My Little Lead Feet

If it were somehow possible to peer inside my Father’s brain, what exactly would I see?

 

There would be 17 years of plaque built up between the nerve cells in his brain. His hippocampus, the part of the brain that stores memories, would be much smaller than a healthy brain and there would be less brain activity.

But what does that look like to you and me? As the Alzheimer’s continues to progress, my Father loses his ability to form thoughts, solve problems and make plans and ultimately to see, hear and smell.

 

I’m not thinking about any of this when I visit my Dad at the nursing home. I’m just trying to let him know I am there for him, communicate with him and love on him. I’ll tell him stories about pranks he pulled as a child, adventures he had in the Air Force while stationed in Germany and family escapades with his wife, children and grandchildren.

 

A couple of weeks ago, I brought a book of silly poems I had written for him in 2006. This was one year after he’d been diagnosed. That day I read him one of these poems and something wonderful happened.

 

My Little Lead Feet

 

When I was growing up

They called me “Little Jane”

They said I looked just like my Mom

That we were one in the same.

 

Now I won’t argue that we look alike

That’s pretty plain to see

But there are some things I get from my Dad

Like my pair of little lead feet.

 

One night I was driving some years ago

I was tearing up the road

I looked up to see blue lights in my mirror

Immediately my stomach turned cold.

 

The officer pulled me over

And brought attention to my speed

He scolded me for going so fast

That I went weak in the knees.

 

My very first ticket; a big one at that

Oh what was I to do?

It would cost me some money and points on my license

I was feeling pretty blue.

 

A few nights later I called my Mom

Just to see how she was

She said she was fine and we chatted a bit

But I never brought up the fuzz.

 

She handed the phone to dear old Dad

And that’s when I spilled the beans.

He asked how I was so I told him the truth

On his shoulder I needed to lean.

“Dad,” I said. “I got a ticket last week,

I was driving way too fast.

You know how I get when I’m out on the road

Stepping down hard on the gas.”

 

He listened intently and never lectured

He waited until I was through

Then he said, “That’s ok daughter, I know how you feel.

Last week I got one too.”

________________________________________________

At this point in my reading, Dad smiled and laughed.

_________________________________________________

And at that moment you could almost hear

The wind filling up our sails.

We felt much better ~ even laughed a bit

We found grace where we both had failed.

 

We spoke of our tickets and told our tales

We giggled, laughed and cut up.

But we both agreed the tickets had humbled us

We’d been driving around like whipped pups.

 

A few years later I was out on the road

Just cruising mile after mile

When all of a sudden there were lights in my mirror

And that’s when I lost my smile.

 

My little heart sank and I said, “Uh oh”

Soon the cop presented me with a ticket

It would cost me more money, maybe points on my license

There was just no way I could lick it.

 

A few days later I called up my Dad

To tell him what I had done

Getting tickets from cops was becoming a habit

This was so not fun!

 

My Dad sat and listened as I told him my news

He could tell I was feeling blue

Then he said, “That’s ok daughter, I know how you feel.

Last week I got one too.”

________________________________________________

Again, my Father laughed.

_________________________________________________

We traded cop stories and confessed our crimes

Oh, when would we ever learn?

Would we ever slow down and just go the limit?

Up the road we both loved to burn.

 

After years of mistakes and loads of grace

To my Dad I still love to come

But I’ve found a solution ~ a great one at that.

One day we’ll hit the Autobahn.

 

 

So what exactly happened in my Father’s brain while I read that poem? Did he laugh at the irony of both of us getting speeding tickets? Or did those memories come back to him? I don’t know. But I do know that for him to laugh at just the right time, his hippocampus was working. Either he could cognitively recognize humor or he was able to pull that memory into the present.

 

Many families across America will celebrate the love and character of their dads for Father’s Day. I’ll celebrate those things too. But life is also about celebrating the blessings we tend to take for granted. So this year, I’ll be celebrating the fact that even after 17 years of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, my Father can smile and laugh. There is still brain activity and his neurons are still firing. He can still recognize me and when I tell him that I love him, he tells me that he loves me too.

 

And for that, I am thankful. Happy Father’s Day Dad!

 

 

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