As I write this today, the two most important men in my life are in hospice care.
One is my father, who has a worn-out and tired heart but a sharp mind. The other man is my husband, who has a strong heart but a mind all mixed up with dementia. I wish they could trade their health status for just a few hours. Then Barry would get my dad’s brain and would be able to tell us what he feels and what we should do for him. My dad in this swap scenario would feel a strong heart beating in his chest and maybe he would play Go Fish with the great-grandchildren one last time — or reach into his pocket and pull out candy for kids.
My dad spent a lifetime building a family and laying sidewalks all over the city. His sidewalks took people to church or temple, led children to school and took people to see paintings at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. He made sidewalks that led lovers holding hands to the city lakes for a walk or to picnic on the grass.
My husband and I were one of those lovers long ago, walking on sidewalks to the lake. I might have stopped and said, “Look down Barry, my dad made the sidewalk we are on.” It was stamped with the words Victor Carlson and Sons. The family company was founded by my Swedish great-grandfather before my father was born. My dad took over when his father died in his 60s, leaving a young man with a young family to become a reluctant company president. I remember the day my Grandpa became sick. It was the day I learned to hold my breath under water in the blow-up pool in the backyard. As I saw my dad and mom crying, I would stick my head underwater. It was quiet under that water and much less scary than trying to understand what was going on with my grandfather.
While my dad’s sidewalks took people to places they wanted to go, they also sent me to camp, got me skis and paid for skiing trips out west. The sidewalks bought my first mini skirt and bell bottoms and an old red Cutlass car. Those sidewalks made our vacation time in the winter possible and woke us up in the middle of the night when some little shits would carve their names in the wet cement. My dad would have to get out of bed and go smooth out the cement on hot summer nights. He always had a Camel cigarette in his mouth until he finally quit when my siblings and I were teenagers. Those sidewalks also sent me to art school where I met
Barry also spent time building a business. His company specialized in design and marketing. But in the very beginning, Barry started with signs that he and his friend Joe designed and painted and could be seen hung all around the city. I think one of their signs still hangs at an old record store in town. I haven’t been out that way for a long time, so the sign may be gone by now. I should really go see if it is still there and point it out to our kids.
Both men – one at home in his favorite chair watching basketball and one laying helpless in a care center — worked very hard. They each tried to do the right thing, and both liked to play once in a while, too. But sidewalks or design are nothing compared to what these two men are most proud of. And that is their kids.
My dad sees his kids, grandkids and great-grand kids all here in the Twin Cities because he was lucky to marry our mom, also from the area. Today he can sit in his chair while the great-grandkids spill their juice or trip over his oxygen cord. Sidewalks led him to this moment. He is proud of where he has come, his work and the extended family he has created. My dad also islucky that he is still aware of all this joy around him. On the other hand, he is also aware that his heart is slowly stopping, although maybe there are still sidewalks that he would like to take him to more places.
Barry’s heart works effortlessly, strong from exercise and good genes. He has no idea now of all the good he has done in his life. He, too, has created a legacy of kids, grandchildren and future great-grandchildren that he will never know. I hope that before frontotemporal dementia (FTD) took over his brain that perhaps Barry looked across the dinner table at our kids one happy evening and thought to himself, “This is my best work of all.”
So we wait on this hospice journey while grandchildren are off into adulthood, falling in love and finding their way, and while the great-grandchildren are learning new things each day. All of us kids, grandkids, great-grandkids and future great-great-grandkids will carry with them a part of these two men.
Thank you Dad and Barry!