A recurring memory
Lyndale Avenue suddenly comes to an end in Bloomington just a couple of miles south of 98th Street. At the end of a large parking lot, you can see signs for the Lyndale Trail head, part of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
On a warm day last summer, I set off on an afternoon hike toward the Minnesota River. While walking, an old memory that keeps popping up in my mind at strange times came to me. In the memory, we were still in our old house in Bloomington. I just loved that white brick house with its long circular driveway. There was trampoline in front yard, placed precariously close to a couple of tall red oaks. My husband Barry loved those oak trees and spent a couple of thousand dollars each year to fight the oak wilt that he worried they had. Leaves on those beautiful old trees hung on for dear life most of our long cold winter.
I hiked and remembered a spring day in 2002. Barry was blowing the leaves away that had finally fallen into the hedges and on the large circle of grass in front of our house. I think Barry’s loud leaf blower was his most cherished tool. He wasn’t very handy at fixing things. When he did try to fix something, we all waited to hear him say, “Oh No!” That meant we had to call someone to complete the task. But Barry was a champ at blowing leaves.
On that Saturday, I was inside painting a leafy trim in our dining room, something I had been trying to do all winter but the kids’ activities and my work always got in the way. We planned to host our daughter Kelly’s graduation party in a month and there is nothing like a party to make you get all those projects done around the house! As I sat on a little stool painting, I listened to Kelly and her girlfriends in the kitchen make plans for the prom. I wondered if we would host the after-prom party again. If so, the girls would soon come in to ask me. I didn’t mind hosting the party again because we both loved having kids around.
Meanwhile, our boys were upstairs in their rooms. Pat was constructing something out of cardboard and tape, or drawing or maybe just looking up at his ceiling where a girl had recently written her name and phone number in permanent marker. Mike was playing his guitar. I remember this because he was teaching himself to play after having broken his leg while ski-racing in February. It was a bad break so he was going to be laid-up for most of the summer. I
got the idea to buy him a guitar to help pass the time while his leg healed. I remember that day thinking that he was sounding really good!
I painted, listened to the girls talking and enjoyed the guitar music. But just when the girls’ conversation turned to after-party plans, Barry and his loud leaf blower came right up to hedge at the window so I couldn’t hear a word the girls said. Barry waved to me as the girls rushed upstairs to look at Kelly’s prom dress, stopping first by Mike’s room to hear him play Crash by Dave Matthews.
The enemy within
At that moment, I thought that I was the happiest person in the world. I didn’t know then that in just a few years we would not be living in the house that I loved so much. We would be broke, and the man I loved would become a stranger that I could not stand. On that spring day, an enemy was about to begin its assault — an enemy we had never heard of. It was an enemy that we could not see or touch or even attempt to fight. I am not sure when it arrived, but it was silently waiting to overtake Barry’s brain and begin its destruction. No one in this house on that day had ever heard the words frontotemporal dementia. But it was lurking there as Barry blew the leaves away. It was there when he popped inside and asked who wanted grilled hamburgers that night? Everyone, including Kelly’s friends, said, “We do!”
I quit painting to run to the store. It was warm and maybe we could eat dinner outside. I bought ice cream! This is the memory that replayed in my mind as I hiked. Now I know that all the bad things to come quietly began on that spring day when we were still so happy.