Who’s Coming Next?

One problem at the nursing home was high staff turnover. People left because they were burned out or found better jobs. Some didn’t even bother giving two-week notices. Others just didn’t show up and couldn’t be reached. After working there for fifteen years, I gave my own two-week notice because I was getting married and decided to quit working and write full time. When I told residents I was leaving, they said, “You’re the only one around here with the lovely voice. Who’s going to do singer-cize?” This inspired the following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver.

Who’s Coming Next?

Who will bathe, dress, feed me,
give me all my medications,
make sure I’m healthy?

Who will prepare and serve my meals,
pay attention to my requests for certain foods?

Who will play the guitar and sing,
encourage me to sing and exercise,
show me how to make Easter baskets,
call bingo, read to me?

Who will clean my room,
do my laundry, change my light bulbs?

Who will listen to my concerns,
help me work out my problems?

If you must leave,
who will take your place?

By the way, if you use Bookshare, How to Build a Better Mousetrap can now be downloaded at the following link. http://www.bookshare.org/browse/book/432068

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of
We Shall Overcome
and
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver
http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

On Bars and Drinking

Before you navigate to a previous post or a different blog because you think this is going to be a lecture on temperance, read on. In 1971 when I was ten years old, Dad and I drove from our home in Tucson, Arizona, to Sheridan, Wyoming, to visit Grandma. The decision to take the trip was made on the spur of the moment while we were sitting at the dinner table with my mother and younger brother who was only three at the time. Grandpa Johnson had recently passed away, and Grandma was struggling with the family business and wanted Dad to come and help for a while. It was summer, and I was out of school, and although Mother worried about me being away from her for the first time ever, she reluctantly agreed that it would be okay for me to go with Dad.

We left right after supper. Dad said we wouldn’t stay in any motels. We would sleep in the car instead. We drove most of the night and all the next day through Arizona and Colorado, stopping at such sites as the Navajo reservation, Four Corners, and Mesa Verde. In the evening, we reached Durango, Colorado. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver details our adventures there.

A Memorable Stop in Colorado

In the summer of 1971 at the age of ten,
I traveled with Dad from our home in Tucson, Arizona,
to Sheridan, Wyoming, to visit Grandma.
While bar hopping in Durango,
I had Coke—Dad drank something stronger.
One establishment served hot dogs.
I liked them plain with not even a bun.
I must have had at least three.
Intoxicated, we made our way to the car.
I slept on the back seat
while Dad slept on the ground nearby.
Who knows where we were when we woke up?

When we got to Wyoming, I was disappointed to learn that state law prohibited children from being allowed in bars. As an adult, I see the sense in that, but as a child, I found bars fascinating and couldn’t understand why I couldn’t accompany Dad into a bar in Wyoming when I could in Colorado.

I’ve never liked the taste of alcoholic beverages. As a kid, I was given sips of beer and wine but wasn’t impressed. I was told that I would appreciate these drinks when I was older. On my nineteenth birthday, we all went out to dinner to celebrate. I tried wine, beer, and even a wine cooler with 7-up, but nothing tasted good. I decided then and there that alcohol was not for me.

Did you ever go into a bar when you were a kid? Were you with your parents or did you sneak in with friends as a teen-ager? Did you ever try anything alcoholic before you reached the legal drinking age? Tell me about it. Leave me a comment below.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of
We Shall Overcome
and
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver
http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Dependent

After Bill suffered his first stroke, I felt helpless, as I watched him struggle to regain his strength. He was a changed man, and the change that shocked me the most was in his voice. Before the stroke, I often sat on his lap while he sang to me. He didn’t have perfect pitch, but he could carry a tune pretty well. After the stroke, when Bill told his speech therapist I was a singer, she encouraged me to sing with him to improve his speech. He could no longer carry a tune, and it was hard listening to him intone the words to his favorite songs in rhythm with no tune.

The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver describes my feelings of helplessness after Bill came home and I started taking care of him. It also emphasizes the fact that although he’s a changed man, he’s still the one I love.

Dependent

I know what to do—
I don’t know what to do.
The wheelchair, vertical bars, gait belt
offer assistance but can’t bring him back.
He’s not the man I married—
he’s still the man I love.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of
We Shall Overcome
and
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver
http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Fred

Fred was a gentle soul. He had been a boxer and a farmer and lost a finger. When I met him at the nursing home, he was suffering from dementia but didn’t let that get him down. He always had a smile, a friendly greeting, and a handshake and managed to brighten my day every time I saw him. He is the subject of the following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver.

Fred

“How are you today?” I ask the old man in his wheelchair, as he smiles at me.

“Fit as a fiddle and ready for love,” he answers.

He asks me the same questions. “What’s your name? What’s my name? Why am I here? Where’s my wife? You’re a beautiful girl. Do you have a husband?”

I could stay with him all day, repeat the answers to his questions—but I have places to go, things to do, people to see. With reluctance, I say goodbye.

Fred loved music. Here’s one of the many songs I sang to him and other residents at the nursing home. This link will be available for at least a few days.

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/15213189/always.mp3

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of
We Shall Overcome
and
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver
http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

A Visit to the Atlantic Coast

A few years ago at about this time, my father and I spent two weeks with my brother and his family in Florida. For the first couple of days, it rained, and because of the humidity, it felt colder than it was. I wished I’d stayed home. Fortunately, I brought my Victor Reader Stream with plenty of material on it, and I was only too happy to curl up in an armchair with a blanket and listen to a good book.

When the temperature finally climbed up into the 70’s and 80’s, the fun began. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver details what I did during those two weeks. I had a great time, and I hope to return for another visit.

Florida’s Song

When temperatures in Wyoming fall below zero,
and snow is on the ground, I go to Jupiter,
bask on a sunny beach,
feel the sand and water between my toes,

walk on the pier
while fishermen reel in large sharks and other sea creatures,
gaze at low flying birds,
view a poignant moment, as a man drops rose pedals into the ocean
to honor his dead wife,

do water exercises in my brother’s unheated outdoor pool
to the thumping rhythm of “Single Ladies,”
enjoy a good book on the screened-in patio overlooking the pool
while a gentle breeze makes wind chimes sing a haunting melody.

On a warm Saturday, I go to Fort Lauderdale,
sail on The Jungle Queen to a tropical island,
eat a hot dog while others watch alligator wrestling.

After two weeks,
I return to the reality of winter in Wyoming.

Have you ever visited or lived near the ocean? If so, what did you do on the beach? Have you ever tried surfing? Tell me about it. Leave a comment below.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of
We Shall Overcome
and
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver
http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Up in the Mountains

When I was growing up, one of my family’s favorite activities was a visit to the mountains to escape the heat of Tucson, Arizona. We packed a picnic lunch, and if we ended up near a creek or any other body of water, we swam. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver describes a typical day in the mountains with the Johnson family.

Highland Adventure

Mother packs sandwiches, chips, fruit, pop,
loads everything into the trunk of our Mercedes Benz.
Dad turns off the air conditioner.
We open the windows, breathe the fresh mountain air.
We picnic near a creek.
My younger brother, father, and I dabble in the water.
When it’s too deep, I’m afraid.
Dad holds me, tells me to kick.
Later, we pile into the car, tired but happy.
My brother and I are asleep before we reach home.

When you were growing up, did your family go up in the mountains? Did you ever hike, fish, or ski? Tell me about it by leaving a comment below or e-mailing me.

Here’s a song about enjoying a sunny day in the mountains or anywhere else. It was made popular in the 70’s by John Denver who spent much of his life in Aspen, Colorado, a mountain town. The link to a recording of me singing this song will be available for at least a few days.

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/15213189/sunshine%20on%20my%20shoulders.mp3

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome
and
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver
http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

A Secret Sadness

A couple of weeks after Bill suffered his first stroke and was transferred to the nursing home, I was invited to a friend’s birthday party for her little girl. I was feeling especially sad that day, and it was all I could do to hold back tears, as I ate tacos and watched the child open her gifts. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver illustrates this.

A Secret Sadness

I fight to keep from crying.
“Push it back, way back,” I tell myself.
Melissa’s eight-year-old cries of delight
mingle with the chatter of her playmates,
the smell of tacos.

Bill suffered a stroke that paralyzed his left side.
Will he ever walk again?

I paste a smile on my face, admire Melissa’s presents.
How can I be happy?

I’ll leave you now with a song that also depicts my unhappiness in the first weeks after Bill’s first stroke. This is one of Bill’s favorite songs, and he wants me to sing it at his funeral. I don’t know if I can do that. The link will be available for at least a couple of days.

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/15213189/stormy%20weather.mp3

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of
We Shall Overcome
and
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver
http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com