For some reason, thousands of lights wrapped around sultry-weather palm trees…
don’t suggest Christmas or winter wonderland to me in quite the same way as a traditionally decorated evergreen.
A live oak decorated with oversized ornaments comes close,
but it’s still no match for the festive vibe that envelopes New York City during the holidays,
where everything is bigger…
Not that there’s anything wrong with lit palm trees.
Nevertheless, there is a tradition in Naples, Florida that dates back to 2009, when tiki torches first illuminated the town’s 170-acre botanical gardens.
Since then, the holiday light show has evolved to “to accentuate the plants themselves and their textures, silhouettes and natural beauty,” according to Ralph Klebosis, event productions manager.
While some of the displays were fascinating unto themselves…
photographing the event pulled me in a completely different direction after I noticed a pulsing plant projector.
If this event is about night lights, then why not capture the light source and paint with it, I mused? And so I did. The images are a product of serendipity, and represent a different take on Nights of Light.
All the same, artificial light could never improve on Mother Nature!
Much has changed in the past two years. Counting down birthdays for my father has become a nervous inevitability for our family as he ages and succumbs to a numbing dementia that continues to rob him of the vitality he enjoyed before entering MorseLife Memory Center four years ago.
Today, Dad is 95 and unaware of everything in his life that has brought him to this grand occasion. Occasionally, he dazzles us with fleeting flashes of familiarity, like an imprinted song lyric, or he chuckles at a joke. Otherwise, we are left to personify his thoughts and feelings.
Even now, we long for the not-so-old days when frustrating bouts of stuttering and looping sentences would trail into nothingness as he attempted to express himself. At the very least, it was a short time of momentary lucidity and coherence.
My father is a man of very few words, and even fewer deeds. He restlessly idles in a wheelchair for most of the day, waiting for more time. But time is not on his side. One year ago, Dad was exercising in the facility swimming pool with assistance (see Happy Birthday, Dad!), however a viral infection compromised his balance, and eventually incapacitated him. Now his withered legs will no longer support him.
While he still manages to feed himself, his prepared meals are entirely liquid-based and served in a cup, as he has forgotten how to chew and swallow. We made this discovery seven months ago, after visiting during mealtime, and watched Dad feed himself a forkful of solid food, only to sweep his mouth with a forefinger to rid his cheeks of masticated goo.
Whenever family gathers, we are always determined to remind him of who we are and what our significant relationship is to him. With resignation, we still ask the same questions that we know all too well remain unanswerable–like, “Dad, can you tell me the names of your children?” And of course, there is only silence and a vacant stare.
While we are ready to concede that this ship has sailed, we somehow embrace the notion that he must certainly know us, but just can’t find a way to verbalize it. As a result, we have accustomed ourselves to asking closed questions which we know will easily elicit a “Yes” or “No” answer. Nevertheless, hospice staff continues to gauge the quality of his life by prompting him.
“Are you comfortable, Carl?” and “Do you need anything, Carl?”
Nevertheless, one bright and shiny catalyst in my father’s life that continues to move him is music. No matter that his eyes are closed, and he appears to be napping. Whenever he hears music, there is always a wagging finger and a tapping toe to mark the beat.
Ongoing research has been conducted with music and the measured response of Alzhemer’s patients. The Mayo Clinic reports…
Research suggests that listening to or singing songs can provide emotional and behavioral benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Musical memories are often preserved in Alzheimer’s disease because key brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by the disease.
MorseLife is a strong proponent of music therapy, and provides music entertainment as part of their daily ritual for residents. For instance, Raoul performs every Friday afternoon before Sabbath services. He and Dad bonded immediately once Raoul noticed Dad’s exuberance during an afternoon music session last year. Taking a short break from his act, he asked Dad what he did in the real world, and Dad answered without hesitation (but falsely) that he was on the radio. The next week, for Dad’s 94th birthday, Raoul presented Dad with a cap forever identifying him as Radio Man.
Despite a collection of a dozen or more caps, Radio Man has become his most cherished possession, and he hardly ever dresses without it.
Not to be outdone, I felt compelled to deliver a gift for Dad’s 95th birthday celebration that would be equally as memorable. But given his present circumstances, what do I give a man who has everything (except his memories) and requires nothing (but his memory)? I gave it a lot of thought and happened upon an idea that required stealth and deception.
Our family gathered in the Memory Center’s private dining room this past Friday to honor Dad with a party cake (for us) and ice cream (for him). To make it a little more special, I presented Dad with a smuggled bottle of Chivas Regal–his go-to booze for most of his adult life, until he was no longer allowed.
Because of MorseLife’s stringent no-alcohol policy, Dad hadn’t tasted hard liquor in over four years, so naturally, I wondered how he’d react. Would he think the heat too harsh? Or would he flatly reject it like he did when he was once offered liquified macaroni and cheese for lunch?
Since there were no objections from my siblings, as they were equally as curious, I poured Dad a finger of Chivas, and we toasted him.
The results were priceless.
I poured him another…and soon after, another. Each time, his reaction was identical.
He had to know that this was a special day!
The floor nurse stopped by to check on our birthday boy. She immediately spotted the open bottle of Chivas on the table and straightened her back with her hands on her hips.
“I hope that Carl isn’t drinking that!” she admonished.
“Absolutely not,” I answered, quickly. “Ask him yourself!”
After she left, I poured him another.
“It’s the last one,” I promised over Leah’s loose objection.
Same result. “Oooh!” “Ahhh!”
We moved our celebration to the common room, where Raoul was already entertaining the residents with his Latin-flavored karaoke. Once Dad was situated, the party started in earnest.
Raoul offered a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday,” and we were there to witness Dad’s glory.
To hear Dad sing was an unexpected gift to us all.
Four years ago, when I was scavanging through my father’s belongings–after having moved him to an assisted living memory center–I came across an obsolete, Kodak digital camera (c. 2008) in a vanity dresser drawer.
I removed the mystery SD card to inspect the files, and to my horror/delight, I discovered a photo of my father experimenting with the camera buttons–completely unaware that he had memorialized the scene in a bathroom mirror selfie.
While I have cropped the photo to its least offensive dimensions, it still captures the essence of his self-discovery.
Today is his 95th birthday, and although he is now feeble and for the most part at a loss for words (robbed by Alzheimer’s disease), he still manages to laugh at what he intuits as funny.
And I have little doubt, that if Dad was still with us in body and mind, he would most certainly laugh at his indecent exposure, while practicing with his Kodak in his birthday suit.
Finally, the nasty weather had given way to a brisk and sunny Black Friday, and Bonnie was eager to shed her restlessness. Three weeks had passed since our last outing, and I could tell she needed a proper walk. Her telltale kitchen dance with paws clattering across the hardwood floor made it obvious to Leah and me.
Merely grabbing her leash had Bonnie running in tight circles after her stubby tail, making her difficult to collar. She strained against her leash, pulling me past the front door. She leapt into the cargo space of my SUV, and curled into a ball, completely satisfied with her preparation.
One of Bonnie’s favorite walks takes us through the fancy neighborhood of Mountain Lakes, NJ for a closer look at how all the Blue Buffalo stew-eaters live, so off we went to walk among the Mountain Lake estates.
Fortunately, the local shopping malls had swallowed most of the area’s cars, so the four- mile drive to Boulevard took little time, and parking was a breeze.
The moment Bonnie’s legs hit the pavement, she eagerly sniffed for a place to do her business. Naturally, Leah and I were prepared for this moment, so out came a baggie that’s perfect for scooping.
But carrying a used baggie so early in the walk can be a bit annoying; it spoils my walking rhythm, and besides, it smells!
I believed the durable construction of the Rubbermaid barrel by the side door of the yellow house on our right would provide an ideal resting place for Bonnie’s poop, so off I went to make a deposit. I crossed through a hole between two hedges, and dropped Bonnie’s dirty deed atop a pizza delivery box with a cartoon chef declaring, “We Are Pleased to Serve You.” It seemed so apropos.
I secured the lid and rejoined my girls just as the homeowner cracked the side door, craned his neck and asked, “Can I help you?”
“No thanks,” I answered, “I’m just doing an inspection of garbage cans in the neighborhood, and I’m happy to say that you’ve passed!” I waved good-bye as Leah shot me a look, and we continued our walk.
We turned onto a new block and climbed a steep hill. Just as we were enjoying the fresh air and the scenery, a cream-colored Lexus sedan sped by, and cut us off. The driver’s side door opened, and the burly-looking homeowner emerged holding Bonnie’s holdings, but now sealed within a heavy-duty double-lined zip-locked baggie.
“I think this belongs to you,” he said, extending his arm with a dour look on his face.
And then came his rant. “My wife is seriously allergic to this! Do you realize you could have killed my wife and the baby she’s carrying if she was exposed to this? After eight goddamn years of trying, and spending tens of thousands of dollars on IVF drugs and testing, she finally gets pregnant. So now she’s on bed rest with two months to go, and here you come with your dog shit, and you’re gonna fuck it up for all of us.”
The veins of his forehead were bulging under his DeMarco Sanitation cap. I wondered if he would hit me, so I instinctively felt for the keys in my pocket and gripped them between my fingers as a defensive measure.
“I’m sorry,” I stated in my most solemn voice. “I had no idea that Bonnie’s poop was so treacherous. She’s only a cockapoo, and she really doesn’t mean any harm. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive us.” I graciously took the bag of shit with my left hand, withdrew my right hand from my pocket and reached to shake his hand. “No harm, no foul,” I offered.
What else could I do?
As if by magic, he immediately relaxed and we chatted for a few minutes, trading personal histories. He introduced himself as Jason, and pointing to his cap, informed me that he owned a local waste management and carting company. I took a half-step back from him, my mind brimming with comparisons of Tony Soprano.
Jason revealed that he recently moved to Mountain Lakes, and hoped to raise a family in a clean and peaceful neighborhood. I wished his family peace and cleanliness, and I reiterated my apology for my fauxpaws.
With Jason assuaged and his forgiveness assured, Leah, Bonnie and I continued our walk, but now with a bigger baggie and a familiar problem.
After reaching the top of the hill, we discovered a new mansion under construction. A large dumpster stood guard in the front yard. I checked around in all directions to make sure we were hidden from view.
“Don’t you dare!” Leah threatened.
But I was already committed. I tossed the baggie into the heart of the steel container, and quick-stepped away from the property. Glancing back, I casually surveyed the new architecture with the over-sized receptacle in the foreground–emblazoned with D-E-M-A-R-C-O in large, white, stenciled letters–and reflected on my full-circle achievement.
The four of us (Doug, Arlene, Leah and I) have been hiking together for nearly 15 years.
We bonded as regulars of Harriman Hikers–a 45 year-old organization of singles from New York and New Jersey who continue to gather every Sunday, year-round, rain or shine at Ramapo College to hike Harriman State Park, along with other trails in Wawayanda State Park, Norvin Green State Forest, Ramapo Reservation and the southern Hudson Valley.
I met the Harriman Hikers through Leah just a few months into our courtship, and accepted an invitation to hike with her group. I felt confident that sufficient time had passed after rehabilitating a broken leg and torn knee caused by a Kamakazi snowboader 6 months earlier.
Big mistake! These were dedicated hikers who had mapped out a grueling 12-mile hike of steep ascents and descents, leaving me noticeably lame at the end of 6 hours in the woods. I thought that Leah might have to carry me out.
As time passed, my stamina improved, as did my personal relationships within the group. Over time, Leah and I strayed from the pack and blazed our own trail, hiking different destinations at our own convenience with Doug and Arlene, who initially met through Harriman Hikers and eventually married.
Since moving from New Jersey to St. Augustine, Leah and I have maintained a long distance relationship with Doug and Arlene, and we were eager to reprise our traditional Thanksgiving hike together…especially after over-eating with family the night before!
It was time to return to Harriman. We arranged to meet at the Lake Skannatati parking lot located off Seven Lakes Drive. Fortunately, the temperature was more conducive to hiking than the prior year (see Becoming My Parents).
As always, it was great catching up with familiar faces in familiar places. We leisurely looped around the mounds of granite…
…traveling 5.66 miles over 3:42:26,
and reached the ridgeline approximately one hour into the hike. The wind was brisk at the clearing, but the view from the top of the hill was worthy of the chill.
And the warmth of our friendship carried us the rest of the way.