Go Green! Go White! Go Graduation!

Papa’s granddaughter graduated from Michigan State University earlier this month. Doug and I had prepped Papa for months and we were all looking forward to our road trip to Spartan Nation to attend Tiara’s commencement ceremony and spend a few days with family. We realize how important it is to remain consistent when we tell Papa we are going to do something and after discussing the specific trip details repeatedly and putting the dates on his calendar he understood our schedule for the trip.  It is difficult for Papa to comprehend the unknown or accept last minute changes.

Virginia, like many other areas in the country received unbelievable storms this spring. Daily rainfall records were shattered on April 30th. When I left work that afternoon the weather reports promised that heavy rain and thundershowers would continue through the evening and into the night with localized rainfall rates of 1-2″ per hour, so saying it was going to be a damp evening just did not do it justice. I picked up Christina from her New York City bus and we decided to stop and get Papa his new favorite hamburger for dinner (Bobby Burger Palace).   We knew Papa would not only love the surprise burger, but he would enjoy that we would have more time to sit and relax with him that evening by not having to prepare dinner. My new car was already packed and we were ready for our first road trip the next morning.

I pulled into the driveway and the moment I saw water flowing out from under the garage door I knew we were in trouble. We walked in to find 4 inches of standing water covering our garage floor, and a raging river running through our crawl space. It was going to be a long night.

Papa was sitting in his recliner watching TV and calmly said Hi when we walked in just as he does every day, he did not offer any additional comments. Exasperated I asked if he had been in the garage. Yes, it is wet. Where is all that water coming from? I explained the crawl space has flooded and was overflowing into the garage.   Why didn’t you call us? I don’t know. I am sorry. Christina and Papa went up to eat and I started picking up items off of the garage floor before Doug arrived home.   We spent the next 8 hours pumping out the crawlspace, moving things and clearing water out of the garage not to mention hauling over 20 boxes of Christmas items into the house. Doug and I ended up eating only a few bites of our dinner and relaxing was now out of the question.

Papa apologized several times over that evening, he felt responsible for not contacting us when he noticed the water and he really wanted to help us clean things up. We explained that it was ok, the flood was not his fault and we would take care of it. In hindsight I can now see it may have been better to have him help; to assign him a task to complete along with us. At the time I was worried about him getting cold and wet, slipping in the water, or trying to lift a packed crate that was too heavy for him. But I also have to admit it was just easier knowing we could move things to drier ground a bit faster than his 80 year old body would have allowed.

We woke up the next morning to a bright and sunny May Day. The crawlspace was down to a small stream and the garage was damp with fans blowing and the door wide open to help circulate the air.  Papa was excited. Today is May 1st. What time are we leaving? Just as we had discussed for months, Papa was packed and ready to head out on our 600 mile road trip to East Lansing, Michigan. He did not understand that one of us would now have to stay home. But it is nice out today. Yes, but we have to make sure things continue to dry, and more storms are forecasted over the next few days. It looks pretty dry. I know Papa, but unfortunately it is still wet. The garage will need to continue to air out until it is completely dry, if it is closed off now things will start to mold.   Papa was not happy, his family is his life and he wanted everyone to be there as we had so patiently described in our trip details.

Papa and his boys!
Papa and his boys!

We could have flipped a coin or drawn straws to see who would go with Papa, but because I had already been on a road trip with him this year Doug offered to go. I was sorry I would not be there for Tiara’s big day, and I knew I would miss the excitement of both a road trip and seeing the rest of the family. Not wanting to take my new car without me, they switched vehicles, packed a few extra snacks and were ready to hit the road. Doug and Papa did not take my itinerary and did not stop at any of the locations I had planned to stretch our legs. They did not use Papa’s America the Beautiful National Park Pass. They were men on a mission and other than the five McDonalds they stopped at in search of a working shake machine their trip to and from Michigan seemed pretty quiet and uneventful.

I smiled and waved as they backed out of the driveway. I had a couple days off of work and I was ready to fill them. I cleaned the garage. I rented a movie. I dried and repacked the Christmas items that had been stored in cardboard boxes into new plastic crates. I drove my new car. I rented another movie. I cooked my favorite meals and ate them watching the movies I rented. I stayed up late checking the weather. I read. I slept in and was able to walk around the house in my PJ’s. I went to dinner with a friend.   I rented a third movie. I sold Doug’s old car. I cleaned out my closet and went through my summer clothes. I didn’t have any extra cups sitting on the counter waiting for me to load in the dishwasher. I didn’t have to turn down the volume on the TV when no one was looking. I didn’t have to worry about what or when others ate or took their meds or if they showered. The garage didn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. I had not realized how much I had needed those few days to myself.

Last night during dinner, Doug mentioned the Ahi Tuna tacos he had eaten in Michigan and Papa looked at me and asked me what I had eaten there. I reminded him I was unable to go on that trip, and he just shook his head. We reminded him of the flood, of the 20 hours in a car with Doug and he just kept shaking his head. He finally conceded and that I was not a part of the graduation trip but sadly Doug and I both knew that his memory was playing tricks on him. Papa can clearly recall occasions that happened 70 years ago, but seemingly significant events now get all jumbled up. If the conversation came up today, he would again believe that I had been there.

Lesson learned: We love Papa and truly realize how much his life changed when he came to live with us, but sometimes we overlook that our life changed dramatically also. We want to help give Papa the best life possible. We want him to be happy and healthy. We want him to experience and enjoy his time, even if he doesn’t remember it all. Doug and I led a very full existence as empty nesters and much of that was put on hold when we became golden nesters. We are still busy, we just have different demands now; we have a third person who depends on us for many of his daily needs. But to give him the best life we have to make sure that we carve out bits of time for ourselves. We have to make sure that we actively spend small amounts of time doing some of the things that we used to enjoy, things that do not necessarily involve or revolve around Papa. By taking time for us, we will be able to provide a better life for Papa.

Tiara and Papa
Tiara and Papa

Congratulations Tiara, we all look forward to seeing you on another road trip!


One day last week we were on our way to the stadium to watch our Nats get another Curly W, and realized that sometimes just getting to our seats in the ballpark is half of our adventure.

We often hear Papa say I never heard of that, even if it is something we have already done or discussed many times before. Occasionally there are the random things that stick with him after his first or second experience. These are what he likes, the types of things he wants more of. He remembers when his breakfasts or potlucks are scheduled; they involve both food and friends. He knows Karen brings him cookies, which he sets next to his chair and keeps for himself.   He cannot recall that Daryl, the kids and I took him to Chase field in Phoenix last summer which is home to the Arizona Diamondback and Papa’s previous allegiance, but because we visit Nationals Stadium frequently he has no problem remembering aspects of our ball park. He now realizes that he needs a new ticket to each ballgame we attend, and he knows the way from the parking garage to where we sit. He loves eating his way through 9 innings, and because he has now been to several games with promotional give-away he believes that he will get to go home with a goodie of some sort after each game he attends. These giveaways are something he can hold on to and are much better than the temporary tattoos he finds in the bottom of his bag of Cracker Jacks. We received a Jordan Zimmermann Bobble head last month. What’s a bobble? It’s called a bobble head; it is a figure with a big head that kind of shakes, people collect them. Papa has moved from I never heard of a bobble head to wanting the entire team.

Friday night was Wilson Ramos bobble head night. Papa needed one and wanted to make sure we all walked out of the park with an obligatory bobble head also. There were 25,000 given out at the game and because we typically arrive early the likelihood we would be going home with one was pretty high.   But then life hit and we realized we were becoming the underdog in those easy odds. We had a late start, we hit Friday night DC traffic, and we had a slow walk with Papa from parking garage to the gate, and it was a beautiful Friday evening with almost 35,000 fans attending the game. Knowing we had cut it pretty close Karen and I walked ahead to try and get a couple of the sought after Ramos bobble heads.

We walked in through the centerfield gate only to find empty tables and discarded boxes. My heart sunk as I realized Papa was going to be sad if he doesn’t get his bobble! Knowing Doug and Papa were still outside I texted them and suggested they go to another gate hoping that they would have better luck. Meanwhile we were directed to the next entrance to see if they had any remaining collectables. We weaved our way through the current of fans to the left field gate, they told us to move on to the 3rd base gate. We arrived at the 3rd base gate with a line of people and a couple fans received our prize but the rest were advised to go to the home plate gate. Karen and I had one between us and figured we didn’t need any more so went to find our seats.

Doug and Papa were still outside the park looking for an entrance still carrying the collectables and did not know we had found one for him. They were headed to the right field gate and were advised there were none left and to work their way towards the home plate gate. Doug started walking toward the first base gate and Papa with his ticket in hand said I gotta pee! At that moment Papa deciding that finding a restroom was more important than Wilson Ramos, he turned around to walk up the stairs to the right field gate by himself. Doug called me and said he has already disappeared in the mass of people. Papa was gone. We decided that he was in the park already and because he has been to weekly games he hopefully knows the general vicinity of where we sit. We had faith he would hold onto his ticket and keep asking until he found his seat (and us). We were obviously concerned, but less worried than when we couldn’t find him in our own quiet neighborhood. There were after all thousands of people he could ask for assistance. This would be a good test for him before he gets ready to fly to CA next month.

Doug ended up walking around the stadium to the home plate entrance and was given two bobble heads after explaining his gate to gate adventure. As he turned around to make his way to our seats he saw Papa in front of him with a big smile and a small box containing our Nat’s catcher. Papa had stopped for his business and as he made his way around the inside corridor of the rest of the stadium he passed the home plate entrance and sought out a bobble head with his ticket. Success! Doug and Papa were reunited again and as they made their way down the aisle to our seats, Papa was beaming and proudly handed me his Wilson Ramos bobble head box to put into my bag.   I am hungry, who wants a hot dog? The quest for bobbles was over; it was time for food and baseball!

During the 3rd inning Papa got up and started talking to a couple people on the other side of the aisle. They chatted for a couple of minutes, smiled and shook hands before Papa returned to his seat. We asked him what that was about. That guy left for a while and just got back to his seat. I wanted him to know that while he was gone I was watching the bobble head he left under his seat to make sure no one took it. I would have stopped them; those bobbles are hard to come by. It is easiest for Papa to see and pay attention to what is right in front of him, and that lonely bobble head under an empty chair was standing in-between him and the game. As we were focused on a great game, Papa was bobble-sitting and we didn’t even know it.

During the 8th inning Papa’s new friend and his female companion from across the aisle stopped by on their way out of the park. He shook Papa’s hand again and said it was nice to know that someone had his back while he had stepped away. He handed Papa a Ramos box and agreed they are hard to come by, they had one and wanted Papa to have their other bobble head. What a smile! Not only did the Nats win, Papa was thrilled that he had scored an extra bobble!

We learned several lessons on this outing.

  1. Make sure Papa always uses the restroom before we leave the house.
  2. Leave earlier to get to games; you never know when you will hit DC traffic. I can’t imagine how crowded the stadium will be for the Jason Werth’s gnome promotional giveaway.
  3. Never seat Papa on the aisle; while he makes friends with his neighbors, it is much too convenient for him to purchase food from the vendors. Thank goodness he doesn’t drink beer!

80 Going on 8

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day and as Papa wished me Happy Mother’s Day he said, I know you are not my mother, but sometimes I feel like you are. I smiled, hugged him and agreed. He is just a big kid and it is at times like this I am reminded that like we are definitely Raising Papa.

Papa might be eighty but inside is an eight year old boy who does not like to shower and he will do or say anything to get out of bathing. Doug and I will probably never understand this and Papa will probably never change, but together we will keep trying to make sure he is always clean. Papa is a man that can spend 20 minutes combing his hair, ask repeatedly how do I look? but never want to put a foot in the tub to rinse off. Doug and I realize this is who Papa is; we take a deep breath, smile at his excuses, and then politely insist that he needs to bathe.

I’m not dirty. I don’t see any dirt. Papa was a mechanic and used to come home from work full of grease and grime, he attributes dirt to work and this is how he knew he needed a shower. Papa is visual; if you don’t come home dirty you have not been working. If your hands are not blackened, you are clean. If you are not soiled, no shower is necessary. It is that simple.

The last time I showered I got water in my ear and I think that is what is causing this allergy. A couple months ago he mentioned to his doctor that he had a wax problem in my good ear. Papa’s good ear wears his hearing aid and the suggestion from the audiologist was to make sure he showered and water and shampoo gently splashing in his ear would help to keep it clean, just make sure his ear was dry before he put his hearing aid back in. We are not sure if Papa tried to hold his ear under the water for an extended period of time but he is pretty insistent that when he had a slight cough just as the pollen count was rising this spring that it was caused by water in his ear and not all of our new spring blooms.

I am too old to sweat or I don’t have any germs. Papa, age has nothing to do with it. I can point out the beads of perspiration glistening on his forehead as we walk, but he seems to think this is just the sun in my eyes.  And of course when I bring it up later he has forgotten. All I can do is endearingly pull out everybody’s favorite Christopher Robin quote, call him a silly old bear, and tell him it would be a good idea to freshen up.

But my favorite is when he fakes taking a shower.  We have noticed that on several occasions he has gotten dressed very quickly, happily skips downstairs, and says with a grin I showered this morning. Papa doesn’t move that fast and we knew there was no way he could shower so quickly, so recently I decided to monitor the time I heard the water running in the bathroom. Without a doubt the 43 seconds that the water was turned on wasn’t long enough to warm up, let alone have him step into the shower and get wet, so this time we decided to lightheartedly call him on it. Dad, the shower wasn’t on very long, are you sure you remembered to get in. With a startled look he mentioned the shower was on, you can go check. Yes, it was on, but not very long. I am quick. What did you time me? Smiling, I show him my phone and say as a matter of fact I did. Knowing he has been found out he looks at me with big eyes, and slowly mentions but my towel is wet. This Sunday he came down with a smile and unwaveringly said I really did shower today. Yes Papa, today you did.  I feel pretty good. Success!

Papa uses mouthwash, a lot of mouthwash. He keeps a large bottle of Listerine next to the sink, and a spare bottle under the sink just to make sure he never runs out. He loves to swish his mouth with the blue stuff, and I would not be exaggerating to say he actually practices swishing every chance he gets. He swishes while sipping his orange juice in the morning, while drinking water throughout the day or even as he drinks his milk at the dinner table. I am not a fan of perpetual swishing but Papa is a swisher and thinks this provides suitable oral hygiene. So, sadly the act of actually brushing his teeth is another thing that we have to constantly stay on top of. I brushed them this morning, why would I do that again at night? I am clean. In the past 5 months Papa has spent more time in a dentist chair that he has over the past ten years. My teeth don’t hurt, what is the big deal? While he cannot comprehend how oral hygiene can be related to any other health issues, he does understand we want him to make sure he keeps what teeth he has and that he needs his teeth to eat. Although we can’t say we know exactly what is going on in his mind, we can probably very accurately state that just about every thought is in some way surrounded around food. We have provided him with an electric toothbrush to use in the evenings hoping that this new toy will help with keep his pearly whites sparkling. Now trying to convince him he doesn’t need to bring a 1.5 Liter bottle of mouthwash for a weekend trip is another story…

We have also noticed that there are times Papa has selective forgetfulness. Monday: I walked today. Great, where did you go? How many steps did you take? Did Christina walk with you? Oh, I forgot my counter. I guess he forgot Christina too, she wasn’t aware of him walking.  Tuesday: I walked the big loop today. Awesome, did you remember your counter? I put it in my pocket after I got home. Wednesday: I walked to the corner today; I had my counter, it was about 200 steps. I didn’t ask which corner, but at 200 steps it was probably the corner of our yard. It is a good thing we walk with him in the afternoons.

Every Saturday we tell him to strip his bed so the linens can be washed. Every week? I never heard of people washing their sheets every week.   We know that is not true, Nana washed and ironed their sheets for every seven days for almost 60 years but it is senseless for us to remind him of that. Typically Papa forgets and makes his bed right away so he doesn’t have to take his sheets off or help put them back on later in the day.   What he is really hoping is that we will overlook it and not “make” him change his sheets. Papa helped change his linens this past Saturday and on Sunday morning as he were getting ready for church Doug mentioned to hold off on making his bed until later so he was not rushed. Our eight-year old Papa heard hold off on making the bed and disregarded the rest of the comment. Doug told me not too. Had Doug asked him to strip the sheets that bed would have been made in record time!

The term Grandfather Clause originated in the late 1800’s and states that the law does not apply to certain people because of conditions that existed before the law was passed. This term loosely fits our circumstances, sort of. Sure our household habits are not law, and Papa’s preexisting condition is memory loss, but he is of course a grandfather who should not be held accountable for what he doesn’t understand. Papa really is just a big loveable 80 year old kid and fortunately for him we must grandfather him in to some of our new rules.   He is exempt from trying to appreciate and remember our way of life. We will continue to follow him and load his gently used cup which he would leave sitting on the kitchen counter forever into the dishwasher every night even after we have remind it is a good idea to wash it daily, sometimes just replacing it with a clean cup of the same color without him noticing.   We check his room when he is not around to remove clothes from his closet that he has worn and rehung or make sure he puts his dirty socks into the laundry after each use. We took him shopping for some spiffy new sweats and explained that it is probably not appropriate to wear his pajamas or relaxing clothes to hang out on the porch or walk around the block while he is home during the day, and then put his relaxing clothes in a less convenient place so he is not tempted to wear them indefinitely.

Last night as we were sitting and relaxing Papa said that he wants the three of us to get away for the weekend to unwind. I am not saying we have to go far, we can stay in this state, but it would be nice to get away for a few days. Trying to find out exactly what he had in mind we asked him what he wanted to do, what he was interested in. I like to go to McDonalds. That pretty much sums it up for our big eight year old. We all have tickets for a Nat’s game on Friday evening, but I will look for a local day trip we can take on Saturday so we can all get away and unwind.  And if our trip includes walking we can probably bribe him with a stop at McDonalds on the way home.

Odd Jobs

Papa retired early and when I mention to him that he has spend almost as much of his life not working as to working and he quickly corrects me to say he started working very young.  I worked a lot!  I was only 10 when I got my first job.

Papa had two older brothers growing up, and three younger siblings.  Even though they came from a close-knit family, all of the Marocco kids followed very different paths growing up.   His eldest brother, Frank, was the musician in the family.  Frank started studying music at a very young age; he was truly gifted and eventually became one of the most recorded accordionists in the world.   The second child, Joe, was the athlete.  According to Papa, Joe was able to pick up any type of ball, walk on a field and be the star of the team. The Marocco’s were very driven and Papa said he could never compete with either of his older brothers, I didn’t like the clarinet and I was too short to play ball, so my dad told me I better find a job to stay out of trouble.   Papa is still quite the jokester; I can picture his father saying that to a young Wayne.

I started delivering papers when I was about 10 or 11.  I delivered to two separate routes.  The Chicago Daily Tribune was a Sunday paper, and the Chicago Sun-Times was every morning.  The Times was much lighter and easier to deliver.  The daily papers were supplied to his house early each morning for Papa to fold before they were delivered onto each customer’s porch.   If it was raining Papa had to protect the papers to make sure they didn’t get wet.  Papa folds an imaginary paper as he explains how he creased it very tightly into thirds.  It had to be just right.  It was hard to get the papers straight. There were no rubber bands or plastic bags like there are now so I had to crease the fold for it to stay tight.  It took time to walk up to each porch for delivery, I never threw a paper.  If you know Papa you can hear the way he accentuates the effort he spent to deliver the perfect paper to each of his customers.  His father had taught him to take pride in his work and Papa did.  Papa did not have to collect any money for the daily route his customers were billed monthly from the paper, but he was able to accept tips.  People in that neighborhood tipped me good.

The Sunday Tribune cost $0.10 per issue was hand delivered to each customer who paid for it on the spot.  I had to collect the funds before I could give them the paper.  He would carry a white money pouch on his waist to make change; it was pretty secure so I would not lose it.  I asked Papa if he had a habit of losing things when he was young and he laughed and said he doesn’t remember.  It didn’t happen often but there times when someone would pay with a $20.00 bill and he would not have enough change for the rest of his customers.  After time Papa figured if someone offered a big bill at the beginning of his route he would have to say he could not make change.  When asked if he went back to those customers at the end of his route when he did have more money in his cash belt and he said No, I never thought of that.  I just sold the papers and moved on.  It was hard when people didn’t have their dime because he could not deliver one if they didn’t pay.  I couldn’t just give it to them. I wanted to but I couldn’t.  I was accountable.  The Sunday paper was not folded it was much too thick.  These papers were too heavy to carry on their own so Papa figured out a way to build his own pull cart.  He used wood his father gave him and found some wheels from an old wagon to put his makeshift cart together.  I asked him why he didn’t just use the old wagon and he explained that he liked to take things apart and rebuild things.  It was better that way. 

At the end of his Sunday route Papa rode the North Shore Line Streetcar to Porett Brothers Distribution to pay for his papers.  It cost me ten cents of profit to pay for the round trip trolley ride and when they raised the price to fourteen cents I was mad.   To vent some of his anger toward price increase, he and his brothers played “Jump the Trolley” a few times.  They would throw a rope over the electrical cable so the trolley had come to an abrupt stop causing the conductor to get out and clear the cable.  Papa made sure I understood it didn’t happen often by them, usually it was the other kids playing this type of pranks, but he did admit to doing it a few times.  He is certain his parents never found out that the boys played pranks; my dad was pretty strict; he would not have tolerated that!    I must have had a look of shock on my face, because smirking like an adolescent, Papa assured me, my brother Joe can vouch for me, we only played Jump the Trolley a few times!  Really!   Hmmm….we will have to talk to Uncle Joe….

Papa turned out to be quite the entrepreneur growing up, and while he often speaks of his first job of delivering newspapers, we were able to pull out a few more of the odd jobs her performed as young boy.   Like many young kids he shoveled snow, mowed lawns and raked leaves, but I kept digging for something else he may have done.    During the winter I used to set pins at Grand Bowl.  I was so small I had to jump on and ride the frame down to get the pins aligned.  Papa was also a caddy at a local golf course.  Joe and I worked all summer at Glen Flora Country Club and made 25 cent tips from the golfers.  One day a week the caddies were allowed to golf and Papa had a 2-iron he used for the entire course;   Joe had another club but they did not share.  When I asked who the better golfer was I could still hear a bit of sibling rivalry with his answer as he said it wasn’t me, but he would never admit that it was Joe.   

Oh, I also made good money washing store windows. Papa would go to downtown Waukegan and boldly walk into the stores to ask if they had any work for him.  Once I cleaned one window the other stores hired me too.  The store would provide cleaning supplies and Papa would make a $1.00 for each storefront window he cleaned. When asked what the definition of good money was he replied with a fair amount.  A fair amount seems to be a common phrase with Papa when he isn’t sure how to respond, but as I watched his eyes light up remembering how much money he made I was certain that in 1945 one dollar was probably very good money for a young boy.

It is funny how a memory works… or doesn’t work.  Papa can remember not only the price of the trolley, or how much money he made washing windows in 1945, but the feelings he associated with those amounts but he can’t remember if anyone else in his family ever worked when they were young.  He knows exactly how old all of his siblings are compared to him, but cannot recall when they were born.  He knows the address of every house he ever lived in, but can’t place where he was inside that home.  We can see him look off and try to bring back a memory when we ask a question and there is no recognition only to be surprised several days later when we ask in a different way that he is able to bring back a small moment to share with us.   Papa relives the excitement or frustration as he tells a story as if it something had just happened, but he never seems bothered if he can’t remember something.  Our take from this as we talk to Papa is to work on trying to dig not just for the details but to ask about the feelings associated with his memories hoping  this will trigger his overall experience and not just a few random facts.

When Doug and Daryl were very young Papa used to tell his sons the same thing that his own father told him, that no matter what job they do, they better do it well.  If you are a garbage man, you be the best garbage man!  This symbolism might have been lost on his young boys who wondered why their dad was telling them to be garbage men, but as they aged they came to understand the true pride that their father took in all that he did.   Papa eventually found his way into Tom Strang’s Garage and by the time he was 13 he was pumping gas, washing windows and already well on his way to becoming a grease monkey.  Who would have known that at such a young age after a couple of odd jobs Papa would have stumbled into his life path, but then that must be the Marocco way.