Monday, May 21, 2007

Weekend with Dad

Our first stop in Maryland on Friday was for lunch and we bought a Maryland Crab Cake for Dad. Notice, I capitalized “Maryland Crab Cake” because they are worth capitalization. Everyone on this blessed Earth should taste one. The only thing better is a Maryland Steamed Blue Crab, heavily seasoned with Old Bay and rock salt. Lots of them! I dream of the white fat and mustard in the corners of the back shell. Mmmmm.


It took a few days for me to get my mind ready to see Dad again. Since being told that he doesn’t recognize family or friends most of the time, I prepared for the worst. After all, when I lived with him last year for a few days at a time and took care of him while Mom was hospitalized, he was very confused and thought I was his sister. Oh, it’s so complex. Sometimes he’s right on target and other times he’s in another zone, far away from reality. We approached his room and Michael said to me, “Don’t say anything. Let him speak first.” Good idea.

I rounded the corner quietly and casually entered his room where he’s in the company of three other patients. It’s a large enough room with his bed next to a nice window view and they each have their own space, complete with a closet, bed, and television. He was in his own little world, sitting in his wheelchair and observing the others.

Before I said anything, he looked my way and, in his weakened, higher-pitched voice, belted out, “Mary!” Ahhh, I wanted to fall to my knees as my own name was music to my ears! A sudden wave of emotions took over me and I could barely choke out, “Hi, Dad!”. I didn’t want him to see my tears. He knew Michael but couldn’t remember his name right away and they talked almost like they used to. From a man who has lost his mind from strokes and dementia and has paralysis on his left side, he offers smiles frequently and tells us the nursing staff calls him “Anton” or “Tony Bologna”. The nurses were very upbeat and friendly, likely because we were there. Their jobs can’t be a treat everyday. No matter how much cheer they offer, it’s still a depressing state of living. I don’t have any major concerns about his care, but I don’t like seeing his false teeth and eyeglasses in his nightstand drawer! He needs them!

Dad is still Dad and I know this when I hear his familiar comments. He talked about the unwasted space in his new apartment and how it keeps the "riff raff" out. When asked, he’ll recite his birth date and social security number. But don’t ask him if he had a bath, ate lunch and breakfast. He won’t remember and gives his standard reply, “No.” He referred to the crab cake he devoured as the “Ace of All Aces!” and his own jokes make him belly laugh. It’s hard to follow his sequence of thought as he talks in circles and uses lots of clichés. Sadly, it’s mostly gibberish I hear, but I smile and nod, and listen for his frequent belly laughs.

On the next day we visited and he was in bed at 2pm. He was napping and tired but perked up for a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Hey, it’s junk food but serves as a real treat for my old Dad. We bought him a fake Orchid for his windowsill. For some unknown reason, hearing the word “orchid” made him laugh with delight! God bless and love him and the others he sits with in the dining room every day.


On Friday morning, we took the mountain route through North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland for the first time. The views were spectacular from the car but then the dark, heavy rain pelted us for a few hours.


We need to trade in the SUV. Regular gas prices ranged between $2.98 - $3.16. Ughhh.


This is a memory. I've probably made more than 3,000 trips through this tunnel over the years. Before heading to north Baltimore on Saturday, we visited Mom’s grave and I was impressed with the way my brother decorated her gravesite for Mother’s Day. She’s resting under a large, beautiful oak tree. I miss her…

We visited Michael’s twin sister in Bel Air for a while then visited his parents’ graves north of Baltimore. His Mom died in 1975 and his Dad died in 2003.


On the way back south to Annapolis, I took this shot of the Baltimore harbor and skyline from the Francis Scott Key Bridge, near Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point. For a few years during the late seventies, I worked on the 31st floor of the tallest high rise located on Light and Pratt Street. Then, it was called United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company and the Baltimore Inner Harbor was in its earliest stages of building and planning.


When Michael told me he had made reservations at the Marriott in Annapolis, I thought we’d have a water view of historic downtown. Heck, NO! We were inland, close to Rt. 50. Ugggh. So, I stood on the balcony after we checked in on Saturday and saw something interesting in the distance. I had one hour down time in the hotel room before dinner, so I grabbed the camera and my key and said to Michael, “see ya later.” I skipped down the back stairs of the hotel, landed in an empty parking lot, and found a pond.


Scanning above, I saw this.


Now, hawk IDs challenge me as much as LBJs do. Susan will correct me if I am wrong but it looks like a Red-Shouldered Hawk to me.


A Gray Catbird is a lifer for me!


I had to get closer. I quietly thanked this bird before I stepped away and headed back to the hotel.

On Saturday, while crossing water under Riva Road in Annapolis, I told Michael to make a U-turn and park at the restaurant by the dock. I took my camera across the road, ignoring heavy traffic and those PIAs who honked their horns while I focused on this nest:


While driving by, I thought they were Bald Eagles but I need help with IDs. If my photos were better, I’d try harder.


Any help? Click to enlarge these photos.


Oh, I wish I had slid down the embankment to get closer. Maybe I would have been able to have the sun behind me.


On Saturday afternoon, I had a little down time in the hotel again and walked the hotel grounds. I love this shot of a Robin.


The first time I’ve heard the beautiful sound of a Song Sparrow...


We went to a birthday party for a dear friend on Saturday night at a restaurant in Rock Creek, off the Chesapeake. It rained but I danced!


On the way home. Sunday morning. We saw the other end.


Q said...

Dear Mary,
So glad you were able to have some bird time while visiting your Dad.
I remember how difficult it was to visit my Mother when she was in a nursing home. Hearing her use my name always filled me with gratitude too. I never knew if it would be the last time or not.
Great photos as always! Hawks are hard! The Gray Catbird has a different sort of song! I really like its "black cap". Nice photo. They are elusive. Song sparrow is sweet!!
I bet you are tired. Hope you can get some rest.
Thank you for sharing your trip.
Happy you are home safe and sound.
Rainbow is lovely.
Bird songs and butterfly wings,

Dorothy said...

Mary you were on my mind so often this weekend, thinking of you on your trip and wondering how your visit was going with your dad.
I think he looks good and how wonderful that he remembered you!!
So glad you could get out and take some bird shots..again you worked magic with your camera! I might add those bird shots you took are so good! Would that be an Osprey on the nest? I'll hazard a guess, but I could be wrong.
I'm happy to have you back.....and you have a day at home to catch your breath before returning to work. Nice! :o)

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

First, those are osprey on the nest! Very cool pix!! Catbird is my favorite backyard bird. They are comical to watch and I love the range of sounds they make. I think they sound like R2D2.

My tears were flowing reading about your Dad's greeting. I'm so happy that he knew you. I'll tell you sometime (Cape May maybe) about my last visit with my Dad before he died. Don't think I can write about it. Anyway, I thought about you alot last weekend and I really am glad your visit went well! Glad you're home safe.

Cathy said...

Oh Mary - I felt your knees almost buckling with joy as you heard your dad speak your name. He looks very sweet and the environment around him looks pleasantly cozy.

My father died at 73 so his mind was still sharp. Mom is slipping, but she knows it. My hubby's mom, talked about calling her mother on the phone, though she'd been dead for 50 years. Dementia is so cruel.

As I read the above comments, it seems we were all taking this journey with you in spirit. I'm glad your back safely and that all in all it was a good trip. (Minus the horror of gas prices)

I'm with Lynne on the ID. Osprey are way cool bird - and I'm pretty sure that's a Red-Shouldered, too.- Leave it to you to find the oasis of beauty wherever you go.

KGMom said...

Mary--I am so glad your dad knew you right away and called your name. No sweeter gift than that. It was good you got such a positive visit in.
And birds--they are so great, how they are everywhere.
Love your rainbow ending.

Anonymous said...

Osprey, Song Sparrows, Catbirds and Red-shouldered hawks! So many great birds you were able to photograph! I am also so glad that your father called your name and you visited him! Those great memories will be remembered for a very long time!

NatureWoman said...

OMG Mary, I am SOOO happy your Dad called your name! That is awesome. I thought about you all weekend. Thank you for taking us on your trip with you, I love all of your photos!

Larry said...

Having your father remember your name must have made your whole trip much better.-I can tell by your photos and enthusiasm-glad it went well.

Mary said...

Thanks, everyone! It was a good trip - bittersweet, yes. I'll be making the trip more often until next winter sets in up there. My fingers are crossed that he continues to smile.

RuthieJ said...

Mary, I'm so glad your dad knew you right away. I thought about you all weekend and hoped things were going well.
I'm glad you got the chance to do a little birding on your trip also. I have the song sparrows in my yard all the time and I never get tired or hearing their pretty little song.
Have a good week.

LauraHinNJ said...

Glad your visit went well, Mary and you got some new birds, too!

It makes it so much easier to know that he's being well-cared for, I bet. The false teeth and eyeglasses are the issue of the people who are caring for him - it's probably easier on them to not make him put either on. If that's your only complaint, I'd say you're lucky.

My dad was in a rehab place for just a few days before he managed to get himself kicked out - can you imagine?

Alyssa said...

Hi Mary, Your trip sounds like a whole range of emotions. Having a parent go into another "world" is a very hard, hard thing to experience. They are our touch-stones and when they suddenly become almost strangers, our entire lives are thrown out of balance. It was very disorientating for me and it took me a while to get my mind used to the situation, somewhat. It's wonderful that you were able to find the positive aspects of your visit with Dad and all the fantastic (as usual) photos prove it. The pictures were all great and the one where you ate dinner looked like a postcard. Gas prices here are $3.49 a gallon so you had it pretty good - ha, ha! Anyway I'm glad that you've come back in, what seems like, a positive mood. Alyssa

Mary said...

Your are all a breath of fresh air for me! Please be patient with me as I am so incredibly behind with blogs and e-mails...tomorrow I'll find out how far behind I am at work, too. Ughhh.

I think of everyone often. I just need a few days to thank you!

Mary said...

By the way, I thought it was an Osprey after reading my field guide but I was too timid to guess among all of these bird wizards.

Cuppa said...

Welcome home. Glad you had a safe trip even if you got rained on from time to time.

Oh the joy of hearing your name spoken by a loved one with dimentia. I am so glad your dad was able to give you that gift of recognition when you visited him. My heart is happy for you.

Susie said...

Hi Mary,
I could also feel your joy at your Dad knowing your name. A small thing, yes, but absolutely so special!
Dementia is cruel to the patient and to the family as well.
So glad you got some time to take those great pics. I'm such a novice on bird ID that I just sit back and listen and read most of the time!

Mary C said...

Mary - I'm a newbie at these blogs, but I'm surely glad I found your blog. We have so much in common, including our first name. Although I've lived in the San Fran Bay area (San Jose) for more than 30 years, I am a native Marylander. I was born and raised in Baltimore - and grew up eating crabs and crab cakes. There's nothing in the world (at least my world) that can compare to the taste of Maryland Blue crabs and crab cakes all seasoned with Old Bay. I'm so glad your visit with your dad turned out so well. I also had experienced a loved one with dementia (my husband's mom who I loved dearly). It is heart-rending when they don't recognize you. I love your pix - the Harbor Tunnel and the Balto skyline surely bring back memories. And the bird pix are great, too. I don't get to bird very often, but I do enjoy my backyard birds on a daily basis. Thanks for sharing your trip.

Mary said...

Mary - thanks for visiting! We do have much in common. Your user profile doesn't give a blog name. I'd like to visit, if you have one.

You are welcome to visit anytime! I hope you don't have to wait too long for a half-dozen steamed crabs :o) Keep enjoying your backyard birds!

thailandchani said...

Too bad you couldn't have gotten a picture of the sign before the tunnel, the one that says "Welcome to Baltimore, Hon!"

When I was there, the city council was having quite a stir over it, not wanting to keep it.

Was it there?

Oh, yeah... crabcakes! Yum!

Those are the things I remember most about Baltimore :)



Mary said...

Chani... LOL! You got it right, Hon! "Let's all go downy ocean ta maurra, kay?"

Susan Gets Native said...

I don't know where to begin...
First, my heart is lighter, knowing that the visit with your Dad was good. I don't think you could have had a better visit, considering.
I'm proud of you! You correctly ID'd a RS!
And seeing osprey on a nest...arrgghhhhh! I am gritting my teeth in envy.
I am so glad that you took some time to go out and talk to the bewds.

The Quacks of Life said...

sorry to read about your dad. It is horrible illness.

your pictures are superb!

Elaine Cougler Author said...

Hi Mary
I've been down that road watching my parents deteriorate, my dad slowly with Alzheimer's and my mom over a devastating three week period ending with her death. None of it is easy but reading of others' similar journeys gives me comfort.
I liked the way you ended the post with moving towards your birding enthusiasm, thus capturing the good along with the not-so-good. C'est la vie, n'est-ce pas?

Jayne said...

What a blessing that you got to have that sort of time with your Dad. I also had tears in my eyes as you described him calling your name.

Love all the photos, but especially the sunset.... spectacular.

We missed you and are glad you are home safe and sound. :c)

Chrissie said...

Hello Mary. Your post brought back memories of visiting my mum. She had a stroke and lost the use of one side, she struggled to stand, speak and lost so much dignity. Her mind remained clear though and she knew the mistakes she made as she tried to put a sentence together. I miss her too. Thank you for sharing your trip and your pics are beautiful.

sonia a. mascaro said...

Mary, I am so glad your Dad called your name. Your narrative brought tears on my eyes.

I truly think that the birds loves you, Mary! They still and pose to your camera! Just great pics!

Love also the reportage of your trip!

Unknown said...

Mary, first of all, yay that you had a good visit with your dad. It's so sad but that sounds like a good visit. Good for you for bringing him a crab cake. YUM.

Secondly, thank you for the WONDERFUL pictures of Maryland. My grandmother lives in Easton -- on the Eastern Shore. I've spent a couple of summers there. I love the Chesapeake area although that bridge is the source of my deep-seated fear of bridges. Yikes!

I'm not even going to get my bird book out but I'm going to guess that your nesting birds are Ospreys. They are so common on the Bay and rivers and that's what their nests look like. I've mostly seen them from the water -- cool to see them from above!

Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

Mary said...

Liza, so glad we have a connection. Easton is very close to the MD/DE beaches. Did you ever go to them? I really miss being close to the ocean. Now we have nearly a 4 hour drive to NC beaches - not too bad, but we used to be a lot closer.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Ah, the memories of blue crabs!
We fished for them off a pier in Chincoteague and laugh about it to this day...and the Old Bay...fond memories!
Glad you had a GOOD trip.

kate said...

Mary, I am so glad that your dad knew you right off the bat. It sounds as if you had a good visit ... a bittersweet one.

And your bird pictures are beautiful - the hawk ones are outstanding as is the robin one.

Good that you are home again ... the mountains must have been a treat to drive through.

Julie Zickefoose said...

He knew you.
So did the catbird, apparently.
This is a very moving post.
I've been there, too. Thanks for taking me to Baltitucky, hon. (I lived in White Hall for a year, and Bill lived there for a bunch of years. He does the accent really well. I never could imitate it. Too darn weird.
Faigley's crabcakes: best in my opinion. Don't know if I've spelled it right--too long ago.
Hugs to you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mary,
Like everyone else here I have to say that Dad knowing your name was truly a gift. I experienced my own mother's trip through dementia, Parkingson's and Alzheimers and can relate so well with the heartache of being unrecognised by a parent.
The bird pics were great too! I wish I could just catch one hummingbird as well as you do!

dmmgmfm said...

So glad you saw your daddy. I'm sure he was thrilled. I thought of you often during the weekend, but just found the time to surf on over here to read about it.

Your photos are wonderful, especially the sunset shot! Wowsers!!!