Friday, February 18, 2011

The Long and Winding Road

Paul McCartney is not the only one to have traveled a long and winding road.  Had he been, I imagine his song by that name, and recorded by the Beatles, would never have reached the popularity it enjoyed.  We, most of us of that era at least, related to that song.  The song was one of love, unrequited, romantic love presumably, but love for certain.

Yesterday, as I drove the three plus hours to visit my Dad and step-mother in their home in Maryland, the thought crossed my mind that this road, this sometimes winding, sometimes straight, sometimes busy, sometimes ridiculously congested and sometimes, once in a very rare while, lonely road, was taking me back home.  My destination was not that of any of my childhood homes.  My destination was not to a meeting with an old romantic love.  My destination was to that first experience of love... the father's love.

I really don't like to drive.  I don't mind the smaller, country roads, but once I reach the hustle and bustle of traffic around the DC beltway, I am more than ready to cry "Uncle."  Instead, I keep my eye on  the road and the seemingly millions of other drivers jockeying for position on that same stretch of pavement, and trust that I will make it to my destination in one piece, and without preventing anyone else from reaching their own destination.  At least the Winter weather had taken a back seat, for a minute, offering us just the hint of the promise of Spring.

While I went to visit Dad,
Joe continued the pace on the farm house renovation
This trip was an especially emotional one for me.  I had not seen my father since he suffered a stroke a little over two weeks ago.  My sister had visited him while he was in the hospital, and had reported she was encouraged by his mental alertness, and such -- theirs had been a good visit, albeit under less than desirable circumstances.  My daughter, son-in-law and my nieces had enjoyed watching the Superbowl with "Grampa and Lynne" -- Dad having been released from the hospital the night before.  Everyone had told me that Dad had lost a lot of weight, not due to the stroke, but rather to the radiation treatment he had undergone which interfered with his enjoyment of the taste of food.

As I approached their neighborhood, I saw an ancient, very thin woman, tending the shrubs in her front yard.  Her "favorite" soft polyester pants hung loosely on her rail of a body, and she looked incredibly feeble.  But she was out there, enjoying the opportunity to bask in the sun's warmth, if even for a little while.  This elderly woman had to be at least 90.  As I passed her, creating her "story" in my imagination, wondering if she had family nearby, it occurred to me, that one day my parents will be in the "very old" stage of life and that the trip to visit would be made more often... that long trip from my home in rural Virginia to theirs in Maryland Beltway suburbs.  And, while I very much dislike the congestion of those roads and the stress of the drive, it also occurred to me that the door at the end of that road led to something I very much like...and that one day there will be no more reason to travel that road.

By the time I arrived at Dad and Lynne's, the stress of the drive was behind me.  I parked on the street in front of their home, locked the car doors, and made my way to the front door.  I rang the bell, as is still my custom, though I am well aware they are just as happy if I simply walk right in, and set right down (yeah, those lyrics from another song also seem to fit).  There was no immediate answer to my pressing of the doorbell button, so I surmised that Lynne had not yet returned from a quick run to the grocery store, and not wanting Dad to overexert himself, I let myself in.

"Hello!" I called out as I entered their foyer.
Dad's familiar, tenor responded immediately from the family room, "Hi Judy!"

Dad was standing, moving toward the door with the aid of his new friend, the walker he has named "Johnny."  It was clear the effort was really more than he needed at this point and I was sorry I'd rung that doorbell, rather than simply opening the door and letting him know I was there.  Still, within a minute, he was back, more or less comfortable in his rocker/recliner chair.

His appearance took me aback at first.  He was so much thinner than last I'd seen him at Thanksgiving.  The thinness of his face accentuated the size of his ears, ears that I'd never before considered particularly big, but which yesterday struck me as huge! (Yes, Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf disguised as grandma, DID come to mind.)  Still, thin or not, Dad was Dad.  He was detailed in his stories (we Fletchers are ALWAYS detailed in our stories) and he was sharp, helping ME remember a word that eluded me.

Dad and I visited for maybe 20 minutes before Lynne returned, having stopped by Dad's doctors to get some answers to some test results.  We all sat and chatted for another half an hour, before we decided it was time to share lunch.  Perhaps the most challenging part of Dad's recent medical escapades, at least for Lynne, has been his disinterest in food -- pretty much any food.  Obviously, and Dad is well aware of this, nourishment is required to sustain life, so opting out of eating is counter productive.  Still, if nothing tastes good, and the sensation of food on the throat is unpleasant, I can completely understand his aversion to the whole process.

Lynne had laid out the sandwich "fixins" for one of our all-time favorite lunches -- the "build your own bonanza."  In years gone by I can recall some pretty creative sandwiches built by my brothers, our children, and OK, yes, by me!  The three of us sat down and Dad looked at the offerings.  He didn't reach for the platter of meats or ask for the plate of cheeses.  There was some discussion about the spinach and the lettuce, not being a viable option for him with his current medication.  Then he proclaimed that he'd been thinking he'd like to try a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich.

Growing up, PB&J was, undoubtedly, the staple at our house.  I have no idea whether Mom liked them, but all six of us kids certainly devoured our share over the years.  Dad carried a PB&J with him to work for his lunch, at least the first, oh, I dunno, 18 years of my life!  So Lynne hopped up from the table and in a jiffy (no pun intended) retrieved the jar of peanut butter and another of jelly from their shelves and placed them on the table in front of Dad.  Dad looked around, obviously still missing something.

"I'm looking for the butter," he announced, though I'm not sure we had asked.  Still, I laughed as I went to the refrigerator to get the gigantic tub of margarine.  Dad ALWAYS butters his bread before lathering on the peanut butter and jelly.... I never met another person who made the sandwich this way, but Dad declares it keeps the peanut butter from sticking to the roof of his mouth.  Dad proceeded to make his favored PB&J and then proceeded to eat the WHOLE thing!

We enjoyed a nice conversation over lunch, though I could tell Dad was getting sleepy.  He has always enjoyed his afternoon nap and yesterday was no exception.  At just before 2PM, he excused himself from the table, belly filled for a change, and trying to stifle a yawn, said goodbye to me, and headed off to the bedroom for his nap.

Lynne and I chatted for another half hour or so before I headed back to the car to begin that return trip, opting to leave, hopefully, ahead of the rush hour Beltway such luck.

It was a good trip, all in all.  I am glad I went.  I am hopeful Dad will return more to his pre-stroke self with time, as I can see it is incredibly frustrating for him to will his hand to do his bidding, and be rewarded with a hand that refuses to recognize the brain as commander and chief.  His leg is getting a little better, more feeling, some better control, but it is clear Dad has a long and winding road ahead of him too.

Sunset before I made it back home

By the time I reached the rural roads of Virginia, the sun was setting, offering me more beauty in which to reflect.  I took no photographs on this trip.  Yes, I had my camera with me, but it did not seem appropriate to take pictures.  Rather, the pictures I captured are only in my own memory, downloadable to no computer.  I am confident there will be many fun photos in the future.  For now, I shall be happy that the road took me safely there and back.

February 15th  as full moon approaches


Anna Robson Gartell said...

I had my first peanut butter and jelly sandwich at your house in Cheltenham. Yummy.

mixednut555 said...

Beautiful post Judy. We pray for you Dad every day and hope he will be back to his pre-stroke self in a short time.

Sharon said...

Hello, my name is Sharon (cyber shaking your hand) and I use butter on my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches too! Have ever since I started making my own - just like my Mom made me!

I hope you Dad gathers strength every day!

Judy's Corner said...

Really Anna? That's amazing! Well, I'm glad you liked them because, we certainly ate MANY over the years!

Judy's Corner said...

Thanks Kat. I was encouraged to see Dad is mentally "all there" but I see his struggle to get that hand and leg working again.

Thanks for the prayers.

Judy's Corner said...

Hi Sharon! Wonderful to meet you. (LOL) So... now I know two people who like the butter with their peanut butter!

Thanks for your kind wishes.

Gorges Smythe said...

I'm glad your father is making the effort to stage a come-back. Some people just give up. As for the butter on the PB&J, I've heard of it before, so I'd say there's more than two who do it!

Judy's Corner said...

Hi Gorges,

Thanks for the encouraging words. I don't see Dad as a giver-upper! And yeah, I'm sure there are many who butter the bread before the peanut butter.... just that I haven't met them! (What a PB&J snob I am!)