Several weeks ago, my father moved into the Alzhimer's unit of an assisted care facility. My Dad has Alzheimer's. He hasn't recognized me for several years. He isn't my father as much as he is a frail old man whose irrational behavior patterns allow my sisters and I to laugh instead of cry. But this not my father. My father is the man who quit high school to help support his brothers and sisters during the Depression. Because he had to share everything, he began to buy two of everything whenever his budget allowed. (If one is good, two is better - our family mantra.)
My father is the man who gave me a nickname - he called me "Stuff". He never explained where it came from, or gave any of my six siblings nicknames. I wasn't his favorite child - we all agree that my older sister Becky held that position. I just was his "Stuff". He didn't talk about his job, but he went to work every day, without complaint, to support his family. My father was a terrible driver. He turned around to see the person he was talking to in the back seat. He backed up if he missed his freeway exit. My father knew one joke (one of the dumbest jokes in the known universe), and told it over and over. He sang "Bill Grogan's Goat" over and over. He recited one poem (Somebody's Mother by Mary Dow Brine) over and over.
My father was far from perfect as a father and a husband. He was vain about his looks, especially his hair. He wore white socks with a black suit, then crossed his legs so several inches of fish-belly white flesh showed above the socks. He and I drove a full day to buy my first Toggenburg goat. He had a system for everything. I cannot play Chinese Checkers without using his opening ten moves. I refused to play chess with him because he spend hours deliberating each move. He went back to night school and graduated from high school the year before I did.
My first "real" job was as a waitress at the Red Bird Restaurant in Russells Point. During the summer, when Dad picked me up after work, he would ask "Do you want ice cream?" and I would always answer "yes!". We stopped at the ice cream shop (it wasn't a Tastee Freeze or a Dairy Queen)and I would treat - taking pleasure in spending my tip money. Dad and I would have milkshakes and take a hot-fudge sundae home to Mom.
When I moved to Columbus to attend The Ohio State University, he wrote me letters, even though I was less than an hour away. One time, he tucked in a $5 bill, with instructions that I should go have a milkshake. The letter ended "Still my Stuff", and he signed it, as always, W. O. Wickersham. I still have the letter, and when I come across every now and again, it makes me smile.
He was in a car accident in 1997 and suffered a head injury that seemed very minor, but was not. Several months later, the doctors operated to relieve pressure inside his skull. He joked about his brain surgery, claiming it made him a genius. I think the head injury that led to the surgery also jump-started his Alzheimers. And what is left is his handwriting.
His handwriting hasn't changed since 1973. At my parent's house last summer, I found two large boxes of handspun wool yarn. I recognized his handwriting on the labels pinned to each skein. I don't know what Mom & Dad intended to do with the yarn. He just enjoyed spinning it. I'm dyeing some of the yarn, and I will keep a couple of skeins. I'll knit a scarf or two, and remember my father before Alzheimer's took him away.