newspaper ink. His files included information on espionage, his favorite subject, on foreign countries and dignitaries from around the world.

One time he insisted on reading his address book to me. I patiently sat on the love seat as he pointed out each entry on each page. He had Tiffany’s (a jeweler in New York City) address and phone number. When I asked why, told me it was crucial to have important numbers like that, you never know when you might need to call them. Of course, he had FBI numbers out the wazoo, too.

One time I heard him yelling on the phone, so I picked up the other line to see who he was talking to that deserved the wrath of Vader. He'd called Focus on the Family and was screaming at some poor soul because Obama was president and he didn't like it. The frightened girl had no clue what he expected her to do about it! I just hung up the extension shaking my head.

He had dementia, you know, so sometimes he would say some very bizarre things. While in the nursing home he proudly told everyone there that his son was a police officer; bragging that he’s the mayor’s body guard. Yet, while living at our house for those first six years, he wouldn’t hesitate to declare that the only good cop was a dead cop, right to Dave’s face.

He loved his cheap, warm beer; kept it in the closet in his room. When he first went to live at the nursing home, he was thrilled to know they’d let him have his beer there. He went through about two 30 packs a month there in the beginning. Eventually, it dwindled down to one 30 pack lasting him almost two months, though he never realized it. He thought he was so sneaky keeping four or five cans hidden away in his drawer. Like no one knew? It made him grin to have this little secret I wasn’t supposed to let anyone else in on. No one cared that he had it there.

(Riding the Cog Railway up Pikes Peak.)
He told me some horrible stories of his past; death bed confessions when he thought he was dying at various points over the years; one that even begged me to ask him if he wanted to talk to the police about it. He declined, of course. Whenever he got the flu or a urinary tract infection he thought his was doomed for the grave and became serious. Once he got a dose or two of antibiotics in him, life was back to normal. If you’d ask him, he’d tell you that his only serious health concern was his runny sinuses.

A few years back, I took him to a few appointments with a psychologist, where he was diagnosed with “alcohol induced dementia”. Ultimately, it was that diagnosis that allowed a doctor at the hospital to later refer him to a nursing facility, whether that was his wish, or not. The psychologist didn’t quite measure up in my eyes, but, Gpa Donald made me laugh numerous times over his concerns that the doctor might find out he was a communist sympathizer. I think he was quite surprised, for a minute or two, to see how bad his memory had become in certain areas. But, minutes later, it didn’t bother him at all, because he didn’t remember his memory was that bad. I wonder if I’ll be like that, or God forbid, I already am!  Once he moved into the nursing home, he and I had a running joke that it wouldn’t be long until I moved into the room next to his.

He could be difficult at times, like all of us, but I don’t recall him complaining much; unless it was about politics.

(Prospect Lake, at Memorial Park.)
(Prospect Lake, at Memorial Park.)
From time to time he’d ask us to take him to get a passport. For some reason we never got around to it. He’d say, “Everyone should have a passport.” One day Dave asked him why it was so important. He replied, “You never know when you’re going to find yourself outside of the country.” How do you hold back laughing at a statement like that? It’s one of Dave’s favorite “Dad quotes”.

He told me stories of horseback riding in California, and working in swampy areas in Florida, with a watchful eye looking out for alligators. He bragged about skydiving, he was close to 60 when he did that, if I’m not mistaken. He told me of the thrills of living in dangerous neighborhoods in Cleveland and Tampa, bar fights and mafia connections, scandalous women and jealous husbands.

He also told me of escaping death on the railroad tracks as a teenage boy when his father’s car stalled on the tracks one night when he’d stayed out at the roller rink later than he was supposed to.

He must have had a million cousins; he had stories about each one of them, too. I recall being crossed between amusement and annoyance one day at the retelling of some of the stories and said, “You know, for having one aunt on your mother’s side (who legally adopted him and raised him, an only child) and no aunts or uncles on your father’s side, you sure have a lot of cousins.” He must not have understood me, because he just laughed.

(The view from a trail at Palmer Park.)
For those of you who don’t know, his mother died in childbirth, so his mother’s sister raised him, never allowing him to meet, or even see a picture of his father. She blamed his father for her sister’s death. Her sister was told she shouldn’t ever have children, and since Gpa’s father got her pregnant, he was “the bad guy who killed her sister”.

His father remarried and had three more sons before dying quite young from heart issues caused from being exposed to mustard gas during World War I. I found the one remaining son via the internet and was able to get pictures of them and one of their father, too. Gpa Donald cried when he saw his father’s face. He shook his head and said, “He was a good looking man.” His father was an ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) agent, or rather, an agent for the forerunner of that agency. He tracked down illegal stills in the hills of Kentucky after the war.

(A view from the nursing home terrace.)
Of course, he told us of surviving two years of undiagnosed TB and the nurses in Hillsborough County that got him healthy again. This was the primary reason he wanted his body donated to science when he passed, he thought they could learn why he survived the TB and could help others. Interesting side note about nurses, the prettier they were (at least the ones that took care of him while I was with him) the more he seemed able to hear them. Hmmm….. Guess I just wasn’t pretty enough; I always had to write notes. Not a problem!

Something to make us happy; though he never liked the idea of living in a nursing care facility, he repeatedly bragged that if you had to be in one, his was the best. He liked the food, the staff, the accommodations, his roommate, the views from the terrace, the big screen televisions and the dogs that the staff brought in daily, especially the tiny ones. He got a kick out of them each day, almost as if it was a new pleasure each time he saw them. He loved the fish tank there, the bird cage outside his room and deer that came up to the doors and window most every day.

So many times he’d point out another resident and twirl his finger by his head and laugh, telling me, “His mind is gone, he’s crazy.” I’d chuckle and write down, “You think maybe he thinks the same thing about you?” He’d throw his head back and laugh, “Yeah, he probably does.”

He was quick to point out the residents he thought were going downhill fast and give me his commentary on it, making up his own version of what was going on in their lives. Because he couldn’t hear what was going on, he had his own little world created around everyone there.

(Another beautiful mountain view. The Rockies rock!)
Before he moved to the nursing home, there were times he seemed to be going through a second childhood. He wanted to go everywhere I went, following me around closely like a puppy, or even a small boy wanting to hide behind his mother’s apron.

I visit folks in the hospital or who are shut-ins, sometimes he’d sit in the car and wait for me, other times he’d come in and people-watch from the waiting rooms. He loved to people watch.

But, in this phase of what I considered to be a second boyhood, he had a hospital stay for severe internal bleeding. While at the hospital, he insisted that I stay there with him, sleeping on the couch-like bed next to him every night. When occasionally I’d awaken from the few winks I could catch (hospitals are noisy places to try and sleep), he’d be peeking at me to make sure I was still there.

He loved to go to base. In this town there are five military bases and he saw three of them; Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base and the Air Force Academy. We frequent Peterson the most, so he saw more of that than the others. He seemed to feel important after getting his hair cut at the base barber shops. He’d “sneak” copies of the base newspapers to send to his friend at a Russian radio station, like anything being made public in the base newspaper was going to be news to those folks. He didn’t get much mail while living with us, but the lady at that radio station was faithful to write to him. I have her letters in a box.

He’d call me for the strangest things, sometimes when I was right here in the house with him. One day I got a call, which I always let go to voicemail, then listened to it, because if I answered and tried to converse with him, it was more confusing for him, and this particular call he made, thinking that I was out and about somewhere. He insisted that I come home right away, that he needed me. Well, fortunately, I was in my room, just next to his, and I went to his room to ask what the emergency was. He was surprised to see me so quickly, but relieved. His back itched and he needed me to rub lotion on it. I’m glad I didn’t hurry home for that one.

(Prospect Lake, at Memorial Park.)
Then there was the day he called me to tell me that he’d gotten some blood on the bathroom floor and that I needed to come home and clean it up for him. How bad could it be, right? So, I didn’t hurry. But, when I did get home, it looked like he’d butchered a rabbit in there! Good grief! He had high blood pressure that, at that point he was still refusing meds for, and one of the varicose veins in his ankle burst and squirt all over the place like a fire hose. It happened two more times before he’d relent and start taking the medication, which fixed the problem quickly.

He was a huge dog fan, but he loved all animals. As a matter of fact, the few photo albums he had probably contain more pictures of animals than family members.

(You'll find them everywhere out here.)
One thing that never ceased to amaze me was, that despite his deafness (I’d taken him to an audiologist for testing, yes, he really was deaf and beyond the help of a hearing aid), he could somehow walk down from his bedroom and comment on the conversation that Dave and I were having in the kitchen. Hmmm. How do you not laugh at that?

I’d heard many stories about him before he came to live with us. My biggest take-away is what a forgiving heart my husband Dave has been blessed with. One day I was talking to God about that. I asked, “God, how can Dave just forgive his father for all the things I’ve heard about over the years?”  I felt like God said to me, “Oh – so you only want him to be quick to forgive you?  Aha, point well taken.

Did I always enjoy having him live here with us? No. He was paranoid and delusional, and not a clean man. But, I honestly have to admit that God taught me a lot by bringing him into my life. He showed me that in and of myself, no, I’m not always such a loving person, but that through Him, love was so much easier.

I’d like to say that I can love most anyone, now. But, no, Lord – that’s not a challenge!

(On the terrace at the nursing home.)
I’ll miss sitting on the terrace at the nursing home with him, watching for deer, enjoying the sunshine and the breezes, talking about anything that came into our heads, listening to him insist that he could walk “…if he wanted to…” trying not to let my unbelieving smile be too obvious. I’ll miss the staff at the nursing home, too. I may just go visit from time to time.

Perhaps I should have kept all those notebooks I filled with my end of our conversations. They’d show every aspect of his humor and his stubbornness, his frustrations and mine, and every little petty thing we talked about along the way. I never left the nursing home without telling him that we love him. He’d just nod his head, sometimes focusing on the floor instead of me. One day I asked why he never said it back. He just said, sadly, “I haven’t said that to anyone in a long time.” To break the tension that created, with a big grin, I wrote, “But, you know you love me.” He smiled and bobbed his head.

It seemed his passing was eminent so many times from when he first arrived in this altitude with bad lungs, to his hospital stays where it looked as though it’d be impossible for him to recover, to the urinary tract infections that enhanced his dementia, noticeably – until the day the nurse called to say he’d told them he was ready to go and he passed less than two days later. Now that he’s gone, it somehow feels unreal.

(A view from the nursing home terrace.)
I know this was sporadic, but, there are countless more stories to share, both good and bad. (I can only imagine the stories my children will tell about me!) But, it would take a book to hold his tales and this is no place for a book. Perhaps I will write a “chapter two” in the upcoming days.

I’m sure those who knew him have plenty of stories to share as well. Perhaps over time we’ll see some of them show up on Facebook.

Good-bye, Gpa Donald. I’m sure we’ll see you again before we know it.
April 23, 1931 – January 3, 2015

~Helen Williams, daughter-in-law   1/4/2015


  1. Thank you for sharing this story about your father-in-law and being able to love him, through the grace of Jesus Christ. This was a sweet story. I liked it very much.

  2. Jacob, thank you so much for your kind and gracious words!

  3. People are amazing. God shows us with each person we meet and especially that we love, what an awesome creator he is! Each and every person has millions of things to learn from their time on this planet and millions of things to TEACH in those same moments! You see, God can delegate in wonderful ways! He allows us to learn His lessons from each other as well as straight from Him. It is difficult to say good-bye to someone we love, someone who has taught us so much, sometimes things we didn't even realize we learned! It feels like there is a gigantic empty space that suddenly appears when they graduate to their next life. I know that, for me, at first i feel like i am supposed to fill that space up right away so that 'it' won't hurt any more, but I think it is really there to remind us of the truth, the truth of how that person impacted our lives. i guess i am rambling here, Helen, and I apologize for that. While I am not afraid of death, or even dying, I feel such pain at the 'being left without' that person and because of that I weep for the loss you and your husband and even Norm must be feeling right now. One of the things that helped me when my mother died was making sure (as best I could) that others who may grieve her loss would know how she felt about dying. So at her funeral, I requested no cut flowers, no somber clothes and that if people needed to do something to send donations in her name to their favorite charity. At her funeral the last song we sang was "Happy Birthday" to celebrate her brand new birthday, April 4, 1998. I don't know if this note helps you, i hope it does. If it doesn't all i can offer is the knowledge that I will pray for all of you and that someone you don't really even know, cares about you all from the bottom of my heart. This entry today was a lovely one and you are correct, you write! Never stop. Love you all.