Not long after my Dad passed away, around his birthday my mother-in-law gave me the gift of a set of wind chimes. I’d never owned a set of wind chimes, so I was excited to have a set to put out and enjoy their sweet sounds. And my, how sweet those chimes sound.
Not only are those wind chimes a joyful sound to my ears, but a sweet sound to my heart. Whenever I hear them sing, I am reminded of my Dad. I feel his presence. And I am comforted.
Which made me start thinking.
What (or who) makes those wind chimes play?
We can’t see the wind, but we can sure feel it. Sometimes it’s strong, sometimes gentle. It’s refreshing on a warm day, biting on a cold one. We can hear it. Sometimes it cries and howls, sometimes it whispers.
We don’t have to see it to know it’s there.
The same goes for God. Just because we can’t see Him, we can feel His presence and trust that He’s there. Sometimes when things don’t go our way, we may feel as though He’s being harsh or too strong with us…even though He’s not. When we’re sad or lonely, He’s gentle. When we’re happy and joyful, He’s refreshing to our souls.
Not only do I feel God’s presence in the wind, I feel my Dad with me as well.
I hear those chimes and memories of my Dad come flooding back to me. I miss him so much, but hearing the sweet notes coming from the wind chime remind me that even though he’s not physically with me anymore, he’s still here comforting me through the power of the wind. It’s as if he’s saying, “You can’t see me anymore, but you can still feel my love. I’m with you.”
This week I’ve been dog sitting my Mom’s two dogs, Max & Millie.
My Dad LOVED those pups.
They were comforting to him and brought him so much happiness.
But the craziest thing happened the other night when I let them outside.
It was pretty late and very quiet outside. It was calm and the wind was not stirring, yet when Max and Millie got near the wind chimes, they gently started singing. And immediately I knew Dad was there. He was with us.
And I felt peace and was comforted.
Thank you God for the gift of the wind. May your sweet Spirit continue to bring me peace and joy through your mighty power.
“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” ~John 3:8
Last week this picture popped up on my Facebook timeline as a memory from one year ago.
I remember this day quite vividly.
That morning I had a shoot for ciLiving in Rantoul and had called my mom to see if she and Adelynn wanted to meet me for lunch at C&C Kitchen. It was the day after I had gotten to see my Dad for the first time after his release from the psych ward in Decatur and was able to visit with him in his new assisted living facility in Mahomet. I specifically remember telling my mom at this lunch date one year ago that I had such a good feeling about this new home for Dad. I was optimistic. Hopeful. We had made the right decision in putting him there. Everything is going to be okay.
I also remember Mom and I having a conversation about paperwork she needed to complete for Dad that included a DNR, do not resuscitate, so that was fun. But necessary.
Then in a matter of 24 hours, everything changed. Our world flipped upside down and we started a journey on a wicked roller coaster ride that would not let us off no matter how hard we tried. That next day I was eating lunch with a friend from church when my Mom called and said the assisted living facility called and said Dad wouldn’t let go of a nurse’s arm and they had to call in the fire department and police to get him to let go. They were headed to the ER.
My head began spinning.
He wouldn’t let go of someone’s arm so we call the fire department?
And now we’re heading to the ER?
Is this for real?
How is this possible? I just saw him the day before. He seemed to be doing great. How could I have been so wrong on feeling so optimistic? How could things have downward spiraled so quickly in a mere 24 hours? This can’t be real.
I met my mom at the hospital and we were there when he arrived on the stretcher.
What I then witnessed and what began to unfold before my eyes was a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from… no matter how hard my Dad squeezed my arm. Because he did… HARD.
He was so confused. He didn’t understand what was going on. He couldn’t understand that they needed him to stay in the hospital bed so they could examine him. He kept trying to get up and a nurse began to FREAK out. I can’t blame her though, because she had no background information on my Dad. He looked so normal, like a strong, young, healthy man. She didn’t know any better. The nurse then proceeds to call in what felt like a dozen nurses, security guards, and anyone with muscles, to restrain my Dad. I was stuck in the middle trying to calm him down, convince him to sit back, but he put the grab on my wrists and he squeezed. I was reminded of the “Indian burns” that he used to give me as a kid but this time he wasn’t rubbing and he wasn’t letting go. That then made the nurses nervous, but I just kept reassuring them I was fine. He wasn’t hurting me. It didn’t feel good, but there was no way I was telling them that information. After I got Dad to let go, the doctor made us leave because he knew we didn’t need to be there for what was about to happen.
We stepped out of his room and hearing my Dad yelling, telling them to stop, that they were hurting him was too much. We had to get out of there and get some air.
When we finally got to go back to see him, he was in restraints, in a position that looked most uncomfortable. We were praying that this behavior was caused by a urinary tract infection, but those results came back negative. The doctor blamed the progression of the disease and really had no answers for us.
So we sat. And we waited. I caressed his hair, sang softly to him, and we watched the drugs take over him and put him into a drugged coma for two days.
And that was the beginning of the end.
But, seeing that picture pop up on my Facebook feed brought that day rushing back to me and those events have flooded my mind ever since. I thought I was doing so well with my grief. I was able to look through photo album after photo album searching for back to school photos for my last post and didn’t cry once. Not once. I’d made a breakthrough. Right?
How has seeing one picture, that my Dad isn’t even in, set me back in my grieving?
My birthday is coming up this week. It’s going to be my first birthday that I won’t hear my Dad wish me a happy birthday. Last year, from his hospital bed, he sang to me, his own Alzheimer’s version of the song with help from Mom. It was perfect. What I wouldn’t give to hear that messed up version again this week.
A year of firsts.
First birthdays. First holidays. First anniversaries. Experiencing everything this past year for the first time without my Dad has been hard, but what I expected. I didn’t think it would be fun or easy. But things were getting easier. And now, I’m back to feeling sad.
So, where is my joy? Something I take pride in being able to do well, is the ability to find the joy in any situation. But, I’m struggling this time.
“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
Trust in Him. The one who made me. The one who loves me more than anything and loves me so much He sent His only son to die on a cross for me.
For imperfect me.
So that is what I will do… trust in HIM.
I have felt the power of the Holy Spirit since starting this blog. I can go back and look at previous blog entries and think, “What made me type that? Where did those words come from?” And there’s only one answer… I had help.
I’m anticipating these next few months to be needing a lot more help from up above as we head into our final “firsts” and are reminded of my Dad’s final days.
Thank you God for all the birthdays I had the privilege of celebrating with a Father who loved me beyond measure. Thank you for loving me and being there for me during this new stage of grief and sadness, and for the gift of Your presence I will be joyful. And even though this year’s celebration will look and feel a little different, it doesn’t take away from the fact that You gave me the ultimate gift, a gift I can never repay, but can try to everyday by living a life that reflects You, just as my Dad would want me to do so we can one day celebrate together once again. Cupcakes are calorie free in heaven, right?
It was a time for new pencils and crayons, each one with my name carefully hand written on them, Lisa Frank folders and TrapperKeepers, Rainbow Brite lunch boxes and new gym shoes.
It was new beginnings. Fresh starts.
But back to school time in my day was more than just new supplies, new kicks, and a new teacher.
It was about new memories to be made!
If you were to ask any of our childhood friends growing up what they remember about my Dad, I can almost guarantee you that they would say they could recount how on the first day of school he always had a camcorder glued to his shoulder.
It was simply tradition.
That first day of school was like Christmas to my Dad.
And every year, on that first day of school we’d take pictures outside the house and my Dad would get out his camcorder and ask us three questions: What day is it? What grade are you going into? and Who’s your teacher going to be?
We kept our answers brief, never giving more information than absolutely necessary.
Then after Mom would buzz past us giving us two toot-toots of her horn and a big wave, we’d proceed to walk or ride our bikes to school . Once we got there, we’d head into our classrooms to find a camera-shy teacher hesitantly ready to greet us and welcome us inside. Being famous for bringing the camcorder every year, I can only imagine how excited the teachers were to be having us in their class that year, knowing what they were in store for that first day. Filming it all, as to not miss a moment, he’d document as much as we’d let him on that first day of school. And every year it got a little more embarrassing. I can remember whenever we were being silly or inappropriate (which was usually Dustin!), basically doing something Dad didn’t find cute or funny, he’d always get frustrated and remind us that “this is for all posterity!”
For all posterity.
Posterity, all future generations of people.
God offered Abraham a posterity like the stars of heaven.
“And I will make your descendants to multiply as the stars of the heavens, and will give to your posterity all these lands; and by your Offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, or by Him bless themselves”(Genesis 26:4)
My Dad was offering us a posterity of memories.
Moments. Little nuggets to hold onto and look back on one day, smiling through tears, and say, “Remember that time when…”
Remember that time when Mom plopped a nearly 3 month old baby Ashley in the front seat of the car before heading off to school because apparently we didn’t use car seats back then?
Remember when Dustin was going into 2nd grade and when asked who his teacher was going to be he said, “Mrs. Feeney Weeney who wears a bikini!”
Remember when stirrup leggings and backpacks with big Cabbage Patch heads on the back were cool?
Remember when I was going off to high school and he really wanted to walk with me to the bus stop up at the Community Building but I wouldn’t let him?
I had forgotten.
That is until we whipped out the old home videos and found the one VHS tape…the one which he had to find every school year so as to keep all of our first days of school in chronological order.
Why did he do it? Every year. Every stinkin’ year, taking off work that first day of school, digging out that big, bulky camcorder to ask us the same exact questions he had done the previous year, and the year before that, and the one before that, and so on. Licking his fingers, combing down his hair, using the reflection from the Astro Van window to make sure he looked nice… for all posterity.
And now here I am, a mom with kids in school. Why did I not start that same tradition with them starting in Kindergarten?
I regret it now. But thankfully it’s never too late to start something new.
New school years. New memories. New opportunities to create little nuggets that they will remember and hopefully cherish for all posterity someday. But for now, I’m left for all of posterity with the memories of what a great Dad I was blessed to have growing up.
Thank you God for blessing me with a Dad who wasn’t camera shy, who loved making and documenting memories, and for leaving us a treasure trove of old home movies to watch and reminisce on all the fun we had being the Roberts family.
I never realized until now just how tiring going through grief can be on a person.
I’m so tired of being sad.
Father’s Day came and went. Seeing everyone’s tributes on Facebook to their dads made me sad. Post after post. People thankful for their dads. I could hardly stand to keep scrolling. I was jealous that others still had their dads here on Earth, to love on and hug, and call and tell them they loved them. And I sat there. Crying. Sad.
To me Father’s Day is everyday.
I think about my Father everyday. Multiple times a day.
Most of the time they’re happy thoughts. But then again… they just end up making me sad.
How much longer will I be sad at the thought of him?
How much longer will I miss him? Wish he were still here with me?
Scared that I’ll forget the sound of his voice. Scared that I’ll forget his laugh. Scared that I’ll forget the funny things he was known for saying. Scared of the day that will eventually come when I don’t think of him everyday.
Ugh. Grief. It’s just exhausting. I’m so over it.
And then not a few days after Father’s Day came what would have been my parent’s 41st wedding anniversary.
Last year we all celebrated with dinner at The Beef House.
We had no idea it would be the last one we would celebrate.
Can we just talk about 40 years here for a second? FORTY YEARS.
Children, grandchildren, a cat, dogs, a fish we thought would outlive us all…
So much crammed into those 40 years.
Is it wrong that I want 40 more?
And then came The Longest Day, June 21st. A day the Alzheimer’s Association designates as a day for people that have loved ones fighting the disease or have passed from the disease to do something that loved one loved doing. I had big plans. I still do have big plans. My Dad loved softball. I wanted to arrange a softball game or tournament or something along those lines, but summer schedules and time restraints prevented me from getting it together. There’s always next year…
But something I could do was run.
My Dad loved running. That boy…. he was running up until the end. He thought the halls of Amber Glenn were a race track.
So, I downloaded a Couch 2 5K app and the Rock My Run app. Bought a new pair of kicks. And I ran.
And it felt good. Actually, it felt great.
One of these days I won’t think of my Dad and immediately be sad.
Just like the 160 seasons that my parents experienced together as husband and wife, this season of grief that I’m going through will one day pass as well. I look forward to this season passing and moving onto the next one.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…
June 3, 2016 God blessed us with the sweetest baby you may ever meet. Adelynn Denise was born shortly after 8pm and has had us all smitten ever since. I honestly can’t even begin to tell you just how much I love this baby… like a.lot.
So, with the arrival of her birthday, it had me reminiscing about that day exactly one year ago.
Ashley was in labor and wanted my Mom to be in the delivery room for the birth, so after work we grabbed my Dad to entertain him while we waited. Having had two kids I knew it would be awhile before she made her big debut, so we checked out downtown Champaign as it was kick off weekend for their Friday Night Live event. We ate at a new downtown restaurant and then went and listened to some music… and waited. We finally got the call that she was here and off we went.
And she was perfect.
I recall handing Adelynn to Dad to hold and Mom and Ashley being so incredibly nervous. I was right there the whole time, as you can see my hand, but I knew he wasn’t going to drop her. He loved babies. And there was no way I was going to let anything happen to her, it was such a sweet moment.
And now fast forward 365 days.
We blinked and Adelynn turned one.
And yet it feels like so much has happened in those past 365 days. So much joy mixed with so much sadness.
Thankfully, there was so much to be happy about on Saturday as we celebrated Adelynn’s first birthday.
My sister went all out with a Lemonade themed party and everything turned out super cute, in true Roberts fashion.
Dan built an amazing lemonade stand as well as a little pint sized one for her. Ashley documented Adelynn’s stats every month so those were on display. She had little cards for a time capsule where she encouraged guests to write down their hopes and wishes for Adelynn as she would be given them on her 18th birthday. (Jillian predicted that she would be a gymnast.)
I made cupcakes.
And Adelynn ate cake.
It was a lovely day filled with all of my favorite things: Food, family, and friends.
And yet someone was missing.
The night before Adelynn’s birthday, TJ and I were able to have a date night and he was wanting to go check out the Friday Night Live event downtown, as once again it was kick off weekend. It was hard being back downtown, thinking about the last time we were there exactly one year ago, entertaining my Dad. So, I was scrolling through my pictures on my phone, looking for the ones of my Dad with the newborn Adelynn and I found this one above. I thought it was perfect for Instagram, so I posted it. And then I got to staring at it. What all do you see in that picture? I see a beaming grandma. So much happiness on her face. Is that a scrunchie on her wrist? Are those making a comeback? I see a newborn baby, a gift from God. A new life. Promise. My Dad’s wedding ring. Another promise. His watch. An ever present reminder that time can’t stand still, even though I wish it could. My Dad’s face gazing at that sweet baby. I wish I knew what he was thinking. Then there’s the cross. A symbol and reminder of what God gave us, His only Son. His baby. The sacrifice Jesus gave for us. I see love in that picture.
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. My Dad’s white visitor name tag. He was a visitor that night, as were we all. But not just a visitor to the hospital. He was a visitor here on Earth. This world wasn’t his home. It never was. His home is in heaven and I was lucky enough that God sent him here to “visit.” I wish his visit could have been longer. I wish he could have seen Adelynn’s first year of life and love on her and hold her and never want to share her like he did with my kids. She would have had him wrapped so tightly around her little pinky finger.
“This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door, and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
And then I get to thinking about Adelynn. I told you how much I love that baby, I love her so much my heart could burst. And when Dad died, my heart did burst. It burst into a million tiny pieces. But God gave us a gift. He not only gave us his Son, he gave us her. He knew how much joy she was going to bring and what a light she would be during some of our darkest days.
My Dad was with us in spirit. I always feel him when I go home. And he’ll always be “at home” in my heart.
Thank you God for the gift of baby Adelynn. Thank you for choosing her just for Ashley and Dan, knowing full well how much joy she would bring into our lives. You always have a plan. While life may be a mystery to us, it never is to You. Bless this sweet baby with all the joy and happiness she can stand. Thank you for letting my Dad be a visitor to this Earth and for allowing us to enjoy every day of his short visit. I wish I were able to call him and tell him to come back soon, as my heart misses him terribly, but instead, I say… how about YOU come back soon? I’m ready for your visit and for You to take us all home so we can be reunited once more.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17
Forty years is a long time to reflect on your dating years but this is a memory I just had to share. Geren loved driving fast until he became afflicted with Alzheimer’s. One day we were headed to an Illini football game and we were running late, a common characteristic for both of us, so he was speeding along Rt. 49 when a police officer decided to pull us over. Much to my surprise, Geren decided he would outrun him! He had a hot car that goes fast, so why not, right? Yikes! I thought for sure we would be going to jail. I tried to tell him to pull over, but he didn’t listen. We got onto I-74 when the police officer had radioed ahead and had another police officer ready for him when he hit the highway. He saw the lights and pulled over. Did he get a ticket? He should have but he jumped out of his car like he always did, and started chatting with this man about knowing Everette Gibbs. Just like that they were best friends, he didn’t get a ticket at all which was one of his many talents. He just had a knack for it. Ashley previously shared about an episode on vacation when he was pulled over. On that occasion, an emergency came up and the police officer had to leave quickly so no ticket that time. Another time he and another person were both pulled over on Rt. 45. The first driver received a ticket, and when the female police officer got to Geren, she apologized that she had run out of tickets. He got out of that one, too. I never was that lucky until just recently when I went to Owensboro, KY. Maybe Geren was looking down on me. But then again, probably not. He was probably saying, “Give her a ticket!”
Geren wrecked more cars than most. One year in the late 70’s or early 80’s, we had a snowstorm that came about very quickly, so quickly, in fact, that the administration didn’t call school off soon enough and the country children had to stay at school or be sent home with townsfolks for the night. On his way to work that day, he wrecked the blue Chevelle. I missed out on all the fun that day because I had to go rescue him. My last story of Geren and his cars was when Heather and Dustin were probably in third and fourth grade. Now we owned another blue car, a Buick Skylark. It was a winter night and Geren, Grandma Roberts, Heather and Dustin, and myself had been to Champaign and were headed home on I-57. The three adults were sitting in the front and the kids were in the back. We were just cruising right along not realizing that there was black ice on the road. I remember we were singing songs and having the best time. Before we could stop, we came upon a semi-trailer that had jackknifed across the road and it blocked both lanes. Thank goodness God had ahold of the steering wheel because we were going to hit that trailer no matter what. The outcome could have been fatal. Geren guided that car so that we hit the rear rubber tires of the trailer straight on. We hit and bounced off right to the shoulder of the road facing the wrong way. I thought we were going to go right under it and be decapitated. When we came to a stop, we all were unhurt, but poor little Heather turned about white as a sheet and had to get out of the car to vomit. It had scared her so badly, as well it should, because down in the ditch was a car who also hit the trailer but lost their life in the accident. As I have said throughout this Story of Us, God has always been our Savior and guide. I can’t imagine going through life without Him in my life. As this journey progressed, God held my hand all the way and continues to guide me today.
Tip#1—Become a Christian because eternity is forever, and with God in your life, He is always there for you. Feel free to ask me how to become one.
Part of his schooling at Reid College involved doing a project to get his Master’s degree. Looking back, this was just plain crazy. The Howard Johnsons in Urbana was kind enough to let Geren use a conference room where he would test people who were on probation. So, he paid these people $10 to come and take a polygraph test. Many came with the hopes of beating the test. Geren was very good at his job and he could tell a liar without even being hooked up to the machine. Trust me, he could just look you in the eye and know. So, several criminals came to be tested and often I sat outside the room to make sure he wouldn’t get hurt. Not sure how I thought I would be helpful but regardless, there I sat. When all the testing was done, nearly all, if not all, of them were breaking their probation but of course, Geren couldn’t break their confidence.
Geren continued this job until 1988 when the government passed a law saying it was illegal to test people for employment. It would only be permissible for police work which he did one time on a person convicted for murder. This wasn’t where most of his work was coming from, so this ended his career as a polygraph examiner. It was a low blow to him and his self-esteem. What was he to do now?
Over the course of doing polygraph, we had two wonderful children who started school, both having me as their Kindergarten teacher, Dustin only for a short time before they split the class. Geren LOVED taking videos of the kids going to school that first day. He would video me driving out of the driveway on my way to school, and then they would walk to school and Geren would video them outside with their friends, and then proceed to walk into the school videoing their teachers and their friends. I know as they grew older they didn’t really want Geren doing that so much, but he always did, and now I think they are grateful for it.
In 1987, along came baby number three, but I was sure it was the flu! By now, Heather and Dustin are ages 8 ½ and 7 ½. Dr. Lane decided to induce this baby also, so all of us headed to the hospital one early morning in May. The kids were so excited to be there hoping to get in on the birth of this baby. This baby just didn’t want to be born yet. I wasn’t even feeling bad, so we all played cards and had the best time. Since nothing was happening, Geren took the kids back home. By the next day, things progressed and it truly was a three-ring circus. Long story short, the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s shoulder causing much stress to the baby. Then three internal monitors were placed in me because the first one came loose, the second one was faulty, then the third time was the charm! Again, God was watching over me as we could have lost this baby. Thankful for this little old nurse who knew what she was doing, the next thing I know we are headed to delivery for a C-section! And I just remember praying, “Hurry, hurry, hurry and get that baby out of there!” Next thing I know I am waking up from anesthetic and the nurse is kneading my stomach like it is bread dough! Oh boy, I just wanted to slap her! While I was out of it, they brought out this sweet little baby wrapped in a blue blanket and everyone was so excited to have another boy! But . . . the nursery ran out of pink blankets that day because wrapped up inside that blue blanket was a beautiful baby girl! I didn’t get to see her for a while but when I did, she was perfect just like her sister and brother! We named this sweet baby Ashley Denise! Unfortunately, Geren missed out on Ashley’s birth as he wasn’t allowed in the delivery room, and the kids missed out on her birth but they were so excited to have a little sister!
Shortly before Ashley was born, we decided to remodel our house, knocking out a dining room wall, and adding a large addition to the north. Drywall dust was everywhere, and you can imagine the mess. Sweet baby Ashley was brought home to this mess. We tried to live in it as long as we could, but soon realized this wasn’t going to work so we moved in with Geren’s Grandma, Lavona. My favorite story while living there was Heather being such a sweet big sister. Ashley was sleeping in an antique bassinet, bigger than most you see today. Heather thought it would be great to read her little sister a story, IN the bassinet!!! That didn’t work out too well and soon Ashley needed new sleeping quarters! It was the thought that counted, Heather! It was several months before the construction was done, but it was worth it.
Geren had a kind heart and he loved God. And God provided so that he could help others. He anonymously provided for those in need and in the church. He didn’t want the glory here on earth. When Gifford was hit by the tornado in 2013, after we got our own mess cleaned up, he went around town helping others, some I wasn’t even aware of. One day I got a letter in the mail from the YMCA thanking us for our monetary contribution. I thought, what contribution? We paid our dues every month, what were they talking about? Then it occurred to me that Geren had done something. When I asked him about it, he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I called the Y and asked them about it. The lady at the desk didn’t know either, but later she called me back and said that Geren had given money to the gentleman who sat up front watching people check in. I asked how much and she said $5. He told the man that he was doing a great job and gave him money. The man turned the money into the front desk and that is how the letter came about. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” And that is how Geren lived his life.
One thing the Roberts family liked to do was take trips. When Ashley was only a tiny tot, we, along with Geren’s parents and little sister, all hopped into our new Astro van and headed to Colorado. His mom told me how to pack but it was so hot here that I couldn’t imagine it being cold there so I packed a FAN! So, while everyone else was staying warm in their sleeping bags in the tent, I slept in the van and nearly froze to death! But it was a great trip with family. Geren was always about family. For his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, we all headed up in the mountains of North Carolina and spent a week in a beautiful lodge with his brother and sisters and their families. We all had a meal we were responsible for fixing for the group. Our meal was fresh ham on the grill. The fresh ham will be following this story because it is memorable. We brought it with us frozen and apparently, it wasn’t completely thawed. When Geren put that big hunk of meat on the grill, it was a blaze to be reckoned with! It was quite a memory, but not in the nicest way! After we sliced off all the crispy outside, we were lucky to still be able to eat it.
Now, about that ham—let me tell you about the ham. Geren grew up on a farm. I was the city girl—lived most of my life in Collison-population 50. We bought the farmhouse he grew up in from his parents. He loved going out there, me not so much. Geren decided it would be fun to buy a pig and feed him and later butcher him with the help from church friend, Joe Mizell. I wanted no part of it and tried my best not to get involved. But, when I saw that pig out in the shed, I just couldn’t think about him killing poor Wilbur. He fed him and then came the day to kill him. Geren was behind him and Joe shot him and Wilbur’s last reflex was a kick to Geren’s crown jewels! Wilbur got the last laugh and me, too! But they did butcher him and Steven’s son, Andy, and his friend, Matt, came down from Chicago to get in on the action. Geren’s parents came to help, also, and Ashley and I stayed out of sight. That explains the ham we took to North Carolina.
Another memory came to me on Pii Day when Heather had pies on her show, CI Living. Geren was always trying to smoke some ribs, or cook on the grill, but one day he decided to try his hand at key lime pie. Geren loved pie and desserts of any kind. So, he went about making a key lime pie and I just let him do it. He was making quite a mess but when the pie was ready, it looked beautiful! He was so proud and I was, too. He cut me a big piece of pie and I bit into it but it wasn’t what I expected! It was so sour and nasty that I had to spit it out! I asked him how many limes he put in it. Just three was his answer. What I didn’t realize was that he had thrown three limes, peeling and all, into the food processor and used all the mixture in his pie! Oh my, it was awful! After that, we stuck mostly to my Mom’s pies or Jerry Glazik’s at the Butcher Boy in Rantoul. But I had to give it to him for trying.
So, let’s continue back to 1988 when Geren wasn’t able to continue doing polygraph work. What was he going to do? His cousin, Tom Brown, suggested he become a financial advisor. And he did! He started working at Blunt, Ellis, and Loewi. It was a job involving cold calling people to get them to invest their money. It was the part of the job that Geren hated doing. As much as he liked people, he did not want to make these random calls. He stuck it out for a year or so, not sure exactly, but decided he couldn’t provide for his family doing this. For the next few years, he stayed home and took care of Ashley while I worked at GGS. She tells of watching Perry Mason every day, but he took good care of her while I was gone. One day my mom saw an ad for a job at Old National in Danville. Hesitantly, he checked it out and soon was working there as a financial advisor. He continued to work there for several years meeting new clients, and some who would become his best friends. From there, he moved to AG Edwards. He loved the company so much. It was here that his stress level soon started escalating due to conflicts from others working there. You’ve heard the saying, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” Geren had a kind heart and continued to have a kind and forgiving heart despite things that transpired there, but the stress couldn’t have helped him much.
Life continued with him working as a financial advisor, and I was teaching. The kids were soon getting involved with sports, and Ashley was tagging along for the ride. During the summer months, both children played summer ball in Rantoul, Dustin with Dr. Litman’s and Heather with Vogelsang Plumbing. Geren, of course, had to help coach their teams and he loved every minute of it. He loved his kids and wanted them to do well. Geren had a very competitive spirit about him! He spent countless hours on the field throwing pitches to both kids, hitting balls to them, and even built a fence that Dustin could throw balls into in the backyard. And don’t forget the three-point line on the driveway that he painted so they could practice those long shots for basketball. I can even remember Ashley making one of those amazing shots in the old Potomac High School when she got old enough to play basketball.
By the time Heather and Dustin headed off to college at Harding University in Searcy, AR, Ashley was getting involved in sports at Gifford, too. Ashley enjoyed doing all the things her big brother and sister did. They both were great role models for her. She, too, played softball in Rantoul. I think when she finally finished playing softball, we had literally spent every summer there for the last 20 years! When that was over, Geren and I were so lost! That part of our lives, being spectators to our kids’ games, was over! We had empty nest syndrome of Wabash Park!
Over the next several years, we spent occasional weekends going down to Searcy to see Heather and Dustin. Ashley continued to be involved in all activities at GGS. Life continued as usual with our jobs, and before you knew it, Heather and Dustin both had graduated from Harding and took off for Texas to become teachers. Now that was too far away for this Mom and Dad!
Before heading off to Texas, Heather started dating TJ and the next thing I know, TJ has moved to Texas to follow his love and this Mom is planning a wedding while Heather is still living in Texas. Still not sure how we pulled that off, but we did and it was beautiful! My favorite part of Heather’s wedding was when she surprised TJ by singing to him during the wedding. Even though she had to start over once, she sang so beautifully and the wedding was fantastic! While in Texas, Dustin met the love of his life, Stacy, and he moved to Baton Rouge to follow his love just like I did! Love will get you every time!
Ashley continued to do great things at Rantoul High School, much like her siblings! Upon graduation, she decided to go to Harding, also, and now our nest truly was empty! I cannot tell you how empty you really are when all your babies are gone from home, and so far away! Suddenly, it was just the two of us and what were we going to do? It was like starting all over again with your spouse. We had built our lives around the kids and their activities, and when that was over, we had nothing. It was frightening at first but it did get better.
Tip #2– Totally unrelated to Alzheimer’s but free advice from me–My suggestion for all newly married couples out there, continue to date. Allow some time for just the two of you even after you have children. We took our kids with us everywhere, all the time, and I don’t regret that, but I realized that we lost ourselves along the way when the kids were gone. One thing we really started enjoying was spending Friday and Saturday nights at my parents playing euchre. Geren loved playing euchre every chance he got. Those are memories I will always cherish.
Awhile back I asked my Mom to share her and Dad’s “story.” Just like this blog is supposed to be therapeutic for me, I thought maybe it would be for her, too. It must have been because she gave me a LOT of material. So much so that I’m breaking it up and making it into a series of posts. I wanted to hear about their journey. The stories of memories they made becoming a family of five. The ups, the downs, and everything in-between. She delivered.
I saw a post on Facebook last week that said, “Not a day goes by that I don’t look at your picture and smile. Or cry. Or both.”
How true that is… I just miss him.
But I’m thankful I have a sweet momma who even though this writing must have been heart breaking and incredibly tough, did it for me. I’m so blessed. I love you. I love you. I love you.
THIS IS US
How do you tell our story of 40+ years in just a few paragraphs?
I met Geren, my husband of 40 years, in 1969 at Armstrong High School. I was a freshman and he was a sophomore. His sister, Linda, and I quickly became friends and how could you not help but notice her cute brother, Geren. The next year along came his sister, Susan, whom I also became friends with, so it was inevitable. All of us were in many activities at Armstrong and we were all friends. I remember one year early on in our friendship, I went to a musical with the Roberts family at Rantoul High School to see Oklahoma. It’s funny the things you remember, but after the musical Geren held my hand back to the car and sat in the back seat with me holding my hand, and I’m pretty sure I just melted in that back seat. The unfortunate thing though was that I went as Linda’s friend. (Sorry, Linda!) But, we didn’t start dating until the second semester of my senior year. By that time Geren’s little brother, Steven, had also started high school, so I quickly fell in love with the whole Roberts family. Steve was just too cute and always so witty. I think it must have been the whole Roberts clan who pushed Geren to ask me out and I was so impressed with him from the beginning. He was such a gentleman and I loved that about him. The following fall I was off to Danville JR. College and Geren was a sophomore at the University of Illinois. We spent our weekends going to the movies, bowling, or our favorite thing of all, playing pinball in the basement of the Illini Union. This was an activity we continued to enjoy even when Geren became so severely affected by Alzheimer’s.
Geren really enjoyed cars, especially his own, but he was an extraordinaire when it came to wrecking them. His first car was a blue Chevy Malibu which he wrecked in high school before we started dating. I think the second one was a Chevy Caprice, and one night going back to Gifford after one of our dates, he fell asleep and rolled the car. Luckily his arm got caught in the steering wheel or he may have been thrown from the car. He was lucky walking away with only a broken nose. Do you see a pattern here? He then had another Chevy car and one night coming home from our date, I fell asleep in the front seat and apparently, he did, too. We were both going to school and working, so we were just tired. We were just a little over a mile from my house when he missed the 90 degree turn and drove straight into the bank of the ditch! I woke up quickly when I was thrown onto the floorboard of the car with the wind being knocked out of me. When we both woke up and realized what had happened, it wasn’t good. I felt the immediate pain in my feet and ankles, and Geren hurt his wrist/arm, later to find out he had broken his arm. It was a cold night in December, 1974, and Geren got out of the car and carried me to the house not too far from the accident, but no one was home. As luck would have it, shortly there after a man drove by, saw us, and drove us to my house. How do you tell your parents calmly that we had an accident, while by this time my left foot looked like a basketball? Turns out I crushed my left foot and broke both of my ankles and Geren broke his arm. This led to me being in the hospital for some time and leaving me in a wheelchair for a few months with casts on both feet.
Geren was struggling some at the U of I, taking Spanish taught by a Japanese teacher who spoke very little English was one of his problems, and so he decided to transfer to David Lipscomb College in Nashville, Tennessee for the following quarter to bring his grades up. So, he left me in a wheelchair while he trotted off to Nashville. I hated that time being apart from January to August. I finished at Danville Jr. College and followed him to Nashville for the summer quarter. It was great to be together again, but we didn’t have much time for fun. He was doing great bringing his grades up, and I decided to take 21 hours! Not sure what I was thinking but things always work out for a reason. At the end of the summer quarter, Geren decided he wanted to go back and graduate from the University of Illinois. This guy! What I didn’t do to hang onto him! I had to scramble to get admitted to Illinois State University and ended up living with my cousin, Fred and his wife, Betty, because there wasn’t any housing available. So now I am commuting home every weekend so that we can be together. Oh, the things we do for love! We knew we wanted to get married and we even mapped out a calendar showing how many days until we would get married. So, on my 21st birthday, my parents and Geren came to Bloomington/Normal in January 1976. There wasn’t any fancy proposal. He had on winter gloves and made me put them on and that is when I realized my engagement ring was inside the glove! What a goof! We continued the semester, while planning a June wedding.
Geren graduated in May 1976 from the University of Illinois. After he graduated, we both searched for jobs for the summer. Geren got employed at Collegiate, Cap, and Gown, and I applied, but they didn’t hire me. I was so disappointed. A few days later they offered me a job, too. Geren, myself, and his brother, Steven, all drove to work together as we all got jobs there. The first day on the line made me so sick, motion gets me every time. So, the next day they put me doing inventory with the boss’s daughter and life was great! My best memory of working there would be our rides to and from work with Steven. On our way home, he would take his shoes off and we would all just about die!!! That year he got Odor Eaters for Christmas!
On June 19, 1976, we said “I do!” We had a beautiful wedding with my best friend, Susie Bird, as my maid of honor, followed by Geren’s sisters, Linda and Susan. We took off on our honeymoon to Cherokee Village, AR. That’s where you go when you are broke, basically a time share where they pay you to come there. Everything was going well, until we stopped to go to church Sunday morning somewhere in Arkansas. Geren reached into his pocket to put some money in the collection plate only to discover he had left his wallet on top of the bookcase at his home in Gifford! Luckily, we brought along with us all the wedding cards that people had given us and used the money in them to get by. Fortunately, I had a great aunt and uncle that lived in Cherokee Village and we had to go ask them to help us out! It was a most memorable honeymoon!
In the fall, Geren decided he wanted to learn to operate a polygraph machine and because I had taken so many credits at David Lipscomb, I finished college in three years except for 6 weeks of student teaching. So, we parted ways again after only being married a few months. He stayed in Wheaton with a friend of his Mom’s and rode the train into the city to go to Reid College, and I did my student teaching in Lincoln, IL where I stayed with some family friends who lived in New Holland. And again, we commuted back to our little house trailer in Collison every weekend, except for one weekend. Geren thought he could do anything; including beating a snowstorm. He left Chicago and back in those days we had some horrible blizzards! He got almost to Peotone before he was forced to leave his car on I-57, along with several other stranded folks. He was taken to a school in Peotone for the weekend along with all the other stranded travelers. I think he had a great time despite the bad weather as they played basketball in the gymnasium and made the best of a bad situation. By Sunday or Monday, they took them back to their cars and he returned to Wheaton. I was just thankful he was safe! So, we spent the first six months of our marriage like this! Because of those extra hours I took at Lipscomb, I was able to finish college in the fall of 1976. God always has a plan. His plan was for me to get a job at Gifford Grade School. Gifford had a teacher leaving to get married midyear and I started teaching at Gifford Grade School in January 1977 where I spent my entire career. Looking back, you can see God’s hand in all that happens. Had I not followed Geren to Nashville, I wouldn’t have had a career teaching at Gifford Grade School for the next 34 and a half years!
January 1977 started off with us being a real married couple together, not just on weekends. I was learning a new job, and Geren had learned to use the polygraph. Not immediately, but sometime later he began training under Everette Gibbs, a longtime church friend, who had his own polygraph business. Geren learned so much from Everette and one day Geren took over the business so Everette could retire.
In 1978 I became pregnant with our first child! We were so excited to become parents! Our baby was due in November so we had all summer to get ready for our new arrival. Geren and I decided to take a vacation to Key West that summer! What were we thinking!? I was six months pregnant and if you didn’t know this about Geren, he HATED to stop when he got behind the wheel to take a trip. I distinctly remember taking a big bucket along so I could use the bathroom just in case he wouldn’t stop! We stayed with the Danfords, longtime family church friends, for a few days. We decided to go for a sailboat ride and Betty was not in favor of me going. What could go wrong? Plenty! We got out on the water, saw some dolphins, and were really having a great time when a storm came up. It was then that I realized we might just die out here! The sails were quickly being moved from one side to the other and God was with us as we were able to stay upright and get back to shore!
We had a great trip, but then it was time for school to start again. Geren was working nights at the grain elevator in Collison, keeping an eye on the dryers. On Halloween night, I started having contractions and away we went to Mercy hospital. We got there around 11 PM and I was dilated 2 cm. It felt more like 8 cm! But they kept us and at the time and we had our own birthing room, a bed for me and a comfy couch for Geren. I proceeded to have contractions throughout the night, begging for some relief, while Geren slept on the couch!!! At one point, I remembered saying to him to come help me, after all, we had practiced the Lamaze method with our breathing techniques together! His response was, “Can’t you sleep through those contractions?” No, but he sure was doing a great job sleeping through them! By 7:30 in the morning they examined me. I’m thinking surely the baby will be here soon. I was now dilated to 2 and a QUARTER! You had to be kidding me! So, for the next several hours, we did our Lamaze breathing through the contractions and Geren absolutely did not want me to take any kind of medication for the pain. This was back in the days of natural child birth. Just a few minutes before our baby was born, I asked for some medication against Geren’s will and then she was born! If I had just waited a few more minutes! Our firstborn baby was born; a chubby little girl who immediately started sucking her thumb! She was beautiful and stole our hearts! We named her Heather Dawn and she was perfect!
Now we were a little family of three. Heather was an adorable little baby! I guess we loved having her so much that unbeknownst to us, I became pregnant with another baby! I say that like that because I was sure I must have had a tumor as there was no way I was pregnant! My mom told me, “A little tumor with two arms and two legs.” And sure enough, she was right!
By this time, we could see that our trailer in Collison wasn’t going to be big enough for two adults and two babies so we started looking for a house. We found one in Gifford and it was almost in Grandma Roberts’ back yard. She was excited about having us as neighbors! So, in the fall we started moving to Gifford where we continued to live for the next 40 years!
Because Heather had been a big baby and had done some damage to my body, the doctor kept a close eye on this baby as we didn’t want to have another chubby one. A week before Christmas Geren and I went to my doctor’s appointment. Dr. Lane said to get on over to the hospital and he would induce me. Heather was with us because Geren took me to the hospital and left me so he could take Heather to his parents to watch her. Not knowing that I would be headed to the hospital, it had been a long time since lunch and I was hungry but no food allowed once he induced me. I can remember this like it was yesterday. When Geren came back, bless his heart, he brought a dozen glazed donuts back so we could eat them. He knew how much I loved donuts and I couldn’t even eat one! This baby proceeded to be born much quicker than Heather. While Heather was born in the birthing room, this baby was going to start in the birthing room, but when delivery time got closer, they would take me to the delivery room. It was a Monday. You ask, how can I remember that? I can remember because in this birthing room was a television and it was Monday night football, and I thought for a minute that Geren was going to miss the delivery because he was glued to the football game on TV. They were wheeling me out the door and I was yelling for Geren to come on! Can you believe it? That evening we welcomed into our lives a chubby little boy, perfect in every way and we named him Dustin Geren. I can remember taking him home and thinking how big Heather looked! Yet she was only 13 months old! Now we had two babies! Yikes! But they were adorable!
Because I had only been working at GGS since 1977, I hadn’t built up many sick days so fortunately I had Dustin over Christmas break, and they were calling me wondering when I was coming back to work. I think I only took 3 weeks off for maternity leave and then back to work I went. Crazy when I think about it now! Not sure how I handled two babies, getting them to a sitter and to work by 8! I must have been out of my mind!
It’s hard to remember the timeline of Geren’s work, but by now I think he was working fulltime doing polygraph work. He loved this job, but it was very demanding on him. When you look back, you wonder how many things impacted him getting Alzheimer’s so early. First, genetics wasn’t in his favor with his Dad and Granddad both getting it in their later years. Secondly, Geren was never a breakfast person, and I’m sure he worked through his lunch. And this job was very stressful. Most of his work involved testing people for employment. He tested for all the K’s Merchandise stores in the state. This job was a one man show. He traveled far sometimes, leaving early and getting home late, and then having to type up the test results in a report form. I can remember one time driving him to Decatur so that he could test some employees. He was so tired and slept the whole way there. I spent the rest of the day waiting for him to finish his job so I could drive him back home. I offered to help with his reports but it was something only he could do so he worked very hard for many years at this job. As I am sure our kids would attest, every trip we made at Christmas involved hauling numerous boxes of polygraph tests so that he could work on them while away from home for a few days. Lack of sleep, stress, not eating right, and no exercise I think only escalated his chances for getting Alzheimer’s early on.
I’m pretty sure he wore a hat similar to that one up there to my wedding reception. Did I have any idea he planned on busting that out on me at the reception…. yeah, no. Walking in and seeing him in that hat, I at first rolled my eyes, wanted him to remove it ASAP, but then just had to laugh. Because that was my Dad.
A couple of weekends ago, Garth Brooks came to town. It was Garth pandemonium.
Central Illinois went crazy. They broke the internet with the demand for tickets to his show, which he ended up doing four of them in town. TJ & I went to his Saturday night show with friends and it was absolutely amazing. Best.concert.ever.
But I couldn’t help but think of my Dad multiple times during the concert.
He would have LOVED it.
Before my Dad was too terribly bad, my Mom surprised him with Garth Brooks tickets when he made a stop in Chicago. She tried her best to keep it a surprise, but he wasn’t having it. She finally had to spill the beans on the way up to keep the peace. They had the best time. They stood the entire three hour concert and enjoyed every moment.
So, as you can imagine, seeing Garth without Dad was a little bittersweet.
Mom posted on Facebook, “Going to the Garth Brooks concert tonight was very emotional. Geren loved Garth and I sure did miss him tonight. Garth was fantastic as was his wife, Trisha Yearwood. If Tomorrow Never Comes got the best of me! So happy we all got to go see him in Geren’s memory.”
“If tomorrow never comes Will she know how much I loved her Did I try in every way to show her every day That she’s my only one And if my time on earth were through And she must face this world without me Is the love I gave her in the past Gonna be enough to last If tomorrow never comes”
Funny story…. of course with all the Garth mania came LOTS of Garth Brooks air time on the radio. The beginning of “Tomorrow Never Comes” starts with the line, “Sometimes late at night, I lie awake and watch her sleeping.” We heard that in the car one afternoon and Brock says, “Well that’s just creepy!” I about died.
But, the song that got me was “The Dance.”
“Looking back on the memory of The dance we shared ‘neath the stars above For a moment all the world was right How could I have known that you’d ever say goodbye
And now I’m glad I didn’t know The way it all would end the way it all would go Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain But I’d have had to miss the dance
Yes my life is better left to chance I could have missed the pain but I’d have had to miss the dance”
Am I glad I didn’t know the way it all would go?
Yes and no.
Would I have done things differently? Loved him any more or any less?
I definitely could have missed the pain… the pain of watching him lose his memories. The pain of watching him walk right past me not recognizing me or the kids. The pain of watching him lying in a hospital bed, strapped down in restraints. The pain of watching the light in his eyes go out and then the pain of them not ever opening again.
Our lives aren’t left to chance. It may feel like it, but God has a plan. A master plan for each and everyone of us. One day I’ll fully understand why during this time of our lives we had to experience so much pain and why exactly it was in His plan.
But like the song says, without the pain, I’d have had to miss the dance.
I loved every moment of dancing through a life of having Geren Roberts as my Dad.
In honor of Illinois Marathon week here in central Illinois, I thought I’d do a throwback to my Facebook post from the day my Dad died…
A little after 1:00am on December 10, 2016, my Mom called to tell me my Dad was gone. She sounded tired, yet fine. I asked her if she was okay and she told me yes, that she just had this feeling of relief. Relief that my Dad was no longer suffering, relief that he was no longer under the spell of Alzheimer’s, and relief that my Dad had finally been given his reward of what he had wanted all along… to go home.
I didn’t cry. At first.
But I couldn’t go back to sleep.
So, what do you do at 1:00am when you can’t sleep?
You obviously take to Facebook.
Here was my post from that morning:
Yesterday afternoon, after months of being the strong, ever optimistic daughter, I laid across the chest of my dying father sobbing. It’s the first time throughout this journey with him that I’d ever done that… just inconsolable, full fledged bawling. Sure, I’d shed a few tears before, but nothing like this. The hospice nurse had just left and said we were down to days or hours, and it finally sunk in, seeing him laying there, that soon I’d be living a life without him in it. Soon he’d be finishing the race he had started and crossing God’s finish line. And so I cried. And I told him over and over that I loved him. That he was a great dad. That I was so sorry, sorry for what has happened to him, sorry for not being stronger, and not happy during his final moments. I told him how much I was going to miss him, but that we’d be okay. I told him I’d watch out for Mom. I stroked his silver hair and squeezed his hand, hoping he’d give me a squeeze back. But, he didn’t. Instead, I saw a single tear by his eye. Maybe it was nothing. Or maybe it was his final way of showing me just how much he loved me, too. As I left I smothered him in kisses, reminded him one final time of my love for him, told him I’d be back, but that if he had to go before I returned, to go knowing I’d be okay.
I’m not okay.
He couldn’t wait for me to come back.
And now, I’m sad.
My heart is shattered into a million little pieces.
Mad at this awful disease.
Mad at myself.
But, not with God.
He blessed me with an amazing father.
But I am furious with Satan.
His hands are all over this disease.
He’s not going to win.
My Dad did.
He lived a great life. He loved the Lord and always had his sights on heaven. And now, late last night he was given his eternal reward.
I have no doubts my Dad loved me or that he wanted every happiness in the world for me, that he’d run to the ends of the Earth for me, but my goodness I’m going to miss that fuzzy head. It only encourages me to keep running the race before me. To finish strong, so that one day, hopefully soon, we can all rejoice together. That’s what he’d want me to do.
Maybe God kept him here a little longer because He knew I needed that cry. That I needed to come to peace with the hand we’d been dealt.
Maybe. Who knows.
But for now, I’m going to hold on to our last moments together, find comfort in His love, be sad, and thankful there are no tears in heaven.
And keep running.
I’ve taken a little hiatus from blogging as I was feeling a mix of emotions, sadness being the main one. I wish I could say I’m feeling better, but each day has it’s new struggles. I’m trying to help you all navigate Alzheimer’s, while I am actually trying to navigate my grief. But God is still good, is always good, and will continue to be my ultimate comforter. Thank you so much for the support.
When I first started this blog sharing Dad’s life story and journey with Alzheimer’s, I contacted some of his friends to share with me their fondest memories of Dad. I previously shared with you memories from members of the Chumbley family, but there’s one more Chumbley man who shared this story with me of my Dad, one of which I had never heard before now…
We tried to act like we were paying attention. Geren sat on the left and I sat on the right. We always sat like that—him on the left and me to his right—ever since we were about five years old when we discovered that, since he was left-handed and I was right, our dominant arms wouldn’t interfere if we sat that way. On this morning, our parents had let us sit together during church so we occupied the end of a pew and tried to appear attentive to the sermon, when actually we were just trying to endure the seemingly-endless time we had to sit there. We were probably nine years old at the time, or at least Geren was. He was actually ten months older than me but our birthdays fell just right to place us in the same class, so we grew up together.
Sitting through the sermon at that age was usually an exercise in boredom but on this particular day we had something to engage our imaginations—we had two safety pins. It doesn’t sound like much but a safety pin was a wondrous device. It had a needle point on one end that could pierce clothing or paper or fingers but it could also be clasped to retain whatever it pierced or to carry safety in one’s pocket (hence “safety” pin) without fear of self-impalement. But even more importantly, it was spring loaded and could snap open in an instant.
On this day, we were weaving our safety pins together in an effort to invent a better mousetrap. After all, what better way to catch a mouse than to have it pin itself to the floor with our ingenious device? At least, that was our thinking at the time. The trouble was, we had to engineer the device without talking and while keeping our heads up looking upon the preacher in case one of our parents happened to turn to see if we were behaving and paying proper attention. So Geren and I would take turns manipulating the pins in our lap while trying to interleave the prongs to cause them to spring at the right moment to stick the mouse all while looking at the podium at the front of the auditorium with only occasional furtive glances at the mechanism in our hands.
I worked on the problem for a while and then, with head up, I casually passed the pins to Geren—also sitting with head up—with my right hand across my body to meet his left hand extended across his. Geren had a little more freedom to work than I did. We were on the left side of the auditorium so he sat outboard of me with me blocking the line of sight between him and our nearest parental enforcer. So when he got the pins, Geren looked down briefly and realized that, by passing the needle end of one pin through the eye of the second one, he could bend the needle points back to engage each other and remain in that position with tension on each prong. That was a major milestone in our design. He apparently also recognized the significance of the innovation because he gently nudged me to indicate he was handing it back. Without taking my eyes off the preacher, I dutifully and slowly moved my right arm across my body while Geren, also with his eyes on the preacher, passed the pins with his left hand. But it was then that the ploy of keeping our heads up failed us.
Thinking I had grasped the pins, Geren let go of our “mousetrap” before I had moved my hand into position. The contraption fell, hit the bench between us, and sprang! Both our heads jerked instinctively as the recoil launched the mechanism up and over our shoulders to the pew behind us. For a split second our eyes met in sheer terror as we expected the wrath of our parents, if not the wrath of God, to descend upon us. But nothing happened. Geren twisted back a bit to see the preacher’s teenage daughter, who had been sitting behind us, gingerly pick up the tangled safety pins which a moment before had come hurdling over the bench in front of her to land in her lap. As if on cue, both Geren and I turned to see if our parents had noticed. Fortunately, his mom sitting down the pew from me had not taken her eyes off the preacher, and my parents, sitting on the other side of the auditorium was also likewise engaged. We didn’t risk another look behind us.
We found the rest of the sermon to be extremely interesting.
Reading Philip’s tale of the homemade mousetrap got me thinking…
We had the vintage version of this game upstairs in a closet in our attic that we would get out and play sometimes. I remember the closet actually being big enough for us all to crawl into and sit, play games, and we were even able to fit a mini RC race track in there and would race cars. My Dad loved playing games with us.
But do you know the premise of this game? Over the course of the game, players at first cooperate to build a working mousetrap. Once the mousetrap has been constructed, players then turn against each other, attempting to trap their opponents’ mice. The trap begins with a crank which turns a set of gears. This begins a series of stages which ends in a cage being lowered over the “cheese wheel” space on the board.
The Mouse Trap Game can actually be compared to living a life with Alzheimer’s. In the beginning your brain is cooperating with you, each cell is getting along nicely, working together as a team. Then eventually they’re finished. The teamwork is gone and now the brain cells are beginning to turn on one another. Year by year, month by month, day by day, the crank turns the brain’s gears and traps each memory one by one holding them hostage. The series of stages begins… first it’s little things you can’t recall. “Where did I put my keys?” “Where did I lay down my glasses?” Then it’s, “What did I come in here for again?” “Where am I going and how did I get here?” To walking the halls of an assisted living facility and walking right past your daughter and grandkids who came to visit you and not even recognizing them. Eventually the cage drops and the final memory is caught, you’re left in a coma like state, and just as the motto on the box says, “…woe to the mouse who gets caught under!”
Woe to the man or woman who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
But more so, woe to the one who doesn’t know the love of the Lord. Woe to the one of little faith.
Thank you Philip for sharing this memory from growing up with my Dad. I can vividly picture the both of you fidgeting with a couple of safety pins to construct your masterpiece. How lucky for you both that Shirley and Granny weren’t clued into your antics. I delight in imagining the fun you two had together sitting in a wooden church pew, building the comical wonder of a mousetrap.
I’m thankful my Dad is no longer being held hostage to this disease. As amazing as a wheel of cheese can be to lure us in, because let’s be honest, cheese is amazing, please know heaven trumps cheese a million times over. May you feel lured into God’s love for you and always avoid the mouse trap the devil has constructed to trap you into a life of sin.