When Norah Met Mr. Dan

By Tara Wood

The day before my daughter Norah’s fourth birthday, something she said foreshadowed a remarkable event.

I’d just picked her up from preschool when she cautioned me to mind the elderly person walking across the parking lot at a glacier’s pace.

She went on to explain that she has a soft spot for mature folks:” I like old people the best ’cause they walk slow like I walk slow and they has soft skin like I has soft skin. They all gonna die soon, so I’m gonna love’em all up before they is died.”

Sure, it got kinda dark at the end, but I liked where her heart was.

I was struck by her thoughtfulness and empathy and posted that quote as a status update on Facebook when we got home.  I had no idea how much she really meant it.

The following day-her birthday again on the way home from school, she asked if we could stop at the grocery store to buy cupcakes for her and her six siblings to enjoy after dinner.

How do you say no to a birthday girl?

I popped Norah and her younger sister into one of those car-shaped grocery carts and headed toward the bakery.  After we picked up the cupcakes, I stopped at a clearance shelf that caught my eye.  While I was distracted, Norah was busy standing up in the cart, excitedly waving and gleefully proclaiming, “Hi old person!  It’s my birfday today!”

The man was elderly, stone-faced, and furrow-browed.  However, before I could shush her for calling him an old person or ask the earth to swallow me whole, he stopped and turned to her.

If he was troubled by my no-filter child, he didn’t show it.  His expression softened as he replied,” Well, hello, little lady!  And how old are you today?”

They chatted for a few minutes, he wished her a happy birthday, and we went our separate ways.

A few minutes later, she turned to me and asked,” Can I take a picture with the old man for my birfday?”  It was the cutest thing every, and although I wasn’t sure if he’d oblige, I told her we’d certainly ask.

We found the man a couple of aisles over, and I approached him,” Excuse me, sir?  This is Norah, and she’d like to know if you’d take a photo with her for her birthday?”

His expression morphed from confused to stunned to delighted.

He took a step back, steadied himself on his shopping car, and placed his free hand on his chest.” A photo?  With me?” he asked.

“Yes, suh, for my birfday!” Norah pleaded.

And so he did.  I pulled out my iPhone, and they posed together.  She placed her soft hand on top of his soft hand.  He wordlessly stared at her with twinkling eyes as she kept his hand in hers and studied his skinny veins and weathered knuckles.  she kissed the top of his hand and then placed it on her cheek.  He beamed.  I asked his name, and he told us to call him Dan.

We were blocking other shoppers, but they didn’t care.  There was magic happening in the grocery store that day, and we could all feel it.  Norah and “Mr Dan” sure didn’t notice.  They were chatting away like long-lost friends.

After a few minutes, I thanked Mr. Dan for spending a bit of his day with us.  He teared up and said, “No, thank you.  this has been the best day I’ve had in a long time.”  He turned to my daughter.” You’ve made me so happy, Miss Norah.”

They hugged, and we walked away.  Norah watched him until he was out of view.

I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t a weepy mess after their encounter.

I was blown away by this meeting and thought maybe some of the readers of my Facebook page might enjoy hearing about it.  I posted the story and a photo of the two of them.

Later that night, I received a private message from a local reader who recognized Mr. Dan.

His wife, Mary, had passed away six months earlier, and he had been lonely since his beloved had gone.  The reader wanted to let me know she was certain his heart was touched by my little girl, that he needed that connection and likely would never forget it.

I asked for Mr. Dan’s phone number and called him a few days later.

We visited Mr Dan’s cozy and tidy house- reminders of Mary still proudly displayed everywhere.  He had gotten a haircut, shaved, and put on slacks and dress shoes.  He looked ten years younger.  He’d set out a child’s table, blank paper, and crayons for Norah.  He asked if she’d draw some pictures for him to display on his refrigerator.  He happily agreed and went right to work.

We ended up spending nearly three hours with Mr. Dan that day.  H was patient and kind with my talkative, constantly moving girl.  He wiped ketchup off her cheek and let her finish his chicken nuggets.

We walked with him to his front door after lunch.  He pulled out a pocketknife and cut the single red rose blooming by his porch.  He spent ten minutes cutting every thorn off the stem before  handing it to his new friend.  She keeps that rose, now dry as a bone, in a zip lock bag under her pillow.

Norah asks about Mr. Dan every day.  She worries about him.  She wonders if he’s lonely, or cold, or has cheese for his sandwiches.  She wants him to be OK.  She wants him to feel loved.

Mr. Dan thinks about Norah too.  After another recent visit, he relayed that he hadn’t had an uninterrupted night’s sleep since his wife died.  He told me that he had slept soundly every night since meeting my girl.

    “Norah has healed me,” he said.

That left me speechless and my cheeks wet with tears.

Seventy-eight years separate these two people in age….

Norah and I have made a promise to see Mr. Dan every week, even if it’s for only 15 minutes, even if only for a quick hug and to drop off a cheese Danish (his favorite!)

I invited him to spend Thanksgiving with us.  He’s part of our family now.  Whether he likes it or not, he has been absorbed into my family of nine, and just as Norah said, we’re gonna love him all up.

Taken liberally from the April 2017 edition of my Readers Digest written by Tara Wood

Norah and Mr. Dan 

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I (DM) read this tonight after work.   Just what the Dr ordered after a hard day in the trenches.  Wanted to share it with you. 🙂

 

 

 

Ticking

I saw my dad this morning for two seconds.

I wished there would have been some way to capture that image of him in a picture..but since that was impossible, I wanted to do the next best thing and write about it.

I had an early  trip out-of-town this morning,  and my route took me right past the farm.

And there he was…

I suppose he was outside feeding the  cats.

It was just after sunrise.

The artist in me noticed the  shadows.  (I notice shadows all the time)

I noticed he was wearing his bibs.

Keep in mind all of this happened in a moment.  When you’re going 60 miles per hour,  things fly by pretty quick.

Several things stirred in my gut, in that moment.

______________________________

12 hours later….

I just got off the phone with mom.  We talked for 15 minutes.

I asked her if Dad had seen me this morning? 😉

Yep, He figured I was going out for breakfast with a neighbor.  I told her no. Son John  and I were taking off on a 6 hour road trip and I had to stop by their neighbors to pick up a stock trailer.

My dad is in the evening season of his life.  Not sure how many more years he and mom will be able to live on the farm.  Hopefully, several more…

__________________________________

Tell me about an older person in your life that has a special place in your heart…It doesn’t have to be a relative.    Maybe they are still alive, and maybe they have passed on.  What do (or did)  you appreciate  about that person, what do you miss ?  Would you mind sharing a memory or a story?  (The longer/ more detailed the better) 😉  DM

 

letters

 

Letters

bundle letters

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I came across some letters between 40 yr old Anita and her 60-year-old friend, mentor, and former college professor Ruth.

The letters are deeply personal and without a hint of pretension…refreshingly so.

Stuff you would never tell another person, unless you trusted them explicitly….

They cover many of the same issues  I wrestle with as a man, and we have as couple.

The letters that I have read so far have covered things like the inner angst Anita was having at  turning 40, such as:

” I looked in the mirror today.  I didn’t just glance to fluff my hair.  I gave myself a good, long look.  First, I cocked my head for a general assessment.  Then I leaned in for the scarier, unforgiving version of my own reflection.

     For the first time, it was a forty-year-old face staring back at me.  A smidgen of cheek sag…a bit of something turkey-like beginning on my neck…and some forehead frown lines all staking their claim on this once-unmarred facial frontier…”

Anita’s inner struggles to find a balance between career, motherhood, marriage, and her personal needs.

She had questions about sexuality in their marriage of 18 years.

She wrote about the struggles with an ongoing pattern of anger in her life….

There are a dozen additional letters that I have yet to read, all on topics of substance.

If you’d like a copy of these letters  you can get your own copy of them here. 😉

Pause.

CS Lewis wrote:  “We read to know we are not alone.”

Do you have a person or three with whom you have this kind of relationship?

I hope so.

Someone(s) with whom you can unpack the nitty-gritty of your inner world?   Someone you trust explicitly..someone who won’t judge you. Someone with whom you can be completely honest and share the most, off the wall, bizarre thoughts that occasionally (or regularly)  flitter through your brain?😉

Not to worry, we all do it.

I have several such relationships, and that is not by accident.  Back in 1995 for reasons that are not relevant here, we left a local church group I had sunk my emotional roots into…deeply. Unfortunately, 95% of my closest relationships were people in that group, and by and large,  the intimate conversations with those people came to a screeching halt when we left.

Swore I would never, ever again, keep all  of my relationship eggs in one basket, in one spot.  One of the spin-off results of that decision was to start keeping in  better touch with a handful of people via e-mail, interacting on things of substance in my life. That impulse eventually morphed into me starting  my first blog.

Same dynamic, just on a larger scale.

Spent some time with a young couple last night that are struggling. Towards the end of the evening, that came up (their struggling).

I was  glad they felt safe opening up to us.

Nothing harder for me than “festering” relationship stuff where I feel stuck.

_____________________

Those of you that occasionally or regularly interact here on this blog.  I appreciate it.

DM

 

Christmas Eve, Slivers, and PTSD

Marie came up to us after church that year and asked if we’d like to join their family for Christmas eve.  Sure we said, it beat sitting in our little rental house 1000 miles from home, missing family.

As it turned out, Marie had also invited Nancy, Karen, and Scott,  all singles, also away from home over the holidays. Marie had the gift of hospitality.  Those are still some of my favorite Christmas memories…

I remember coming into Marie’s kitchen, the smell of turkey and pumpkin pie, dimly lit Christmas lights,  scented candles..

It felt like I’d just stepped into a Hallmark card movie…and we were part of the story.

Pause.

As I sat in a big stuffed chair after dinner, visiting with Sid, (Marie’s husband)  I absent-mindedly picked a callous on the tip of my pointer finger.   It had been  numb for months.

All of a sudden,  out popped an inch long wood sliver.

I thought back to early September when I had helped Joe V install a new set of pine steps.   I’d gotten a nasty sliver, and assumed I’d gotten the whole thing out.. guess not. 🙂

Pause.

The same thing happened again yesterday.  I came into the house for lunch and I noticed a  small piece of wood protruding out of the middle finger on my right hand.  Last month, I was moving some old lumber in my way on a project, and I got “stuck.”  At first, I thought I’d gotten another nasty sliver but when I got home that night and dug around, I couldn’t find anything.  (I wasn’t sure then whether I’d gotten a puncture wound or another sliver. Figured if something was in there, it would eventually work itself out.)

I know how these things work now 🙂

Pause.

Buried slivers are a great word picture for PTSD.  Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes…it could be sexual abuse. Could be trauma from combat.  Could be trauma from a surgery as a small child….  Sometimes after a traumatic event, in order for our brains to cope, a part of our heart goes numb.  It’s one of God’s coping mechanisms (I believe). The numbness initially allows me to continue to function…all the while the memory  foreign object stays buried in there somewhere, festering..and at the right time,  it will come to a head.  I don’t think you have to go looking for it.

I’ve seen this played out three times, in the lives of people close to me.   15 to 30 years after the initial trauma, weird things started to happen…unexplained panic attacks, the desire to cut, being in a state of constant hyper-vigilance, etc.

A marriage counselor told us  about the waves of terror that would overtake him when he started to deal with the abuse  he’d experienced as a child. Things didn’t come to a head until after he’d gotten married. Something would trigger the PTSD and it would incapacitate him.  One day, a friend of his stopped by unannounced, while he was in the middle of an episode. He told his wife to let his friend come up and see him…. The friend, a former marine,  had no idea that this guy was going through ptsd.  When he saw him, curled in a ball, covered with tears and snot, he crawled into the closet with him and just held him.

It was a turning point on his road to recovery.

If there is an emotional wound in your life that is giving you fits, don’t suffer in silence.  It means you are human.

Open up and let someone in.

DM

Moose Hunting

This morning I had to stop by a farm to check on some possible work. As I was waiting for the hubby to finish doing chores,  I asked his wife if her mom was still living with them?

She teared up instantly.

The words just tumbled out…

Up until now we’ve had a bath aid coming in two to three times a week, but starting next week, I asked for help every day.   I just can’t do it any more…”

I listened. …and the words kept coming….

“I promised her I would never put her in a nursing home..but….but you have no idea how hard it has been.”

“How is your mom mentally?”  I asked…

“Ever since her stroke, she’s gotten worse.  Right now, she probably has the mind of a 5th grader…..

She’s lived with us  seven and one half years…..”

I (DM) remembered when her mom  first moved in.  I assumed she was still with them, but you never know. Her mom reminded me of my mom, the first time I met her….about the same age, body build, both have a twinkle in their eye.   I sensed she (the mother) had mixed feelings about moving in with her daughter, and yet, due to circumstances outside of her control, there was no other option….

Tonight as Mrs DM and I were out on a date, I thought back to this mornings conversation.  In the past an interaction like that would have left me feeling uncomfortable, but it didn’t.

I was humbled she trusted me enough to be vulnerable and tell me what she was really thinking.

Raw, unguarded pain.

Come to think of it,   I had four different conversations like that just this week.

And in none of those conversations, did I feel any pressure to say something wise or helpful.

When a person is really hurting,  the most helpful (and hopeful) thing you and I can do is to listen.  Really listen.  Not fill the moments of silence between the two of you with words.  Yes, there is  may be a time to speak, but mostly, just the act of listening, (or asking a question) does more that anything else to communicate hope.

I really do not have a clue as to what it’s like to be a full-time care taker for more than a few hours at a stretch.

Some of you do.

My dad, who is in his mid 80’s,  will occasionally put it like this…“Once a man, twice a child.” 

Not so sure I want to do the childhood gig a second time.

Told my wife this night I am going to ask my brother-in-law Loren to take me out moose hunting when I start to fail… wait until it’s good and cold, prop me up against a tree, out in the middle of nowhere and  call it good.  We laughed, because  first of all, I don’t hunt, and second of all, Loren is my mom’s go-to person when she needs to dispose of a pesky critter.  I know this is not the politically correct (Christian) way to talk about aging, but, if I am granted a long life (and there are no guarantees) I do not want to fritter those last years away, stuck in some room, needing to have my diaper changed every few hours.

So,  if you ever hear me talking about going moose hunting, you’ll know something’s  up….

DM

EverClear

everclear

 

Back when I was eighteen, I used to bum a menthol cigarette off Mike Cooper at break. It  started when he teased me and offered me one, knowing I didn’t smoke.  Not wanting to look like a sissy I  smoked it.
This  went on for ten days.  I can still remember the day,  I went from doing it to fit in, to actually thinking about it, and looking forward to having a smoke at break.

Right then I knew something had shifted in my mind….I was on the precipice of taking up smoking as a habit…did I really want to do that????

Naaa….better quit while I was ahead…sissy or not, in the eyes of my construction co-workers, I decided to back away from the ledge.  No  more cigarettes…that’s not to say, I didn’t try a few other things, but those are conversations for another day.

Pause-  (I hope those of you that smoke don’t think I’m judgmental, because that is not where I am coming from.)

I’ve never regretted that decision to stop before I really got started…especially after watching my grandpa Conley, laying in a hospital bed, hooked up to oxygen struggling to breath. He whispered, it felt like someone had a pillow over his face….all because of a lifetime of smoking.

Anyway, a new interest,  has gradually been  creeping into my life the past few weeks.  It started  when I got a call for a gallon of freshly pressed apple cider.    Merle, who is a foreman at a business I occasionally do carpentry work for, wanted to find some fresh apple cider for his wife.   She was making “apple pie” for a labor day get together.  Legally, I can’t sell fresh cider, but I can give it away..so I  pressed a bushel of ginger-golds  for Merle,  and quipped, “I wanted a sample of this “apple pie” when it is ready.”

.  The following Monday, Merle called and said, he wanted to return my plastic jug, and send home a quart of apple pie..

Oh my.

It was the sweetest, most tasty drink I have sipped on, since I don’t know when….

His wife also sent home the recipe.  Fresh apple cider, cinnamon sticks, a little sugar…and…190 proof alcohol.

Moon shine…Ever clear…and one of the things about this concoction is you can not taste the alcohol.

I had one small glass of it, the night I brought it home ….

and been thinking about it ever since….

In my worldview, having an occasional drink of alcohol in and of itself is not wrong. The issues lie more in the areas of self control, moderation, financial,  addiction, and the butt load of spin off issues that come with it.  Alcoholism runs in both sides of my family, and my wife’s as well.  I have experienced first hand (some of) the long term heartache that comes with alcoholic addictions.

Do I really want to go further down that road?

At some point,  and I’m not sure where that point is,  our physical body, and the alcohol start calling the shots, and and as a friend of mine who struggled with  this addiction told me, “It’s like there is a monkey on your back, and when he pulls the chain, you feed him.”

So, right before logging on this morning , I dumped the rest of the apple pie down the sink.

Side note- I’ve written before about my grandpa sharing with me the family recipe for making moonshine.  It is a piece of family history I found intriguing.  There is a little part of me that feels some sort of connection with the past, (by entertaining the idea of cooking up a batch or two of my own apple pie)…  but then I think, you know, that same grandpa that shared that recipe with me, also had his battles  with the bottle…

and that is a part of my family history, I would just as soon not repeat….ever.

 

Red Cloud

Tuesday morning we headed west.

Hit the road for Red Cloud Nebraska.

A month ago, we were kicking around the idea of taking a road trip to see my wife’s Uncle L.   He is the last living connection my wife has with the small town of Red Cloud Nebraska.  When we were first married we would stop there every couple of years to visit aunt and uncle L.  When her grandpa was still alive we would see him too.

L. is 94.   All of his siblings are gone.   His wife passed away in 2011. His son lives out-of-state. L is  hard of hearing and has been for years. Talking on the phone is out of the question.   I haven’t seen him in  years, but always enjoyed bantering with him to the degree we could.  He had his own plumbing and heating business for years, so our conversations tended toward construction.

When you have a relative who is 94, you know it’s just a matter of time until you get “the phone call” so I really encouraged my wife that we should take the trip now.

We decided not to let him know we were coming until the day before, just in case something fell through.   Tuesday afternoon, wife called  the  facility where L lives, and  talked with Melissa.   She was excited  and  promised to give uncle L a note, to let him know we were coming the next morning at 10.

He never got the note.

L’s neighbor, Lavae (who lives two doors down ) got a message to expect a Mr and Mrs DM  about 10 AM. ) Lavue didn’t know who that was, figured maybe someone working on genealogy so he placed an order with the kitchen for some extra ice tea to serve his guests.  He waited two hours but they never came. 

We found this out while we were sitting in the large dining room table over lunch with a dozen other 80 and 90 year olds…

😉

After we finished eating,  we checked uncle L out and  headed to his house to check on things. He moved into this facility this past December, so everything is just as he left it.

Just as I remembered it too…

The several dozen trophies in the trophy case he’d won racing go carts in his younger days. The cart still hangs from the ceiling in his garage.

The  Indian figurine in the hutch, the calendar still turned to  2015. The picture of his baby sister sitting at a desk when she was two, who has long since passed away herself.  A Christmas card on his desk from the nurses at the VA.

He has one of those walkers that has a fold down seat on it, so for a while we sat quietly in his living room, him on his walker seat, wife and I on opposite sides of the room in  stuff chairs.

You could hear a mourning dove just outside the window, singing that quiet mournful song they make. That bird’s song matched the emotions that were sloshing around in my head.  L said it felt good to just be in the house for a little bit.

We walked out into his garage.    We talked about a tool he wants to give his grandson when he’s gone.

I imagine, after living 94 years, to  get to the place where you are no longer able to live on your own, and have to leave 99% of your earthly possessions behind, it would feel good, even for a half hour,  to smell the familiar smells,  touch the old tools, look at old photos, and just sit.

I’m glad we went.