Dad in 2001 with his pumpkins.
Fall is in the air out here in the West, and this year it is making me think about last September and October. My Mom and Dad were still living at home then, something mysterious was gnawing on the pumpkins in their last summer garden (I have since learned that the culprit was likely the Echo Drive Yard Bunny), and a big storm gave California its first dose of rain.
I can look back, now, at the pumpkin photos from the various years in the 21st century and see that Dad was growing more frail with each new crop.
Dad in 2002 with his largest pumpkin ever and his granddaughter, just back from service in the Peace Corps.
Dad the following year, beginning to show the signs of his illness, and looking much too thin.
Dad with his Great Pumpkin of 2004, now looking even more fragile.
I was there at Christmas, 2004, just recovering from my own surgery and through the eyes of the love I felt for him I was unable to see that he was failing. My sister and I were too close to it and, like all children, believed our parents had supernatural qualities that would allow them to live forever.
Robin with Dad's harvest in the Fall of 2004.
But, by last September and October, I had moved back to California because I knew neither of my parents was well. Yet the two of them were so tough, and so determined to stay in their home, that even then I was unable to foresee that I would have them in my life for only just a few more months.
It was in October of last year that Dad went into skilled nursing care in Los Altos Hills. It was beautiful place and the food was great and Dad ate everything in sight and thought he was on vacation at some kind of a resort. He leaned over and asked me quietly at lunch one day if we could really afford "this place."
Mom, meanwhile, was devastated that he wasn't at home anymore. And though I tried to involve her in his care up on the hill, she grew less and less interested in everything, including her own life.
But, we did have a few last, lingering moments of fun. When the storm hit last October, she reached up in her closet and brought out The Oxfords. She wore them every year for storms and any other kind of outdoor activity for which she felt her Formal Shoe Collection was not appropriate. I have since sorted through a lot of photos in their house and have found evidence that The Oxfords go back to the summer my father and mother were dating! I knew the shoes were old, but, until this year, I didn't know they were that old!
I took the photo, at right, of Mom in The Oxfords, last October.
I now have evidence of her wearing them on a picnic at Loon Lake near her home in Spokane, the summer she met my Dad.
That is my mother in the center of the photo, in the summer of 1944 with some her friends and some of the men in my father's Army unit. Check out her shoes!
This was taken another day at the lake in 1944. My father is having a great time, Taking Care of Business with his arms around my mother, and she appears to be filing her nails! And check out the shoes again.
Mom and Dad finally married and in the winter of 1944-45 they had time for a snowy honeymoon before he headed off to the Battle of Okinawa. She has The Oxfords on again!
I saw it as a good sign that Mom went to the trouble to make The Oxfords part of her rainy day outfit on that wintry day in October 2009. I did not see how much she had lost when my father had to go into nursing care. She lost her routine. She lost her best friend. She lost her partner. She lost her excuse to eat. She had lost everything. Even though Dad was still alive and kicking he wasn't at home and that was not the way she wanted things. He was, in the end, much more adaptable than she was, and though he was much more ill, she died just six weeks after the October storm and he lived on until spring.
But for that one stormy day, we had a few bright moments. Mom had her funny shoes on. And I when I drove her up the hill to the nursing home, Dad sparkled when he saw her. I was happy to see them both happy. These are the memories that come back to me this September as the seasons change again out here in the West.
I didn't get a garden in this summer so the Yard Bunny and I have had to do without our usual pumpkins treats.