Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Happy 66th Anniversary, Mom and Dad

First, this is what I wrote last year for their 65th.

Today, October 23rd, 2006, was my parents' 65th wedding anniversary.

I told the students in one of my classes. One kid said "Wow. That's longer than I've been alive." Duh.

My mom and dad are two tough people. They endured WWII, mostly apart, ran a farm for 40 years together until my dad retired at 62. Raised 4 kids on the humble earnings of an independent crop farmer. Dealt with a long recovery from a knee replacement, skin cancer, diabetes, bad crops, hard times, and currently are fighting the battle with my dad's Alzheimers. But they have one of the most obvious loves I've ever seen. My dad doesn't have many jokes left in his memory. Doesn't know when he's repeating himself. But he still likes to say, after all these years "It's a trial marriage."

They still hold hands every day, must have their quota of snuggle time every night during the local news, and still, even in their compromised physical conditions, I'm certain, would fight to the death to defend the other.

Among my favorite memories of my parents:

Late 1960s, early 1970s. My dad usually came home from the field for lunch. Filthy, sweaty, his overalls layered in dust from being on a tractor all morning. He pulled into the gravel driveway on his tractor, his radio blaring the country music station. (The only local station we had.) I remember Freddie Fender's "Before the Last Teardrop Falls" and Charlie Rich's "Did You Happen to See the Most Beautiful Girl in the World." (He hated rock and roll. Called it "whangy-dang music.") We could actually hear the radio from a quarter mile away, because he had to have it so loud to hear it above the tractor. Mom went outside where he was standing on the patio, waiting. She picked up her broom and started beating him with it. Big yellowy brown dust clouds flew off of him, and until she had beaten him to her satisfaction, he couldn't come inside.

They were playful, her swats with the broom getting a bit slapstick, him often saying "That's a little too hard, honey."

For lunch, his favorite meal was Campbell's tomato soup, a grilled cheese sandwich, a pickle, and white whole milk with Hershey's syrup mixed in. I remember the clanging of his spoon against the glass. Lunch (which is called "dinner" on the farm) started promptly at noon, so Dad could watch the mid-day grain report on TV. You did not want to make noise during this moment.

On days when he was too far behind in the field to come home for lunch, Mom and I took it to him. I got the job of holding the freezing cold 16 ounce bottle of Pepsi with the plastic cup turned upside down on top, and the opener. This was the highlight of my day. I had no one else around on the farm. Mom and I would try to guess whether, when we got to the field, Dad would be going away from us or coming toward us on the tractor. The wait was longer when he was going the other way. He got off the tractor, pulled his red bandana out of his back overalls pocket, wiped his face, then sat down in the shade of a tree. Mom unpacked his sandwich and a little ziploc bag of chips, and something sweet like a Twinkie or a cupcake, and I handed him the Pepsi and the cup and the opener. I watched him eat and I watched Mom watch him eat.

20 minutes later, he got back on the tractor and worked until dark. Usually a 14 or 15 hour day in the field, if the weather held.

Oh, I forgot. When he came home for lunch, he'd take what today would be called a "power nap." Too dirty to get onto a bed, he laid on the living room floor, flat on his back, and my dog Nicky, the size of a loaf of bread, curled into the bend of Dad's elbow and slept soundly with him.

He does still remember Nicky.

One year later, my mom's love for my dad has turned even more fierce. Now 89, he has become markedly more frail. We bought a walker for him when I was home 2 weeks ago, but he can't handle it very well. He struggles even to shuffle, and his Alzheimers has eaten up more of his personality. At about 5 or 6 p.m. each day, he asks my mom if he can go to bed. No, she says. Wait a while.

There are endless pills to deal with. He must be taken care of in many ways, and my mother is worn out. But she has made it pointedly clear that she will not put him into a nursing home until she absolutely has to. She will not do this to the love of her life. If not for my sister living 5 blocks away, this current situation would be bordering on impossible. God bless my sister.

I always longed for a happy marriage. And now that I have found one, I am sometimes wistful that Scott and I didn't meet until our late 40s. But then, it could've been our late 60s, or not at all. So I'm grateful. Wildly so.

Watching my parents, I also have realized just how fast 66 years could go by.

My dad still tells her "Kathleen, you're beautiful" a dozen times a day. He has always, always done this. She puts her hand on his face as she walks past his recliner and says "You're a sweet boy."

Social contact makes my father very quiet. He is aware on some level that he can't hold a conversation like he used to. Up until he entered the shadowy hallway of this disease, he would gather new friends everywhere he went. If we flew somewhere on vacation, he knew a dozen people on the plane by the end of the flight. While waiting for my mom to shop at the mall, he'd sit on a bench and make 2 or 3 more new friends, introducing them to each other.

My favorite of his lines is one he used repeatedly back when he and my mom would spend a couple months in Florida during the winters. While standing in line at a restaurant or store, he'd ask the retiree next to him "Where up North are you from?" About 80% of the people at the places they frequented were snowbirds, so it was a safe line. But people looked shocked sometimes. How did he know?

The best he does now when he sees someone he knows is to answer the question "How are you?" with "Oh, never been better at this age."

Both of my parents walked me down the aisle 4 months ago today. I locked my arm tightly into Dad's so he wouldn't fall. The wedding was lost to him an hour after it happened. He doesn't remember that I'm married. When I was there visiting 2 weeks ago, he asked me 100 times a day "Where do you call home?" And I answered. 100 times. And I would sometimes pick up the little laminated map of the U.S. with Phoenix circled, and "Candy lives here" written next to it, and show him again. But it just doesn't "stick."

"Where do you call home?" I found it interesting that he phrased it this way.

It is clear where he calls home. Anywhere she is.


  • At 8:06 AM, Blogger Dana said…

    I've been a lurker for many months now, this post is just too beautiful to not say anything. What an amazing story and legacy they've left behind. I am weeping and smiling. I hope my daughter will one day remember my marriage with as much love and as many fond memories as you have shared here.

  • At 8:11 AM, Blogger Jerry said…

    This was a very moving account of your parents and your relationship to them. Something inside us, the thing that connects us by birthright, is in harmony with the pain of others.

    There is something brutally painful about watching men who were at one time strong, virile, independent--men who were capable of defending their families and our country--deteriorate. The things that gives a man his identity--strength, resourcefulness,and assertiveness abandon him in old age.

    Each man has to watch himself become something different from that strength that protected--the industry that built nations. He becomes weak and dependent. Tennyson captures the spirit of men who strive to maintain their dignity while everything that defined them is vanishing:

    Death closes all; but something ere the end,
    Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
    Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
    The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
    The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
    Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
    'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
    Push off, and sitting well in order smite
    The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
    To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
    Of all the western stars, until I die.

    Though the body fails, the heart endures these insults to our men. There is nothing more beautiful to me than the wives who protect and the children who honor these men.

  • At 8:14 AM, Blogger Jerry said…


    You are right, the post says a lot about what a wonderful daughter Candy is. It also makes the point that if you have something to say to your parents, it is a good thing to say it now.

  • At 9:32 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    Wonderfully done. Please give my best to your beautiful folks.

  • At 9:58 AM, Blogger mgm said…

    Candy, if I weren't in a campus coffee shop about to meet with a student, I'd curl up in bed and cry. Beautifully written.

    My grandfather, who died when I was two and a half and of whom I have no memory, had what we suspect was Alzheimer's. He was a teacher, second generation, and if I ever doubted teaching was my calling, my father's tales of my grandfather's final days in the nursing home would put that doubt to rest. He was convinced he was in the classroom and would "teach" his students. The nurses would bring him stacks of papers so that he could grade. He'd mark them up, assign them a letter grade, and he'd be happy.

    It's amazing what the mind can hold onto even when everything else seems lost.

  • At 10:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I remember when your mom made Halloween ghosts for us out of suckers and Kleenex. All of this time, I have never known that her name was Kathleen. My Marie's middle name is Kathleen and we just picked that name out of the air because it sounded good with Marie.

    I wish my husband would say I was beautiful even once a year!

    My parents have birthdays this week. My dad was 72 on Sunday and my mom is 67 tomorrow. I must spend time with them and treasure their youthfulness.

    Candy, when is that memoir being written? Lurkers like Dana and I want to know!

  • At 11:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Candy, your whole family is special. Just in the brief time I spent with them, the weekend of your wedding, I could see that. Your parents' love story is better than any fairytale or any movie plot. It is so real and true and doesn't revolve around magic and worldy things. THIS is the story that kids need to grow up believing in. All that they have been through and are still going through, and they still have such deep love for one another.

    This post has brought me to tears. I read it earlier this morning and have been thinking about it all day.

    I've seen a great grandfather and a grandfather, both great strong men, suffer from Alzheimer's and another grandfather, also a great strong man, suffer from a sharp mind and frail body. He wasted away. The pain of seeing that is one of the great cruelties of life. But perhaps the fact that it is so painful, because of what they once were, should, in a way, make a powerful statement about the legacy they have left us. I guess if it wasn't painful, or such a sharp contrast to who they once were, then perhaps they would not have been such remarkable human beings. Not that it makes it easier to witness, but in a way, we are also constantly reminded of the vibrant years and we appreciate that so much.

    And the grace with which your mother handles his illness and her determination to care for him speaks volumes of her character as well. She is beautiful.

    I'm with Belle--when are you writing that memoir?

  • At 11:35 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Dana, thank you so much for your comment. It was a very tough post to write. I'd write a sentence, push away from the computer, cry, go back, write another. But it felt really necessary.

  • At 11:40 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Jerry, Thanks for the Tennyson. I've never read that, being terribly lacking in any background with the classic poets.

    You're's extra painful to know that this same man fought so determinedly in WWII. By the way, every single person in our family knows that he was in the war for "3 years, 4 months, 16 days." I would give almost anything to be able to sneak back and see him and my mother when they were in their 20s. Just to see the early vibrancy.

  • At 11:47 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Mad Grad, That is a stupendous memory about your grandfather. Heartbreaking but really sweet, how he went "back" to the thing he loved at the end. Thanks for sharing it on here.

    There was an absolutely gut-wrenching scene on E.R. years and years ago. A woman with Alzheimers was in the hospital, thinking she was there to see her soldier son. She got lost in the hospital, everyone panicked, and when they found her, she was "ironing" her son's uniform with a kleenex box. The uniform was a towel.

  • At 11:50 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Belle, I loved those ghosts.

    And I swear, I'm working on the memoir-ish thing. Trying to put together 15 or so essays so I can have an almost-manuscript to send out. It feels weird to do it, because I'm about as good at "selling" myself as I am at cooking gourmet meals.

    I love that Marie's middle name is Kathleen. My mom is Eva Kathleen.

  • At 11:52 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Futuresis, the most important thing about that wedding (besides marrying Scott, duh) is that I got to see the 2 families together. It was a very brief once-in-a-lifetime thing that I wish I could've savored more at the time. I was too freaked out.

  • At 11:55 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Thank you, Mel. I appreciate it.

    It's an emotional day. I know I need to just soak it in, but my knee-jerk reaction is to avoid it and eat junk food and go shopping. For junk food.

  • At 12:10 PM, Blogger Domhan said…

    I cried a year ago, and I cried today. Absolutely beautiful, Candy.

    Sooo, if you are about as good at selling yourself as you are cooking gor-may, how is Scott at selling you? (Um, not "selling you" as in the marketplace in Bangkok, but, uh, you know....)

  • At 12:17 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Thanks, Domhan.


    He's really really undyingly supportive and pushes me. Which is a big help. The selling is up to me, I guess.

    Even though he does sell me that OTHER way. On the street. And he makes me wear a change belt. People always want change back from their quarters.

  • At 12:49 PM, Blogger Norma said…

    that was beautiful candy, simply beautiful

  • At 1:04 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Thanks, Norma. I miss you. Tell Mr. Bill hi.

  • At 1:32 PM, Blogger Ana Martin said…

    These are the kinds of stories that this jaded and immature and suspicious and tawdry world needs to hear. It's not what we hear. We've been bombarded by disposable marriages and children, by 'me first' attitudes, by immaturity posing as self-actualization, and by happiness as product not force of will. But all of that just leaves us hollow and weak. We need inspiration and a standard to live up to.

    Since your parents actually lived like that then it must be possible to do. And if they did it in difficult times and good times alike then it must be something in them, not situational. And if that's all true then it is possible, if we choose to, to live like that. It's a matter of backbone and probably lots of 'suck it up'.

    What a big old treasure that is, to see your parents like that for all of your life. And it's such a big honking boulder of a good memory.

  • At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm awfully happy to know you, Candy, and I'm glad that you keep this blog. Reading it always makes me feel a little bit less alone.

  • At 3:55 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Ana, I do think it's something inside them. My parents are so massively DECENT that it astonishes me. I think that's more common in the "Greatest Generation" than anywhere younger. Not always, of course. But I know that in my parents' case, the war DID something to them. It colored everything that came after, and they were always so grateful to be together that that was all that mattered.

    It is a double-edged sword at times to have parents with that great long-lasting marriage. For instance, when you go through a divorce yourself, you feel like an even bigger failure for having had a good model of a marriage to follow. On the other hand, you also feel hope that another marriage COULD work.

    I didn't even start noticing their affection all that much until I was already grown and out of the house. Now I know how much it meant when she'd be doing the dishes and he would come up behind her and hold her. Way back when they'd been married only FORTY years.

  • At 3:58 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Jackie, I am glad to know you, too. Very very glad.

    I only have this blog to keep from dropping too far into my own alone-ness.

    Man, what a weepy day. I need to be an extra bad shit-head tomorrow.

  • At 7:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wow - I contemplated putting words on paper for our Mom and Dad's anniversary, but now I'm glad I didn't. My Seester did it so well, my rendition would've sucked! Even though we feel the same strong emotions when it comes to our parents, my Seester has the ability to find the right words to express our feelings. Thank you for saying what WE feel!

  • At 8:02 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Sis, what a shocker to see that you commented! I'm so glad I have you, and glad Mom and Dad can count on you. If only they lived in the godforsaken desert I could help them out more.

    We lucked out in the parent department. I also lucked out in the seester dept. Even though you ain't quite right in the haid.

  • At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Lovely piece Candy--wonderful people. So glad you wrote it.

  • At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    OK. I'm sure you'll want to delete this, and save it to your personal whatever, but I just read it and since I'm a pleeb at this blog and email thing, I'm responding here. Feel no need to let everyone read it. It feels so good to hear your tenderhearteness towards your parents, for mostly I heard that angst you felt about being born in a small midwestern town with parents who weren't "politically correct". How dear it is to hear how you love them! I never, ever, knew that you did.
    And "Candy"...I am so ever more glad that you do...because we must. My parents were't Saturday Evening Post, but still, I loved them, and you know that. What a beautiful thing you are doing with this blog thing...but darling, put it into a book. You always said I'd be the first book among us. I say, let it be you. Love you, this was a treasure to read. Anita (I'm too nerdy to hide). :) Amen...your post was prayer. A.

  • At 10:50 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Thanks, Tony.

  • At 10:52 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Anita...I couldn't let go of the angst until I could move away and see things more clearly. You know how that is.

    And now I hate all things "politically correct." No one in my family is even on the outskirts of it, and it's a relief.

    It takes awhile to see things.

    Thanks for the sweet words. Funny you said the prayer felt that way when I was writing it.


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