Share Your World: 22 May 2023

Growing up, were you closer to your mother or your father, or was it a balance of both depending on the circumstances?

I’ve always felt closer to my dad, and still do… I’m a quiet introvert, like my dad, whereas my mum is one of life’s gregarious extraverts and I suppose we don’t really understand each other 🙂

What was your favourite toy as a child, and do you still have it?

How do you choose one toy across a whole childhood? Um… for outdoors I’d probably say my bike, or rather the constant succession of bikes that changed as I grew older. To us bikes meant freedom. We lived in the countryside so when we went to play with friends it was either by bike or by walking. And because we were all local kids we all generally cycled to and from primary school, as it was very rare to be ferried around by parental car. And for indoors, I’d probably choose Lego for unending imaginative play and its sheer indestructible staying power over the years.

Did you have any secrets?

My biggest secret was feeling not good enough for being such a disappointment to my mum, who has spent my entire life joking to everyone else that she always wanted to have five boys, but Ruth came along first and spoiled it…

What did you want to be when you grew up, and are you anywhere close?

I remember always just saying whatever was expected of me at any given time when asked by anyone what I wanted to be when I grew up, as the usual options to choose from were pretty gender-restricted. So boys generally wanted to be footballers or astronauts and girls wanted to be nurses or ballerinas. But in all honesty I’ve never had any real career aspirations – I suppose all I’ve ever consistently wanted was to be happy, and that still feels like a big mountain to climb, even at 59… Still hoping to get there one day! 🙂

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Defunct

As of yesterday, my parents’ home – my childhood home – is now defunct.

Mum and Dad moved in to that house 50 years ago this summer, the year I turned 10. It’s changed a lot since then – replacement kitchen, additional downstairs shower room, multiple changes of use of internal and external spaces over time – but still, it’s a bit odd to think of neither parent living there any more.

Dad (who turns 87 on Thursday) now lives in a residential care home – he’s had five strokes and has vascular dementia, so has needed proper nursing care for the last 18 months. Thankfully he is somewhere where he is safe and cared for, he seems happy enough and appears to be settled where he is.

Mum (who will be 81 next Sunday) continued to live alone in the rural home she shared with Dad for all those years, but she too has recently been diagnosed with early stage dementia, so has finally agreed to move from there in to a very pleasant Sheltered Housing development in the nearest town, much closer to Dad.

Her new rented home is much smaller – just one bedroom, a bathroom, and an open plan living room and kitchen – so she’s taken with her what she needs and wants (and whatever will fit) and the rest of the old house and contents have to be cleared and sorted and made ready for putting on the market.

So Mum moved in to her new, self-styled ‘old-lady’ place yesterday, and thankfully slept well on her first night in her new bed. Tomorrow my husband and I will be going out to the old house to look for some necessary documentation I need to complete on Mum’s behalf. And then we can start planning ahead for whatever comes next.

It does feel a bit strange to think of the house not being in our family any more, but neither my brother nor I have ever had any wish to live there as adults ourselves. In our late fifties we each have our own lives, our own families, our own homes. That was Mum and dad’s dream home, not ours. And anyway, it has to be sold to pay for Dad’s ongoing care, and Mum’s new life alone.

I have a lifetime of memories wrapped up in that house, some great, some not so good. But it was our family home. It was where I grew up. Realistically it should have been sold years ago, and Mum and Dad should have moved somewhere smaller and more practical and accessible when their health first started failing, probably about a decade ago.

But instead they chose to sit tight in denial and hold on to the bitter end, insisting that they would both manage to live there independently until they died. However now in their 80s neither are fit to be there any longer, they both now live elsewhere and as of yesterday it falls entirely to my brother and I to sort everything out and sell up for them.

Fifty years of the accumulated stuff of life – paperwork, personal possessions, old photographs, family mementos and memories, toys and teddies. Not to mention all the excess furniture and fripperies, including a full set of my maternal grandmother’s wedding china from the late 1930s kept wrapped up and stored in a box ‘for best’. And Dad’s old army suitcase from when he did his National Service in the 1950s.

Of course there will be some things of sentimental value to other family members that will definitely be kept, but much of what is remaining after everything is sorted out will inevitably be donated to charity. It seems a bit heartless, but what else can we do? Dad doesn’t remember any more, and Mum no longer has any room to keep it all.

I have no idea how long it will take us to clear things away enough to put the house on the market, no idea how I will feel at the end of the day when all is said and done. But right now all I can say is I’m dreading it…

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Defunct

My Dad and Dementia

Hold your memories close to your heart
For dementia will rip them apart
Tattered shreds haunt your mind
Broken threads hard to find
Shattered images fade, then depart...

I realise I haven’t written about my dad lately… He’s still with us in body if not always in mind, but it gets harder to see the tiny little differences in him every time I visit him in the care home where he now lives permanently. It’s as if he is slowly withdrawing from the world, day by day.

My dad will be 87 next month, but has had vascular dementia since he was 80, so over the last seven years the dad I knew and loved so much has slowly been disintegrating mentally in front of our eyes, piece by piece, memory by memory, which is just heartbreaking to experience.

In the last decade dad has had five strokes, each one leaving him with even more reduced mobility than before, and since the last small stroke just before Christmas last year he no longer has much speech. He whispers a soft ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when asked a direct question but not much else, so it’s difficult to know where he is in his mind any more, because he can’t tell us what he’s thinking or where he’s at, neither in time nor place.

In the past, sometimes dad would know I was his daughter, or at other times he would think I was his sister but as long as I knew where he was in his mind on that day, we could usually have a reasonable conversation regardless. And now I simply sit with him and hold his hand, talk a bit about life a bit, then go home and cry…

One of our neighbours, a sprightly 83 year old man who reminded me a lot of my dad as he used to be, died suddenly a couple of weeks ago. He had one massive stroke one day and was gone, just like that. It’s strange not seeing him around, but it’s made me think a lot about dad and his drastically reduced quality of life, and it hurts to remember that’s always how dad said he wanted to go – at home one minute, living a normal full life as usual, and then just gone…

Fandango’s Provocative Question this week asks simply – How are you? And I realise I am grieving for someone who is still alive, but not really living any more. Grieving for the loss of connection, and the closeness we always had, and the beauty of wholly belonging in someone’s heart without question.

Because now the question is, does dad even know who I am any more? Does he recognise me as his daughter, or does he still think I’m his sister, or is the occasional look of recognition he gives me just a vague familiar feeling that this is someone that I should know?

I still love my dad so very much and always will, but it saddens me so much to see him this way. The physical lack of mobility after the strokes I could cope with, but the mental deterioration of vascular dementia has so cruelly taken my beloved dad away from me, from all of us, and that reality makes me fiercely determined to live life while I can.

So don’t waste any more time procrastinating if there are important things you want to do before you die, because you never know what cruel twist of fate is waiting round the corner for you…

Treasures and Pleasures

My favourite treasures are the fond memories stored in everyday things, often in the most innocuous of things.

For example, in my kitchen I have three old cut glass jugs. The largest is a beautiful water jug (for serving drinking water at the dining table) that once belonged to my grandmother, and the two small jugs I remember my mum using for serving pouring cream (or often just evaporated milk) to have with tinned fruit for ‘afters’. Even now the childhood memory of eating tinned sliced peaches with evaporated milk makes me smile from the heart.

Everyone seemed to use serving jugs for everything in my childhood, whereas nowadays I suppose we tend to serve cold liquids straight from the fridge in whatever container they come in. I only use mine on special occasions, when people come round or for a specific celebration – not to keep them for ‘best’ but simply to save on the washing up! But I do enjoy the memories they bring, and take great pleasure in handling the cool chunky glass I know so well.

In my cutlery drawer I have a selection of small silver spoons given to me by my mum – the dinky salt spoon that was sometimes used for mixing up powdered mustard in an egg cup, the short and stubby rounded caddy spoon for loose-leaf tea, and the squared-off sugar shovel that always lived in the sugar bowl. I have the old sugar tongs, too, used for sugar cubes when we were being posh, although I’ve never taken sugar in either my tea or coffee so both are a bit redundant in my house, but I love them nonetheless.

I also have some old spoons that once belonged to my grandmother before being passed on to my dad, and now to me, and these spoons have also been part of my life for nearly sixty years. There are four very used and abused dessert spoons with four matching teaspoons and one huge tablespoon. The tablespoon is the very one she used when she taught me to measure out the flour for making pancakes, and is the same spoon I used this afternoon when making pancakes myself, using her basic recipe from all those years ago. I really love the familiar worn, smooth feel of it in my hand, measuring out the correct weight of the flour ounce by ounce.

So I’m sitting here tonight eating freshly-made fluffy pancakes with my cup of tea, having used my grandmother’s old spoon to measure out the main ingredients of my grandmother’s old recipe, just the way she taught me all those years ago… I can almost hear her voice, smiling and satisfied. And to be honest I’m making sure I treasure my memories while I still can, because I know from my dad that the time may come when those precious memories may disintegrate into the depths of dementia, lost in limbo forever…

Weekly Prompt: Treasure

Weekly Smile: 6 Feb 2023

We’ve had some really weird sunset skies this week – this particular view was taken from my daughter’s back doorstep last night. Lots of pink and orange striations glowing on a purplish backdrop, hovering over dark finger clouds dotted and dashed beneath. Then in no time at all the colour just faded away as we watched, leaving ghostly monochrome stripes stretching across the heavens.

It was a lovely end to a lovely day spent together with my eldest daughter and her family, with grandchildren and pets and love and laughter… So that’s my smile for this week, precious time spent with family and a memorable sunset to mark the occasion ❤

Weekly Smile

Kitchen Memories

Family memories seem to be order of the day today – the JusJoJan prompt word is Family and Amanda at Something to Ponder About asks us about memories of our grandparents, so it seems sensible to cover both at once…

My paternal grandparents lived on a coastal farm set high on the cliffs on the North-East coast of Scotland, just South of Aberdeen. It was mainly an arable farm but they kept a couple of cows for milk and chickens for eggs, and always kept a vegetable garden. The busy square-roomed farmhouse kitchen was large and multi-purposed, and as I picture it in my mind’s eye I see it from the simplistic perspective of childhood.

The door was in the top right hand corner, and on your right as you entered the kitchen was a huge carved wooden sideboard filled with boundless treasures, or so it seemed at the time. On the wall facing you was the fire – an old range when I was younger, later replaced with a ‘modern’ tiled fireplace as I grew older. In the right-hand corner corner was the hot water tank housed in a slatted-shelf airing cupboard, heated by the back boiler behind the fire. In front of the fire were the tired old armchairs where my grandparents sat in the evenings, although not so much during the day, constantly busy as they were. There was a small black and white TV tucked in to the left-hand corner, behind my grandmother’s chair, but I honestly don’t remember it being on much.

Along the left hand wall sat a solidly huge extending kitchen dining table, with heavy wooden carved legs and an almost-out-of-place cream formica-style top. I know it was an extending table because of the seams in the surface but I never saw it other than fully opened. There were mis-matched chairs pushed in all around the table, maybe nine in place constantly, but often seating twelve at a push. On the back wall was the big stone sink with draining board, a standard electric cooker, a small fridge and the kitchen ‘press’ – a 1950s-style larder cupboard with a hinged pull-down door creating an extra work surface as needed. Inside the press sat a large white enamel bread bin with blue trim.

The pantry was a separate deep-shelved small storage room off the hallway, and it was in this room external to the kitchen that the big, bulky pots and pans and suchlike were stored, and the milk-house (an outside stone-built cool-room close to the back door) was where meat and dairy were traditionally stored and where jams and jellies were cooled and set. I remember the old wooden butter churn being kept in the milk-house, but by the time I was born butter was regularly made using the much-prized electric bowl mixer that was stored in the pantry until needed. The milk was still left to settle on the marble work top of the milk-house, though, with the cream being skimmed off carefully as it separated.

So this was the big old kitchen in which I learned to cook – my mum has never enjoyed cooking, for her it was always a chore, but my paternal grandmother was a typical farmer’s wife and an excellent cook, and it was from her I learned to make the hearty soups and stews and everyday cakes and bakes that traditionally fed a farming family back in the day. My dad remembers his mum making oatcakes on the old range when he was a boy, but by the time the grandchildren came along oatcakes were generally bought in. Pancakes, however, were made almost daily, a staple sweet treat. Not thin crepes, but thick, fluffy Scotch pancakes, lined up in rows and cooled in a folded tea-towel before being transferred to the table.

One of my dad’s cousins regularly made a variety of cheeses, so oatcakes and home-made cheese (plus home-made butter) were the usual mid-meal snack eaten hungrily around the table, along with the home-made pancakes dripped with thick, sticky golden syrup. Meals I particularly remember eating there include boiled eggs in egg cups dipped with toast ‘soldiers’, mince and tatties and peas, smoked kippers, boiled crabs collected fresh from the fishermen, tasty cauliflower cheese with baked ham. Soup and pudding was a regular on the menu, too – a big bowl of thick soup with hunks of bread, followed by crumble and custard was a surprisingly filling meal without a ‘main’ course in between.

My dad was one of six children, so I grew up with myriad cousins and aunts and uncles and my grandparents’ farmhouse kitchen is the space where I picture us all in various combinations of family groupings at different times of the day and year, preparing meals, eating meals, and the inevitable clearing up afterwards. Another of dad’s cousins regularly avoided the washing up by always going to the toilet immediately after each meal, and always showing surprise on her return that the dishes had all been done already. This little trick was known within the family as ‘doing a (family member’s name)’ although we always had to remember not to say it when any of her immediate family were present!

I later realised as an adult just how hard a life it must have been for my grandmother, bringing up a large family as she did with minimal mod cons at the time, but for me as a child it was simply the perfect family environment, always warm and welcoming, always busy and bustling, always a place I loved to be. And I realise in my heart of hearts that’s the feeling I want people to get in my kitchen when they come to visit me. We don’t live in a farmhouse, or on a farm, but I try to make sure there’s still a warm welcome and wholesome, homely food on offer for all everyone we invite across our threshold… 🙂

My Beautiful Dad

Today’s daily prompt on WordPress suggests:-

Talk about your father or a father figure in your life

I’ve been thinking such a lot about my 86-year-old dad recently. He’s had vascular dementia for the last six years, playing cruel tricks with his memory so that he doesn’t always know where he is, or when he is, what is reality and what is not, or how to do some of the most basic of things.

After several strokes over time progressively reduced his mobility bit by bit, it became abundantly clear to all of us that even with all the social care support packages available mum could no longer care for him at home. Eventually after a bad fall a year ago resulting in a prolonged stay in hospital, dad now lives in a nursing home. It’s not a perfect situation for any of us, but we are where we are and it is what it is.

Luckily for us dad usually (but sadly not always) knows who we are, or at least recognises us as family members at some level – he frequently thought I was his favourite sister rather than his daughter, but we still manged to have some great ghostly conversations set in the distant past and in many different places which he clearly enjoyed. To me it was still a valued connection between us.

He would regularly ask me how ‘the old folks’ were and had I seen them recently, meaning his parents (my grandparents) who have been dead for decades, so I would prevaricate a bit, then simply say as honestly as I could that I hadn’t seen them for a while but as far as I knew everyone in the family was well, which always seemed to reassure him well enough. I treasure those conversations and the familiar closeness they brought.

Lately dad’s speech wasn’t always that clear – sometimes he might slur a bit, or forget what he was saying, or shift slowly to another decade and the words would just fade away – but he could still speak, I could hear his voice and I could remember, smiling inwardly at his dad-like choice of words or his dry humour turn of phrase, and I would think – yes, my beautiful dad is still in there somewhere…

But now dad has had another small stroke, and although he has recovered a lot, sadly his speech has not returned this time. In fact, he’s not uttered one single, solitary word since. He smiles and he nods, still looking confused at times, but there are no words. And for me, for the reality that somewhere down the line without knowing it I have had my last ‘proper’ conversation I will ever have with my much-loved dad, for me too there are no words…

Love you, dad, to the end of time, and I wish you could know just how much I miss hearing your lovely voice… ❤

Dementia 1: Dad 0

By the law of averages, my dad should probably not still be around. It’s not just a matter of his age – he’s now 86 – but of his slowly disintegrating health. Dad was diagnosed with vascular dementia when he was 80, after a couple of devastating strokes left him with debilitating mobility issues and a forgetfulness that was clearly going beyond just forgetfulness.

Since that time he’s had another couple of strokes, each one just a little worse than the last. Each time both his mobility and his memory have decreased further to the point where, after a bad fall at home and a serious knock to the head a year ago resulting in a prolonged stay in hospital, dad was finally discharged not back home to mum, herself finding life more difficult as she too gets older, but to a nursing home where he now lives with much-needed 24hr care.

It’s been so hard watching dad’s memories of who he is being erased over time. To begin with there were distinct periods where dad would seem fine, and then periods where he was clearly confused. Confused about time and place and people and reality and memory. And over the years those periods of lucidity became less and less frequent. Dad became less and less certain of where he was or who he was with. He began to live more and more in the past, present in body but not in spirit, out of reach to us much of the time, lost in an inner world of his own that only he could experience.

But sadly since his bad fall last year, since the long isolated stay in hospital where he caught and fought Covid along with everyone else on the ward, dad’s growing dementia deterioration appears decidedly more marked. He can no longer walk at all, and seems to have lost the last of that small precious spark of triumphant defiance that still remained. It’s as if the dementia has won, as if the shutters have truly come down for good this time, and I feel the loss keenly.

Dad no longer comes out with the little quips and humourous comments and groan-inducing bad-dad-jokes that were such a recognisable part of his character. We no longer seem to have access to that shared familial experience, the secret short-cut code that is the DNA of everyday life. It sometimes seems dad is more comfortable with the company of the staff and residents than with his family when we visit. I’m pleased that he appears so contented, genuinely I am, but at the same time it hurts like hell…

This is not the life dad had imagined for himself, not the old age he (or we) had envisaged. But clearly it is his reality – and it is our reality too. Dad is still with us in body but not in spirit, and I honestly miss him more than I can possibly say…

Ragtag Daily Prompt: Law

Word of the Day: Erase

Chives

Perhaps not the most exciting flower in my garden, but I’m so pleased this chive plant is doing well – it was donated to us last autumn by my mother-in-law, from her garden in Peterhead (along the east coast towards Aberdeen).

It’s a small part of a plant she’d taken with her from her previous garden, which was situated only about 10 miles from where we are now. And the original had been given to her as a small plant by someone else who had it growing in their garden, so it’s been a well-travelled herb and I’m so glad to see it surviving happily in its new home back in Inverness again 🙂

Flower of the Day