The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Marching On March 14, 2015

A lot of things are happening around here all at once. Progress is being made at the Studio, the logging job is almost wrapped up, and the snow has melted a good foot since last week. Martha’s been admitted to the hospital again, a friend turns 90 today, and the birds are making more noise than they have in months. Frustratingly, technical difficulties follow me; a new desktop computer which I purchased in December is rife with problems and is still in the repair guy’s shop some two months later. My printer’s out of commission now too. Personal costs (like a crazy $411 electric bill for last month and the unexpected computer repairs) are adding up and I’m getting worried about my financial future. But regardless of these stressors, there are happy and hopeful moments along the way. The air has begun to smell like promise and freedom, and it gives us the resolve to keep marching on.

IMG_3959Just last week the snow was this deep…

IMG_3139 The weight of it required a shoveling of the Studio’s roof, as seams inside had begun to widen under the burden.

IMG_3140It’s a pity we had to spend money on this job; within days it was all melted.

We watch as the loggers move trees like they were twigs.

And they load em up like they were nothing at all too.

IMG_4095The cutting has come to an end, now the wood needs to be loaded and trucked out. Next week they’ll turn their attention to cleaning up and leaving a level surface behind.

IMG_4214Another load goes out.

IMG_4301From my kitchen window I can see a truck full of our trees disappearing down the road. (Look to the left on the horizon.)

IMG_4183 I left for a couple of hours and came back to find they’ve taken out the exterior wall and begun to frame in the new kitchen! Hoo haw!

IMG_4195A closer look from the outside in…

IMG_4189… and now from the inside out.

IMG_4353Garrett’s making progress with the interior of the main hall.

IMG_4271Where there were huge cracks a week ago, it’s all sealed up, primed and ready to paint.

IMG_4372A view from the rear of the hall towards the stage area.

IMG_4363Behind the stage area are these doors through which my father moved harpsichords to be stored in the greenroom. Mom and I never liked the look of the wood in the background – and although I do hate to cover up natural wood, we’re opting to paint the doors to match the wall.

IMG_4342Look! Rick and Scott have the outside wall up already! They’re moving fast. In the far right corner is the new door leading out of the kitchen to the north side of the building.

IMG_4345The new exit, the future kitchen wall.

IMG_4338The Studio’s all sealed up and taking on its new shape.

IMG_4288Mom called and told me Martha was needing help, so I drove over to the farm.

IMG_4296For me, this is my life’s epicenter. I’ve known this place longer than any other.

IMG_4292I arrive to find the ambulance has just taken Martha to the hospital. Masie, her hound dog, remains behind in a big, empty house.

IMG_4293Mike straightens out the pictures on the kitchen wall. Martha’s leaving this place to Mike and his family after she’s gone; without children of her own, he’s the closest thing to a son she’s known. He’s planted his vineyards in the field that we hayed as children. The Farm has a bright future.

IMG_4321At the hospital.

IMG_4332The nurses ascertain that Martha’s too weak to sit up on her own.

IMG_4313Elihu visits with Martha.

Elihu recites the poem “Ozymandia” by Percy Bysshe Shelley for Martha. Missed the beginning, but it’s still impressive.

IMG_4336He tells her he loves her and says goodbye.

Later on, Elihu does his impression of Martha. She is known for giving her helpers incredibly detailed instructions on how to do every last little task. A knowledge of one’s cardinal directions is imperative if one is to assist her. Elihu cracks me up here. He’s nailed her perfectly.

IMG_4399At the end of our day we make a pit stop at Saratoga Guitar to get some advice from Ed, the resident guitar tech, bass and tuba player, friend and maker of gourmet hot sauces and other goods.

Elihu gives an impromptu performance…

IMG_4411… and enjoys himself a little longer.

IMG_4424Maybe one day we’ll add one of these to the collection…

IMG_4427The campaign for Saratoga’s Banjo Man, Cecil Myrie, is not forgotten. I’m leading the efforts to erect a memorial plaque for him downtown (should have progress reports soon).

IMG_4425Love an old-school music store.  Always a nice end to a busy day.


The Other Shoe August 8, 2013

Thursday morning

We’re going to take dad to the hospital today as he’s been complaining of stomach pains for a few days now. While mom and I think it might be good old-fashioned constipation, and he’s been drinking more fluids to help things along, the pain hasn’t really gone away. Mom suspects all he needs is some hydration by way of an IV. That, and the overall stimulation that another atmosphere and new people might provide. I’m not so sure this will have a happy ending. Martha, the other matriarchal figure in our lives, is also in the hospital today. She awoke around four this morning because she was having difficulty breathing. Martha knows the drill well. She pushes the button on the pendant around her neck, calls her friends Doreen and Mike, and shortly an ambulance arrives. She’s been in the hospital – admitted through ER – many times over the past couple of years. Sometimes things appear dire, yet she always ends up returning to her large, historic farmhouse in Greenfield. And every time she enters the place, I pray she makes it home again. Above all things, Martha is a woman who must die in her house. And no matter how infirmed her state, it seems she always has the resolve to make sure that one day she will.

My father, on the other hand, might have a different story. If admitted, he might be considerably disoriented by an extended stay in the hospital. Mom’s hope is that he ends up staying for a few days. She’s even posited his going then to a rehab facility in town (Martha’s done that herself several times). But if he can be made well by a simple round of hydration, then why would he need to stay there? My suspicion is that mom isn’t even aware of her own secret wish to be relived of her care-taking duties, if only for a couple of days. I’ve been lobbying hard for a weekly visit from an private nurse, but mom continues to say ‘we’re not there yet’. ! A few days ago she began to acquiesce, and told me her intention was to call the office of the aging and schedule an in-home interview, yet every manner of obstacle has prevented her from doing so. She doesn’t work, dad doesn’t get up til way past noon. What on earth could be preventing her from calling, save her own, deeply-embedded fear of entering this next phase? This is all a sad new territory for sure, and it’s made even harder to navigate by virtue of my parents’ values and upbringing. They are not a generation that discusses their feelings. And my mother is definitely not one to accept help. This creates a challenging environment when it comes time to deal with these issues of aging. Man, if there’s one thing I’ve made good and clear to my own son, it’s that he should do what he needs to do when the time comes. If I don’t know who he is and I can’t wipe my own butt – then  by all means ship me off. And honestly – you may think me morbid, I do not care – I am all in favor of assisted suicide (however loathe that term) if a person should face an irreversible, debilitating disease. It’s even my hope to be able to sock away enough money to have that be a viable option one day (one possible place is in Zurich, Switzerland. It’s legal there). After all, looking to my father and paternal grandmother, the genetic possibility for growing old with dementia is a potential reality for me. I cannot pretend it isn’t.


Thursday, early evening

I’ve been at the hospital for much of the afternoon with mom and dad. The staff at Saratoga Hospital continues to impress me, and I’m so very grateful for their service today. Turns out dad just had a hernia. Not a big surprise, he had one on the other side years ago which he had fixed surgically. The doc massaged it back into place, and dad felt relief right away. He had a CT scan which showed some ‘white matter’ around his brain; the ER doc surmised that it may have been many ‘tiny strokes’, but mom and I wonder if it might not simply be evidence of his memory loss and the related diminishing brain volume. Either way, my feeling is that it doesn’t so much matter. In my eyes, it’s my father’s quality of life and comfort that is most important now. Little prevention can be done to stop the progress of what’s probably inevitable. Guarding against falls is another concern of mine now too (mom and dad have a tile floor, argh. Knock on wood). In the end, dad’s cheerful, as well as he can be, and most importantly, feeling better. And I for one am relieved that he didn’t need an overnight stay in the hospital. (Although mom might feel differently.)

Martha was just down the hall, and on the way out, we wheeled dad into her room for a visit. It only just occurred to me right now – that it might have been the last time that dad and Martha will ever see each other in person. On Martha’s 87th birthday, just a few weeks ago, it took dad nearly fifteen minutes just to get inside her house. It was a huge production. I think we all knew as we watched his incredibly slow progress to the car afterward, that this was probably his final visit to the farm. This whole chapter is bizarre and bittersweet. I realize I’m lucky to have both of my parents alive and doing relatively well. So many of my friends are in that stage of life when they’re losing theirs. I watch, I wait, I worry. Nothing to do but try to savor the time remaining.  It’s tough for me, yes, but I think of my folks. My dad is actually blessed by his dementia; he can’t truly appreciate that his life is reaching its end. And my mother, while she herself is actually doing ok (in spite of bad arthritis and chronic back pain), I can’t help but I wonder if there’s not a low-grade worry present in her thoughts about how her own end will come. An occasional passive-aggressive aside will come out every now and then which betrays a darker side to her concerns. On the face of it however, she jokes, she makes light… There is a mildly haunting sense to this time in all of our lives, although none of us ever says as much. But even if we were to talk, what would we say? I’d like to think that Elihu and I will face these tough conversations with absolute honesty when the time comes, but I can’t know that for certain. I cannot begin to assume that I will behave any differently, or approach the last years of my life with any more candor than my folks. I just don’t know how it will feel to be in that situation. I’d like to think that I’ll be able to face it, but it’s been a bigger challenge than I’d thought just turning fifty!

For now, I cherish the little things that have been so familiar to me all of my life. That certain, charming way my father has of laughing. The way my mother always shows concern, the way she always takes care of things, and makes me feel in the end like everything will always be alright. I can’t grasp in this moment, today, that one day they will be gone. And as frustrated as they can make me, they are my only parents, and I love them so. Every remaining moment is important, because you never truly know when the other shoe will finally fall to the ground.

ER 2013 126I am a fan of Saratoga Hospital. The staff there have all been so kind and gracious.

ER 2013 063Dad was in good spirits all afternoon.

ER 2013 053There’s his gallbladder. All looks just fine.

ER 2013 078Now we’re in Martha’s room for a visit. Note how she raises her hand for emphasis as she speaks. She is still in control! And she remembers the name of every last person who comes into her room – not only that, but she remembers where they live! Martha always inquires where people are from. That’s signature Martha Carver. !

ER 2013 091That profile I know so well.

ER 2013 097You can see what a production it is to move dad.

ER 2013 101Aaron was so kind and patient.

ER 2013 105Mom needs a cane these days – she can’t walk far without it. Even so, she’s the rock in the duo so far.

ER 2013 113So fragile looking.

ER 2013 122What a relief. I asked mom if she needed help on the other end – getting him back inside the house – but she insisted she didn’t; she said it simply took a long time. I can’t help but wonder each time he leaves the house if this will be the last time he does. You just can’t ever know for sure.