Confessions Of A Rotten Little Bastard – The Final Confession

On May 4th, 2018 my mother, Carrie, passed away. She had been in assisted living for three years, following a diagnosis of (and the worsening of) dementia. Mom was 87 at the time of her death, having just passed another birthday the month before. She had been in and out of the hospital for a few months prior to her passing. The final time she was released her needs had grown and the assisted living facility stated that they could still provide the level of care she required. Within one hour of her return she got herself out of bed (one of the requirements of her new level of care was that she needed higher rails on her bed to prevent this from happening), and fell, face first, onto the floor – breaking her nose and fracturing vertebrae in her neck. She returned to the hospital that night, and never recovered enough to leave again. In just over a month she passed away.

I have purposely held off writing here about her passing whereas I needed time to process it first. I still don’t think I fully have – but enough that I wanted to mark this date by saying ‘something’ at least while I filter through so many years of memories and thoughts and feelings.

I don’t, even though she has passed, ‘sugarcoat’ my relationship with my mother. It was often a very difficult one, despite public appearance. The title of this particular line of blog posts, Confessions Of A Rotten Little Bastard, came from the absolute worst fight we ever had, where she accused me of colluding with doctors to force a diagnosis of dementia for her (to what end, I never really learned) and force her from her home in Maine. She threatened to take me to court and rescind the power of attorney and medical proxy and guardianship she had granted me in advance of need. ‘That’ll fix you, you rotten little bastard!” she hissed at me one afternoon in my living room when we’d seen a small apartment nearby well suited for her since she could no longer live in Maine on her own with no public transportation and limited help.

Eventually she acquiesced and moved to my town, then went to Florida to visit my brother – which became a permanent stay when she declined further and, due to recent injuries, could not travel even back to New England. She moved into assisted living with a surprising lack of fuss, and I visited when I could, but with two young boys to raise it grew to be impossible to get there. So I called her, every day, until she no longer could really carry on a conversation – and then I could see that it was more frustrating for her than beneficial. She also didn’t really, fully, know who I was any longer.

When we talked of the necessity of moving her to assisted living, I knew I was breaking a promise to her made long ago that I’d never put her there. I suppose it was the guilt associated with that which kept me so determined to allow her to live independently for as long as she could, despite the signs that it was no longer possible. In everything she asked of me to do for her in her care and final years, it was the one promise I was not able to keep. On the day we spoke of assisted living as a necessity, she sat and told me that no matter what happened to her mind, she’d never, ever forget me – she’d never forget her son who she loved with all her heart. I gave her an out that day, knowing full well what dementia would do to her in all likelihood – and told her even if I was no longer in her mind, I knew I’d always be in her heart. I hope that eased things for her – because just as there was one promise I had made to her that I could not keep – neither could she keep the last one she made to me. When she died, three years later, I was mostly a stranger to her aside from a few fleeting seconds of recognition.

I delivered a eulogy at her funeral. I spoke of memories, good and bad, of how over the years I’d grown to accept that despite fighting it I was in many, many ways ‘my mother’s son’. I spoke of carrying on the best parts of her, the ones that had filtered down to me, and that I hoped to pass on to my boys as they grow. I spoke about her….because I could no longer speak to her.

Therapists often encourage clients to write a letter to someone who has passed, or that you have no contact with, just to get your feelings in the open and let them air out. I think, whereas this is the last ‘confession’ I’ll write (though likely not the last time Mom will appear in something I write) that that’s how I wish to cap off this particular thread of my blog, which I have neglected over time.

Mom –

It’s been a year since you passed. I know your faith led you to believe that you would, hopefully, be going to a better place when you passed. I don’t share your faith, but I did, and do, hope you found it.

My feelings for you have often been complicated. I carried many resentments and a lot of anger with you for a long time. I felt for so long that you were too wrapped up in issues with one of your other children that you didn’t have time for me or mine – I felt like they got all the ‘parenting’ and I got something else. I got picking up the slack. I got making peace no matter what. I got watching you suffer and hurt. One day, in my 30’s, you tried to give me some motherly advice, and I found myself angry with you. I recall saying to you, ‘Are you trying to parent me…now? Isn’t it a bit too late for that?’ I never apologized for that.

I didn’t understand at the time, not really, because I wasn’t a parent yet, that a parent never stops being a parent. There’s no expiration date on it until you, yourself, pass away. You advise them, you try to prepare them for life’s challenges and disappointments and successes and how to handle them. You laugh with them, you cry for them, and you always, always love them, no matter what…even if it appears they don’t need you to parent them any longer, then you just stand by at the ready if they need help picking themselves up again – you give them their wings and hope that they soar and you watch their wings spread out in the sun and inside you silently cry out ‘GO! KEEP GOING! YOU CAN DO THIS! I BELIEVE IN YOU!’……but part of you will always fly alongside them, the tip of your own wing mere centimeters from theirs – ready to hang on if they start to falter.

You taught me that, Mom. It’s taken me a lot of time to jettison all the choices you made, however dysfunctional some of them were, and realize that you made them with love. You made them the best way you knew how. You taught me that being a parent is a joy, and a pleasure and a gift. I know you loved all your children equally, but I was the ‘hardest to come by’ – the one you carried inside you against the odds you were quoted. I worked to become a parent, too – it didn’t just fall into my lap, and it’s not been easy at times, now being a single parent on top of it – just like you were. I understand so much more now than I ever did.

I know you’re in a better place because there’s no more pain for you – no more confusion – no more indignity and suffering. At times I so wish that I could be in this place, in this state of being at peace with my past – and with our past – and talk to you now. We had a clean slate when you did, I made sure of that because I both wanted you to go peacefully and didn’t want to carry that baggage around for the rest of my life. But now, a year after your passing, there’s just so much more I wish I could say. I can’t, at least not with the anticipation of an answer. And I’m okay with that, Mom. I’m going to do the next best thing. I’m going to show what I’ve learned to your grandsons. I’m going to continue to tell them that no matter what I will always, always love them. I’m going to try to prepare them for the challenges of adult life. I’m going to give them their wings one day, and let them fly…and I’m going to be nearby, always, just in case they need me. Just as you were, always, for me.

I miss you, Mom.


Your Rotten Little Bastard.

Confessions, Uncategorized

Promises To Keep – Confessions Of A Rotten Little Bastard, Part 25

I have not written in my blog for months. No recommendations of used book stores in New England, no stories about my kids, no out of print authors that I enjoy reading – and no posts about Mom’s journey with dementia.

Mom has been steadily losing more and more of her memories and cognitive process. She stopped answering the phone as she was receiving ‘robo-calls’ that were causing her a great deal of anxiety. She grew less and less able to actively and meaningfully participate in a conversation.

I would, for the first couple of years after she moved into assisted living, speak with her every day, or every day that I could reach her by phone. On days when she was down, or frustrated, or feeling as if there were few things to ‘go on for’, I could always get a laugh from her, always turn the conversation to something positive. She would tell me how much she looked forward to our calls after a while. It was one thing, one of the few things, I could do for her, my being in Boston, her being in Florida.

Mom and I talked many years ago now (and many times) about her ‘end of life’ wishes. She repeated her wishes to me many times, and sometimes asked me to state them to her to, I suppose, test my memory. It reached the point where I could recite them in the exact order that she did, as if it were a grocery list that never changed from week to week, or a never changing inventory in an emergency supply closet, all the ‘just in case’ things that you might never need but should keep handy – and I, ever since then, have been her ‘just in case’.

She had an attorney write a will, as well as a living will, to cross every T and dot every i in a legal sense. She also had them draft a power of attorney, and a medical proxy to grant me the ability to act on her behalf. She gave me copies of all these documents, backup copies, and then new copies (and backup copies) when she made a few revisions after my sister died, and as grandchildren came into her life over time. Despite those ‘revisions’ to the documents, however; the unwritten but oft-spoken wishes never changed for her. My memory of them never did either.

Thus far, every promise that I made her, save for one, has been possible to keep. I could not prevent her from going into assisted living. That isn’t technically what she asked of me, to ‘blockade’ her from it, but rather to provide care for her at home. I tried that, following her dementia diagnosis, by setting her up in an apartment 1 mile from me. It was a rough time for both of us (which you can read about in earlier ‘Confessions’ posts and which prompted me to start writing about the experience here), and eventually was not possible to continue either in my town or in my brother’s home in Florida. The need outweighed the capability. Fortunately, knowing that she was cared for round-the-clock, in a facility that she could have her own room in, and that I could go back to being her son rather than her caregiver; the relief outweighed the regret.

Mom’s ‘decline’ with the dementia has been gradual, but still relatively steady, unlike my Dad who had a ‘decline and plateau’ from the beginning to the end. He never lost the ability to carry on a conversation (thankfully for him as he loved to spin a tale of his boyhood days in Brownfield, Maine). He never forgot ‘how’ to eat, how to dress himself, how to bathe, nor who people were. Dad’s challenges with dementia were more in following through with a process from start to finish (like turning the oven on and then remembering to turn it off) and it was a bit ‘accelerated’ by the stroke he suffered several years before he did die. Dementia didn’t rob him of as much as it has robbed Mom.

Earlier this year Mom suffered a series of ‘seizure’ events related to an infection in her urinary tract. UTIs are not uncommon in the elderly. They present in different ways than they might in younger people, and are far more frequent to appear, but they are typically treatable with antibiotics when the symptoms present. Mom was hospitalized due to hers. She was eventually released to her assisted living, but a sharp decline had taken place, and it became necessary to address heightened needs and ‘minding’ that she would now need. The assisted living facility she lived in said that they could still meet those needs, but when Mom returned to her then ‘home’, on the first night of her return, she managed to get herself out of bed and fell – fracturing a vertebrae in her neck, and sending her right back to the hospital. My brother and I then looked into placing her in an alternate facility, following the necessary rehab period for the neck injury, that would provide her with more skilled long-term care.

‘Long’ term has turned out to be not very long at all. Mom has stopped eating, all but completely. The rehab facility that she has been staying at has stated that either she will have to have a feeding tube inserted; or we needed to look at hospice care for Mom. She won’t recover from this.

There are things we tell our children to placate them. We promise them that there are no monsters under their beds, that the tooth fairy only wants their teeth that fall out and won’t play with their toys. We tell them that we’ll always be there to pick them up when they fall, that eating your vegetables will make you big and strong, and that the fat guy in the red suit that leaves presents under a tree once a year can see every.single.thing they do.

We do these things, promise these things, to not cause them anxiety and fear unnecessarily – we also tell them, when they ask if we’re going to die someday after the passing of a loved one or friend, things like while everyone dies eventually, and none of us can tell exactly when, it won’t be for a long, long time. Sometimes we children ask them to promise us that and they say, ‘I promise.’ I’ve made a similar vow to my own kids in years past. I’ve perpetuated the Santa story until they reached a certain age. I concocted an anti-zombie spray (water in a hairdresser’s spray bottle) to provide an extra layer of protection for their bedroom in the areas they deemed most vulnerable. I made all those same promises that so many other parents do with their kids. Our kids need a lot from us – time, attention, love, support, caring, supervision, stability, etc., etc., etc.  We give it to them, because that’s what, ideally, we, as parents, sign up for when we accept the job.

Sometimes our parents have to ask us for things in return. Sometimes they have to plan ahead and ask their child or their children to make certain guarantees to them ‘just in case’ they, for whatever reason, don’t have the ability to make all their own decisions.

‘Promise me something, Brad – and this is very important to me, so please, please, please promise me this. I hate to ask this of you, but I don’t know that I’ll always be able to speak for myself, and I need someone to count on who I know will do what I ask and what I want, no matter how it makes them feel. I don’t want to burden you with this, but I have to have someone. Brad; I don’t ever want to be kept alive artificially. I don’t want to be laying there in a bed, all but dead, no good to anybody, and having some machine take care of me. I don’t want people to come looking at me, hoping I’ll wake up, sitting there sad and devastated. Don’t do that to me, I couldn’t stand it. Don’t let me live like that, just to keep me around. I don’t like to say these things, especially to my child. But don’t do that to me, please. Let me go if things are that bad, and there’s no hope for me. Let me go. Promise me that, honey, please? Please do that for me.’

I know in my heart, Mom, that you would refuse a feeding tube. I know that you would consider that being kept alive artificially. I know that you’re still there inside, deep inside the fog that has grabbed you and won’t let go, and are telling me, by not eating any longer, that you are choosing your time to go, and it’s now. But you can’t verbalize that. You need a voice, you asked me to be that voice – to say, ‘No, no feeding tube – I agree to hospice.’ for you, because you won’t get any better now.  I have to say that for you. I have to say it because you can’t, no matter if I feel ready to have both my parents gone before I hit fifty years of age. Before my kids grow up and you get to see the men they will become. Before I ever get to beat you at a game of Scrabble. We tied…once…the last time we ever played. That’ll have to do. I have to make it do. I have to accept it, all of it, no matter how it feels.

I have to, because I made a promise to you, and it’s a promise I have to keep.





Faded Pages - Out Of Print Authors, Reading, Writing

Faded Pages – Out Of Print Authors: Wallace Stegner



Earning the title of ‘The Dean Of Western Writers’ amongst such company as Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, and Larry McMurtry, you must know you’ve done something right. Wallace Stegner was given this title during his career as a writer.

Beginning his career as a professor at the University of Wisconsin and Harvard University, Stegner settled eventually at Stanford University, and founded a creative writing program. During his tenure as a professor, Stegner taught Larry McMurtry who eventually became a peer in his novelistic genre.

In 1937 Stegner published his first novel, Remembering Laughter – a novel about an Iowa farmer’s wife whose sister comes to visit and falls in love with both the beauty and vitality of the land, and the way of life her sister enjoys. Stegner continued to produce works that were published steadily throughout the mid-20th century.

In 1971 he enjoyed great success with his novel Angle of Repose, which won him the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for Literature. He continued on in his writing career with his last published works being story collections in the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s.

Stegner’s life ended in 1993 when he succumbed to injuries received in a traffic accident in Santa Fe, New Mexico where he had travelled to deliver a lecture. He left behind a legacy that included an impressive list of published works, both fiction and non-fiction, several story collections, annual lectures, fellowships, and literary prizes named in his memory.

Stegner wrote passionately about an area of the country that some describe as mere scrub land – non-farmable, lifeless, and barren. Stegner himself once remarked that “You have to get over the color green; you have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns; you have to get used to an inhuman scale.” In his writing he overturned notions about iconic American figures of folklore and history like the cowboy and the bar maid and turned them into something that transcended the stereotypical images of Western themed movies, novels, and television shows.

Nearly two years ago now I took a ride with a friend to a book store in Bath, Maine. I had been there once before with a different friend and wanted to revisit it’s shelves and walkways bursting at the seams with books old and new. I purchased a couple of selections, and as we left the store we noted that there was another one up the street that hadn’t been there the last time I had visited. We decided to check it out, discovering it to be a ‘Friends Of The Library’ bookstore where most selections were to be had for a mere four dollars each. Nearly an hour and thirty dollars later I left the store with several more reads under my arm.

One of these books was Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize winner, Angle Of Repose. I had heard Stegner’s name one other time, and when I mentioned to the store clerk that I was developing a greater interest in mid-20th century literature, she recommended this book, and I took her up on the recommendation. I brought it home and started it a few days later, once my current read was done. In the pages I found a wonderful tale of a wheelchair bound historian who, lamenting a lost connection with his ex-wife and son, has decided to pen a chronicle of the life of his frontier-era grandparents, and in writing their story comes to add new chapters to his own. A tranquil, alluring book from start to finish.

More recently I revisited Stegner with his last published novel, Crossing To Safety, about a friendship that develops between two married couples in the 1940’s and lasts until their later years – and how the nature of our relationships with others can impact our relationship with ourselves in a ripple effect. Again, the quiet, temperate beauty of Stegner’s style and prose shone through and I found myself once again enchanted by this second venture into his works and the world he had created within.

Incidentally, five of Stegner’s novels were published in fine leather around the time of his Pulitzer Prize win. I have since traded in my original Angle Of Repose for the more durably bound edition, and purchased three of the other four, a bit of an indulgence for me, as far as what I typically invest in used books, but well worth the cost.

Wallace Stegner, to me, embodies the type of writer you want to pick up on a gray and somber day and curl up under a blanket next to a crackling fire to wile away the hours of an autumn afternoon. His brilliance was in the subtle rather than the sublime – his literary themes nothing more than the simplicity and complexity of human beings and their natures. He was a wonderful writer that I look forward to revisiting many more times before I exhaust my supply of his published works.



A Weekend Unplugged

Just before the new school year began I took my boys on a trip that I had taken at their age with one of my uncles. We rented a canoe and travelled 15 miles of the Saco River in Maine over Labor Day Weekend.

The boys and I have been canoeing before, but only for sixty to ninety minutes at a time, and only locally, utilizing a rental facility on the Charles River in Cambridge.

This time, we were going all in and planning for two nights/three days of paddling and camping, just as I had done in my youth.

I was talking recently with someone and saying that I’m not necessarily an outdoorsman, per se. I like the outdoors, love to go to the beach and listen to the waves hit the shore. It sounds to me like the vast, powerful ocean is beckoning us, taunting us, and reminding us of its presence and could swallow us whole at any time. I enjoy walks in the woods (sounds like a disingenuous dating website profile line, I know) where the sounds of the cars and motorcycles and the hustle and bustle all disappear under the swell of nature’s symphony.  Certainly you can simulate those sounds with devices and apps if you don’t want to leave it behind completely, but I prefer the more pure variation where there’s little more than the waving branches of trees and the hum of summer insects. I like the soft ground under my feet and the tickle of the grass on my ankles, and the crunch and crackle of fallen leaves as I walk through them and over them. There’s nothing like it in any cityscape or urban setting that you can compare it to.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a sportsman. My exposure to sports in my childhood is limited to an ill-fated season with Little League baseball where I proudly thrust my glove up in the air in center field to catch a pop fly and it came down from the sky above and landed squarely in my face, after which I removed my glove, threw it on the ground and quit the team part-way into the season, never to return. I did attempt joining a basketball team as well, but that lasted even less time than my foray into baseball did. I don’t ski, I don’t golf, I don’t hunt (a.k.a. murdering wildlife), I don’t rock climb, snow shoe, practice archery, skeet shoot, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.

That said; I love to canoe, love hiking, love camping, and would still climb a tree if the spirit moved me to do so. I am considering the purchase of a kayak for next year, to mix two of my loves together – being on the water and isolation. I am, for all the wonderful friends and acquaintances I have, a relatively solitary person. I crave time alone to reflect and recharge. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I so enjoy the woods when I am far removed from society. I occasionally indulge in reality shows where people are left to their own devices in remote locations and have to fend for themselves, only the ever-present camera crew is always a reminder that these folks are not truly ‘alone’ at any point in time.

A few months ago I pitched the idea to the boys of going canoeing, as we have for the past few summers, but to augment the experience and add camping to the mix as well – to make it a multi-day adventure. They eagerly agreed to the notion, even when I added the codicil that their ‘devices’, while they could bring them for the 2+ hour car ride to get to where I was thinking of taking them, would not be brought on the trip, because once the batteries died there was no way to recharge them in the woods. They shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘Who cares?’.

To interject here – both my boys are diagnosed with ADHD. Both my boys have challenges with focusing, and with staying on any one topic or activity, if it’s not of particular interest to them, for very long. They love t.v., they love video games (like most kids) and they need constant distracting and redirecting at times to navigate their days. This was, as I knew, going to be a true test for all of us – for their focus and for my patience (something I often find myself in short supply of when the boys are both running amok).

Nevertheless, after weeks of waiting, the weekend of our trip arrived. We packed up our camping gear, a change of clothes, some non-perishable food (shelf-stable milk included) and hit the road to Center Conway, New Hampshire – which, coincidentally, is where my mother lived in her childhood before moving to Maine. That was our put-in point, where the canoe rental facility would drive us and our gear and rented canoe to, where we would then travel fifteen miles to a bridge in Brownfield, Maine – which, coincidentally, was where my father lived in his childhood – where we would exit the river and place a call to the rental facility to pick us up two days later.

Truth be told, we were never all that far away from help and civilization if we needed it in an emergency, and the particular river we were going to is famed for being crowded on summer weekends with other similar enthusiasts, but it was just far enough to give the boys an outdoor experience like they had never had before.

On day one, after arriving at the rental facility and being transported to our starting point, we loaded up our gear and set forth on the river. The water can be a bit shallow in places (while deep enough for swimming in others) but we made our way into the meandering current of the Saco River, and began the first leg of our journey. On that day we travelled seven miles of the fifteen total, my reasoning being that the next day some rain was predicted in the afternoon. More on that later. As the light began to fade a bit at dusk, we selected a beach to camp upon, set up our tents, gathered some fire wood, and set up camp for the night. We feasted on warmed up canned ravioli and s’mores, and with full bellies and tired limbs we climbed into our sleeping bags for a good night’s sleep – only I replayed every Friday the 13th film synopsis in my head over and over and listened for the cracking of branches and treading of heavy feet to announce the impending arrival of a masked serial killer to my tent. That, of course, didn’t happen, but it did show me that I’ve seen WAY too many horror films in my time.

I did, eventually, nod off – serenaded by the night bugs and the occasional splash in the nearby river as they lulled me to sleep for the night.

Day two began with a light breakfast of oatmeal and fruit before we broke camp and got back on the river. One thing we had found in relatively short supply the night before was available firewood. I had opted to not purchase any to bring with us, reasoning that we were surrounded by firewood on both sides of the river – but for future reference, if you go late in the season the likelihood is that other campers will have snapped up the supply before you arrive on the scene. And so I kept an eye out as we paddled for a good stockpile of wood to take with us to our second camp, just in case. Lo and behold, about two miles into our trip we found a pile of cut firewood left behind on a beach by a departing camping party next to a still slightly smoking campfire. We beached the canoe and the boys each grabbed up two arms full of wood apiece and loaded it into the canoe. We sailed off down the river talking about how amazing our campfire that night was going to be, me keeping in the recesses of my mind that we’d need to keep it dry in the afternoon when the predicted rain fell, or there wouldn’t be a campfire that night. But (at least at that point) the sun was shining and the birds were singing, and we made our way another four and a half miles down the river until we found another unoccupied beach alongside the river, and decided to make camp there for the night, at roughly 12:30 in the afternoon, at which times the clouds had completely removed the sun from our view and I knew the predicted rain would soon begin to fall. We got our gear out of the canoe, flipped it over for the night on the sand, and set up our tents for the night.

Just in time for the downpour to start.

I quickly covered the wood as best I could, and we sequestered ourselves in our tent to wait out the rain for ‘a few hours’. I had consulted the weather forecast before we left, but out on the river for more than 24 hours since, with no access to the app on my phone (which I brought along to take photos and use as a clock if nothing else), I didn’t realize that this downpour was now predicted to last through the night.

There are two sayings that I’ve known for most of my life. Forewarned is forearmed (hence gathering and keeping dry wood for a campfire) and ignorance is bliss (had I realized it was going to rain all night I wouldn’t have kept holding out hope, during the afternoon, that it would stop ‘soon’ and we’d be good for the night).  In this process I learned several things:

  1. One of my tents didn’t have a rain fly to cover it with.
  2. Neither tent was particularly waterproof.
  3. Pre-packaged tuna salad (shelf stable) and dry cereal are a blessing when you have no means to cook anything because it’s pouring buckets outside.
  4. I don’t like the rain coming when I’m camping.

During the storm, because I have arthritis in one of my hips and needed to stretch my legs once in a while and get off the ground (fortunately we had an umbrella with us, though I can’t remember packing it) I stepped outside the tent a few times and stood in the rain, silently willing it to end ‘soon’, before the boys’ patience with it ran out and they deemed the trip ‘ruined’. On one leg-stretching I saw three canoes making haste for a take-out point and simultaneously mocked and envied them (silently) for leaving, for giving up, and for getting out. On another trip outside the tent, I saw one poor soul walking down the middle of the river (again, there are some very shallow points) in his underwear, carrying his clothes with him that were just as sopping wet as the rest of him. He looked over at me, standing on the shore under an umbrella, and loudly declared, ‘F*CK THIS, I’M GETING OUT OF HERE!!!’. I tipped my umbrella to him and said, ‘Good luck!’ before going back inside the tent to my increasingly waterlogged refuge with the boys.

Supper that night was a mixture of pre-packaged snacks, making sure to reserve enough to eat ‘something’ in the morning before we left – a morning that could not come soon enough for me. We all three were wet…cold….and not particularly in love with the woods or the river at that moment. We all three drifted in and out of sleep that night, trying to shift to a non-existent dry spot in the sleeping bag, sharing our own warmth with each other, and taking turns wondering, out loud, when the rain was going to stop. We had been away from the creature comforts of television and radio and video games and wifi connections for more than 24 hours. The boys had fared well, and I had, more than once, apologized for the rain being much more than I had realized it would be. There was, once only, a declaration of ‘I’m bored’, and yet it was more of a statement than a complaint. I was truly amazed at their stamina.

At roughly 1 in the morning we were all awake once again with the rain beating down on the tent roof. We lay there listening to the beating of the rain drops over our heads (some coming through the roof and dripping on our faces). One of the boys piped up in the darkness.

‘You know, Dad, this is a great trip, except for the rain that’s making us cold, wet, and miserable.’

The other boy added his two cents here.

‘Yeah, because at least we’re all cold, wet, and miserable TOGETHER!’

In the darkness I smiled, unseen, because while I awaited the breaking of the morning, and the welcomed light and warmth it would bring, something else ‘dawned’ on me. A realization that, despite their attention and focus challenges, despite their sometimes constant bickering and vying for attention, they ‘get it’. They get what we were doing, and why, and what the value and meaning of it was. Time to relax and refresh and stretch our minds and our abilities – time to learn things we didn’t know about ourselves and each other – and most importantly, time together. Eventually we all drifted off again, awaking at intervals through the remainder of the night. But from 1am on, the cold was a little less cold, the water a little less wet, the discomfort a bit less discomforting, at least for me.

Morning finally came and I managed a very modest fire – enough to warm us up a bit before we broke camp and headed out. The sun reappeared, the birds again chirped overhead, and the woods came alive for the day after the deluge of the night before. We folded up our wet, sandy gear – realized we had no dry clothes to change into (note to self – keep one change of clothes waterproofed…always) and we had roughly three miles to go before exiting the river. We set off, the water a little higher beneath us, the current a bit stronger, a final parting gift of the rains the night before. We easily glided downstream, only spotting two other parties who had toughed it out, waving to each other from canoe and from shore, no words spoken, a silent cry of ‘Solidarity!’ passing between us and no need to discuss what had passed the night before.

Eventually we reached the take out point at the Brownfield Bridge and pulled our boat from the river. I used the phone in the campground that abuts this spot on the river to call the canoe rental facility, and they said they’d be there shortly to pick us up. I then, aided by the boys, hauled all our gear and the canoe up to the edge of the parking lot to await our chariot. We were all dirty, still wet, and not particularly warmed up. We sat and waited for the van and the boys munched on a snack I had purchased at the camp store to, in a small way, thank them for the use of their phone. I awaited the commentary from the boys now that we were idle for the first time since getting up that morning.

‘Dad, can we do this again?’

‘Yeah, like next year? Can we make this an annual trip, please?’

They couldn’t have pleased me more if they given the trip two enthusiastic thumbs up, called it good fun family fare, and declared it to be better than the musical Cats.

‘Yes, we can. We can do this at least once a year if you like, until you no longer want to, or until I’m too old to lift a paddle, whichever comes first.’

I deemed the trip, rain and all, a complete success. We all worked together, we all ‘suffered’ together, and we all emerged unscathed and perhaps a bit stronger. We learned a lot that weekend, about ourselves and each other.

But the most important thing I learned from our weekend away from home is as described below.

There is a place inside every child that even the brightest, most colorful and action packed video game cannot penetrate to. There is a place inside every child that no television show can entertain and hold the attention of. It’s somewhere that defies and condemns pop music and sound bytes and text messages. It’s a place that some lose sight of and some struggle to find in vain day in and day out. There is a place that is so unplugged, so remote, so deeply embedded in a child’s heart that only one thing can possibly pervade. That thing is not expensive, not complicated, not unobtainable, not rare or delicate, nor ever really out of stock. It’s something that can be given time and time again. It’s something, no matter how they might resist it at times, no matter how they might not listen, might fight and complain, that children want….and crave…more than most anything in the world.

That thing is, quite simply, you.


New England, By The Book, Reading

New England, By The Book – Portsmouth Book and Bar, Portsmouth, NH


Last fall I had the opportunity to (individually) catch up with two of my favorite ladies from Maine. Portsmouth, New Hampshire is roughly ‘half-way’ between us these days, and therefore we chose that as a meeting point. We spent hours poring over the months or years since we’d last been in the same space, and in both cases it was (as I prefer to feel most of my friendships are) as if we’d just sat down together the day before.

On the first outing, my fellow literary-obsessed friend Leslie and I also ventured into a couple of Portsmouth’s used book stores to check their offerings. In the first shop I came across a book I had just finished a few weeks before, The Bells, by Richard Harvell and one other book I had heard of but not yet read, The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. Leslie purchased the former and I the latter.

After indulging in lunch at nearby RiRu, a converted bank turned eatery, Leslie and i were sitting outside on a bench, and I looked up information on any other book stores in the area and am thankful that I did.

Just down the street from where we sat lay an (for me) untapped venue – Portsmouth Book and Bar. Located in the former Custom House and Post Office, built in 1860, and home of several other businesses over the years, the Book and Bar is a worthwhile stop if you happen to venture to Portsmouth and have some time to kill.

Granted, the selection may not look as substantial as other places I’ve visited, but don’t be fooled by that. The neatly spaced and stacked shelving holds a world of treasures at very reasonable prices. Their fiction section (my immediate go-to) is extensive, and their non-fiction and children’s equally impressive.

Aside from the books accorded for sale, the venue boasts an enticing menu of sandwiches and small plate offerings, a decent selection of beer and wine, and of course coffee, tea, and soft drinks for those who choose to not imbibe. I have yet to eat or drink at this location, but the smiles on the faces of the patrons each time I have visited lead me to believe the food and beverages, like the book selection, do not disappoint.

The book store also offers live music to patrons, as well as comfy couches and cafe tables  on which to alight and enjoy the eclectic mix of musical styles performed regularly.

Located in the historic downtown district of a beautiful sea-side city, this is a locale I plan to visit again and again. Most recently I left the store with newly owned books by George Gissing, Orhan Pamuk, and Edmund White. There were other editions of interest that caught my eye – and hopefully they’ll be there for future perusal.

Portsmouth Book and Bar can be found at:

40 Pleasant St
Portsmouth, NH 03801

SUN – THU : 10a–10p
FRI – SAT : 10a–midnight


Happy reading!

New England, By The Book, Reading

New England, By The Book – The Montague Bookmill, Montague MA


Books You Don’t Need, In A Place You Can’t Find is the tagline on the website for this gem of a bookstore.

But they were wrong, on both counts.

The Montague Bookmill claims residence in an 1842 Grist Mill in the little town of Montague, Mass. Bordering the Sawmill River, the Bookmill invites visitors to wile away a long afternoon perusing the shelves and stacks (don’t be fooled, it’s very organized) of books for sale – and then the multitude of other items for sale.

The property boasts not only their general and scholarly interest books, but a vinyl and cd shop, an artists collective, and a rustic restaurant all within steps of each other.

The Bookmill also invites musical artists to entertain, with reasonably priced seats, yet they entice audience hopefuls to arrive early for seats in their armchairs and couches for the best and most comfortable view of the musician playing.

Two summers ago I decided to make the two hour trek to Montague, which is west of me as the crow flies, to see what was in store for me. I was not disappointed. I left with, amongst others, a wonderful novel by a ‘forgotten’ author – The Stones Of Summer, by Dow Mossman (who might feature in a ‘Faded Pages’ blog post in the near future, even if this book was his only commercial output). It’s a delightful read, big and sprawling, taking place over decades, and a wonderful way to pass a summer week, or month, depending upon the pace you take with reading it.

In that respect, the book is much like the store from which I procured it. It’s a sizable property with much to offer. I spent a few peaceful hours strolling through the books, picking through the vinyl, and sampling a lunch offering from their cafe menu as I sat beside a window overlooking a sun-dappled stream below that carries water twenty-two miles from Lake Wyola to the Connecticut River as it carried me away to daydreams.

Worth an hour, an afternoon, or even an entire day, The Montague Bookmill is a hidden gem just beyond the mid part of the Commonwealth heading West to the New York state border. If you find yourself out that way, by happenstance, look the store up and spend some time there – you won’t be disappointed.

The store’s information is below. Happy reading!

Susan Shilliday
440 Greenfield Road, Montague, MA
(mail) Post Office Box 954, Montague, MA 01351
Phone: (413) 367-9206
Email: susan@montaguebookmill.com
web: www.montaguebookmill.com
Hours: 7 days, 10-6, and later seasonally



Every Day A Little Death – Confessions Of A Rotten Little Bastard, Part 24

Every day a little death
In the parlor, in the bed,
In the curtains, in the silver,
In the buttons, in the bread.
Every day a little sting
In the heart and in the head,
Every move and every breath
(And you hardly feel a thing)
Brings a perfect little death.

I’m borrowing from the lyrics of one of the best Stephen Sondheim musicals, A Little Night Music. The subtext of the song is that the character who sings it believes that each day of her marriage some small part of her dies.

Dementia is, in a way, like that. Every day another moment, another day, another week, another month or year get lost to the person who suffers from that particular affliction. Names, locations, dates, times, routines, favorite foods, favorite articles of clothing, favorite holidays – none are immune. Mom frequently asks me where I live, how I ‘got’ my children, even how old I am. Quite a change from hearing so many times over the year how difficult it was to even get pregnant and how tough the pregnancy was and how she worried and worried daily after being told she’d either miscarry or I’d be born with some kind of physical or mental deformity. From that to ‘how old are you?’ What a change. What a sad, miserable change.

Mom and I still are (despite my lapse in blogging for nine months) talking nearly every day, save for when she’s not near her phone or the demands of parenting on my own now prevent me from calling her. I sometimes wonder to myself what part of her might be disappearing on those days, and had I been able to reach her, what might she have said, or revealed that now is likely forever lost….when will she say ‘Who’s this?’ instead of ‘Hi honey, how are you?’

I realize that one day, perhaps, one of those casualties may be knowing who I am. She still knows she knows me, and many days knows I’m her son. We talk about good days, bad days, and all the in-between. She still trusts me, and listens to me, and talks to me about whatever comes to mind.

Several times recently Mom has talked about her mother and father (who passed away in the 1960’s) and not always in the past tense. She has said that her mother and father were in the same facility she was in and the staff remembers her as a young girl visiting them there and that’s why they treat her so well. At other times she talks about wondering when she will be able to go visit them, and how she’ll get there without owning a car (a mixture of 50+ years ago and 2 years ago when she lost her driver’s license). She began to talk, just the other night, about planning a trip to see them and then stopped herself mid-sentence, pausing for a moment before she continued on to a heart-wrenching conclusion.

“Oh no, oh what am I saying? They’re dead. Mom and Dad are dead…like Joe, and Laska, and Logan (her siblings) – they’re all dead. All of them. Jesus, what the hell is wrong with me?”

I offered no answer. What am I to say to her in a moment such as that? In a moment when she has to confront the deaths of her parents and siblings all over again, feeling perhaps as if it has just happened? The news has just been delivered. The grief, be it, in reality 15, 20, 40 years old…washing down over her again, sudden and absolute, unexpected and relentless, without the buffer of years or even decades of processing it and coping with it and reconciling it to spare her even a fraction of the pain. Sometimes she cries. Sometimes I do too, but I don’t let on to her about it. It’s for her pain I’m crying. I never met her parents. I never ‘lost’ them because I never had them in the first place. She did. And she lost them. And she has to relive that over and over again now.

To me, that’s one of the cruelest aspects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease….not only forgetting the things you like and the people you love… but having to mourn the people you’ve lost over and over and over again because you forget, either momentarily or for a long period of time that they’re gone.

Every day a little death…some days a big one.

Over and over and over again.