Tournament of minds

We have always been a family of card players.  From the earliest days of my life, I was taught to play all manner of card games, and our evenings were often full of laughter and tantrums depending on the outcome for the particular player.  Being the youngest, I never learned to play 500, unlike my elder siblings as it is a game for four people.  This still burns to this day.  “Suffering Tomcats” when the hand was not good or “it’s not a concert” if we started to sing, and “a fast game is a good game” when someone deliberated too long over which card to discard.

Some might say we are a competitive lot – it’s genetic, as we get it from Dear Old Dad. A running joke in the family is that when playing a particular card game, Dad would always read the scores out when he was winning; silent when not.  So many happy memories of card games  litter our conversations about the ‘good old days’.  Victories and losses, points scored are remembered.

One of the games we played was, and is,  cribbage – either two, three or four players.  It is a fast paced game, combining skill and luck.  It requires a pack of cards, a cribbage board, pegs to score, a good sense of humour , an ability to add up to 15 and 31, and a competitive spirit.

After Mum died and I started spending a lot of time with dad, we somehow started playing cribbage every day – it has become our ‘thing’ and we both look forward to our games.  Dad more than me usually as he wins more games than me, the crafty old fox.  In April 2011, I started keeping score – of who won, and the winning margin. I am now on to my second book.

We have had some hilarious times – a game consists of 121 points and the biggest winning margin belongs to me at 65 (two streets for those familiar with the game).  Man, that was sweet!  There have been games which have been so close the lead kept changing and the final score was one or two; games where one of us just didn’t get the ‘turn up’ to enhance our hands and games where we had hands with no points at all.

As of today, we have played a total of 1773 games of two-handed cribbage.  There have been many three-handed and four handed games when other members of the family have been with us, but I have only kept the scores for our games.  Of those 1773 games, Dad has won 919 to my 854, winning 65 games more than me.  Which technically is not a lot over more than seven years.  His total point score is 14993 to my 14510, giving a winning margin of 483, an average of only 7.4 per game.  Just 12 months ago, the average was 9.5 so he is either losing his touch or I am getting better at it.  It is definitely not the former.

We have played cribbage at his house, usually with Oscar, Prince of Cats for company, and using his father’s triangular cribbage board, until a lovely wooden board from his brother in Wales arrived.

dad and oscar

We have played at my house with a second-rate board, but pegs from a velvet pouch.  We have played in Townsville, Roma, Springsure, Woodgate on the deck at the beach house, and Sydney.  We have played in restaurants, cafes and in hospitals.

Dad in hospital

 

Neither of us has scored the perfect score of 29, but have each, once in that 7.5 years, scored the next best thing of 28 – great excitement.

cribbage

Dad once asked me if I thought we would ever stop playing and I said “only when one of us dies’, which sometimes I think may well be me, at the rate he is going.

Here’s to the next 1000 games. May I win most of them.  And get ‘one for his hat’ more often than not.

jack

Things I Do For Dad

There is a certain predictability about some of our days, which I like.  Dad goes to church Wednesdays and Sundays.  He likes to go shopping Tuesdays and Fridays –  it’s important to have fresh bananas every few days.  Once a month he goes to the library to change his library books.   The washing is done on Mondays.  Not Tuesdays, nor Wednesdays. He likes routine. As do I.

These days, I have some help from time to time with some of these activities – for example I have found a local Uber driver who does a lot of the driving to and from church, although when he can’t do this, I step in – either doing the driving myself or booking an Uber.  Dad has only given up driving behind the wheel; he still likes to drive from the passenger seat so it can be a little tedious at times.  I also have some help from a wonderful lady from Five Good Friends for a few hours each week.

There are lots of other things I do for Dad to make his life a little easier, such as:

  • Cook all his meals
  • Collect him for dinner at our house once a week
  • Prepare meals ahead of time if I am going to be away (not so often any more!)
  • Go to a shop in the next suburb to purchase the special cheese he likes and his molasses in a squeeze bottle
  • Change the dressing on his ulcer every two days, including cleaning the wound and moisturising
  • Make appointments for him
  • Take him to the doctor, dentist and other specialists
  • Do his buttons up in winter when his fingers struggle with the cold weather
  • Rub cream on his back when his skin gets dry
  • Order things he needs on-line
  • Take him shopping
  • Play cribbage every day (and lose on average 2-1 because he is frustratingly lucky – and clever)
  • Look phone numbers and other information up for him on my phone (‘that’s not just a phone is it dear?‘)
  • Listen patiently while he discusses Oscar’s eating habits, in specific detail
  • Look for Oscar when Dad thinks he has gone missing (he is always asleep somewhere, ignoring us)
  • Take Oscar to the vet and to his holiday accommodation when Dad goes away
  • Help him cut up Oscar’s chicken breast meat into precise sized pieces and put 25 pieces into individual freezer bags, ready for his evening meals
  • Deal with rodents, geckos and birds in the house (thanks Oscar)
  • Clean up the occasional Oscar vomit (see above), which is always on the carpet never on the tiles or timber floors (cats are awesome)
  • Advocate for him with doctors, government and service providers
  • Negotiate with the Insurers when they increase his insurance 30% every year
  • Take him clothes shopping (which includes helping him get changed)
  • Clean out the refrigerator
  • Put the bins out on Sunday nights (my husband and sons help with this too)
  • Fix Foxtel (his fingers sometimes accidentally change the AV source)
  • Source typewriter ribbon for him
  • Replace the correction tape in his typewriter (I need to look this up on Youtube every single time!)
  • Organise the mowing man and tradespeople
  • Take his ironing  home to be done (not by me!)
  • Make him a ginger cake or orange cake so he has an afternoon tea snack with his cup of tea
  • Act as digital carrier pigeon for correspondence with his brother in the UK
  • Post his letters
  • Take him to visit friends on occasion
  • Put his hearing aids in when I remember (so I don’t have to repeat myself three times)
  • Make lots and lots of phone calls and put together colour coded spread sheets should I get the chance to go away

Most importantly, be ready with a hug when he is feeling down.

 

 

 

 

Another trip down memory lane

One of the many privileges of caring for an elderly parent is the many memories that come up in conversation. I appreciate that those caring for parents with dementia may not have this particular pleasure. My dear old dad doesn’t have Facebook or even have a smart phone but today my Facebook memories reminded me that two years ago, Dad (then almost 93) and I travelled to Roma. 

Dad was parish priest at St Paul’s in Roma from 1962-1969, and describes it often as his and Mum’s ‘happiest parish’. He and mum had a young family, it was a vibrant country town, a beautiful cathedral-like church with a congregation that came from both town and properties outside town. They had good friends in a supportive community. 

So it was a lovely surprise for Dad to be invited almost 50 years after he left, to return to Roma to receive the debutantes. Who knew Deb balls were still a thing?  I heard him telling the story to someone just today that when he first told me that he had been invited and asked what I thought, my response was an immediate ‘Let’s go!’.  As much as I wanted to take Dad back to Roma, I was keen to see a relic from the past – the deb ball not dad’s friends.

As well as receiving the debutantes (that was an eye-opener for me – wow, just wow), Dad had the opportunity to catch up with old friends, and visit many places from his younger days, and of course visit St Paul’s.  It is the most beautiful church, and many of my memories are fond ones, even if I was very naughty.  The rectory, in my memory, had a verandah that was high off the ground.  My memory tells me this because I once cycled off it and busted my forehead.  In reality it is about 30cm off the ground.  The organ loft in the church, where I spent a lot of time sitting with my mother, was similarly not high off the ground but almost at ground level.  But the bottle trees that line the streets of Roma are still the same and just as beautiful as I remember them.

My Dad has the most beautiful smile, and I am sure his smile muscles were aching by the end of the weekend.  He still smiles when he talks about it.

collage

debpulpit

The Future is Here

Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present – Albert Camus

In an ironic twist, our two eldest children have moved out of home within a week of each other, and our youngest, in his last year of school, recently got his drivers’ licence and is driving himself to and from school.

For a brief shining moment I could almost taste the freedom and the rewards of many hard  ( but of course rewarding and enjoyable) years of parenting.  Then all of a sudden, in a twist of fate, things changed dramatically for Dear Old Dad, I found myself caring for him – going from popping in once a day to spending many hours most days with him.

Last Friday night, I found myself home alone – with my spouse going to the rugby, my youngest out at a school event, and of course, the two eldest out of home.  Instead of dropping a meal down the road to Dad, I thought I would treat him to fish and chips so bought the fish and chips and a couple of drumsticks to eat with him at his home.

It was a nice change for him as he usually eats at home alone, unless he comes to or house for a meal.  But we ate early and dinner, including dessert,  was all over by 6.30pm

It was, as my spouse texted me, a glimpse into my own future – fish and chips at pensioner hours, and ice cream for dessert, followed by an early night. No Friday night frivolity for me.  The future is indeed here!

A Company Cat

What greater gift than the love of a cat? – Charles Dickens

Disclosure:  I am a cat person.  Some might refer to me as a crazy cat lady.  So be it. I have always had at least one cat in my life and the stories around the acquisition of cats in my life since being married are quite hilarious, to me anyway if not my husband.  In summary – ” My wife wanted to get a cat. I didn’t so we compromised and got a cat.”

About a year before my mother died, my daughter and I were in the process of colluding to get a kitten.  Not just any kitten but a kitten whose mother was a Ragdoll and father a Birman.  Possibly the most beautiful cats I had ever seen.  The deal was done; but the breeder had one more kitten left to sell, so I convinced my parents (who were also cat people but were without one since retirement) to let me buy him for them.  I was prepared for all objections.

So two little kittens came home with us for 24 hours before Mum and Dad took possession of one the following day. Or rather the kitten took possession of them and their hearts.  Their names are George (ours) and Oscar.

What a good decision that turned out to be (in many ways).  Oscar soon became the light of their lives, and whenever I called or called in, I would get a blow-by-blow description of what Oscar had been up to.  He was like a new child, and treated as such.  A spoiled child.

When Mum died, Oscar became even more important – he was Dad’s sole companion.  It is now well recognised the impact pets have on humans, but particularly the elderly.  Decreased blood pressure, decreased depression and stress, increased communication and motivation.  Personally I’m not sure it has that much to do with the pets themselves, but the company and activity they provide.  I have seen nursing homes with chooks who become very attached to the residents.  Then there is the nursing home with a resident cat who seems to know when someone is about to die and settles on their bed.  Not so keen on the Grim Cat Reaper to be honest.

But back to Oscar.  I now get even more detail about Oscar and his day – what time he went to bed, what time he demanded food in the middle of the night, how much he ate for breakfast, how many lizards he ate and then threw up, and his preference for organic chicken breast rather than regular chicken breast.

It became abundantly clear exactly how much Oscar means to Dad in the early hours of one morning.  I had a call at 4am – Oscar was very distressed and panting heavily. My first thought was snake bite so I threw on a dressing gown, grabbed the cat basket, drove to Dad’s place, caught Oscar and off we went to the 24 hour vet (or Vee Eee Tee, as we refer to them in the pets’ hearing), which was a 25 minute drive away, silently praying to every deity that he keep breathing.

The vet found a large engorged tick on Oscar’s back and he had to stay in for 24 hours for treatment and observation, as the poison could still cause more damage.  Dad reached out to hold the vet’s hand and said ‘please don’t let him die; since my wife died, he’s all I’ve got’.

So I’m standing there, bare feet, pyjamas and gown, holding the car keys, feeling like the third wheel, but feeling a bit weepy at hearing this vulnerability from Dear Old Dad.  But I get it – Oscar had become someone Dad could look after and talk to. I saw him once a day, whereas Oscar was the permanent resident and listener to Dad’s stories, and sharer of his thoughts.

We drove home just as the sun was coming up and shared a cup of tea before I returned to my own home.  His farewell hug was a little bit tighter, and his ‘thank you’ a little bit more intense that morning.

Oscar resumed normal programming shortly after losing one of his nine lives.

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