Posts Tagged With: Germany

Road Trips and Travels with Dad

When I was growing up, our family travels were usually limited to Beaumont (to see my maternal grandmother) and San Augustine (to Dad’s family farm, where his parents lived). Beyond that, we’d go to Fort Worth, where his sister lived and to Longview (where his brother moved in1970). Occasionally we visited friends near Houston in Humble, where we lived for almost 4 years. We just didn’t have the money for a real vacation.

I was 15 before we went on a real vacation — and that was the summer of what I came to call the Texas History Tour. A couple of days at Galveston (beach for us, hotel with pool for Mother), a couple of days for San Antonio (the Alamo, the Riverwalk area — which was being developed then — and other sites, including Breckenridge Park and Zoo) some time in Austin (where Dad attended the University of Texas) and Fort Worth. I learned lots of history during that trip, including details of Dad’s few semesters as a student. He showed us where his boarding house was, where he worked. Of course, we had to visit the capitol itself.

Only after I grew up did Dad and Mother have the money and time to expand their vacations. For a while they had a pop-up travel trailer, and then an RV, and enjoyed camping with friends (again, with electricity and air-conditioning for Mother).

For a few years, Dad and Phil took time travel to West Texas for deer hunting with cousins.

After Mother died, and then Phil, Dad and I had new opportunities to travel together. The first time was rather sad — after Phil died, Dad and I flew to Florida and drove his Jimmy back, with a travel trailer of his belongings. That was the first time Dad had been in a plane, other than not-so-happy experience years before. It was fun to be with him despite the sad occasion, in part because he was so curious about everything. New places and people meant that he had lots to observe and absorb. Driving back from Florida together gave us more time, driving through places we’d never been before, tracing the Gulf Coast from Florida before ending up back in Egan.

Not long after Phi’s fiancee moved to Phoenix, we flew out there to visit her for a few days. Once more, I was amused to watch Dad watch everything. His curiosity meant he was always interested in new areas, new places. And after Phil’s fiancee moved to Germany for a few years for a job, Dad surprised me by announcing that we were going to visit her and see where he’d been stationed at the end of World War II and at the beginning of the Occupation. It was my responsibility to make the arrangements. He got a passport, and we were off as soon as I’d turned my grades in that fall term.

I’d grown up hearing some stories about his time in the service. Now I got to see places as he talked yet more about his service time during and following the Battle of the Bulge and into the Occupation. Often it occurred to me that this was a trip that he and Phil would have truly enjoyed together, so in part I felt that I was there for Phil as well.

While Darcy worked, Dad and I sat in the house, talking a lot. He’s go out on the balcony, which had a wonderful view of not only houses, but farming and mountains. He spent lots of time out there, despite the cold, noting the planting patterns, where people walked, and anything else he could notice. I’d walk to a bakery or a store. Sometimes we took the bus around, and once more his attention to the smallest details fascinated me. That someone could drive such big buses in such small streets (obviously built before cars and buses) amazed him — he even noticed that the driver occasionally moved the side mirrors in so that he could maneuver more easily. One day we went to a Christmas fair in Bonn, walking and shopping, stopping for coffee and chocolate. He loved that people were allowed to bring their dogs in with them (on leashes).

One day, the three of us took the train down to Weinheim, the small town where he’d been stationed. With Darcy’s little bit of German and my ability with a map, we located the street where he’d been billeted. The town was never bombed and after the war lots of people found their way there. When he’d been there, the town had a population of maybe 4500 or 5000, and when we were there, there were probably 48,000 people. He was successful in locating where certain things had been. On our train ride back north, he pointed out places that had been important for one reason or another. Many times, he just spent time enjoying the landscape, the river, and the houses. The trip was only for a couple of weeks, but he talked about it for the rest of his life, remembering details and talking about all sorts of things. What a treasure to have experienced that with him.

For Christmas weekend, he and I flew to Athens. We walked up to the Acropolis, and I cherish the photo someone took of us standing in front of the Parthenon. I took him to eat in a taverna in Plaka, and he loved all the vegetables. Friends of mine met us for coffee at our hotel near Syntagma Square. And Dad was with me when a realtor picked us up to take me to see the apartment I was thinking of buying. After I purchased it months later, he enjoyed seeing photographs of the work I did in the apartment, proud that I took the time to paint it myself, that I managed to find furniture and get it delivered (negotiating in my limited Greek).

He’d come to the beach with me, and with Kay and me. It surprised him that he enjoyed it so much — but he found it very relaxing. He spent lots of time sitting on the deck, watching the surf a little bit away, drinking coffee — or lying down and reading.

Periodically we’d talk about road trips we’d like to take. We never did, though. Our trips were confined to the farm. The last couple of years he was alive, I did the driving, and he got a kick out of that. Frequently he’d compliment me on my driving skills, grinning that someone had taught me well (yes, he taught me – when I was 9). For the first time, he had the opportunity to enjoy the scenery while someone else drove. It was nice, he’d say, to have a chauffeur.

One spring, we flew to Reno. I rented a car and drove us to Lake Tahoe to a time share I’d bought. There was a late snow, and we spent much time in our room. Just watching the snow entertained him for hours, along with the snowplows clearing roads. Getting him to dialysis was another adventure — one day it was impossible because of the snow, but I managed to get him to a second dialysis day. His home clinic assured me that that would be fine.

As Dad became less able to travel, we simply sat at home in Egan, with short trips to Crowley for dialysis or shopping, occasionally spending time in hospitals. Even so, we traveled far and wide in memories, in conversations, and in imagination.

Dad was interested in so much. He loved to read. He watched television shows from PBS and History Channel. I don’t think he was ever bored. I know I’m not. Indeed, we’d often wonder how people could be bored when there was so much to know, to study, to see. Always curious and ready to learn, he probably would have enjoyed more traveling than he got to do. But he was happy with what he had seen.

Frequently I am reminded of Dad and his curiosity about new places, his wide-ranging interests. It’s not difficult to trace the genesis of my own itchy feet and love of learning.

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Travels with Dad

This latest journey with Dad is certainly different from any we’ve taken before.  It’s about to take a new twist on Monday, when he returns home from Southwind.

He’s made all the progress he can, and it’s time to get him home to the renovated house.  Most of the cleanup work in the living room and kitchen is done.  I’m working on the office space now, wondering where I’ll put all the boxes of books — not my books, mind you, but his.  He loves to read, and now I’ve got to box up another bookcase in the small room off the garage. I’ll haul them to Lake Charles to my storage unit there, those that are not staying, anyway.  I’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff, but every time I turn around it seems as though there’s even more that has appeared overnight.

His return on Monday — “homecoming,” as he’s referring to it — will be to a hospital bed and a wheelchair ramp and a new sit-in shower with a bench.  His dresser and chest of drawers are now in the living room, along with the two Bambi heads, three prize bass, and lots of photographs of family.  The photos are actually in two of the boxes for now.  I’ve got a scanner and a digital photo frame to load as many family photos as I can manage.  Less room, easier to manage.  His medical equipment and supplies must also fit in the living room.  For the first time in the nearly 46 years we’ve been in the house, he won’t be in the bedroom he and Mother shared.  It just wasn’t practical — too difficult to get around from there to anywhere else.  So the upheaval in his living space awaits him; he’s certainly been aware of it, having followed the changes around the house with great interest.  It will be a dramatic change, though, I know.  Most people don’t keep mounted deer heads in their bedroom, but since they have occupied wall space in the living room for years, they’ll fit in with Dad’s new bedroom.  The recliners are still there, as they have been for years.  So is the stereo unit.  The carpet is new (at last) and the wall-mounted flat-screen television is as well.  And the front door and new glass storm door also are new.  He’ll be able to lie in bed and look out the door at the road and the yard, and if he feels like it, we can sit on the front porch for a change.  I’ve recently put in lots of planted herbs, a hanging basket (with a few more to come) and a wonderful wind chime that my friend Carolyn gave me.

Our journey over the last year or so has been headed this way, but it’s certainly arrived more quickly than I thought it would.  For months, I stayed here and commuted, since all I really needed to do was drive him to dialysis and to doctors’ appointments.  He has weakened, though, and the fall in December really was the turning point.  Since then I have done full-time duty — cooking, shopping, cleaning (sort of), feeding him when necessary, and dressing him.  And shaving him — which has brought back lots of memories from childhood.  I remember “helping” Dad shave when I was 3 or so — what a treat that was.  Now I help him with shaving — I’ve cut his hair at times — and I give him pedicures to pamper his feet (he was in the Battle of the Bulge and survived, just experiencing frost-bite).

Finding that balance between daughter and caregiver hasn’t been easy at times, but that role-reversal certainly is a real one.  I keep the books, I have the power of attorney, and so on — but always consulting him.  Despite a few bouts of hallucinations and delusions, he’s absolutely sharp enough to engage in conversations, though perhaps less often than a few months ago.  He tires much more quickly.  Dignity is crucial for geriatric parents and my father deserves to live with dignity.  He and I spar at times verbally, but with love and laughter.  Still, there are times when the tasks overwhelm me, as does the sadness that deluges me as it did last Friday.  I drove to Baton Rouge and cried for the first 20 minutes or so — probably the first really good cry-fest I’ve had in a while.  Then it was over, and Canned Heat kept me up all the way to the hotel.

Dad always wanted to travel in retirement, and he and Mother managed to travel in a motorhome around various wildlife refuges in Louisiana and East Texas. But he never really got to see the Civil War battlegrounds as he’d dreamed of doing.  I hoped that once I retired, we’d be able to do that together, but that hasn’t worked out either.  I did manage to get him to my timeshare in Lake Tahoe two years ago, and he was like a curious kid, sitting at the window on the plane, fascinated by the landscapes visible below.  He was perfectly content to stay in our room, observing the snowplows at work below the building.  I’d hoped to get him back there, too, but that won’t happen either.

After my brother died in 1996 and his fiancee moved to Germany to work for a few years, Dad announced one fall that he’d like to visit Darcy and see Germany.  I blinked, got his passport application, and made reservations after talking to Darcy.  A couple of days after fall term ended, he and I headed for Frankfurt.  He joked that at least this time he wouldn’t have to sleep in snowy fields. We traveled by train from Frankfurt north to where Darcy was living, visited a Christmas fair in Bonn, and enjoyed visiting with Darcy.  While she worked, he and I would sit and look at the hills behind her house, where people walked every day.  I’d go out for snacks, bringing home yummy German goodies for tea.  His curiosity never ceased to astound me.  He could spend hours on the balcony, just looking at the landscape, taking in how people farmed and what methods they used.

One day the three of us took the train down to Weinheim, where Dad spent the last part of World War II and stayed for part of the Occupation.  With Darcy’s German and my photographs and maps, we managed to find the very street where Dad and his buds were billeted.  What a treat to watch him try to figure out where everything had been.  The town was never bombed, and the small town of about 4800 grew with refugees after the war was over.  At the time we visited, the population wasn’t quite 50,000.  On the trip back up to Darcy’s town, Dad narrated his experiences in the war as our travels took us parallel to the river.  I found myself thinking that this was a trip that Phil would have cherished, so I think I had a double responsibility — and a double reward — for our two weeks.  We slept in the attic room where one set of roommates was gone, one twin bed for Dad and a cot for me.  Houses so different from our own, narrow roads that didn’t look as though buses could navigate them — everything interested Dad.

As I was planning the trip, I figured that I’d never again have the opportunity to get Dad to Greece, so I simply told him that’s where we were spending the long Christmas weekend.  I booked a room in Plaka, near Syntagma, and managed to get Dad to Cape Sounion and up the Acropolis.  One of my most cherished photograph is of the two of us in front of the Parthenon.  We ate at Platanos Taverna in Plaka — and he loved the okra and vegetables, just as he does here.  Again, his curiosity kept him observing and asking questions.  We had coffee with my friends Jane and Nick and Nick’s mother, another wonderful memory.

And I took him to see the apartment I was considering buying.  Another adventure (peripetia) — two realtors who spoke very little English, me (with my little Greek) and Dad (who just sat there listening and wondering whether we’d arrive anywhere safely).  The apartment wasn’t very impressive — lots of dirt, nothing remodeled, one light fixture that I carried from room to room.  But it caught my eye — and my imagination.  By the time I was back in Greece that May,  the owner and I had agreed on a price and I bought an apartment.  In Greece.  In millions of drachmes.  I spent a few weeks cleaning, painting, finding a carpenter and an electrician, and buying furniture — and getting it delivered.  After I returned, Dad was fascinated by the photographs and the improvements (especially the electrical ones — Dad was an electrician, and he had been particularly attentive to the naked wires extruding from the breaker box).

He’s never been out of Texas and Louisiana since (except for the week at Lake Tahoe).  But we’ve traveled to the farm many times, to my sister’s home in North Louisiana, and to friends’ homes here in Egan.  Until a year ago, he drove to my house regularly. He felt it necessary to mow my yard for me, though he knew I could do it myself.  As he aged, he kept apologizing that he couldn’t do more.  Even in the last month, he’s made the same comments, apologizing that I have to do it all.  As I told him, I can do it because he taught me how to do these things.

Yesterday my friend Charles asked me if it had hit me yet that after Dad returned on Monday, my freedom would be gone.  I nodded and said yes, that I had realized that.  The days of lots of alone time will be gone, but they’ll be shared.  I hope we can travel in conversation and watching television shows.

He has always teased me that I came out of the womb ready to hit the road.  This time we’re hitting the road together — the next stage of the journey awaits us.

It’s Easter Week, and I think I’ll buy some lilies tomorrow when I’m in town.

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