I had almost forgotten

what you looked like,

and what your voice sounded like.

But tonight, I am re-reading

a ten-page typed letter you sent me in 1989,

and it ends with your parents’ address, their phone number-and yours.

Like a reckless gambler, I dial your parents’ number.

Who answers is not your mother, and there is racous background noise.

I resolve to find you and find online that you are a “Westies trainer”…and there you are, young, plucky and tanned.

There is your number…I risk the call. Again.

It is you!

Save for your entertaining missive,

We would have never reconnected. Now you are only

a State away.

Our parents are leaving now:

so much else has changed.

It is as if we picked up a needle to

continue stitching the

embroidered design

we began at 16.

Every Day is Father’s Day (June 17, 2018)

It’s hard to believe that yet another earth’s rotation has caught up with us and found us all again celebrating Father’s Day. While it is fruitless to cram an entire lifetime of what you mean to us in one day-please bear with me as I attempt to do so, knowing full well that “every day is Dad’s day” in our hearts and our minds. Since you have been with us and beside us from the first days we wailed our way into the world….there are so many ways in which you have woven yourself into the books we read, the careers we chose, and the churches we attended. Your partnership with Mom was so complete that it is difficult for us now to determine which aspect of our lives was due to Mom’ decisions, and which to yours.

In any case this is a poor bargain, trying to enumerate everything you have made possible in my life and that you even made my life possible. How am I supposed to summarize the Sistine Chapel in a paragraph? I cannot redact this. Our story is that of countless meta- stories, involving vast numbers of people. Some of the scenes depicted are familiar, and some of them are not but we continue to discover and learn from them all.

From the time I drew breath to the time you said goodbye before I flew to Benin, I can’t imagine a time of my life without you. There was never a time when you weren’t supporting me in some way, even if it didn’t feel that way.

I can’t and won’t write all of these stories now because doing so would feel like a closing. There is no closing. there is no ending.

As we discovered when Mom passed it is never as if she were fully gone. Likewise, you are so much a part of every breath I now take. You are responsible for the breath I take.

Because even Mom’s passing (along with all of the other losses we have experienced) is ours. It is like the negative spaces in a painting where there is no color. The painting could not exist on any level without the blank spaces. The shared stillness is a level of understanding impossible without the passing of many decades. You have shown me the wisdom of silence and when it is right to retreat to it.

As my literature professor always said, “You do not have one story here; you have multiple ones and that is good and bad news.” Such is this Father’s Day message. I refuse to let it be contained into one day or event. We are ongoing, and I will add to our story and share it as it develops, as you share our family’s story with all of us.

I love you more than ever Dad, but surely not as much as tomorrow.

Small things

So it’s Sunday evening again and I sit among the flotsam and jetsam of Tuesday Morning shopping bags crammed with everything I took with me on my last move.  Which are not only my things but inexplicable random items from both my Mom and Dad.

In reality I was and am rummaging around for two rings I lost on my last move.  Part of me vainly hopes they will resurface…voila!  In the bedroom of the community do I was in for a few more ths.  But as three days and weeks drag by I have to face facts….they are gone. Gone lime the gold wedding gown band now somewhere in the Atlantic having been carried there by the currents of the Chattahoochee .  Gone like the ruby and diamond ring I lost in the Y swimming pool while doing  rehab after back surgery.  I guess you could say gold and rubies and I aren’t good for each other.

So instead I find a red velvet Christmas stocking we gave Dad last year during  his stay in a rehab facility after he nearly died of pneumonia, COPD exacerbation and delirium.  It’s empty except for a gold crown ornament and three probably rotten Hershey kisses.  It’s the kiss3s that undo me.

Such a little thing.  Like we think we couldn’t have given it to him.  Like the glass of wine we denied him at Mom’s Luau party during which she sat wordless and uncomprehending.  He not knowing the extreme fragility of his aging brain still so close to the memory care unit where women wandered into his room and curled up on his bed.  Where we had to use an electronic fob to check him out of the memory care elevator and on whose wall was a sign stating “for the safety of our residents please do not let memorycare patients on the elevator without a staff or family member.”

Every time we got on the elevator we all had to read that sign.

Then I find a little red tomato pincushion of Mom’s.  I can’t beat to look at it any more than I can beat to acknowledge that they have lived apart for over two years now. It can’t be helped.  He doesn’t want to move to her home, watch them wipe her chin and have one sided conversations with her.

Today we went to a car show. He and I enjoyed seeing the huge array of immaculate old.model T’s, Porsche, Ferrari mini Coopers, and on and on. How he felt looking at them and what he thought of them is anybody’s guess.  What memories of his youth….maybe one day he will share them.

But today after 45 minutes he was tired having walked less than 15 feet.  We sweated in the 90 degree heat waiting on our Uber. We had an excellent brunch and retired to his apartment so he could work on his novel.

Anciens III


 Why did he go?  He had nothing to lose but his name. His mind would not let him stay. He had no way to get out in the world he once knew…

The song echoed relentlessly and his brain: “…turalurahley the turah loo rah loo is an Irish Lullaby….: he could see his mother’s grey eyes… Dorothy, he could hear her in her scratchy but soft voice singing this as she rocked him to sleep.

Why hadn’t they even sung a song? That was all he wanted. But even on their 70th wedding anniversary, the family couldn’t or wouldn’t sing to he and Margaret. It was he who had to suggest the song and then suffer the humiliation of singing it off-key and overly loud to the assembled party.

The only one who paid him any attention was a sweet three-year-old Maddie, she tried to imitate him. But his son had failed him once again. It would not be the first time he had  done so and certainly not the last.

Just because he wanted to live somewhere where he could hear birds singing on the porch… without having to watch the ninety-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s stare vacantly at arriving visitors… just because… a place where adults wore proper undergarments and not diapers… a place where a revolving door of staff called him “honey” or “sweetie” or any other inappropriate diminutive you might even use on your pet..a place where people called him by his proper name. Robert-damn it that is my name, Robert!  Its cadence was so sweet; so endearing…

He wanted to walk into a local cafe and have the friendly young girl behind the counter greet him: “…hello Robert what do you feel like having today?” He could then choose from a toothsome array of goodies.  Would he go for a sweet cinnamon roll? A simple chocolate eclair? Or would his tastes lean toward the more savory-a rich Gruyere and ham quiche…or a Bechamel and turkey Panini? The choices swam before his eyes and he realized he’d not had breakfast because he didn’t want to share it with Helen again.

He would usually have to eat with Helen and the euphemistically titled dining room where wheelchair stalls were coming and residents took interminably long to painfully push themselves along to get out of the way. More irritatingly and more often than not these sorts would get into long, incoherent conversations. Like what time is it now: at 1:54 they will come to get you on the bus and so nauseatingly forth. So it was into this environment he would push Helen; heavily in her wheelchair. Helen!… the image he thought of was Troy, and she had captured his heart long ago just as ruthlessly. The Platinum Myrna Loy mane, the ice cool blue eyes, those red lips and those legs! Helen stood 5/8 and weighed about a hundred and ten pounds in her prime.

Now Helen cried 8 days out of 10. Her platinum locks were shimmering white and no less abundant but they sprang out alarmingly from her head, like a shocked dandelion. Her hands trembled violently whenever she attempted to hold a fork or spoon. And she was proud, oh so proud. She did not want anyone to see this, so she masked her actions and took hours to complete a meal.  Their only other dining choice was the small apartment.  Here, Robert would break open a breakfast bar and brew a pot of coffee to entice Helen to wake up earlier, even though it meant he would have to summon a non-existent nurse to get her out of bed and get her dressed.   Helen hated mornings and rising to face the day became a war.  Lunch and dinner were longer versions of these scenes, and Robert had enough.

So, the first day of summer, Robert gave his wardens a 30 day notice he and Helen were moving back to their native Rochester from Tampa, Florida he expected his son to be unsupportive and unsympathetic. What he did not expect was Helen’s answer.

As he returned from the Assisted Living director’s office, he was astounded to find Helen waiting for him in the hallway in her wheelchair. She wore lipstick, her hair was tamed and her blue eyes shot ferocious bolts at him.  She held out what looked to be a letter to him. The paper shook and rattled and her unsteady grip. Robert stumbled and gasped aloud as you read what it said:

” You’re looking at me like I live here with you and I don’t!”

A tune from ‘Les Miserables’ suddenly entered his head…why now?…why could he remember these tunes and words with such astounding accuracy….when he couldn’t remember his own age accurately?

“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken- there’s a pain goes on and on- empty chairs and empty tables

Now my friends are dead and gone. 

There they talked of Revolution…

 there it was they lit the flame; there they talked about tomorrow 

and tomorrow never came. 

From this table in the corner, they could see a world reborn and they rose with voices ringing

 and I can hear them now 

the very words that they had sung became their last communion on this lonely barricade at dawn.

Oh my friends, my friends forgive me

 that I live and you were gone.

There’s a grief that can’t be spoken there’s a pain goes on and on.

 Phantom faces at the window, phantom shadows on the floor 

Empty chairs at empty tables where my friends will meet no more 

oh my friends my friends, don’t ask me what your sacrifice was for

 empty chairs at empty Tables where my friends will sing no more.”

And yet for the life of him he couldn’t read that book…the real story of it…anymore…the story was so convoluted..he’d read a paragraph and the words would blur beyond his vision..his very head would ache.

“WELL”?  She had barked rather than stated the question.  He looked at her, too shocked at the sound of her voice to answer.  “Where are you taking me now, and why won’t you stay with me?”

To Michael and MaryAnn

  • I remember when I showed you the picture of the butterfly I found.  You said immediately “swallowtail…Monarch”.  Then you went to get a book of some of the most beautiful butterflies I’d ever seen.  “I bought this book myself” you said…you were quite proud of it and you should be.  It is full of colorful treasure.

So this thank you is in no way anything that can capture the beauty of that day spent with you.  This drawing is only the impression of the original butterfly I found..if you could see how exquisite the original looked in comparison to the  poverty of this rendition of it would probably make you cry.  Yet in the end all we have left are our impression of things…and the impression may not include all that was in the original…but the impression and the memory still serve us.

The day we shared was full of beauty, laughter, relaxation, good things to eat.  Dad and John so enjoyed seeing each other.  They will again.  We will see each other again. Please accept this as a small token of our appreciation of that lovely day and thank you for sharing the butterflies!

Much love always

Denise and Sid

Sidney Berry, 2nd installment: The First Secret – WWII-1943-1945

At age 16 I quit my school activities in the 8th grade to earn money to help the family meet its many financial obligations and to feed all 9 of us. My action followed clear pattern that the oldest children with jobs would give most of their earnings to Mom and Dad to pay the bills. I already had a part time job at the A&P supermarket in Little Five Points when I left school. I was immediately promoted to dairy supervisor and a few weeks later to Assistant Manager. Opportunities at work were in abundance, even for a 16 year old like me, because most young men during the Spring of 1943 had been drafted or had volunteered to fight in WWII.

Shortly after my promotion I was contacted b the Fifth U.S. Civil Service Regional Office and offered a job a assistant messengers for a salary of $18,000 per year and I accepted. I liked working for the Commission and in a few months was promoted to Mail and File Clerk, GS-3 along with a nice salary raise. I was settling into my new job when it dawned on me how badly the U.S. was faring in WWII and how angry I was at the inhuman way Germany and Japan were treating us and most of the civilized world. My office was next to the U.S. Navy Recruiting Office and as I passed it several times each day, I became compelled to sign up.

I enlisted in the Navy and was assigned to Boot Camp in Bainbridge, Maryland. I didn’t know about the first secret at that time, but I did feel that my enlistment was a part of my reality: who I was, what I wanted to contribute to the world conflict. About four weeks into Boot Camp a special recruiting team came to interest us in joining them in The Navy CBs or Construction Battallion. These men touted the Seabees as the quickest way to see combat action and if we joined we would have a two week leave. The combined benefits were irresistible, so I accepted the offer.

Two weeks later I reported to duty at Camp Endicott, Rhode Island and began six weeks of advanced military and technological training.  The 63rd Battallion finished this rigorous training and was shipped by rail to San Francisco, California. I remember the heat on the train forced us to soak our t-shirts with water and put them on our heads. What air conditioning? Our journey had just begun, however, from there-we boarded our ship (name?) and departed on a 30-day voyage to Manila on Luzon Island, The Philippines.  Two days out from Manila, we heard the ship’s PA system announce that President Harry Truman had ordered our Air Force to drop an atomic bomb on Japan, and then the Japanese surrendered.  We Seabees then learned that our Luzon assignment was to have been the first wave of an American invasion of the Japan to seize airports and seaports, secure and repair them if necessary to ready them for the next Americans to land and operate all facilities.    By the grace of God, this did not happen, or you would not be reading this book right now.  In any invasion at that time, fierce and ruthless Japanese warriors would have destroyed our American first responders.

Wow-we had won WWII and I was ready to go home!  Wisely, our leaders decided to release us over a period of time rather than one giant dismissal.  I was not eligible when those with longer service left.  My previous assignment as a land based sailor no longer existed-and so I was assigned as Shipfitter 3rd class (equipment operator for cranes, bulldozers, etc.)  The USS Valor ARS 238 was in drydock at the Naval facility in Long Beach, California when I first boarded her.  We had repaired her and the crew was getting ready to leave the dry dock base and sail up to Puget Sound, Washington for permanent storage in our mothball fleet.


Oh my God, Sydney thought as she read “US Naval History in 1944″ and the stupefying feats of strength and valor that her grandfather had participated in.  150 Quonset huts in 5 hours!  A hospital in five hours!  One battalion deployed every other day for months!  An airfield in two hours!  Yes, he, Pop-Pop.  She looked over at him, eyes closed, seated and looking almost gnome-ish: small (5, 1” short as her!), wizened, gasping for air as he slept, rattling snores almost choking him.  The breathing was becoming irregular.  How many years had it been?  It had been at least four years since they had spent a Christmas together: a sad affair; the last one in Pop-Pop and Grammy’s home before the move to suburban Atlanta into an assisted living facility.  Grammy had been in a nursing home recovering from a broken hip:  poor Pop-Pop was rattling around in the four-bedroom home trying to make sense of his unwelcome bachelor life: refrigerated untouched leftovers from meals the girls had assiduously prepared, lots of Miller empties, his unmade twin bed littered with candy wrappers next to Grammy’s immaculately made twin.

Sunday meditation May 1st 2016

I hope this post brings back my positive voice. I’m looking out on the green after a beautiful long needed rain shower. I have not written about my parents or myself for so long that I feel I will lose this voice and the memories if I do not begin immediately.

Today Dad and I heard an amazing sermon: five things God cannot do. I will not go into those now, save to mention one most relevant for today: God cannot undo what has already been done. I watch my father shuffle slowly with his walker into the service. People greeted him kindly and greeted me too.  They know I’m on the tail end of a 3 week bout with some sort of bronchitis, and my father is on the tail end of a lifelong struggle with COPD and dementia.

I was overjoyed to be there and hear a positive message. I brought two sandwiches forban impromptu picnic afterwards- not quite al fresco, in the car with the windows rolled up against pollen.  We watch the rain on the lake, the geese and their baby goslings and the ducks and their ducklings. He seemed very content. I know how important it is for him to get out of memory care and do something in the real world.

Still, there was a diminishment about him. He doesn’t talk much anymore. Sometimes we have good conversations but they’re never as long as I want.  It seems they only  last for 10 minutes or so. Afterwards he wanted to go to the library. And he’s waited a week to do this. I took him, but we could not check out any books because it was a different county. They told us to go to another one. So I stopped to get an ATM cash withdrawal to pay a small fee we owed the library and then take him to the next one.

To my amazement, when I got in the car, he said “I’m sorry, but I am just so worn out after all the running around.  I really appreciate what you’ve done for me, but I just don’t have the strength to go.” That was shocking to me so I took him home out of respect. I went downstairs with him as I wanted to hang some pictures on his wall.

Just last week he turned 89 years old. After a plea on Facebook, he received some 64 cards. They came from across the US , Germany and on Facebook, a greeting from a friend in El Menia. Egypt. When I shared that last one with him he seemed delighted. But, there’s something about him…the joie de vivre has left his eyes. I was attempting to hang up as many of the 64 cards that I could and I asked him where they were, thinking he’d put them in a box. He said “Oh well I threw them away.”  I said, you cannot just throw away these wishes from people that really love you and miss you.  Then, “…you’ll find them in the wastebasket in the bathroom.”   Half of them were indeed there. I don’t know where the others are. Among the others was a poem I wrote 20 years ago in calligraphy.  It was one of the best I have ever written. I have no other copies of it. I put it in a card for him but he says he doesn’t know where it is.

Everyone says that he seems fine. But in these moments lie the hints of the ravages of a dementia soon to come.  Its effects, and what it will bring, we cannot even guess. As he sounds as if he is having another COPD flare-up, I admonished him when I left to be sure and call me and tell the staff if he felt feverish. Another bout of fever is all it will take to send him into full delirium again. He seems so unaware of this. And I know he doesn’t think about it or make the connection.

He looked at me  helplessly: …”but if I have to leave here where will I go?”  As if he hadn’t even thought that the next logical step is a hospital. I just looked at him and said “…well Saint Joseph’s or the VA. Dad if you’re sick you have to go.” That seemed to be enough and he said “okay.”

He had his Oxygen without any admonishment from me whatsoever.  He put it on immediately on after returning to the room. As he almost never wears it I was secretly shocked by this-even though it was a good thing for him to do. I hope it is not too late.  When I left I could still hear him wheezing horribly. I stopped the MedTech and asked that they look in on him and let us know immediately if he became feverish.  The kind young woman assured me she would.

As I returned home I glanced up at the sky,  for thunderstorm clouds are rolling in.  Heavy drops hit the top of the car, sounding as if small pieces of hail are coming down with it. I marveled at how fast the storm had blown in and then when I raced through a deluge to get into the house, a clap of thunder hit so loud and so sharply that it sounded like the crack of a gun. I jumped almost out of my skin and looked around to see if there was any immediate damage.  The radar shows lightning strikes 6 miles north west. I pray that nothing could happen to either mom or dad’s place to mess with the electricity. This is such a problem in this area.

Everytime I hear Dad’s raspy cough, I never know if it is going to be the last one.  How will I even know it’s the cough that will deal the fatal blow? How fast can I act? I almost feel as if he knows he’s slipping, this is why he did not want to keep the cards, he did not want to be reminded of a birthday where he sat helpless in a room, afraid that if he went outside his lungs might betray him. Even before.

My father is a die-hard optimist.  He always jokes about how he’s going to shoot for 105 because he’ll have parts of his body preserved. However, I really believe that somewhere in his consciousness, the reality of his situation is beginning to sink in.

The old Dad would have rejoiced that he got so many birthday cards and would have wanted to personally write everybody who sent him one. Right now he’s just not interested. Also as excited as he was about the computer yesterday, when I tried to show him how to use it, his voice was too weak to dictate effectively because of his cough.

Saddest of all, today he did not even ask me where the computer was, when I was going to bring it over next, and if I got the kinks worked out of the program. I honestly do not think he remembers any of it, and if he does, that he was not even interested enough to ask about it today.

I cannot even imagine the fear he has and the loneliness not only because of the disease, but he has to wonder what is going on with his memory. So frequently now he will say things like, we haven’t eaten at a Persian restaurant before I wonder where there is one around here? This was almost funny to me because we’ve been to so many Persian restaurants and so frequently, and each time he says it is the best one he’s ever eaten at.

Of course when you have grown up in poverty, all food tastes good, and you almost never encounter a bad restaurant. I am grateful for this as he is always so appreciative of wherever we take him. What a pity that he can’t remember any of.the meals he’s enjoyed.

I can’t help but wonder when the tyranny of this disease will make him forget whether he’s had lunch- whether he’s called anyone -and whether he’s supposed to go anywhere that day..

This, this year is the story of how dad’s book will get written-or not.  All the heartaches, all the trials, and all the shared joys. This is the other side of his story…the back liner note of his novel. Today I gave him an old manuscript. I hope he gets a chance to look at it and voice dictates it next time he sees me.


Dad takes in the Chilhuly exhibit at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens on the day of the opening, courtesy of wonderful friends Ned and Barbara Decoppet


I hope it brought him some rays.of.sun.

Giving Thanks

Even now I have to marvel at all of it. I am walking in a gorgeous area of town, where many homes sit directly on the Chattahoochee River. Other walkers and runners pass me smiling. Who wouldn’t? It’s a beautiful day-it’s October and the high is predicted to be perhaps 76 degrees and a comforting breeze blows.  A slight wisp of  clouds float overhead and tinge the bright blue.  In short, a perfect day for a walk. A mockingbird sings its heart out in a bush nearby, and two fawns pause just so slightly to look at me, white tails held aloft. They’re questioning, “is she harmful?”  They decide I am NOT, but just to be sure, they flit away, the white tails like flags of surrender.

I’m reminded of the Psalm:  I lift up mine eyes unto the hills  From whence cometh my help?  My help cometh from Hashem. Almost 10 months ago I was in a difficult spot and I had no idea what I was going to do. Now it is October 2015, and I have been blessed with not one but two sets of friends who allow me to live in their home, allow me to take dinner with them, and allow me the use of their transportation and their homes when they are traveling. I would have never for seen all of this. In addition they have helped me get art commissions, paid me for small things to help me get along…and just in general got me to the point of survival where I am now. I continue to work and interview, and I have not lost hope that I am destined for something special. A friend of mine wrote me today, and he urged me to determine what Christ’s purpose for me is here and now. It also noted that if it was not what Christ intended, it would be full of failure and frustration. I have to ask myself if I am indeed doing what he wants. I know I have an obligation to my parents, but how far that obligation goes and how much it takes me away from the talents he has given me already is a matter of question.

Is not the ultimate purpose of our existence to serve God? If so, then the question is how to serve. Yesterday I read a quote that said you are not given another day because you needed it but because someone needed you in it. I know this is true, of so many people. I think the hardest test is to discern everyday to whom we should speak and why. Right now I must admit, I’m just so very grateful for what I’ve been given so far, and I hereby ask forgiveness for any time that I have grumbled, complained or otherwise sounded ungrateful. I know this is a mortal sin. And I can only marvel at how great God is.  He is so good he continues to forgive me for it every single day, even before I’ve done it. Our God is great. Things may not always go as we would want, but one thing is for sure:  He and He alone is in charge. May you have that blessed assurance today and everyday. Thank you Jesus.