He will be 97 years old in a few days, my sweet papa. I miss him terribly—his dry sense of wit, his stoic Norwegian temperament, his way of making you feel loved without saying it. He left three years ago as quietly as he lived, and I’m forever grateful for the legacy he left behind. The short story that follows was written a few years ago as we painfully grappled with his diagnosis of dementia and the challenges that ensued. As a family, we learned so many valuable, heartwarming lessons during that time, and through it all, love graciously prevailed.D. L. Norris
The gray corridor is long, and dimly lit. Empty bookshelves line the walls where volumes of life history once resided; fascinating stories of childhood, travel, talent, family. One by one the books have been removed from the shelves and cast into an irretrievable space.
He was born on Monday, March 15, 1926, at a time in American history when Calvin Coolidge was the President of the United States, when you could buy a new house for $7700 or rent one for $20 a month, buy a new car for $360, purchase gasoline for $.12 a gallon, and pick up a loaf of bread for $.09. A simpler time? Not according to stories told by my dad over the years. Life was difficult, and not for the faint of heart. He managed to live through the respective Dust Bowl and drought eras of the Midwest – and later survive a near fatal bout of Scarlet Fever and a kamikaze attack on his US Navy ship Goodhue in the Asiatic Pacific. He eventually made his way back to the states to meet and marry my mother – a blessed union that would last for 72 years. My sister and I made him a wonderful, long-suffering, patient, and caring father. Seriously.
Dad. My hero, my safe place. My childhood memories of him are many, far too many to capture in this simple writing. I loved coming home from school and finding him in his upholstery shop – the old brown Zenith radio playing in the background, the steady hum of a sewing machine, the smell of wood varnish and paint thinner, and the delightful discovery of leftover scraps of fabric on the shop floor that were destined to become articles of clothing for my dolls. At the close of each evening, my last recollections before drifting off to sleep were of hearing my dad winding the old cuckoo clock and rechecking the front door lock. My, how safe and secure I had felt. I always knew where to find him, and there was little need to be anxious or afraid.
Now, in his twilight years, there is a quiet, notorious thief that routinely creeps in and steals one precious memory at a time. I feel I may have lost sight of my dad for the first time, somewhere along the winding road of dementia. Strangely, he is content in his new world. He does not worry. He does not recall painful events or losses. He only lives in the here and now. A protective shell of no remembrance covers his mind. He is genuinely thankful for the trivial things; a comfortable chair, a warm blanket, a nourishing meal, simple conversation involving current events, a friendly voice, a gentle touch, and a handful of unsalted peanuts.
For all the countless memories that have been stolen, there remains something untouched by this ravishing disease. His spirit. I catch glimpses of his kindness, loving ways, and gentleness. I see the smile that lights up his face and eyes – all poignant reminders that he is in there somewhere. My heart knows it. Occasionally he will ask me, “Have I always lived here?” Oh my. I take a deep breath. “No, sweet Papa. You have traveled the world, once upon a time. In your 93 years you have experienced a myriad of wonders. Why, the many stories of your life could easily fill volumes.”