Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Gang's All Here

During the last year of my father's life, he used to doze on the couch in his kitchen after breakfast and when I rode my bike over to see him--this is before he was in nursing care--and I walked in the back door, he would look up from his snooze and sing "Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here, here comes Robin Chapman, here comes Robin Chapman ..." What a funny, sweet, and joyous time that was.

Now the gang is all gathering to bid him farewell and I can still hear his happy song, faintly, in the background.

After he went up into nursing care he pretty much stopped singing when I appeared. But not entirely. The last time he ate breakfast in the dining room, where we always ate in the morning together, he spotted me in the doorway and broke into song. The denizens were mostly deaf, but the staff gave him a round of applause. After that he was too ill to get up for breakfast, but on that morning he gave no hint of how fragile he was, and chatted away, as he did, about his family in Birmingham and how we should go down the road and visit his Uncle Ashley in Goodwater.

Anyway, now the gang is all here for his funeral, and soon we will have a house full of nieces and nephews, grandchildren and great grandchildren here to see him off on the next part of his journey. I wish they had been here during the last two, tough weeks of Dad's life. Those were the worst for him I think. And I know they were the worst for me. Going through that alone was the hardest thing I did.

But, of course, I survived, and am now planning which tunes we shall have the bagpipes play at his graveside service. His mother's mother came from Edinburgh and was a McHuchison--a lowland Scot--so that's why I decided on the haunting music of the pipes. I was hoping the piper would play "Dixie," but he was very dubious when I suggested it and offered the more mundane "Scotland the Brave." I countered with "Minstrel Boy" and "Will Ye No Come Back Again" and I think we will compromise there. But I did like the idea of ending the service with "Dixie." Even though my father was an American patriot, he was proud of being from Alabama. Playing "Dixie," while the color guard of the U.S. Army marched away at the end of his military honors, would have had just the right sense of irony for my father.

The Army will pay for his headstone, and other than the usual things one puts on a headstone, there is a space for something personal such as Beloved Father, or Auburn '41. I looked for the motto of the Corps of Engineers but it was "Essayus" (We will try) and that not only did not trip lightly off the tongue, it seemed a little tentative for an engineer of his determination. We will try? Not exactly the Nike motto.

The Auburn motto, "For the Advancement of Science and The Arts" clearly wouldn't work. I have a friend who is the former president of Rollins College and that school's motto, "Fiat Lux," "Let there be light," is not only a wonderful phrase of both biblical and intellectual proportions, it is just the right size to fit on my friend's license plate. That's what I was looking for.

My Dad's final unit in the Reserves was the 351st Civil Affairs Command, so I Googled around for their motto. It is "Born of Freedom." And my sister and I have settled on that. The motto obtains to both Dad's unit and his life, and though it is not nearly as cool as Fiat Lux, it will suit my father fine.

It will take a while for me to lose the picture of him in his last two weeks, dying and in a coma. I am so thankful for that one day he was able to awaken for thirty minutes or so and have a sweet, final conversation with me. But the rest of the picture is very hard to bear. That was heartbreaking and with heartbreak, I have learned, you just have to wait for the wound to heal over. And then you go on.

He was a very funny person, and my friend Lisa has told me to think of him standing with me during all of this. So that is what I am doing. He is being his usual cynical, smarty-pants self, and his observations of this whole funeral process are helping me get by. "Scotland the Brave" indeed. Whatsamatter? Doesn't the guy know "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here"?

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Colonel William Ashley Chapman December 22, 1919--March 26, 2010

"The greatest honor is to wear the uniform of an American soldier. I am grateful that this opporunity came to me." Colonel William Ashley Chapman to Gen. W.H. Ecker upon Col. Chapman's retirement, May 7, 1973.

Col. William Ashley Chapman USAR (Ret.) died Friday, March 26, 2010, at the Forum at Rancho San Antonio, not far from his Los Altos home.

Chapman was born in Birmingham, Alabama to Mary Evelyn Wilson and Joseph Roy Chapman. He was raised in nearby Homewood, where his father, manager of Alabama Outdoor Advertising, was president of the city council.

Graduating from Auburn in 1941 with a degree in engineering and an ROTC commission, his unit was called to active duty that same summer. When America entered World War II, in December 1941, he was in for the duration.

He served in both the Atlantic and the Pacific theatres. On Ascension Island, with the 38th Engineer Battalion, he worked to build Wideawake Field, which served 25,000 planes making the jump across the ocean to the China-Burma-India theatre. Wideawake Field is still in use today.

In the Pacific, he landed on the island of Ie Shima one day after reporter Ernie Pyle was killed there and built and maintained runways with the 1902 Engineer Aviation Battalion, as the Battle of Okinawa raged. When the war was over, he toured the devastation of Nagasaki and wrote home to his family: "Anyone who had the starting of a war in mind should see Nagasaki and I think he would change his plans."

On leave at Geiger Field in 1944 he married Faye Ellyn Latta of Spokane, Washington after a six-week courtship. Reunited after the war, the couple's marriage lasted sixty-five years, until Faye Chapman's death December 11, 2009.

The couple settled in Los Altos, California where Chapman found work as an engineer, and spent his weekends building their first home. He continued in the Army Reserves, winning awards as a sharpshooter with the Sixth Army Pistol Team, later joining the 351st Civil Affairs Command, headquartered in Mt. View, California. A graduate of the Command and General Staff College, he retired from the 351st in 1973, later serving as president of the 351st Alumni organization.

For more than two decades, Chapman worked for the City of Palo Alto. During that time he also went back to school and earned his Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering from San Jose State University. Late in life, after a gap of 37 years, he re-qualified as a private pilot and began flying again. He owned his own sailboat, restored a classic Jaguar sports car, was an avid gardener, and was an active member of Peace Lutheran Church in Santa Clara for more than forty years, serving as president of the congregation. After the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989, he served on the City of Los Altos Emergency Preparedness Committee and helped his community write its first Emergency Plan.

He is survived by: daughters Kimberly (Mrs. Daniel D.) Moore of Denver, Colorado, and Robin Chapman of Los Altos; granddaughters Devon Moore Cole, Dana Moore McKnight, and Lena Moore; and three great grandchildren. Services are being planned for Alta Mesa Cemetery in Palo Alto, where he will be buried next week with full military honors.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Letting Go

Night before last, I went by to see my father at the nursing home where he rests in a coma--one foot in this world and one in the next. It was awful. He was wasting away, and I was visiting him twice each day and it was breaking my heart.

I went to my exercise class at the YMCA and I was a mess. In the middle of class I found a mat and stretched out on it and looked up at the sky, thinking about what I was putting myself through.

You have to let him go, I said to myself. You have to let him go.

The next morning, in spite of all the odds, my amazing father had made it through another night. I had made it through another night without getting THE CALL.

I made my coffee and realized I didn't want to visit him. When he was able, we said our goodbyes. He knew I loved him and I knew he loved me and our whole family.

I decided not to visit. Just for one day.

And now it is dawn of the next day, and my father, whose heart and lungs are still so strong they won't give up, has made it through another night. And I have too. And I find myself moving away from his death and re-entering my own life, because it is the only healthy thing I can think of to do.

Yesterday, instead of visiting him, I spent the afternoon cleaning out the final boxes of stuff at the family home. I'm getting ready to move in over there and I had to tackle these boxes to clear out the last room. And those boxes were--as almost everything has been these last few months--a revelation.

These files I sorted were full of my parents' extensive correspondence. And these two intelligent people wrote everyone, from newspaper editors to their congressmen to CEOs of companies to magazines to television producers whose shows they liked or disliked and on and on and on.

And they both scolded everyone. If my mother bought a pair of stockings from Hanes that didn't meet her standards, she wrote and scolded the company. If America's tax structure seemed illogical to my father he wrote and scolded as many people in Washington as he could think of. My Mom wrote a dishware company and told them how their dishes didn't match properly, thank you very much. My father scolded Ford Motor Co. about their cars.

And as I sat their, sifting through and disposing of their huge files of scolding letters I started to get mad. Who did they think they were, I said to myself, to go around correcting everyone all the time?

Worse--who did they think they were to leave me to sort through all this stuff? What--is my time worth nothing and theirs so precious that I was left behind to do all this work?

And then I began to laugh and to realize that I was getting angry at them in order to let them both go.

These two intellectually curious, competitive, literate people of strong moral fibre and very high standards for everything from English grammar to economic theory, were what they were.

And they produced me.

And now it was time for us to part.

I saved a few of the letters for the Chapman Family Archives and I tossed the rest. The world will be a much weaker, less corrected place without these two tenacious watchdogs on the trail of its many errors.

So it can take a rest. Because they are now at rest. And it is time for me to take a rest as well.

And remember loving them, as part of my past. And begin to live my life anew in the present.

I go forward, much corrected.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bad Ju Ju to Good With a Touch of Wallpaper

The first bathroom I redecorated last week at my parents' home. I'm sorry to tell you I don't have a "before" photo, but you are lucky I don't as it might have brought nightmares to the most stalwart of sleepers. (The soft pink porcelain drawer pulls aren't installed yet as they are still en route from Utah by mule train).

There is nothing that clears away the windmills of my mind better than fabric, paint, and a little wallpaper. With my mother gone and her bizarre decor left behind, and my father terminally ill and in hospice, I've distracted myself with a frenzy of deconstruction at the old homestead.

Above, you can see my first effort. It was my own bathroom as a child. Then, during the last year my father was at home, it was his. It was, at that point, a grisly place indeed and if the rusting potty chair of dubious cleanliness didn't make you want to use an outhouse, the wallpaper alone might have sent you running for the shrubs. (See below.)

The pink wallpaper my mother chose for the room my sister and I once shared. Lucky for us, she didn't install this stuff until after we were gone, or I would have become a runaway. It continued into the attached bath, though for the sake of my readers I avoided photographing that.

The first thing I did was bribe my sister into scraping the wallpaper from the bathroom walls. She's a terror with a scraper and she had it down in a day. I contemplated taking a baseball bat to the Eisenhower-pink-and-grey tiles. Instead, to save some cash and to see if I could do this job without heavy lifting, I chose to paint the walls above the tile a baby dove grey and give the room a white ceiling and linen-colored trim.

With a new light fixture, the removal of the wall-to-wall mirror (who wants to see himself zipping up????) and a selection of prints surrounding the new oval-framed mirror (TJ Maxx: $24.00) the room has cleaned up better than toxic Super Fund site.

I put a dimmer on the bathroom light so it can be put on low at night. Also, it can be dimmed to a low glow when you want to avoid seeing how you really look.

The new pink-and-grey bathroom. No longer able to frighten children.

My loins girded to the sticking point, or something like that, I tackled the next bathroom, in which my mother installed heavy oak cabinets and white tiles with brown grout, a curious color combo.

The hall bath from which my sister extracted Mom's gold-and-white wallpaper. I took down the white wire plant hanger containing the philodendron and the bronze towel hanger in the shape of a horse. The bags on the counter belong to Trish, the Wondrous Wallpaper Lady.

I decided that the only thing to do re the taupe grout and the cream tile, was to use a wallpaper that emphasized the taupe more than the cream so the dark grout would look less like spilled gravy (or something worse. This is, after all, a WC.)and more like a good decorating decision. I found the solution in a pattern I had used once before, long ago, in a fabric of another colorway. It is a French Provence pattern made by Souleiado, and I was able to order it in wallpaper On Line.

Trish the Wallpaper Lady, getting started on the Souleiado wallpaper.

Wallpaper can by intimidating, because patterns that look good on a small square can loom over a room like the Godzilla when installed on a wall (see pink wallpaper above). As the paper went up, I worried that I had made a bad choice. How many times can I ask my sister to get her squirt bottle and scraper out for me, per decade? So, I watched with caution as up the paper went.

Trish, working by the shower.

It is a good thing the Wallpaper Lady is lithe.

The whole thing only took a couple of hours. Prior to the paper installation, I had hired a man to tune-up the finish on the cabinets (one half day: $400)and a painter to do the ceiling, molding and the wall below the chair rail in white and cream ($300).

When it was all complete (except for the new light fixture: I'll show you that next time) we had transformed the bathroom for about $1000. I haven't done a window treatment yet, but it will be something simple to calm the busy wall covering, and the window is small enough that I can sew the thing myself one afternoon while watching Turner Classic Movies.

The bones of this house are really good, as you can see. In our next installment, we begin to tackle the kitchen, in which, below, it appears just after I had it painted, and had removed all the handles and pulls from the cabinets and drawers in prep for the Cabinet Tune-up Man.

The night before Mr. Cabinet arrived, I couldn't open the drawers because they had no handles on them and the painter, thinking to be kind, had closed them all up tight before he departed. We all have to make sacrifices for beauty. It was just that trying to get into the liquor cabinet was exceptionally difficult, and, with a funeral coming in the next week or so, meaning guests will soon be wandering the hallways, I desperately needed to get to the Scotch. (If this happens to you, use a small screwdriver, and I don't mean vodka and orange juice.) See you next time!

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Entering the No Brag Zone

General D.C. Helix with Colonel William Ashley Chapman (in civvies), 1994, at the 30th anniversary celebration of the U.S. Army's 351st Civil Affairs Command. Col. Chapman was then president of the 351st Alumni Association.

Since the death of my mother--and the sorting out of things in the family home--I've learned so many things about my father that I never knew. The photo above is an example. I never knew that when he retired as a full colonel from the 351st Civil Affairs Command, he was elected president of its Alumni Association. I was working on the East Coast then and his letters were filled with news about the latest church picnic and the size of his tomato crop. Sure; he was president of a big group of retired, high-ranking military people. But he found it unnecessary to mention it.

I also learned he gave tours to school children when they visited the Water Quality Department at the City of Palo Alto, where he worked as an engineer. Dad, giving a talk? That stumped me, since he only ever said about four things at the dinner table each night including: "Bless this food. Amen." and "Please pass the margarine." But now I know he hosted students at his Water Quality Plant (aka sewage treatment facility) because I found a picture to prove it. It is from a City of Palo Alto press release:

The photo caption on the back of the picture reads: "Ashley Chapman, city engineer, shows Greg Hayward and guide Gwen Taylor how sewage unit works.

Did he inspire the kids with his talk of primary, secondary and tertiary sewage treatment? I wonder if young Greg Hayward is still around and if he became an engineer too?

I discovered my father was elected to two engineering honor societies in his senior year at Auburn: Tau Beta Pi (1940) and Pi Tau Sigma (1940). Never mentioned that either.

He came home from the war with five medals, the last one, the Asiatic Pacific Medal with 1 Bronze Star. "Oh everybody got that stuff," he told us when we found out.

I found the grades he earned at San Jose State when he received his Master of Science Degree in Civil Engineering in 1972. He got all As and Bs. We never even celebrated with a cake, nor attended the ceremony. And he earned the degree while working full time and never missed a class or a day of work.

I discovered he won 29 medals as a sharpshooter on the U.S. Army Pistol Team between 1956 and 1971, winning all first place ribbons and a few seconds shooting with .45s and .22s. The trophies and ribbons and patches were stuffed in a shoe box and never displayed in our house.

In the years before he retired from the Army Reserves he graduated from Command and General Staff College, at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal (December 1971) and the Meritorious Service Medal (April 1973). Nobody at our house framed those citations, though Dad did wear the medals on his chest as per Army regulations.

Oh, and I learned he was once threatened with a gun while on the job as an engineer. I found this in an article dated November 1, 1983 from the San Jose Mercury News headlined: What's Smoke Doing HERE? It read:

"When smoke billowing from under the toilet frightened a Palo Alto woman as she showered recently, her husband did what many husbands would do: he threatened to shoot a city crew chief who showed up to tell the couple the smoke was part of a test to detect leaks in local sewers. "There was no injury or damage," said Ash Chapman, project engineer for the sewer program. "It's understandable that she got a little bit frightened.""

Good thing the husband didn't know the project engineer was a dead shot with a .45.

All of these things--both funny and accomplished--are part and parcel of Dad's life. But he said nothing about them. Told no amusing stories featuring himself. Wrote my sister and me no letters filled with tales of his outstanding, hilarious, heroic achievements.

He let my mother stand in the spotlight. He watched quietly from the sidelines spending his time doing exactly what he wanted to do, exactly as he wanted to do it. The fun for him seems to have been in the doing and in having things come out precisely. He seemed not to need or like any congratulations at the end of the day.

When he built his first home in Los Altos, he keep a meticulous record of his hours worked on each day of the two years it took to complete the home. At the end his hours in the house totaled 369: the adding machine slip of the total is included in the small notebook. He never showed anyone the notebook. I never laid eyes on it until last week. But it was important to him, because he saved it in his bureau drawer. All these years.

Which means that even though he often looked like the man who only held Mom's coat, he knew that his quiet life went much deeper. If you didn't know this, he simply didn't care.

Dad, doing that coat holding thing, in this case doing it with a car door. The picture's focus is on Mom.

And this is bittersweet. My sister and I wish we had not had to wait until several weeks before his death to learn how truly superior a man was our father. His silence about himself and what he did also left us with little knowledge or direction about how to handle the family trust he has now left to us.

Did we fail in our efforts to reach him? Or was he too busy living his inward life to be a deep part of ours?

We are left with a mystery. On this side, the story of a man who excelled and was recognized and admired. And on the other, two children who wonder what part they played, if any, in the plot.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Balancing Life With Re-Decorating or: Robin's Revenge

Dad, with one adolescent daughter on his knee and the other at his elbow in the yard of the Echo Drive house. I think he's looking into the future and imagining how much fun I'll have one day redecorating the house he just purchased.

I know there are at least a few of you out there who have mentioned to me, in the nicest possible way, that you don't think my life is very balanced right now. Of course you are right.

I can only answer that one's beloved father dies only once in one's life and that is all there is to that.

But I'm not without really large and enormously fun distractions. And I'm not kidding.

I'm redecorating my mother's house and her ghost hasn't even come to bug me about it in my dreams.

In that house, she was always the queen and that was, of course, as it should have been. But between the egos of my mother and my father, there were times when my sister and I felt a little extraneous in that home. If my mother had ever said to me, "Robin darling, what color would you like me to paint your room?" I would have dropped dead from surprise and wouldn't be here today.

There were other things I needn't go into. Suffice it to say that I grew up in a beautiful house that got stranger and stranger as the years went by, the rules of its management more weird and Gothic as Dad took to hobbies that kept him away from home for longer and longer periods, and mother's own challenges grew more frightening to those around her.

My Mom did have good taste in her prime and the bones of the house are really stunning. It is just all that gawdawful gargoylish garage sale stuff she decorated it with that frightened visitors as she got on in years. As both of them entered their eighties, the area they lived in got smaller and smaller and the cobwebs outside that tiny chalk circle blossomed into epic proportions. Dust piled in the nooks and corners high enough to challenge a snow shovel.

It wouldn't have been so bad had she let us help her clean the place. Or allowed as how she knew she was getting old and peculiar. Uh, no. Once, my sister cleaned the bathroom while our mother was in the hospital and Sis was so worried that mother would have her arrested she called a neighbor and hid out there until her nervous breakdown passed and she felt safe to return to the scene of her crime.

Another time, after our father began to fail, we noticed he was having serious trouble getting down on to and up from the truly wretched-looking couch in the family kitchen where they had been spending most of their time. We asked Mom several times if she would be willing to consider any other options on the couch thing and in no uncertain terms, she told us she would not.

So, another time when her head was turned, my sister and I switched this ugly monstrosity with another ugly monstrosity in another room, the second of which at least was higher off the ground and thus easier for my father to mount and dismount.

When out mother returned from wherever it was she had gone and saw what we had done, she pitched a genuine tantrum. It was a sight to behold. We should have stood her in the corner until she got over it, but, being the daughters we are, we switched the two bloody pieces of furniture back and continued to watch our father fall three feet from the standing position onto that ugly thing and then struggle for ten minutes to get up from it. At least it gave him something to do and it kept mother from having a heart attack.

So, now we can fast-forward to the present day. Can you imagine how much fun I'm having?

First of all, I have a talent for decorating and have had it since I first left home. The beauty of my mother's early, healthier taste probably did influence this. And I learned a lot in my travels and in my interviews with the famous and infamous when I visited their homes as a reporter. My own decorating skills have grown over the years and we tend to enjoy things we are good at.

So, give me a dilapidated space with lots of potential, a can of paint and some fabric and I can entertain myself for at least a year. I can do it on a budget, because I enjoy the creativity of that. And I can do it the expensive way. Either one of these options is really a hoot in my book.

And now that Dad is dying, I can visit him, hold his hand, feed him, kiss him on the forehead, and then drive down the hill to the old family homestead and throw out the ghastly and transform the inferno into Robin's Revenge: a faux bit of heaven I get to invent for my very own self.

When Mom was in her right mind, she might have appreciated what I'm doing. But I doubt it. Anyway, I appreciate it and in our next installment, or the one after that, and in between pre-writing my father's obituary and planning his funeral and doing his laundry and paying his bills and loving him and hoping he won't die for a few more weeks, and celebrating my birthday with visiting friends and talking to the folks at hospice and chatting with my niece who lives nearby, I'll show you some photos of my latest delightful distraction.

I think my friend Dr. B, who helped me screw my head on straight, would be very proud of me and he would say this was very healthy fun. Mom would have a fit and die if she saw it, but she can't do that now because she is already gone to her great reward. So I can't offend her or cause her any more pain. Nor versa visa.

And the place is really starting to look beautiful. And beautiful ...right now ... beautiful is a very good thing.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

End-of-Life Dad

Dad in one of the last photos I took of him before his jaundice set in and turned his skin yellow. He is doing his best here at saluting the camera.

Dad's illness--actually his illnesses--have begun to be stronger than his own determination to live. The pancreatic cancer has entered his bile ducts and he is now bright yellow from jaundice for the second week. He is having trouble keeping food down, and his speech has grown soft and, sometimes, strange and rambling.

But yesterday was a good day. So I talked with him about his life and what lies ahead.

"I'm just about dead," he told me, when he was having trouble at breakfast.

"Do you think you are dying?" I asked him, using the yellow pad I use to talk with him because of his hearing disability.

"Well, Faye hasn't told me that in so many words, but I guess that's what she means."

Faye is our mother who died three months ago.

"Are you going to heaven?" He's gone to church all his life, so I wondered what he would say.

"I guess so," he said. "But in a roundabout sort of way." What he meant by that, we can only guess. Protestants don't believe in purgatory.

"Heaven is a nice place," my sister wrote on the pad. She's been here visiting this week.

"I'm sure it is," he said. "But I don't want to go there yet."

He still has such a strong will to live, he gets up each day and dresses with the help of the nurses and sits in his wheelchair in the dining room for breakfast. I usually feed him. During my sister's visit this week, she has taken morning duty many of the days. He relishes his food--even though it doesn't always stay down anymore. And if you put butter and jam on it, no matter how sick he feels, he will always eat it. Ice cream too. He never turns that down.

The nurses told me yesterday that before he got up in the morning he was calling for Mom as he slept, saying; "I'll be right there. Don't worry Faye, I'll be right there."

Some people think this means he was speaking with her across the divide between life and death and telling her he will join her. I think he was dreaming that she was down the hall and he was telling her he would be getting up soon to join her for breakfast.

But who knows? He is mortally ill. But still loves life. We think he has only weeks or months before he will join his beloved Faye. But he may surprise us all.

I gave him a hug yesterday, having finally forgiven him for telling me that I'm dispensable (a big word, by the way, for a dementia patient; but he uses the large vocabulary he always used, an oddity for someone with dementia) and he said, "Oh, that is so nice. I love you so much Robin."

And that was my joy for the day. And these days, I take the joy where I can find it.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

So Dispensable, That's What I Are ...

Dad holding that second child that turned up in his life (that would be Robin) in the front yard of the house he built with his own hands on Echo Drive in Los Altos. Looks like he just got the landscaping completed and I'm wearing my first real pair of shoes. He holds me a little gingerly: "I didn't know anything about what to do with girl babies," he later confessed.

Do you know the Randy Newman song "My Life is Good" in which everything in Newman's life is falling apart and he's trying to tell himself how well it is going? He brags about a famous musician friend of his ("And the name of this young man/Is Mr Bruce Springsteen!") and recounts how Bruce says to him:

"Rand, I'm tired/How would you like to be the Boss for awhile?"

I wanted to say that yesterday. Not to Randy Newman. But to somebody. How would you like to be the boss of my dying father for a while?

Watching Dad die has grown more wrenching each day. Two weeks ago he was looking and feeling good, at least good under his present circumstances, but now that has changed. He is yellow from jaundice as the cancer in his pancreas moves into his bile ducts and liver. He is more incoherent than ever. Slurring his words. Throwing up. Losing weight. Saying strange things about my mother. The staff has sent me to his physician for a morphine prescription.

And all this horrible weakness has the added overlay of the worst of his old personality. The bossiness. The sarcasm. The cruelty.

Yesterday, I called the nursing assistants to get him back into bed after breakfast, and, like a three-year-old (he only has a "now" not a "few minutes from now") he grew increasingly impatient and upset with me when the CNAs didn't appear immediately to serve his needs.

I had written on a piece of paper "Help is coming" and showed that to him each time he told me he needed to go to bed, but he got meaner and meaner anyway. Finally, after yelling at me for not understanding that he needed to go to bed "right now," he leaned over and said: "You know, Robin thinks she's indespensible, but she's not."

"I'm Robin," I said. He read my lips. He closed his eyes. He was embarassed. But it didn't make me feel any better.

Believe me I've known all my life that I am a despensible child.

All the sarcastic comments he has made to me and about me during the course of my life came back in a rush. "Robin's never at a loss for words." "Robin thinks she's so smart." "Robin always has the best of everything." The cruelest of comments, damning with faint praise. Frequently said to others while I sat in the room.

Now that he is ill, I've learned to excuse myself when he says things like that and leave. I know he isn't in control of his mind. I know it is too late to discuss my hurt with him. But I leave for me.

It took a thoughtful psychiatrist to explain to me why my father said these things:

My father himself was constantly put down and told how inadequate he was by the most important person in his life. Unable to convey his anger and frustration to that person--since so much of his life depended on that person's goodwill--he turned to a weaker person and expressed his frustration there.

Not a good thing to do to a child. A child cannot walk away.

But an adult can. And now, that is what I have learned to do. When Dad is cruel to me, I have to leave him alone for a while. Not to punish him: he has no ability to understand that or even to remember what hurtful thing he has done and certainly no ability to change. I walk away for me and me alone, because now, I at least know I have that power. I only return when I feel better again about helping him.

With the lawyer and the bookkeeper and the CPA, I'm working on our Chapman Family Trust tax returns. With the help of my sister, I am cleaning out the family home--sixty-five years of photos, letters, memories and dust. I am hiring people to paint the rooms, I am updating the appliances, repairing the neglected bathrooms. I am working on my mother's estate. I am paying my father's bills.

And, since I'm not St. Robin of Los Altos, nor the Boss; I'm tired. Because, in addition to all these other things, I am also planning my father's funeral. It will be the second one I've had to organize since December when my mother died.

I could use about a year of good health from my father right now. A year to adjust to my mother's death and clean out all the closets she didn't sort through during the last six decades. A year to balance my own checkbook and see my own doctor and go to a spa, paint my toenails, lie around like a sloth. Have my face and my spirits lifted.

But life isn't giving me that this year.

So I've been thinking. Maybe I'm taking on too much. Maybe I do think I'm indespensible and I'm not indespensible. Okay. I get it.

Lord? I'm tired. Why don't you be the Boss for a while?

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