What It Took from Me

As they pulled onto the side of the road, the radio host made his last remarks on the Nixon Watergate scandal, my grandpa turned off the engine. The young boys, Dave and Brad, who would become my dad and uncle, climbed out of the “woody” station wagon, while their dad went to grab his gear. He leaned his head around the trunk, “Bradley, grab your mittens, I am not walking back here when you get cold!”

***

“ You know what one of the first things that happens to you. You loose your smell, I have not smelt in 90 years.” This is a commonly heard phrase of my 80-year-old grandpa these days. His ability to smell has been gone for over 3 years or so. It was not widely known throughout our family circle when it first happened. It was one of the beginning indicators for his illness, but now that he has come to terms with it, the family is able to talk about it easier.

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“Every time you find some humor in a difficult situation, you win.”

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Top Ten Smells in the World

  1. Fresh Petrol
  2. Fresh Air
  3. Bacon
  4. Freshly cut grass
  5. Vanilla
  6. Barbecue
  7. Melted Chocolate
  8. Popcorn
  9. Garlic
  10. Rain

From TopTen.com

***

It was another cool spring day in Northern Michigan. My dad, his brother and my grandpa headed out to catch some steelhead. Walking about a mile and a half to the fishing hole, the young boys trudged in the weeds and on the soggy ground. Smashing their feet into the saturated land, to see who could make a deeper boot print. “Knock it off you two, the fish can hear that,” my grandpa boomed back, swatting his hand in the air. Reaching the hole my grandpa immediately hoped into the river, casting and drifting the bright orange spawn bag down the Pier Marquette. My dad and his brother lost interest standing still, only casting out a few times. They played on the bank of the river, messing with mud and twigs.

***

Starting on one side of the body, hands and fingers start to shake at a steady rate, working its way through out the body: it comes on subtly at first, and then it becomes just a part of your routine: Tremors.

***

            The leaves had just started to change and the air was nippy. We had found a local eatery to have lunch in. Sitting down next to dad and mom, I gladly peel of a few of my clothing layers as my brother snags the head of the table across from my grandpa. My two of my aunt fill in shortly after us siting across the table. About two thirds of the table ordered chili, the others navigated the menu in their own directions. Conversation is light, what people are up to and how the day had been. My grandpa is present physically, but had minimal participation in the conversations. His left hand starts to shake uncontrollably, hitting the fork against his plate. He stares blankly straight head. No one says a thing, but we all hear and see it. Ding, ding, ding. Conversation continues muting the awkward pain under the surface. Ding, ding, ding.   We have all heard this before.

***

Fishing was slow that day, but my grandpa continued to cast, enjoying the nature around him. Watching the delicate birds that took shelter from the breeze in the near by greening bushes, hearing the babble of the small brook that joined the river and smelling the fresh air and mineral rich dirt. The boys on the bank got bored; my dad laid back onto the brush and fell asleep while my uncle messed around with a fishing net up stream. “Dad, are you done yet?” could be heard every 3 casts from my uncle. He ignored the remarks, not letting it effect his perfect day off.

***

Range of motion is limited. Muscles work against you; pain is present in all of your movement: Rigid movement.

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Your posture is stooped and your balance is uneven. Walking around town is much harder for you now: Impaired posture and balance.

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            “They took my guns away from me and now they take my keys!” My Grandpa has not taken the new changes to his life so easily. But his condition no longer allows him to operate heavy machinery safely.

“Dad you know the doctor says you should not be driving. It’s not safe for you and other people on the road,” my aunt replies firmly.

***

“Motor cars (are) a symbol of freedom – a way to achieve personal independence. They took us places where we couldn’t otherwise travel – they brought us to our destinations faster, and we didn’t need to abide by a schedule or rely on anybody else to become mobile,” – James D. Schwartz. Ones ability to drive anywhere at any time is an incredible feeling. It gives you independence and a sense of your own freedom.

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“Always remember that no matter how useless you feel, you’re someone’s reason to smile”- Unknown Author

***

Then it happened. The steelhead bite down on the spawn sack while my grandpa swiftly pulled back his rod, hooking the fish,” Come with the net”. The boys took notice to the thrashing in the water, running over, so happy to finally get some action. It was my grandpa and the fish struggling back and forth for the next 15 minutes. My uncle waded in the water with the net until the fish was in reach of netting. My grandpa raised the rod in the air and the steelhead emerged from the water. It was a respectful fish, about 7 lbs. The boys poked its belly as my grandpa lectured them on the importance of patience and jerking the rod back at just the right time. After releasing the fish back in to the river, the energy and mood rose up. “You see boys, this is what it is all about.” My grandpa exclaims.

***

“For everything this disease has taken, something with greater value has been given–sometimes just a marker that points me in a new direction that I might not otherwise have traveled. So, sure, it may be one step forward and two steps back, but after a time with Parkinson’s, I’ve learned that what is important is making that one step count; always looking up.”-MICHAEL J. FOX

 

***

A green camping chair was placed on a flat portion of land that had been cleared along the river bend; three feet behind the bank separated by knee high grass and bushes with maroon leaves that hovered over the current. Grandpa cautiously lowered into the chair until it fully supported him. “Is this too close to the river for you, Dad?” my aunt asks concerned. He shakes his head and mumbles under his breath, wiping is runny nose with a crumpled tissue. My aunt backs away and stands close beside him. He was hunched over and bundled up in his bright blue Omni-Heat winter coat, steel colored knit wool hat and knit gloves with leather palms. A breeze fluttered in and out rustling up the dry fall leaves, occasionally they would land on the river and float down with the current. Our long time family fishing guide was beside him casting, letting the line float down stream and reeling it in slowly.  He was decked out in fishing gear; a net clipped to his back, tan waders, hunter green raincoat, and dusty green fishing vest with a red wool camouflage hat. My grandpa continued to sit hunched in the chair, enjoying the familiar view, until the guide finally hooked something. “ I got one on the line. Hey, somebody take this and reel it in!”

“Give it to Arnie, it’s his rod” my mom interjects. The guide shuffles over quickly to my grandpa handing him the bending rod. The rest of the family hustles over to him, glad to see he was able to have one last fight. He holds the rod in his hands, everyone watching with angst, as his hands loosely grip the rod, slowly reeling in the line. His numb fingers fumbled around with the reel. The fish twists its body and jumps out of the water just long enough for the guide to identify it. “ Aye, I’m thinking that a Coho on the line Arnie”, the fish continues to fight, spinning the line till it snaps. The fight is over. Everyone cheers, “you got one”, “glad you were able to get one on the line dad”. My grandpa smiles, saying, “That was not a fish on the line that was a pig. It was huge”. Family continues to congratulate as he rambles on with the same line, “ It was a pig. It was huge”.

 

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“Life is a beautiful struggle.”

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“Uhhh, ahhh”, this is how my Grandpa now starts almost all of his sentences. It’s a shame he can no longer clearly speak his mind; so much wisdom is trapped inside.