On January 20, 2014 I published a post entitled Home: They say that Home is where the Heart is. I cannot imagine the feeling of having your life was turned upside down all at once. In the beginning of this year (2014), Papa not only lost his wife of almost 59 years, he left his comfort zone: his home, his friends, many of his belongings and much of his independence. He faithfully trusted us knowing this was the right decision and left the warm climate of Arizona, to move across country to a much cooler locale. I mentioned that each day I see gentle reminders in his behavior that shows he is more comfortable and we are hoping that with consistency he will truly feel at home. And then there are times as we are sitting in the family room and watching TV that I see him gently caress Nana’s side table and I realize that his first home will always be where his heart is, with Nana.
On March 2. 2017, Papa truly went home. As he closed his eyes to rest after his mid-day meal he drifted off to eternity to be with the love of his life. He left this world in the most tranquil of ways. It was peaceful, just like Papa was peaceful and loving and kind and I cannot imagine a better way for him to end his days on earth as he moves into the eternal world.
My chronicles of Papa are not done. I have hundreds of loose sheets of paper for the times I just grabbed whatever I could write on as he was talking. I have emails I sent to myself or notes on my phone and computer when paper was not available. And I even have some video of him telling me things when he was talking too fast for me to accurately put his words onto paper. I look forward to having Nana’s side table in my office and when I am at a loss for words, as I am tonight, I can gently caress that table just as Papa did hoping that it will bring me closer to him. I love you, Papa.
Please share your Papa stories with me. I would love to make sure they are included in our collection.
Yesterday afternoon I went to visit Papa and was welcomed to a group of fifteen seniors watching and singing oldies on youtube. They were fascinated that they could mention the name of any musician to the activity director and she would have a video clip playing on the large screen TV in just seconds. The group was singing and twisting along to Chubby Checker performing The Twist, or Frank Sinatra singing My Way. They were tapping their feet as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers were dancing Never Gonna Dance from the movie Swing Time and rocking along to Judy Garland in The Trolley Song from Meet me in St. Louis.
Papa was released from the hospital this week and transferred back to the rehab facility he has been in for the past month. An hour after arriving and settling in, Papa wanted Doug to push him out to the activity room but unfortunately by the time he was processed and dressed the other residents had already retired into their rooms for the night. It was too late, everyone was asleep so he had someone push him back to his room and went to bed. I can only imagine Papa woke up the next morning ready to be in the midst of a group. Maybe now it makes sense that while he was in the hospital he kept wanting to get up and out of bed. He kept asking who was in the hall way standing around the nurse’s station. Did he think he was still in rehab? Who is out there? Isn’t that one of the Fish girls? Why are we here? Who is in the hospital? Shouldn’t I be out there? He was confused about where he was and didn’t want to miss anything.
Papa and one other elderly gentlemen were in the midst of a circle of women singing, they were enjoying pushing their memory to recall music and movies they saw fifty, sixty or even seventy years ago. I walked behind the director and mentioned she should look up Papa’s older brother. The next song on the TV was Frank Marocco playing After You Have Gone on the TV. That is Frank, that is my brother! He has played the accordion since he was six. It was fun to step back and listen to the comments all of the women were making. “He is handsome”, “He’s good”, “I like the accordion”, “Do you play?”, “You sure look like him”. It was the first time I saw Papa open up and talk, telling the group his brother played with Les Brown and toured with Bob Hope. In this moment his mind and his memories were strong and clear. The activity director jotted down Frank’s name and promised to look up more videos for their next impromptu concert. Then one lady, whose social filter has become as worn as Papa’s, blurted out, “there is no singing in this, can’t we find something to sing along to?” Allison will be happy to hear they ended with Be My Baby by the Ronettes.
Papa is still confused, twice he offered to give up his wheelchair if I wanted to sit down, and when I put on my jacket to leave he asked me where I was going. He just looked up at me when I said I was going home. But isn’t this your house? I don’t understand how a mind can be so clear about some events and so foggy on others. How can he ask me if we are home and not wonder who all of the other people living there are? How can he not remember he doesn’t have the strength to stand or walk or know where he is eating his dinner. How can he have such an inability to perceive social cues but remember every word to Somewhere Over the Rainbow even if it is sung by IZ (Israel Kamakawiwo’ole) and not Judy Garland. Papa was not the only one who stopped singing long enough during that video to say, man that guy is big! How can a mind pay such horrible tricks on a person? Hopefully a few nights of sleep will bring back just a bit of the clarity he seems to have quickly lost during his hospitalization. But even if his mind doesn’t clear, I hope that he never forgets the lyrics to Over the Rainbow and that he believes that the dreams that he dares to dream, both day and night, really will come true.
It isn’t just doing something that creates a memory; it is reinforcing an event to make sure it stays with you. Watching baseball almost every night for six or seven months each year is one of the best reinforcements we have. Papa knows the entire Nationals team, who is playing, who is injured and how they are hitting, or as Papa recently said, they don’t need any bats today, no one is hitting. He has a framed schedule and reminds us what time a game starts and makes sure he has the TV warmed up and tuned in ready for the game if it is a day we are not sitting in the stadium. Sometimes he even watches the same game the following day if it is retelevised, after all, there is nothing like watching Bryce Harper hit his twentieth home run of the season for a second time!
Even though he has changed teams, Papa just might be a bigger fan of baseball than Doug or I ever understood. In addition to frequently reminding us that our manager Matt Williams both played and coached for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Papa on a number of occasions has mentioned that other players from rivaling teams used to play on the Diamondbacks. Because the Braves are in our division, Justin Upton was one of the first players he recalled as having played in Arizona. Now that he is with the Padres Papa wonders how just many teams Upton is going to play for. Papa might not recall vacationing in Hawaii or a photo of his own backyard so recognizing a player wearing another team’s jersey is a pretty big deal. In the past week Papa has mentioned twice that he knows a player from an opposing team. Sitting in Nats Park watching the Cubs over this past weekend he stated that Mug Mon-tee-air-o (Miguel Montero) used to play for Arizona. It has been several years since he and Nana watched the D-Backs baseball, but he remembered the name. Nana was an avid Diamondbacks fan and was often on the phone with her sister chatting the highs and lows of that day’s match so we never really understood how much Papa was paying attention to the game. Tonight watching the Yankees I heard Papa talking to himself, Steven Drew, Steven Drew, yes, that’s him, Steven Drew, he played for the Diamondbacks. I quickly looked Drew up and sure enough Papa was correct.
This year we decided to start early to extend our baseball season with Papa by heading down to Viera, Florida to watch our Nationals spring training and see a few early games. Now that the baseball season is well underway we can relive our whirlwind few days in Florida with gentle reminders reinforcing exactly who and what we saw, and along with memories of the sweet stories he told us about his boys for the umpteenth time.
Our first night in the hotel Papa looked at Doug and I and said this is where we stayed last time isn’t it? Doug and I looked at him and asked what he meant. Last time we came to Florida, we stayed here, right? Sorry, Papa we have never been here. It is funny how a mind can play illusions on people, it might make you forget something you have done in the past or trick you into thinking you have been somewhere you have never been. Our only explanation is that we have been building up this trip since our baseball season ended last October so in his foggy mind it was something we night have already done.
Just a few short hours after landing in Orlando we were sitting right in the middle of four practice fields watching our players’ jog from one drill to another. The repetitions of watching these professional athletes quietly moving between the fields opened the door for Papa to reminisce about watching his boys in the past. When Papa’s recalls an episode he is not just stating a chronological fact as it occurred, he explicitly remembers the feelings he felt, and continues to share those emotions in his stories. Papa has told and retold some stories for many years, reinforcing the same words, the same emphasis, the same hand movements, and the same emotions. Lately we have really noticed that Papa’s first response is often I don’t remember, so we truly enjoy the times Papa talks on his own without prompting, even if it is a story we have hears dozens of time. He very clearly brought up several events while Doug and Daryl played ball as if it were yesterday. They might be ones we have heard before, but they are worth repeating.
Papa mentioned coaching both Doug and Daryl’s teams until his boys were out of little league. He was always there for both of his boys, but his memories are a bit different than Doug’s during the time he was an assistant coach on Daryl’s Pinto team with Coach Taylor and Coach Creekmore. Papa didn’t know the ins and outs of baseball, he never watched or competitively played any sports, he didn’t train the young pitchers or teach the proper swing of a bat. Papa was pulled onto the field for several seasons because he was a supportive dad who had a good rapport with the kids on the team. He was a positive influence in the dugout that could keep the kids batting order in line and, if needed, on several occasions he might have been called in as the first base coach. His interest in baseball both then and now was because his kids were interested in baseball. He has always been a loving dad, is there any better coach than that?
They boys learned fast, they knew how to play before they even got into the sport. Well, Doug’s first year playing he stood in the outfield and picked flowers during the games but after that he was tops. Everything seemed to come easier for Doug, but Daryl worked just as hard. I will never forget a coach telling me what a smart player Daryl was. I said what to you mean? The coach told me Daryl could read the other players, to anticipate them; he knew what they were going to do before anyone else. He knew where they would throw the ball. That coach knew Daryl.
Papa went on to tell us how hard it was that some parents placed such high expectations on their children. They expect so much. They didn’t want their kids to listen to what we said. They thought they knew better. We had to be fair to everybody. The kids were just doing what we told them to do. They’re just kids. Then he flipped the tone of his recollection and said, but the parents never really gave me too much trouble. One time a dad was really getting on his son for the play he made and I was trying to explain why the boy did it. The boy told his dad that I knew more about baseball than he did and his dad should just listen. I was worried thinking that boy was really going to catch heck when he got home. Sadly, I don’t think parental pressure has changed over the years, but we kept that to ourselves as we let Papa continue talking.
I remember Doug umpiring little league when he was in high school. One of the parents had a smart comment at every call Doug made. Every call. I was mad. I wanted to say something but I knew Doug had it under control. Doug finally called the boy’s father down from the stands and said “here”. Papa held out his hands showing how Doug had attempted to hand over his mask and pads. What? What do you want me to do with that? the boy’s father asked. Papa went on to say that Doug told the boy’s father, you must be able to see things better from the stands than I can behind the plate; maybe you should be out here. I was proud of Doug; he never let anyone change his mind. He knew what he was doing. That boy’s father didn’t say anything after that.
Pausing for a moment Papa mentioned, Doug could have made it in baseball. He didn’t look any different playing than those guys on the field right now. He could have done it. A failing memory offers the ability to see familiar things as something new. Perhaps that is why Papa is able to hold interest to a TV show he has seen over and over again or to picture his own son as a teenager on any field full of baseball players. Going to Florida this spring was not just making new memories, although we did. It wasn’t just reinforcing what team Papa was going to support this year, although it did. It wasn’t seeing the same team in a different light thinking it was something new, even though it was. This trip also allowed Papa another atmosphere to replay happy memories of a past he is trying very hard to hold on to. It allowed him a visual to relive seeing his adult children as boys again.
Papa has already mentioned going to Florida next year and this season isn’t even over yet. Is it too early to start planning?
Papa says I wonder all the time. He wonders about things he has done, things he wants to do, places we are going or how something is put together. Fortunately we can often fill in some of the blanks for him. We can show Papa photographs and offer gentle reminders of an occasion he may not remember. We can Google to see what a car looked like in 1945 or how old a building is. We can show him a map to remind him the distance to a city we are traveling to or which direction we are headed. We can look up a person he wants to remember, or a baseball player he wants to learn about or a phone number for him to call. We can use YouTube to see how something is put together or taken apart, or even how a jigsaw puzzle is cut. Papa’s wonders may be infinite, but because they are often missing memories we are able to fill in the blanks and find answers to his many questions.
Today’s post is not about Papa.
Sitting in church this morning I looked at the date on the bulletin and I began to think, then ponder, or as some people might say, to wonder… January 11 would have been my Dad’s birthday and today it brought with it a rush of wonders, things I was curious about. Unfortunately not all my questions can be answered as easily as Papas. You can’t Google everything.
My Dad passed away in 1977 from idiopathic cardiomyopathy at the age of 41. Even though he was very young, he left behind a legacy he could have never have imagined. I have no doubt that he would have been more than proud of my Mom, the beautiful and strong young wife he left behind to continue raising their family, and of the families that my brothers and I have built.
Memories are personal and I was just a kid when my Dad got sick so forgive me if some of my recollections are a bit skewed. Certain memories circa 1977 are remembered quite vividly while others recollections probably not so much. I wish I remembered more. My Mom was teaching fourth grade at Spring Bluff Elementary School in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois and she sported around in a canary yellow Ford Maverick. My adorable younger brother Hayden was only seven. “Hogi”, the nickname I gave him when he was born, has Downs Syndrome and had recently started living at the Waukegan Developmental Center weekdays but came home every weekend. I vividly recall the Friday afternoon drives with my Mom and Dad to pick him up, especially the time our car broke down. Steve was a senior in High School and Scott was both going to college and also helping to fill in for my dad at Will, Inc. the paper supply business that my Dad and Grandfather owned in Zion. Star Wars came out that summer and Elvis died. I recall my dad being sick for about 6 or 7 months, but maybe it was longer. My Grandma Nelson lived in Galesburg but stayed with us that spring, and when she drove me around town she not only drove very slow, she would only make right hand turns while driving. Sure she explained it was because she did not know the area but I knew she just did not like crossing traffic. My class went on a school trip to Washington DC in June just after school ended and my mom had to bribe me to go by promising that I could call home collect every evening to check on Dad, and I would be allowed to fly home by myself, if needed. While I did not have to fly home from that trip, I did experience my first flight a few short weeks later to visit my Great Aunt and Uncle in Florida after my Dad’s funeral. Scattered memories that are almost 40 years old; just short of the age my Dad lived to be.
I do not recall ever seeing my Dad’s obituary, would seeing it bring back any memories? Would it answer any of my questions? I made a quick call to my brother this afternoon and he sent a copy of the newspaper clipping to my inbox before we hung up the phone. It didn’t teach me anything new. Sure, my Dad was a former Trustee and Zoning Board member for our small town, he probably served with some of my friend’s dads and I never realized it. They probably never realized it either. He was a member of the Moose Lodge, the Masons and Medinah Temple in Chicago just like many of my classmate’s fathers may have been. These were just a few more simple facts that just needed a bit of prodding for me to remember.
I know my Dad would have been proud of me and my brothers. I know he would have been delighted to know Doug, along with my brothers spouses, and would have been ecstatic to watch me graduate or walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. I know he would have been amazed to see the choices I have made, the travels I have been on, and the life I have built. He would have been enamored as he held each one of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and smiled to be able to see himself in them, just like we do. I know he may not have approved of every choice that was made, but I believe he would have always stood behind me. However knowing these things does not stop my curiosity from wondering how my life would have been different had he not gotten sick. Would his influence or encouragements altered decisions I made? Would it have changed my life? But my biggest question, what I think about the most is I wonder what his thoughts were in 1977 as he knew he was leaving his family. I wonder what he wondered.
Last weekend we were looking for something to do that might interest Papa and decided to go to an antique car show. Papa was hesitant at first wondering how far he would have to walk, but quickly warmed up to the idea as soon as he saw the lines of old cars stretching over several blocks. It was fun to see his excitement at the different model vehicles, and to see the old mechanic come out in him. He could name every pre-1975 car and tell us the year it was made, if the colors were replicated correctly and if he had ever worked on that type of vehicle. Pausing to look under the hood of most of the vehicles he made sure the engine was not only properly refurbished but also as clean on the inside as it was outside. Look at that engine, look at all that room! I have fat Italian fingers, see how there is room for me to work on these cars; cars aren’t made like that anymore. After we completed the first row of old cars I realized he was walking by some vehicles much faster than others, and while we were into the second row I looked over to Doug who nodded and whispered, “He has always been a Ford man.” Sure enough, he was walking by every one of the Chevys. Papa reminisced about his cars the entire trip home prompting us to start looking for pictures of the various vehicles he has owned.
Papa’s first car was a 1935 Ford convertible. He was 17 at the time and bought it for $150.00. My Ma and Dad never paid for my cars, and my Dad was worried when I bought this one. It had mechanical brakes and my dad told me to be careful, he didn’t think they were safe.
Papa was working at Strang’s Cities Service, a local garage on the corner of North Avenue and Ridgeland in Waukegan, Illinois. It was across the street from Louie’s, do you remember Louie’s? He laughed when I remind him I wasn’t around back then. As with all of his cars Papa did the engine work, but left it to auto body professionals to repaint this car’s exterior from black to blue. It looked really nice; I wish I had a picture of that car. He went on to tell me about a near miss he had while operating that vehicle. I was driving one day on Glen Flora at the North Shore tracks and could not stop; I had to swerve to get through a train gate. I must have looked concerned because Papa assured me a train was not coming even though the gate was down. I ripped the car top on the train gate and left my car at the shop that night. When I came home without my car my Dad asked me if I wrecked it. I said Nooo Dad; I am putting hydraulic brakes in it. My dad said, “Come here, let me kiss you, now I can sleep at night.” Mechanical brakes were not made for panic stops; I guess my dad was right they weren’t too safe. I think Ford was the last carmaker to use hydraulic brakes in all of their cars.
Papa smiled when he saw a picture of his 1950 Ford Convertible. I asked him why he liked convertibles, and was told they were the style. I didn’t put the top down in the winter, but I liked to drive with it down in the summer. It never bothered me in the cold weather. Look, this car had skirts, it was neat. I didn’t know what skirts were but he explained they covered the back wheels. See how they come half way down in the back. And look at the tires, white wall tires back then were wide. I used a lot of steel wool and soap on this car keeping the wheels clean. It was sharp. Every Friday night we would Scoop the Loop on Genesee Street between Grand and Belvidere. It was the main business area in Waukegan for a long time. We just drove out cars back and forth and made a lot of noise honking and yelling at our friends. Everybody did it. The police controlled us if we got too loud, but we didn’t really cause any trouble. It was a lot of fun. I can picture a handsome young Papa getting dressed up on Friday nights just to Scoop the Loop with his pals so they could show off their cars.
We were on a mission and pulled out another box of photos digging for more car pictures. Papa smiled when he found the next batch, he was about 23 and had just completed basic training in Fort Leonardwood, Missouri after being drafted in the Army. My Ma and Dad came to my graduation and so did Marge and Clarence Geib, they were like second parents to Geri. They brought her to Ft. Leonardwood in their 1955 Ford Fairlane. That Ford was a comfortable car. It was like a big family having everyone there. He took one more look at the photograph before saying I don’t know whose old Chevy that is next to their car. Yes, Papa is a Ford man. He was also a pretty sharp looking Private in 1956 standing next to his beautiful young bride.
As I continue digging in the box, Papa explained to me that he had owned a lot of cars. We just traded them for other cars. This is my 54 Mercury Monterey, it was a stick shift. That Merc was a really nice car. We bought it used but it was only a couple of years old. Papa smiled again as he looked at Nana posing next to his really nice car and told me, she was pretty nice too. Yes Papa, she was. I don’t see a picture but I had a 54 Ford junker. I used that car to get back and forth to work after I was married. I drove that car and never even washed it once. Not once. It was a rust bucket, but then all cars in Illinois rust pretty quick. I had a 53 Ford hard top too, that sure was a good one. I drove the hardtop when I wasn’t at work. I don’t see any pictures of that either.
I handed Papa another photograph and he continued on. That is my 1969 Ford F100 Ranger. We bought that new, but it was not our first new car. That is a 15-foot Kent behind it, our first trailer. Man, that pulled good. We had a lot of fun times camping. That is just what we did back then, it was enjoyable. I wonder if I asked Doug and Daryl if they would remember camping as fondly as Papa does.
We also found a picture from 1991 of his 68 Ford pickup pulling their 5th Wheel. That was a 30’ Real-Lite, it had everything on it. We bought that when we retired and I wanted to travel over the United States and visit all of the friends we met in the service. I wish Geri and I had been able to do that. That truck was OK too, I wanted another 69 but this was almost as good.
After his boys left home Papa bought a 1968 Barracuda to refinish. I am not sure what year I bought that car but it took me a while to finish. I did all of the engine work, and the guy that did the interior and the outside did a super job. I wish I had kept that car; I could have driven it forever. Someone is Arizona is probably still driving it.
I do recall that car sitting in his garage for quite a few years in the mid 80’s, and definitely agree that it was a pretty cute muscle car; I wish he had kept it also.
The car Papa brought up the most and was most excited to talk about was his 1963 ½ Ford Galaxie 500 XL. He knew we had to have a photograph in our growing pile. I was glad Papa was the one to pick it out. Found it! That was the first car that I bought brand new. It cost me $3400 and I even had to finance it for three years. It. Was. Sharp.
The color was called heritage burgundy and Geri picked out coral for the interior. It looked really good. It was a fastback, you know, the kind that looks more streamlined. We had that car for a long time. We pulled the trailer with it and took a lot of nice trips when the kids were young. I think Geri liked that car as much as I did.
Papa spoke about other cars, but we were not able to find pictures. I had an old Dodge charger I wanted to redo. It had a Hemi with dual exhaust, positive traction and nitrous oxide boost. Wow! That is in the early 80’s and with two teenagers in the house maybe it was a good thing he never finished a speed car like that. I can vividly remember the sound of that engine revving up the few times Doug or Daryl did drive it to school. I reminded him it also had holes in the floor, or as Papa might say, another Illinois rust bucket. Of course I had a Gremlin. I smiled this time. Papa actually had two Gremlins. One was totaled in an accident, but that is another post. I fondly remember his second Gremlin, and while we did not Scoop the Loop, Doug and I spent many a date night in High School driving in and around Zion in that beige car.
The car show was a great way to spend last Sunday, it was a beautiful day and we logged over two miles that afternoon examining all the cars Fords. But as it turns out, the Bowling Green Virginia Car Show was really not the highlight of our week. Because Papa had come home talking about the many vehicles he had owned we were inspired to spend the rest of the week digging through old pictures with him. We found photographs he didn’t remember existed and brought back memories that he had not thought about in years. Papa told us some great stories, and it was in Papa’s own words, entertaining.
Be optimistic! Don’t worry be happy! Find the positive! If it is important to you, you will find a way! Every cloud has a silver lining! The best is yet to come! When one door closes another opens! You are not alone! The sky is the limit! Never give up! Freckles!
We know these phrases and many other like them. There are the cheerful people who use them, and then there are the individuals that the phrases are directed at. Typically you are one or the other, an optimist or pessimist or in my husband’s opinion, a realist. But I typically find realism is just another negative attitude, a fancy word for a person whose view tends to border a more pessimistic perspective.
From a very young age one of our daughters had a lot of freckles concentrated on her left arm. Right or wrong, I attribute this to where she sat in the car and how the sun shined on her fair-skinned arm during our countless hours of travel while living in the desert. I can remember many people asking her what was wrong with her arm or what caused that. Allison always answered positively, “Freckles!”, but in my mind I always found it a bit odd that someone didn’t know what a freckle was, or even a couple hundred closely spaced brown spots on a young girls arm.
I am an optimist. I try to find the good in everything, even if I have to look deep to find it, and I found myself using many of these positive affirmations over the past couple weeks.
Don’t Worry be Happy is one of Papa’s favorite anthems. He can remember a four-year old Nathan singing the Bobby McFerrin song to him back in 1988 as Papa was on the down side of his working years and dreading working outside in another cold Chicago winter. Papa often says it, and will smile anytime he hears someone say it back to him. I have received emails and calls asking about Papa over the past month, and I want to thank you for your concern. Papa is still with the West Coast Maroccos’, and will hopefully be cleared to fly to Hawaii for a family vacation with them in mid-August. Regrettably he suffered from a pulmonary embolism after traveling for extended periods of time as he made his way across the country. This meant not only a quick hospitalization on his vacation, but being followed by a second set of cardiologists, neurologists and primary doctors, which in turn created a cancellation of medications by one set of doctors and reorder of all of his medications by current doctors. Fortunately Papa just goes with the flow of whatever is happening. He is enjoying being entertained by his four youngest grandchildren in sunny California, and a backup plan is in place just in case he doesn’t get the all clear to fly to Hawaii. Don’t worry, be happy!
Every cloud has a silver lining. He didn’t need to hear it from me, but I recently mentioned that to one of my brothers. Scott and his traveling buddy had a trip Down Under planned for the end of this month but decided to cancel it at the last minute for his family. Just like that, he put the needs of others before his own. I do not think Scott fully understands what an inspiration he is to his friends and family as a strong support base for all of us. He is a rock. Plans might change, but dear friends never do, and my brother always finds a way to look out for everyone’s best interests and do the right thing. Scott is my silver lining.
Out of the blue, my friend Karen sent me the below verse. What a great reminder that we are never alone.
That brings us to freckles… Just like my young daughter said many years ago, I have excitedly said, freckles over the past few days. Anyone that knows me can see vitiligo has completely taken over my hands, my feet and my neck and is creeping up my arms and legs with large irregular patches of glowing white non-pigmented skin. There is no known cause for this depigmentation, other than it is probably an autoimmune disorder affecting about 1% of the population. It is unpredictable it doesn’t typically cause any issues other than white patches and until recently I have never opted for any type of treatment. To be honest I don’t really see the affected areas until they were brought to my attention, but now that I am aware of them they do bother me. They really bother me. A short time ago my dermatologist recommended trying to re-pigment some of the areas to help prevent sunburn on these large patches, and I figured why not, what do I have to lose? I am now several weeks into a twice a week light therapy regime and was told that it may take months before any re-pigmentation may occur. But I do not have to wait. I recently looked down to see dozens of freckles on my hands. Freckles! If the pigment continues to regenerate great, if not, it really isn’t a big deal. But for now, I can smile and say it. Freckles!!
Doug and I sat down with Papa, his calendar and a computer earlier this week to coordinate details for his summer trip. We made a few phone calls, developed a plan, and booked his plane tickets. Like Papa, his itinerary is not long or complicated; he wants to spend nondescript time in both Illinois and California to see all of his siblings, his favorite brother-in-law and the West Coast Maroccos. We have explained that once he gets the feel of flying we can fit more trips in-between all of his scheduled appointments but I know that this first trip will be the hardest on all of us. He is a bit nervous and of course we have some of the same apprehensions that we had when our children tried something new, something big, and we were not sure if they were ready for it or not. But we let our kids spread their wings and they were prepared every time, they passed all of the obstacles that came their way and while they may have different accounts of how we may have been a bit over protective here or there they were always independent and became worldly travelers at a young age. Papa is no different, Doug and I will be on edge from the moment we take him to O’Hare to put him on a flight until we hear he has arrived in San Diego, but deep down I know that he too will pass this test. As Papa mentioned tonight, I won’t really be alone, there are other people on the plane, aren’t there?
Papa does not recall flying by himself, so like everything else if he does not remember, it never really happened. It is reassuring to me that he is very absolute in his thinking. He does not get frustrated trying to recall memories from the past that are lost in his brain. He does not get angry knowing that the facts are locked up inside just shy of being seen. He does not get upset wondering if he has or has not done something. He does not worry about things he cannot change, he says he doesn’t remember and moves on. In his mind he has never flown by himself, period. We know however that this is not actually the case, Papa has flown alone and I can clearly picture two instances that I wanted to share with him last night. I am sure that in addition to these, there has been another time or two he has ventured off alone over the years.
In 1984 Papa drove across the country with Nathan and I to meet Doug at his first duty station. It was a four-day trip with a four-month old in a Ford Escort with no air conditioning. The weather was very warm, and we received minimal relief from opening the pull vents as we traveled down the interstate. This is one of my favorite pictures of Nathan and Papa along the way. We did not stop at National Parks to stretch our legs like I would do today; we stopped at dingy rest areas, truck stops and a few diners. We drove, we talked and we ate while Nathan slept in the back seat. I remember stopping at a joint in Texas that had both jukeboxes and payphones in every booth. Papa, being a jokester decided to use the phone. We laid out all of our change on the table and called his nephew Tim who worked at their family cleaners in Glendale, Arizona. When Tim answered the phone Papa sang the Jefferson’s Movin’ On Up theme song and said This is George, Weezy and I are headed into town tomorrow. Papa does not remember this, but I can still hear Papa laughing out loud after his conversation with Tim. We shared driving, but it was easier on both of us when I drove so he could hear and carry on a conversation without all of the Huh? the Ehhhh? or the What did you say? (His left ear is still his better ear). It was fun. He flew home by himself, a few days after seeing his father in San Diego and making sure Doug and his young family had been reunited.
In December 1988 Papa again flew out to visit us, alone, to spend his birthday and hopefully get to meet his first granddaughter. He spent a week playing with Nathan and asking us more times than we could count, Is it time? Is she ready? Will it happen today? Sadly our scheduling was off, Papa flew home late one afternoon and our independent Allison arrived several hours after his departure. He was disappointed knowing he was going to have to wait a few weeks to meet her, and when he did it was love at first sight.
Papa could hold any one of his grandchildren for hours and just look in their eyes as if they carried on a silent and secret conversation. He has always said I have the best family; there are some the same but none better than ours. He loves his brood and his grandchildren will always have a very special place in his heart. This is one of the few photographs we have a Papa with a beard, he didn’t remember that either and laughed at the grey when I showed him the picture.
Papa has flown and even with a few apprehensions he is looking forward to this trip. I don’t know what I would do without you guys, you take care of everything. We can plan a trip and try to think of every possible scenario, but unfortunately we will not be on the plane with him. Sure he has nonstop flights and wheelchair assistance starting at the airport check in counter, and I am certain that American Airlines will help him get through security and to the correct gate for his flight. What I worry about is what will happen while he is sitting at the gate and waiting, when there are extra minutes ticking away, teasing him, just waiting for him to become momentarily distracted. Papa will enjoy people watching once he is at the gate; he may talk to a few people around him. He will probably ask his neighbor the date and time to make sure his watch is correct and will definitely become enamored at some of the young children playing. As he is watching the kids he will happily remember that we packed him some snacks for his trip and will start snacking on a cookie or some chocolate covered raisins. He will be content. He may hear one of the moms ask her child if they have to go to the bathroom before the flight and it will remind Papa he should also look for the facilities. He will find a restroom, probably not the closest or most convenient and may walk out and start heading the wrong way. He will see McDonald’s just up the terminal and decide he needs a chocolate shake. You get the picture, Papa is as easily distracted as the mouse in one of Laura Numeroff’s books as soon he has a cookie in his hand.
Papa will have a wonderful time visiting the best family in the world, but I think I better look for a new cell phone, one that he can hear ring, before he leaves so we can make sure he travels from point A to point B without incident.
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.
Thanks for asking about Papa; it is reassuring to be reminded that readers are looking out for Papa’s best interest just as we are. Papa won our bracket, friends want to make sure he received his award and they are curious as to exactly what his prize was.
As both the Bookmaker and Commissioner of Marocco Mayhem, I manage the bets and distribute the winnings at the end of the tournament. I am open to prize suggestions from that year’s champion with the stipulation being that the prize must be within reason. I may take their suggestion, or I may decide on an entirely different suitable award. I may not know the teams, or even how to guess very well, but I have full control by being the Big Bookie for our Bracket.
In addition to bragging rights for an entire year, Papa requested a Dark Chocolate Milk Shake with whipped cream from Bobby’s Burger Palace. This seemed reasonable. Papa loves chocolate, he loves ice cream and he loves the straws at this place, which are close to an inch in diameter. It is a great shake! We threw in a burger and some sweet potato fries and he was set. Papa could not have been happier with his winnings unless he had happened to pick perfectly and meet Warren Buffet.
There is always next year for the rest of us. When you are looking for the Perfect Pool to join, think back to Marocco Mayhem and I will spot you a free entry just like everyone else. My only rule is that as Commissioner I take a 20% vigorish of your winnings if you are so lucky as to guess each game flawlessly.
Always up for a bit of family competition we have competed against each other in the Marocco Mayhem – NCAA March Madness bracket for the past couple of years. This year Papa joined us with his picks and the stakes were even bigger than just competing for family fun. Like millions of others we took our time choosing the right teams we were certain one of us was bound to have the perfect bracket and win Warren Buffet’s $1,000,000,000.00.
Our family bracket is a small sample of most office or friendly bracket pools. Some people in our family follow college basketball; they watch games and closely follow stats for the entire season. They are aware of which players are hot for the tournament and who is currently fighting an injury. They follow the coaches to know who has carried their team to the end in the past. They know who plays well together and who buckles under pressure and who fights as the underdog. They are able to make a fairly educated guess of how the tournament will play out. I am not in this group….
Then we have the middle group. They follow some games and see a few sports highlights on the evening news. They know a handful of teams well enough to carry on a conversation and are even able to throw a few players or coaches’ names around. They have allegiances to their alma maters, but don’t necessarily follow the complete lineup of this year’s top 64. They want to know the teams, but really don’t have the time and/or energy to commit to “know all about it”. So, they are able to make a somewhat informed guess as they fill in their brackets. I wish I were in this group…
We also have the guessers. People like me. I admit it; I look at two teams, look at their ranks, and flat-out guess. Team A sounds better than team B, or I like orange over blue or that is a fun city, or I know someone who went to school there. Sure us guessers might recall a bit of a conversation, (especially when it is repeated numerous times by others who think we are not listening) such as Virginia has a great team this year, that has not happened since Ralph Sampson in the early eighties or it is a great year for the Big 10 (or 12 or 14…) this year, but none of that plays a part in our picks. For me it really is just a guess.
We explained the bracket to Papa and we had every intention of sitting at the computer with him while he made his picks. His main concern was who do I pay, how much is it, and what do we win? Time got the best of us and before we knew what happened it was 12:55 on March 20th, and we had five minutes to get Papa’s picks in. He had just left an appointment and was in the car with Doug so we put him on speakerphone while I ran through the bracket asking him his picks. I would name two teams and Papa would give me his winner. Unfazed that time was not on his side I kept trying to speed things along but Papa would not be rushed. He took his time asking me to repeat some of the match-ups and meticulously exaggerating each name in his response back to me adding extra syllables. Flo-ree-a-da. Con-nect-tic-cut. Syr-cues. Oh-ka-la-ho-ma. Virginia. Michigan State. Michigan. You already said Michigan, why are there two Michigans? To speed things up I said Tiara’s school and the other Michigan. Where is Baylor? Lou-S-ville. Chrig-ton, never heard of them. Christina’s school plays Tiara’s school that is a hard one to choose… I still am amazed at how we went through an entire bracket in 5 minutes.
Every year there is a fairy tale story during March Madness, an upset or underdog who fights his way to the final games. Papa chose well, he was the big upset in our league, our Cinderella. The time was slowly ticking down, Papa had already lost his size 11.5EEE glass leather slipper as he was running away from the ball another appointment, and he took the league as the top winner. He may not have won a billion dollars, but he beat the people who follow college basketball, the people who want to follow college basketball and he also beat the rest of us. Success!
Endnote: Why does March Madness end in April? Maybe a better name would be Spring Psychosis.